The Daily Cycle of Services

In the Eastern tradition, the Church's day begins at evening, and its services run from sunset to sunset: Thus evening came, and morning followed - the first day. (Genesis 1:5, NAB).

Each day, the following services are celebrated in monasteries and churches of the Byzantine liturgical tradition around the world:

Together, these services are called the Divine Praises. They serve to sanctify the day, keep the believer's mind attentive to God's presence, and provide use with regular moments of prayer.

The Eucharistic Liturgy

In a certain sense, the Eucharistic Liturgy - the service in which the Church "makes present" the Paschal mystery of the suffering, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord, God and Savior - stands outside of time. Not only does it bring those present into contact with realities that transcend created time, but it is actually held "in common" with the heavenly Liturgy, and with all other celebrations throughout the world of the one sacrifice of the Cross. For this reason, the Eucharist is not accounted one of the services of the Divine Praises, but instead accompanies it on those days it is celebrated.

In the Christian East, the Eucharist, or Divine Liturgy, is not celebrated every day. It is normally celebrated on Sundays and feast days, and may be celebrated on weekdays; but it is not celebrated at all on strict fast days, such as those during the Great Fast in preparation for Pascha.

Two different forms of the Divine Liturgy are used in the Byzantine Church:

During the Great Fast, an especially solemn service is held in the evening, called the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. It consists of Vespers and a service of Holy Communion, allowing the faithful to end a day of strict fasting with psalms, hymns, readings from Scripture, and the Bread of Life. (Although it is termed by the liturgical books a "Divine Liturgy", it does not include an Anaphora or consecratory prayer; the gifts for Communion are consecrated at a previous Sunday or feast-day Eucharistic liturgy.)

Monastery, Cathedral and Parish Church

The services in the daily liturgical cycle developed simultaneously in very different environments. Even during times of persecution, the faithful in the cities were encouraged to assemble every day for morning and evening prayers,  and instruction in the faith.  On Sundays and the feasts of martyrs, they attended the Eucharistic sacrifice.  In addition, believers in both city and countryside prayed in their homes at bedtime, during the night, and upon rising.

As communities of monks and nuns arose in the 3rd century in the Holy Land and Egypt, a second pattern developed. These monastic communities dedicated themselves to constant prayer, praying the psalms continuously and in order, and meditating on Scripture throughout the day and night.

Between the 4th and 7th centuries, these two traditions gradually united to form a singular liturgical pattern which was celebrated in its fullness (with local variations) in monasteries throughout the Byzantine world, and whose principal services were celebrated in cathedrals and churches, and attended by all the faithful. To the monastic element belong the continuous recitation of psalms and Scripture; to the "cathedral" or non-monastic element belong the varying chants and hymns,  chosen psalms, incense, responses and processions by which the faithful could take part in the services. 

In the Byzantine tradition, cathedrals and parish churches have generally celebrated the same liturgical cycle as the monastic communities, but in a shortened and popular form. Thus, on a minor feast day, a monastery might celebrate:

Vespers at sunset
Small Compline in the evening
Midnight Office during the night
Matins at dawn, followed by the First Hour
Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours (possibly combined)
Divine Liturgy

while a cathedral or parish church would likely celebrate:

Vespers on the vigil of the feast
Matins (and perhaps the First Hour) on the morning of the feast
Divine Liturgy  

Sadly, in many Eastern Catholic churches in the late twentieth century, only the Divine Liturgy was celebrated (perhaps several times), and the Divine Praises were abandoned. It is this cycle of liturgical prayer that the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, in Rome, insisted be restored "without delay" (Instruction, 1996).


In the Byzantine liturgical tradition, when the Menaion prescribes the feast of a "saint with a vigil", Vespers is extended with a  special service called litija, consisting of a procession through the church, prayers for the world, and the blessing of bread, wine and oil (representing all God's gifts to us). During Matins on the morning of the feast itself, the faithful are anointed with the blessed oil, and each is given a portion of the blessed bread to provide sustenence during the festal services.

In many Greek monasteries, and in monasteries and parish churches of the Great Russian (Muscovite) liturgical tradition, the festal services are combined into an All-Night Vigil, consisting of Vespers with Litija, followed immediately by festal Matins. (When the services are celebrated with full solemnity, this vigil can last all night, though in parish use it often takes two or three hours.)   Christians coming from this tradition often equate "vigil" with the "All-Night Vigil".

On the other hand, churches in the Ruthenian liturgical tradition (Ukrainian and Rusyn Catholics, and Carpatho-Russian Orthodox) usually celebrate a saint with a vigil in the Greek parochial style: Vespers with Litija on the eve of the feast, and Matins and Divine Liturgy in the morning.  The All-Night Vigil remains an option in the liturgical books, but it used much less frequently.

Since this website primarily provides documentation on the Rutbenian liturgical tradition, we assume the traditional Ruthenian parochial usage, and omit the service details associated with the All-Night Vigil, including the service of Small Vespers which is celebrated beforehand.

Recommended Reading