The word katavasia comes from a Greek root meaning "to descend", and refers to those hymns in the Byzantine Rite for which either a singer "came down" from the ambo to sing, or two choirs "came down" together to the middle of the church.

Thus, the term was used for hymns which are especially festal or solemn, often coming at the end of the part of the liturgy in which the choirs have been singing alternately. In the past, the word katavasia has been used for a variety of hymns, including the hypakoje of the Nativity, the hypakoje of Theophany, and the hypakoje of Pascha.

Today, the term refers exclusively to the singing of an irmos at the end of each ode, or selected odes, of a canon at Matins.

How katavasia are used

Each ode of a canon consists of an irmos or theme-song, and several troparia; each troparion is preceded by a short refrain:

Glory.... Now and ever...
troparion (usually to the Mother of God)

In Greek canons, the troparia are all sung to the same melody as the irmos. In other languages, such as Slavonic and English, the irmos is sung to a composed melody, and the troparia are "read" (that is, chanted using a recitative melody).

On Sundays and feast-days (that is, feast days of Great Doxology rank and above), the Typikon appoints an additional irmos to be sung at the end of each ode. This additional irmos, or katavasia, can be:

The irmoi sung as katavasia always come from the same canon; thus, we sometimes speak of singing a particular canon "as katavasia", referring to the irmoi of that canon.

Example: on Sundays and feast days from November 21 to December 31, the Canon of the Nativity (Christmas) is used as katavasia. Thus, for a month before Christmas, we are reminded that the celebration of our Lord's birth is coming, and then we continue to sing these irmoi until the leavetaking of the feast.

On ordinary weekdays, katavasia are sung at the end of odes 3, 6, 8, and 9.

The katavasia at the eighth ode is introduced with the following verse:

Let us praise, bless and worship the Lord, singing and highly exalting him above all forever.

In all other cases, the katavasia is sung immediately after the final troparion of the ode.

How do you know which katavasia to use?

The Typikon provides the rules for using katavasia. Father David Petras' Annual Typikon usually includes a page listing the katavasia for the entire year, and individual entries in the Typikon supplement this information.

The Metropolitan Cantor Institute's Office of Matins for Sundays and Feasts (2006) includes the irmoi of the Canon to the Theotokos in Tone 4, which is a sort of "default" katavasia canon.

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