Moleben

A Moleben (Slav. molíeben) is a liturgical service of supplication or thanksgiving. Unlike the Divine Liturgy and the offices of the daily cycle, it can be celebrated at any time and in a variety of locations.

This service is particular to the Slavic churches of the Byzantine Rite; while Byzantine Rite Christians in Greece and the Middle East celebrate the Paraklisis as their primary service of supplicatory prayer, the Slavs created a variety of such services as described in the article.   

The origin and history of the moleben

It is altogether natural for Christians to express their petitions to God, and to thank Him for his blessings. It is common as well to ask the saints for their prayers to God on our behalf. While these desires are expressed in the Church's regular cycle of liturgy, there are at least two reasons why additional services might be desired:

Among Slavic Christians of the Byzantine Rites, a number of such services came into being. All of them are derived from the service of prayer and petition to the Mother of God known as the Paraklisis. The Paraklisis is in turn based on the morning service of Matins, so all molebens resemble Matins to a greater or lesser degree.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, new molebens were written which added certain additional elements, mostly of popular piety. These "devotional molebens" existed side-by-side with the services in the official liturgical books. Because there were composed in an era of Latinization in the Greek Catholic churches, they were often combined with devotional services borrowed from the Latin Rite, such as Benediction.

Molebens in the liturgical books

Three different lliturgical books of the Byzantine (Ruthenian) Catholic Church contain molebens:

Most of these services have not been published in English - at least in part because, when the Byzantine Catholic Church was gradually moving from Church Slavonic to English for its services, it had become the custom to ask a priest to celebrate the Divine Liturgy for a particular intent, rather than to have a moleben sung.

After the Paraklisis, the Common Moleben is probably the most important. Like the Paraklisis, and some (not all) of the services in the Molébnik, it includes a canon (a length liturgical hymn) and a Gospel reading. The Common Moleben as given in the liturgical books provides prayers to be used when the moleben is sung in honor of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary; in honor of our Lord; in honor of a saint (Saint Nicholas), and "for a particular need". The service can be further adapted by using the corresponding hymns and prayers in honor of another saint, or some particular cause for which help is requested.

The English-language Divine Liturgies book of the Byzantine Catholic Church contains a drastically abbreviated "General Moleben for the Living", derived from the common moleben. This service is often celebrated after the day's Divine Liturgy for some particular need, or in thanksgiving.

Devotional molebens

At some point, probably during the mid- to late-19th century, a new style of molebens came into being among Greek Catholics. These new molebens incorporated other elements from Matins (such as the festal exaltation), and entirely new hymns, which were suited for congregational or responsorial singing, whether in village churches or on pilgrimages. The most popular of these "devotional molebens" included

As noted above, these molebens were often followed by the service of Supplicatsia (Supplications) and Benediction with the Eucharist, borrowed by the Latin Rite. When new molebens to saints were needed, they were often composed in this style. Thus, over time, the term "moleben" came to refer to many different types of services.

These three devotional molebens remained popular among immigrants to the United States. The Moleben to the Sacred Heart was rewritten to de-emphasize the (Latin-influenced) devotion to the Sacred Heart, and the resulting service is usually called the Moleben to Jesus, Lover of Mankind. This moleben, and the devotional Moleben to the Mother of God, continued in use at parishes and pilgrimages throughout the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st century as well.

Outline of the service

The following table shows the parts of various types of Moleben:

The Paraklis services is also shown, for purposes of comparison.

the Midnight Office for SundayMonday through Friday, and Saturday.

Paraklisis
Moleben with a canon Moleben without a canon Devotional Moleben

Blessing and begining prayers

Blessing and beginning prayers
Blessing and beginning prayers Blessing and beginning prayers
Psalm 142
Psalm 142
   
 
   

"The Lord is God", with verses
Troparia

"The Lord is God", with verses
Troparia
   
Psalm 50
Psalm 50
   
 
   
Canon, Odes 1-3
Canon, Odes 1-3
   

Litany of Fervent Supplication, preceded and followed by troparia of supplication

Litany of Fervent Supplication with petitions for the particular need, preceded and followed by troparia of supplication

   
Odes 4-6
Odes 4-6
   

Troparia, Small Litany and Kontakion, "Steadfast Protectress of Christians"
Akathist (if desired)
Prokeimenon
"Let everything that lives", with verses
Gospel Reading
Litany, "Save your people, O God"
Lord, have mercy (12 times)

Troparia and Small Litany
Akathist (if desired)
Prokeimenon
"Let everything that lives", with verses
Troparia
Gospel Reading
Litany, "Save your people, O God"

   
Odes 7-9
"It is truly proper"
Odes 7-9
"It is truly proper"
   
Priest censes the altar and people, who sing stichera to the Mother of God
Hymn of Light, Psalms of Praise (148-150) and Lesser Doxology
   
Trisagion prayers and Our Father
Trisagion prayers and Our Father
   
Troparia from the "general moleben for the living"
Troparia of the day
   

Special Litany of supplication and protection
Prayer over bowed heads

   
Dismissal
Dismissal
   

The Midnight Office is not normally combined with other services.  

Texts and sources

The official Church Slavonic texts for the Midnight Office Vespers can be found in the Ruthenian Služébnik (for the priest and deacon;  their parts in this service are fairly brief ) and the Ruthenian Časoslóv (for the cantor, choir and people).  In the Časoslóv,  there are separate sections for the daily Midnight Office (Polúnoščnitsa vsednyévnaya), Saturday Midnight Office  (Polúnoščnitsa subbótnaya), and Sunday Midnight Office (Polúnoščnitsa voskrésnaya). These texts are fairly complete, requiring supplementation from the Octoechos (on Sundays) for the Canon to the Holy Trinity, and the Hypakoe.

There is no official English text for the Midnight Office.

The Midnight Office in the Parish and Home

The Midnight Office is commonly celebrated in monasteries as a nocturnal vigil, but is hardly if ever held in parish settings. However, a parish holding an all-night prayer vigil (on Good Friday, perhaps, not the liturgical All-night Vigil) might wish to provide materials for the Midnight Office.   

On the other hand, the Midnight Office makes an excellent nighttime prayer service for those of the faithful who wish to "watch and pray" during the night.  

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