A troparion (plural troparia; Slavonic tropar, tropari) is a stanza of liturgical poetry. In the Byzantine Rite, the troparion began as a repeated refrain during the singing of psalms. Over time it developed a life of its own, to become the troparion of today.
Troparia are sung at most liturgical services. The most important is the troparion of the day, which is sung:
- at Vespers, just before the dismissal - hence the alternate name dismissal troparion (Greek: apolytikion);
- at Matins, at the beginning and the end of the service;
- (on great feasts) at the Divine Liturgy, as a refrain after each verse of the Third Antiphon - an echo of the troparion's original role in the liturgy;
- at the Divine Liturgy, at the Little Entrance;
- at each of the Hours.
The troparion of the day thus serves as a "thread" that links the different services on a particular day. If several commemorations coincide (for example, when a feast falls on a Sunday), there may be several troparia "of the day"; the Typikon provides rules for such combinations.
Like stichera, troparion may be given special names based on their content, such as:
- theotokion - a troparion in honor of the Mother of God
- stavrotheotokion - a troparion commemorating the suffering of the Mother of God at the Cross
- triadikon - a troparion in honor of the Holy Trinity.
The "middle" stanzas of each ode of a canon (following the irmos) are also called troparia.
Examples of troparia
Troparion of the Nativity of the Mother of God (September 8):
Your birth, O Virgin Theotokos, heralded joy to the universe; for from you arose the Sun of Justice, Christ our God. Removing the curse, He gave the blessing, and by destroying Death, he granted us eternal life.
Christ is risen from the dead! By death he trampled Death, and to those in the tombs He granted life.
In the first part of Matins, each section (kathisma) of the Psalter is followed by a special troparion called a sessional hymn. This name, and the corresponding Slavonic term sedalen, refer to the practice of having the congregation sit and listen while the hymn is being sung. A sessional hymn may also be sung after the third ode of the canon.
At Sunday Matins and Matins for the Dead, a series of troparia are sung in alternation with Psalm 118, verse 12: "Blessed are you, O Lord, teach me your commandments." These collections of troparia are called evlogitaria (after the first Greek work of the psalm verse).
- The Sunday Evlogitaria describe the visit of the myrrh-bearing women to the tomb of Christ. These hymns are sometimes referred to as Hosts of Angels (Slavonic: Anhelskij Sobor), after the opening words of the first troparion.
- The Funeral Evlogitaria invoke the saints, particularly the martyrs, and ask their prayers and the intercession of Christ and the Mother of God on behalf of the faithful departed.
Following the canon at Matins, a long troparion called an exapostilarion is sung. The Greek term "exapostilarion" may refer to the fact that a single singer was "sent out" (exapostello) from the choir to the center of the church to sing it. The Slavonic term for this hymn, svitilen, as well as the alternate Greek name photogogikon, may come from the text of the various exapostilaria - many of which have to do with light - or from the fact that they are sung at the end of Matins, when daylight has already broken. English liturgical books sometimes use the title Hymn of Light for the exapostilarion. See Hymns of Light.
Melodies for troparia
- von Gardner, Johann. Russian Church Singing, Volume 1 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1980). See Chapter 1, "The System of Orthodox Liturgical Singing", pages 38-40.