The Divine Liturgy on Sunday

This article explains how to determine the proper liturgical hymns and readings for the Divine Liturgy on Sundays throughout the year.

Note that for every Sunday, the Annual Typikon provides a detailed summary (in a gray box) of the Sunday hymns and readings. The material in this article is for intended to help you better understand the liturgical order for Sundays, and can also be referred to if the Annual Typikon is not available.

"Ordinary Sundays"

In the Byzantine tradition, Sunday is the principal feast of the Resurrection of our Lord, and so, beginning on the second Sunday after Pentecost and continuing through the last Sunday of the Great Fast, the Divine Liturgy hymns are the Sunday hymns of the Resurrection in the Tone of the Week:

and the epistle and Gospel readings are those of the Paschal cycle (e.g. for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, or the third Sunday of the Great Fast). The antiphons and Communion Hymn are the usual ones for Sunday.

The remainder of this article describes the exceptions – the Sundays when this basic order is not followed.

Sunday with a polyeleos or vigil feast

The liturgical book called the Menaion assigns a special symbol to each day of the year, showing the relative importance of that date in the liturgical year.

(none) Saint with three stichera at Vespers
Six stichera Saint with six stichera at Vespers
Great Doxology Saint with the Great Doxology at Matins
Polyeleos Saint with the Polyeleos at Matins
Vigil Saint with an All-night Vigil
Great feast Great Feast

The first three categories are considered minor feasts, and significantly less important than the Sunday commemoration of the Resurrection. So when one of these feasts (for a saint with three stichera, six stichera, or the Great Doxology) falls on Sunday, the hymns of the saint are not used, and only the Sunday hymns are sung.

The situation is different for the next two categories, "Saint with the Polyelelos" (polyeleos feast) or "Saint with an All-Night Vigil" (vigil feast). When one of these falls on a Sunday, we sing BOTH the Sunday hymns in the Tone of the Week, and the saint's hymns. The epistle and Gospel for the saint may be read in the second place, after the Sunday readings. Here is how this works:

At the Small Entrance, we sing:
- the Sunday troparion in the Tone of the Week
- the troparion of the saint
- Glory... the Sunday kontakion in the Tone of the Week
- Now and ever... the kontakion of the saint

The prokeimenon of Sunday and the prokeimenon of the saint, combined (see below)

The epistle for Sunday, and (optionally) for the saint - only the first is announced ("A reading from the letter of....")

The Allleuia of Sunday and the Alleluia of the saint, combined (see below)

The Gospel of Sunday, and (optionally) of the saint - only the first is announced ("A reading from the holy Gospel according to...")

On rare occasions, a polyeleos feast has a magnification and irmos, and if so, they replace "It is truly proper to glorify you...."

Communion Hymn of Sunday ("Praise the Lord from the heavens") followed by the Communion Hymn of the saint

Some things to note:

  1. The hymns for the saint are taken from the Menaion, if one is available, or from the common hymns for the class of saint (for example, one apostle).
  2. The kontakion of the saint may be omitted, in which case we sing "Glory.... now and ever" and the Sunday kontakion.
  3. When combining two prokeimena, sing the first prokeimenon and its verse, and then immediately sing the second prokeimenon. The verse of the second prokeimenon is omitted.
  4. When combining two Alleluia, sing the first Alleluia with its verses, and then in place of the last repetiition of the first Alleluia, begin the second Alleluia. The second verse of the second Alleluia may be omitted if desired.
  5. When combining two readings, only the first is announced. Make a slight pause between the readings, but it is not necessary to use the formal ending melody for the end of the first reading. The second readings may be omitted.

The reason for these procedures is to ensure that particularly important saints and feastdays in our tradition are commemorated, even when they fall on Sunday.

Sunday with a Great Feast

The final category in the menaion is that of great feasts. There are two kinds of great feasts:

When a great feast of the Lord falls on Sunday, it entirely replaces the usual Sunday hymns and readings. We do not use the tone of the week, and that Sunday's readings are skipped for the year. Also, the feast-day antiphons replace the usual Sunday antiphons.

When a great feast of the Theotokos, the angels or saints falls on a Sunday, we follow the same procedure as for a polyeleos or vigil feast on a Sunday: the Sunday hymns of the Resurrection are combined with those of the feast, as above, and both the Sunday and feastday readings are chanted.

Sunday with a Pre-festive Day

When the day immediately before a great feast (a "pre-festive day") falls on a Sunday, we sing the troparion and kontakion of the prefeast at the Small Entrance, after those of Sunday:

The troparion and kontakion for each pre-festive day can be found in the Divine Liturgies book (see August 5 for an example). These hymns help us to understand the upcoming feast, and look forward to it with anticipation.

Sunday with a Post-Festive Day

Great feasts are also generally followed by several post-festive days, with the last of these being called the "leave-taking" of the feast.

When a post-feast of the Lord falls on Sunday:

When a post-feast of the Theotokos or a saint falls on Sunday:

The prokeimenon, epistle, Alleluia, Gospel, and Communion Hymn are the usual ones for Sunday, except that:

  1. On the leave-taking of the feast, the prokeimenon, Alleluia, and Communion Hymn of the feast are added to those of Sunday.
  2. On other postfestive days, the prokeimenon, Alleluia, and Communion Hymn of the feast may be added if desired.

Festal Sundays

Certain Sundays throughout the year either precede or follow a feast, or make up a small feast all by themselves. These Sundays do not have a fixed date, but vary from one year to the next. They are:

All of these Sundays have proper readings, in an appendix in the epistle and Gospel books, and the Divine Liturgies book provides proper prokeimena and Alleluias that go with the readings.

At the Small Entrance, these Sundays usually combine the Sunday troparion in the Tone of the Week with an additional troparion and a proper kontakion; Sundays after a feast will also have post-festive antiphons, a magnification and irmos, and a second Communion Hymn.

The propers for these Sundays can this be quite complicated. ALWAYS study the Annual Typikon carefully for these Divine Liturgies.

Sundays of the Triodion

The preparatory Sundays of the Great Fast (beginning with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee), and the Sundays of the Great Fast itself, each have a proper kontakion which replaces the ordinary Sunday kontakion. Some Sundays have an additional troparion; most have a proper prokeimenon and Alleluia, which either replaces the one for Sunday or is combined with them. Certain Sundays have additional Communion Hymns as well. See the entry for each Sunday in the Divine Liturgies book.

The readings for these Sundays are the ones for each particular Sunday of the Triodion, as given in the Lectionary.

Palm Sunday is a feast of the Lord, with its own antiphons and proper hymns.

Sundays of the Pentecostarion

Each Sunday from Pascha to All Saints Sunday has its own proper order of hymns. The Tone of the Week goes from 1 (on Thomas Sunday) to 8 (on All Saints Sunday), and until Ascension the kontakion of Pascha ("Although you descended into the grave, O immortal One") is usually sung last, after Now and ever.

The Sunday after Ascension is a post-festive day (with antiphons of Ascension), and also dedicated to the Fathers of the first ecumenical council, at Nicea in the year 325.

Pentecost is also a feast of the Lord, with its own antiphons and hymns, including a proper Communion Hymn.

Conclusion

The basic pattern of propers for the Sunday Divine Liturgy uses the hymns in the Tone of the Week, and the readings of the moveable cycle: but the combination of the different liturgical cycles means that the Sundays of any given year will be sligtly different. There are also a few cases which we did not address here at all, such as what to do when a polyeleos or vigil feastday falls on a Sunday which is also a post-feast for the Lord or a saint. See the Annual Typikon in each case.

The main thing to remember is that the liturgy has an order which is intentional, and which reminds us of the truths of faith in Christ, and points us toward the Kingdom of God.