The Divine Liturgy on Feast-Days

This article explains how to choose the changeable liturgical hymns to be sung at the Divine Liturgy on the various kinds of feast-days in the Byzantine Rite, as well as on pre-festive and post-festive days. (If the feast-day falls on a Sunday, see Setting the Divine Liturgy for Sundays.)

What is a feast-day?

In the Byzantine tradition, 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 rows in this table are considered "ordinary days", the last three rows are feast days.

The Divine Liturgy on Polyeleos Feasts

Whenever a polyelelos feast occurs, there is an entrance with the Gospel at Vespers, along with readings, and the special hymn called the Polyelelos ("Praise the name of the Lord, Allelulia!") is sung at Matins.

At the Divine Liturgy, the troparion, kontakion, prokeimenon, Alleluia, and Communion Hymn are sung for the saint - either from the Menaion if one is available, of from the common hymns for the particular class of saint otherwise. (See the article on Setting the Divine Liturgy for weekdays for an explanation of how to find the hymns for a particular saint or class or saints.) On feast-days, the alternate propers for the day of the week or for special occasions are not used.

Polyeleos feasts also have proper readings (epistle and Gospel) associated with them. In some cases, these can be found in the Epistle and Gospel books; if not, look them up in the Annual Typikon. The epistle and Gospel books have "common" readings for the various classes of saints that can be used if the readings for a particular saint are not available.

The readings in the Paschal cycle that would otherwise have been read are either omitted, or added to the readings on the most recent ordinary weekday.

The Divine Liturgy on Vigil Feasts

Like polyeleos feasts, feasts of "vigil rank" have their own troparion, kontakion, prokeimenon, Alleluia, and Communion Hymn, as well as their own epistle and Gospel readings. The hymns are found in the Menaion, or can be taken from the common hymns for the class of saint. The readings for these days can be found in the epistle and Gospel books.

If the full cycle of services is celebrated, then the Litija procession with the blessing of bread, wheat, wine, and oil is held at Vespers. The bread (perhaps with the wine poured over it) is distributed at the end of Vespers, and the faithful are anointed with the blessed oil during the canon at Matins. But if these services are not held, then the distribution of blessed bread and anointing with oil may be done at the end of the Divine Liturgy. In our church, this is called mirovanije (Slav. "anointing").

The Divine Liturgy on Great Feasts of Saints and the Mother of God

On so-called great feasts of the saints and of the Mother of God, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated like a vigil feast: the hymns (troparion, kontakion, prokeimenon, Alleluia, and Communion Hymn) and the readings (epistle and Gospel) are those of the feast. All hymns for these feasts can be found in the Divine Liturgies book.

Great feasts have two additional peculiarities:

But the usual antiphons (the daily antiphons on weekdays) continue to be sung. If the full cycle of services is not held, mirovanije may be celebrated after the Divine Liturgy.

The Divine Liturgy on Great Feasts of the Lord

Certain great feasts are dedicated to the Lord Himself, and have their own proper feast antiphons, taken from psalms associated with the theme of the feast.

The hymns and readings are all for the feast, and the magnification and irmos of the feast are sung in place of "It is truly proper to glorify you."

One peculiarity of feasts of the Lord (the word "great" is usually omitted): when the feast falls on Sunday, it entirely replaces the Sunday hymns and readings. (When other great feasts fall on Sunday, the Sunday and feast-day hymns are combined. See Setting the Divine Liturgy for Sundays.)

Pre-Festive Days

Some great feasts of saints, and all great feasts of the Lord and His Mother, have a "pre-festive" day, with a special troparion and kontakion. When a prefestive day falls on a weekday, the hymns at the Small Entrance are sung as follows:

Troparion of the Prefeast
Troparion of the Saint of the day
Glory.... Kontakion of the Saint of the day
Now and ever... Kontakion of the Prefeast

Here, the "saint of the day" is the saint for the current day, the one coming after the feast.

The prokeimenon, Alleluia, and Commnion hymn are the usual ones for the saint of the day, and the readings are either the continuous ones from the Paschal cycle (ordinary saints) or for the saint (polyeleos or vigil rank saints).

Post-festive Days

Post-festive days resemble pre-festive days, except that the troparion and kontakion of the feast are used instead of the pre-festive hymns. At the Small Entrance:

Troparion of the Frefeast
Troparion of the Saint of the day
Glory.... Kontakion of the Saint of the day
Now and ever... Kontakion of the Feast

When the feast is a feast of the Lord, post-festive days have their own antiphons which are a combination of the usual Sunday/daily antiphons with the refrains of the feast:

The prokeimenon, Alleluia, and Communion Hymn of the feast are sung; if it is also the feast of a polyelelos or vigil saint, the prokeimenon, Alleluia, and Communion Hymn of the saint are added.

If the feast has a magnification and irmos, they are sung on the post-festive days in place of "It is truly proper to glorify you."