Singing a Moleben

This article covers the practical aspects of singing the prayer services or molebens commonly celebrated in the Byzantine Catholic Church. These services may be celebrated after the Divine Liturgy, as a standalone service in church, or in the home.

More than any other service in our tradition, the moleben is extremely variable in form (see the table in this article), so we will look at the possible parts of the service in their usual order

You will need whatever book is appropriate for the moleben. Note that some DO NOT INCLUDE music, and you will need to prepare this in advance!

The beginning of the moleben

Every moleben begins with the priest's blessing:

Blessed is our God, always, now and ever, and forever.

to which we respond with the usual short Amen, matching the priest's pitch. If the moleben is celebrated as a reader service, then the leader begins with "Through the prayers of our holy fathers..." and we respond the same way.

These are followed by the usual beginning prayers, which we chant to the usual psalm tone.

Finally, we chant the "call to worship", also in a psalm tone:

Come, let us worship our King and God!
Come, let us worship Christ, our King and God!
     Come, let us worship the only Lord Jesus Christ, the King and our God!

Cantors: this is not "filler." It should be sung in a way that encourages others to join together in praising God.

The call to worship is usually followed by a psalm, chosen by the authors of the moleben to fit the theme of the service. (Some devotional molebens omit the psalm.) For example:

You can choose a dfferent psalm tone for this psalm, but be sure to start it quickly so the congregation can hear the melody you are using.

Molebens without a canon, and some devotional molebens, insert a Litany of Peace at this point. If so, it is sung with the same responses as at the Divine Liturgy.

"The Lord is God" and troparia

The original molebens such as the Paraklesis are based on the service of Matins, and at this point in Matins the deacon and people sing a profound profession of faith in Christ as God:

The Lord is God and has revealed himself to us. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

The deacon chants several verses from the Christological (messianic) Psalm 110, and the cantor and people repeat "The Lord is God...." after each one, then sing the troparia appointed for the day. The same is true in most molebens.

"The Lord is God" is always sung to a troparion melody, namely, the melody of the first troparion that will follow. Music for "The Lord is God" can be found in the MCI Sunday Matins book, and on the tutorial page for each of the troparion melodies. Cantors should learn these settings and be able to sing them in each tone.

Then sing the troparia of the moleben; there will usually be two or three troparia, with the last one being a theotokion (hymn to the mother of God). If there are two troparia, they will usually be in the same tone. Note that the doxology ("Glory.... now and ever...") is sung to the melody of the troparion that follows it.

Listen to "The Lord is God" and the troparia that follow it from the Paraklesis.

Note: If you have sung troparia at the end of Vespers, you will find this to be very familiar. If not, remember that these are NOT kontakia, so we don't use the kontakion-style "Glory... now and ever...." that we would sing at the Divine Liturgy, unless the appointed hymn in the moleben is actually marked as a kontakion. See the MCI Cantor Verses book for music for the doxology in each of the troparion tones.

Some devotional molebens (most noticeably, the Moleben to the Theotokos) skip "The Lord is God" and go immediately to the troparia.

Psalm 50 or the Festal Magnification

At this point, the Paraklesis and other molebens with a canon will usually appoint the chanting of Psalm 50, just as at Matins. Chant it to a psalm tone.

Molebens from the Ruthenian Book of Molebens normally skip Psalm 50 and go straight to the readings.

However, devotional molebens sometimes add the festal magnification from feast-day Matins, which has a melody of its own. (You may recognize it from feast-day music in the Divine Liturgies book.)

Moleben to Jesus, Lover of Mankind:

Exaltation

Moleben to the Holy Cross:

Exaltation

The exaltation is followed by several psalm verses, which differ from one moleben to the next (pay attention to what they are saying!). The verses may be chanted by the deacon, priest, or cantor; check with the celebrant.

After the final singing of the festal magnification, the following is sung three times:

Alleluia

The "normal" triple Alleluia from Vespers can also be used, but this one matches the opening notes of the Exaltation melody, and maintains the same "sound."

The Canon

At this point in the Paraklesis, or molebens based closely on it, we begin to sing the Canon, a highly-structured liturgical hymn which is one of the hallmarks of Byzantine liturgy. Each part of the canon (called an "ode") consists of an opening hymn or irmos, and texts called troparia which are chanted by a reader. Before each troparion, the people sing a refrain, which is usually the same for the entire canon, or the doxology ("Glory... now and ever").

So the basic pattern for an ode is:

Irmos (sung by all, or at least the cantor)

refrain (sung by all)
troparion (chanted by the reader recto tono)

refrain (sung by all)
another troparion (chanted by the reader recto tono)
....

Glory... now and ever (sung by all)
a final troparion (chanted by the reader recto tono)

After the last troparion, the irmos may be repeated, or a different irmos may be sung; this is called a katavasia.

Each irmos has its own melody, though we sometimes used the melody of the first irmos of the Sunday canon in Tone 6 as a sort of "default" or simple option. For a service like the Paraklesis, learning to sing the moleben usually means learning to sing the irmosy of the canon. At some point, I hope to provide web pages and tutorials for all of these. The refrain is sung to a fixed, simple melody, and the troparia are chanted recto tono - that is, mostly on one note.

Listen to Ode 1 from the Paraklesis

Ode 1 and Ode 3 are both sung in this fashion. (Ode 2 is penitential and most canons don't have one.)

After Ode 3, additional hymns are usually inserted. For a moleben, these will be one or more troparia (sung to the troparion melodies in the indicated tones) and Litany of Fervent Supplication, with the usual litany responses.

Then we sing Odes 4, 5, and 6. At Matins, the point after Ode 6 is usually where the kontakion and ikos of the day are sung. At the Paraklesis and molebens with a canon, there is a good bit more, including a Gospel reading:

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

The troparia are usually the same ones sung after Ode 3. The optional Akathist is a kind of Byzantine liturgical sermon; see the article on Singing an Akathist. The rest of this part of a moleben closely follows the pattern for the Gospel readings at Matins:

Here are the melodies for the Gospel responses at Matins, which are also used at the Paraklesis, molebens with a canon, and the Parastas:

Moleben Gospel responses

Then we sing Odes 7-9 of the canon, and conclude with the Hymn to the Theotokos ("It is truly proper to glorify you"), sung to the same melody as at the Divine Liturgy.

If there is no canon...

In a moleben without a canon from the Book of Molebens, or in a devotional moleben such as the Moleben to Jesus, Lover of Mankind or the Moleben to the Mother of God, there will be readings in place of the canon. The readings differ according to the type of moleben.

For a moleben without a canon, the readings follow the same order as at the Divine Liturgy, and are sung the same way:

Prokeimenon
Apostolic reading (Epistle)
Alleluia
Gospel reading

A devotional moleben, on the other hand, usually follows the order of Matins, and is sung as above.

Prokeimenon
"Let everything that lives", with verses
Gospel reading

In each case, the readings and accompanying hymns are chosen to fit the theme of the moleben. Make sure to find the apostolic reading in the epistle book before the service!

The Supplications

At this point in a Matins service, we would chant the glorious psalms of praise at the conclusion of the Psalter, Psalms 148-150, followed by the singing of stichera "on the praises." In the Paraklesis, this is simplified to the singing of stichera to the Mother of God.

At devotional molebens, a new popular element was added in place of these: the "Supplications." These consist of petitions sung by the priest, with a refrain sung by the people. Here is the refrain for the Moleben to Jesus, Lover of Mankind:

Supplications

The Moleben to the Mother of God has two different melodies for the same refrain, used in alternation:

Supplications

Supplications

(Note that this is in the key of C, so it begins mi fa sol.) Follow the book you are using to know if there is a doxology at the end.

In the Paraklesis and the Moleben to the Mother of God, there are stichera to the Mother of God at this point, sung to the Tone 2 special melody, Jehda ot dreva.

The conclusion of the moleben

We are coming to the end of the service.

The Paraklesis and the common "moleben wth a canon" have the Trisagion prayers and Our Father, followed by the "troparia for any intention" in a special variant of Tone 6:

Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us....
Lord, have mercy on us, for in you we place our hope...
Open unto us the doors of mercy, O blessed Theotokos...

These troparia are NOT particularly easy to sing well - but they need to be sung well for the service to achieve its full purpose. Listen to the troparia. The Trisagion prayers and troparia are omitted in other "molebens without a canon" and devotional molebens.

Then comes either a Litany of protection and supplication (with petitions for God's assistance) or in some cases, a Litany of Fervent Supplication (with petitions for the church and people), then a particular prayer for the theme of the moleben. Here is the prayer for the Paraklesis:

O our most gracious Lady, O Theotokos, our hope, friend of orphans, defender of strangers, joy of those in sorrow, protection of those treated unjustly, look upon our troubles, look upon our grief, help us in our weakness, guide us who are strangers, you know our offenses, free us from them as you wish, for we have no other help but you, no other defender, no good consoler except you, O Mother of God, for you guard and protect us forever.

A moleben with a theme of gratitude or praise (such as the Moleben of Thanksgiving or the Moleben for the New Year) may include the singing of the Great Doxology ("Glory to God in the highest") or the Prayer of Saint Ambrose ("You are God; we praise you"), which is known in the West as the Te Deum. Some versions provide both hymns and allow a choice to be made.

Finally, the dismissal is very simple. The deacon exclaims "Wisdom!" and the cantor and faithful chant:

More honorable than the cherubim,
and beyond compare most glorious than the seraphim,
     who, a virgin, gave birth to God the Word,
     you, truly the Theotokos, we magnify.

The priest exclaims:

Glory to you, O Christ God, our hope; glory to you!

And the people glorify God as well, chanting:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
    now and ever and forever. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
     Give the blessing.

(During Paschal season these are replaced with "Shine in splendor" and "Christ is risen from the dead", as usual. And on particularly festive days, more elaborate settings may be used.)

Then the priest intones the dismissal ("May Christ our God.... for Christ is gracious and loves us all.) and the cantor and faithful respond:

The moleben has come to an end.

Singing the short "general moleben"

If you look at pages 441-449 of our Divine Liturgies book, you will find a service titled "General Moleben for the Living." This service, provided with music even for the parts chanted to the ordinary psalm tone, consists of the bare minmum of a moleben service, leaving out every optional part as well as the reading(s):

Opening blessing
Beginning prayers (chanted)
Penitential troparia (sung)
Litany "for the intention"
Dismissal

It is very short, and can easily be sung after a Divine Liturgy. Although all cantors should know this form of the service, we hope that parishes will sometimes choose to serve one of the normal molebens from time to time.