Singing Vespers: The Psalms of Vespers

This article describes the singing of the fixed and variable psalms that make up the first part of Vespers in the Byzantine Rite.

The call to worship

Immediately after singing the beginning prayers, we chant the following to the usual 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.

Psalm 103

Then the cantor and faithful, together, intone Psalm 103, a hymn of praise God's wisdom as displayed in the created world. This psalm can be:

On ordinary days

Simple chanting is appropriate for daily Vespers, for lesser feasts, and for penitential days. The entire psalm is chanted to the usual psalm tone:

Blessed the Lord, O my soul!
     Lord my God, how great you are...

At the end, we chant "Glory... now and ever...", also to the usual psalm tone, and then, three times:

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
     Glory to you, O God!

It is customary to sing the final Alleluia to a special melody:

By tradition, we make the sign of the Cross whenever " and ever" is said or sung, and we make a reverence (a bow from the waist, together with the sign of the Cross) when singing "Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Glory to you, O God!" But the cantor should not do anything that disrupts the singing while it is going on. In other words, make only a token bow, or do not bow at all, while you are leading singing in church; others need to hear your voice.

On feast days

On feast days of polyelelos rank and above, we normally use a festive psalm tone for Psalm 103; only selected verses are sung.


Twelve verses are sung to this melody, along with "Glory... now and ever...", and the final "Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Glory to you, O God!", all to the festive psalm tone. Music can be found on pages 6-7 of the MCI Sunday Vespers book.

This melody should be sung fairly quickly, with a smooth rhythm. Do not slow down for the eighth notes. If desired, singing can alternate between two sides of the church, or between men and women; each group should have its own leading voice.

On Sundays

On Saturday evenings, the cantor can choose whether to chant or sing Psalm 103.

The Litany of Peace

The opening psalm of Vespers is always followed by the Litany of Peace, which has the same responses as at the Divine Liturgy:

Remember to match pitch with the deacon or priest who intones the petitions of the litany.

The variable psalms (kathismata)

In most celebrations of Vespers, the variable monastic psalmody is omitted. If it is included (according to the schedule in the article on kathismata), the stations of the appointed kathisma are chanted a psalm tone, and responses to the small litany are sung after each station.

At Great Vespers, however, we almost always sing the First Kathisma, or Blessed is the man. The cantor sings the first verse:

and then leads the singing of the refrain:


The entire hymn (consistiing of selected verses of Psalms 1-8) can be found in this article, and on pages 10-11 of the MCI Sunday Vespers book.

"Blessed is the man" can either set a glorious tone of praise for Vespers, or bring the entire service to a dragging halt, leading the faithful to reach for their watches or cell phones. It is incumbent upon the cantor at Great Vespers to make this a memorable hymn. If you have two cantors, consider alternating the singing between sides of the church (verse and refrain on the right side*, verses and refrain on the left side, etc.) or have one cantor sing the verses and one lead the refrains.

*Note: when the singers are divided into two "choirs", right and left are described from a point of view facing the santuary from the nave. The right side always begins the singing, which then alternates left - right - left and so on.

The service continues

The variable psalmody ought to be followed by a Small Litany which provides some breathing space before the next part of Vespers. This litany was omitted in earlier Vespers books, including those from the MCI, but may be restored in the future.

The singing of Vespers continues with chanting of Psalm 140, and the Lighting of the Lamps.