In the Byzantine Rite, stichera are hymns sung together with psalm verses. Foir example, at Vespers on Good Friday, we sing:

Verse. If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord, who can stand? But with you is forgiveness. (Ps. 129:3)

Sticheron. All creation was transformed with fear * when it beheld you hanging on the Cross, O Christ...

These hymns (along with the poetic hymns called canons) make up the bulk of the variable parts of Vespers and Matins, and are often rich in theological content.

Using Greek terminology, we refer to one sticheron and several stichera. (In Slavonic, the word stichera means a single hymn or sticheron; the plural is stichiry, and a stich is a psalm verse. In general, we will use the Greek terms to avoid confusion.)

Stichera at Vespers

The most familiar stichera are those of the Lamp-lighting Psalms. At each celebration of Vespers, a series of evening psalms are chanted, beginning with the words, "Lord, I have cried to you, hear me." At some point (the exact point varies), the singing changes. From this point on, the cantor intones each psalm verse, and the people respond with a hymn. These hymns are the stichera.

There are always an even number of stichera (originally there were sung by two choirs, in alternation). To find where the stichera are inserted into the psalm, the cantor determines the correct number of stichera for the day (generally 6 for ordinary days, 8 for feast-days, and 10 for Sundays) and counts backwards from the end of the last psalm. After the cantor sings each psalm verse to a special melody that varies with the tone of the sticheron, the people join in to sing the sticheron with the cantor.

At the end of the psalms, the cantgor chants the doxology, "Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever. Amen'" Depending on solemnnity of the day, a single sticheron may be sung after "Glory... now and ever...", or two concluding stichera may be sung: one after "Glory....", and one after "Now and ever..." The very last hymn in such a sequence of stichera is usually dedicated to the Mother of God.

In addition to the stichera at the Lamp-lighting Psalms, two other sets of stichera are sung at Vespers:

Stichera at other services

At Matins, stichera are sung:

In general, a smaller number of stichera are sung at Matins than at Vespers.

Occasionally, stichera will appear in an unexpected location, such as in the wedding service. Usually, such stichera were originally part of another service, and were borrowed (often without their psalm verses) for use in some appropriate place. For example, "We have seen the true light", which is sung at the Divine Liturgy after Holy Communion, is actually one of the stichera from the Lamp-lighting Psalms of Pentecost.

Stichera in the liturgical books

Stichera are found in the liturgical books that contain the changeable parts of Byzantine Rite services: the Octoechos, Triodion, Pentecostarion, and Menaion. On most days, stichera will come from at least two different sources (e.g. from the Octoechos for the day and tone of the week, and from the Menaion for the saint of the day). Each sticheron is assigned one of the eight tones.

In the liturgical books, special names are sometimes used for specific kinds of stichera:

Since stichera follow the system of eight tones, the melody for each sticheron is indicated by a statement of a tone, to which the name of a particular special melody is sometimes added. When several stichera are to be sung to the same melody, the melody is only indicated for the first sticheron of the set.

For examples of stichera, see the online Menaion entry for September 1, the first day of the liturgical year.

Melodies for stichera

The prostopinije tradition provides melodies for stichera in each of the eight tones; these "ordinary" melodies are referred to as "samohlasen tones". There are also a number of special melodies called podobny, to be used when called for in the liturgical books. See Melodies for stichera.

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