The Feast of the Theophany

Part V: Matins

Introduction - Arrangement of Services - Vespers - Great Compline - Matins - Divine Liturgy - Great Blessing of Water

Matins of Theophany forms the second half of the night-time service of the feast.

This page describes the order, hymns and readings of the Matins service for the feast of Theophany, as given in the liturgical books. For information about the prostopinije chant of the service, along with practical suggestions and commentary, see Singing Theophany Matins.

The order of the service

Beginning and the Six Psalms

Matins begins with the priest's opening blessing: "Glory to the holy, consubstantial, life-creating and undivided Trinity, always, now and ever and forever." (This blessing is used at the beginning of Great Compline if the two services are combined.)

Then the lector chants six psalms (Hexapsalmos) of Matins. In the liturgical books, these psalms of Matins are appointed to be sung by a single voice, "without melody", while the rest of the faithful listen with compunction; it is said that those are the psalms that will be sung by the angels during the last judgment. These psalms are followed by the Litany of Peace.

The troparion the feast will be sung next - but first the deacon sings, and the people repeat:

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

These words, echoing both the Old Testament prophets and the cries of the crowd who greeted our Lord as He entered Jerusalem before His passion, apply equally well to the feast of Theophany.

Then the troparion of the feast is sung three times, as always on great feasts:

At your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, worship of the Trinity was revealed;
for the Father's voice bore witness to you, calling you his beloved Son,
and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of these words.
O Christ God, you appeared and enlightened the world. Glory to you!

Readings from the Psalter

At this point, two sets (kathismata) of psalms are appointed to be chanted, each set folowed by a set of "sessional hymns." (The name refers to the fact that the faithful are seated; the corresponding Slavonic term is sedalen.) Outside of monasteries, the kathismata of the Psalter are usually omitted.

Now the Polyeleos (verses from Psalms 134 and 135) is sung, followed by the exaltation of the feast:

We extol You, O Christ the Giver of Life, for You were baptized for us this day in the flesh by John in the waters of the Jordan.

The magnification is sung after each of the psalm verses that follow:

V. O God, be gracious and bless us, and let your face shed its light upon us.
V. The Lord's voice resounding on the waters, the Lord on the immensity of the waters.
V. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders; the Lord is over many waters.

During the singing of the exaltation and its verses, the clergy carry the icon of the feast in procession from the holy Table (altar), through the Holy Doors, and enthrone it on the Tetrapod, where it is incensed.

Finally, the third sessional hymn of the feast is sung:

O faithful, come and behold the place of the baptism of Christ 
so that we may follow Him to the streams of the Jordan 
and thus draw near to the one who cries out in the wilderness: 
See the inexpressible loving-kindness of the Creator of Adam 
who bows his head to the hand of a servant. 
Therefore, let us cry out to Him:  You have come and appeared in the Jordan to sanctify the waters.

(Note that this part of Matins always has three readings or kathismata from the Psalter. On feast days, the Polyeleos, magnification and sessional hymns of the feast make up the third Psalter reading, which is taken even if the first two readings are omitted.)


Before the Gospel, the following prokeimenon is sung:

The sea fled at the sight; the Jordan turned back on its course.

V. Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?

The Gospel (always read by the priest at Matins, even if there is a deacon) is the story of the baptism of the Lord, from the Gospel according to Saint Mark (1:9-11):

At that time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. Immediately on coming up out of the water, he saw the sky rent in two and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Then a voice came from the heavens: "You are my beloved son. On you my favor rests."

After the Gospel is read, the Gospel Book is placed on the tetrapod, for veneration during the Canon.

At Matins, the Church's great penitential psalm, Psalm 50, is always chanted after the Gospel. On ordinary Sundays. it ends with three short stichera; on days in the Great Fast, much longer stichera of repentence are sung. But on this feast, as at Christmas Matins, the stichera are quite short:

All creation is filled with joy today; Christ has appeared in the Jordan! (twice)

God the Word manifested himself in the flesh to the human race.  He stood in the Jordan to be baptized,  and the Forerunner said to Him:  How can I extend my hand and touch the head of Him who governs all things?  Even though You were an infant born of Mary,  I know that You are the eternal God.  You are praised by the Seraphim and yet You walk on earth,  and the servant has not learned how to baptize the Master.  O ineffable Lord, glory to You!

The Canon

The Canon of Theophany is full of imagery of strength, of roaring waters. (Actually, there are two canons, sung together, but the second is difficult to translate, and is not included in Byzantine Catholic liturgical books in English.)

Recall that a (full) canon consists of eight odes (nine during the Great Fast, when the penitential Ode 2 is sung). Each ode consists of:

A theme-song or "irmos"
Several troparia, each of which is preceded by a short refrain.

The irmos for the first ode of the Theophany Canon is a hymn of praise toi the Lord who has emerged victorious, having conquered our enemies - the devil, the demonic powers, and our sins - in the waters if the Jordan, as he vanquished the enemies of the Isrealites in the waters of the Red Sea:

The Lord, powerful in battle, separated the foundations of the sea and led his servants across on dry ground. But He covered their enemies with the waters, for He is covered with glory.

While the canon is sung, the faithful come forward to venerate the Gospel Book, and be anointed with the holy oil that was blessed by the priest at Compline.

After the third ode, we sing again the sessional hymns of the feast; after the sixth ode, we sing the kontakion and ikos of Theophany. Like the Great Compline hymn God is with us, the kontakion emphasizes the cosmic significance of God's revelation in Christ Jesus, and his closeness to us, while the ikos brings all mankind within the compass of this revelation:

You have revealed yourself to the world today;
and your light, O Lord, has set its seal on us.
We recognize you and exclaim to you:
You have come and revealed yourself, O Unapproachable Light.

As the prophet foretold,
a great Light, Christ, has shone upon Galilee of the Gentiles,
upon the land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephtali.
A people living in darkness have seen a great light shining from Bethlehem.
The Sun of Righteousness, the Lord born of Mary, casts his rays upon all those who dwelt on earth.
Come then, O naked children of Adam, and let us clothe ourselves in Him that we may warm ourselves.
For the Light that no one can approach, the One who is a protection and a mantle for the naked,
the Light to those in darkness, has appeared and revealed himself today.

Before the ninth ode, instead of the Magnificat, we sing the exaltation of the feast. We will hear this hymn, and the irmos of the ninth ode, again in the morning at the Divine Liturgy.

With the conclusion of the ninth ode, we reach the end of the Theophany canon, and sing the Hymn of Light (in Slavonic, svitilen) of the feast, three times:

The Savior, who is grace and truth, has been revealed in the waters of the Jordan; 
and He shed light upon those who sleep in darkness and shadow. 
The Light to whom no one can draw near is revealed today.

This is the deep meaning of the feast, as seen in the light of the old Testament and the New: the God who by nature transcends all creation, has revealed himself within the created world, in order to save his people.

The Praises and Great Doxology

The final part of matins is a service of praise (sometimes called Lauds).

This part of the service begins with the singing of "the Praises" - Psalms 148-150, which conclude the book of Psalms. On great feasts, the very last verse of the Psalter ("Let everything that lives and that breathes give praise to the Lord", Ps, 150:6) is sung first, along with the first verses of Psalm 148. Then remaining verses of the three psalms are simply chanted, with stichera accompanying the final psalm verses - just as is done with the Lamplighting Psalms at Vespers. (Unfortunately, the chanted verses are often omitted, and even the first, sung verses are sometimes skipped.)

For the feast of Theophany, these stichera "at the Praises" show the entire universe responding in joy and praise to the event that has taken place:

The One who clothes the heavens with clouds  today is clothed in the waters of the Jordan;  and He who takes away the sin of the world  today is cleansed that I may be washed clean.  The only-begotten Son of the almighty Father  receives the witness of the consubstantial Spirit from on high.  Therefore, let us sing out to Him:  O Christ God who has revealed yourself and saved us, glory to You!

O Savior who clothes yourself in light as with a cloak,  You have clothed yourself in the waters of the Jordan.  You once measured the heavens with a span;  now You bow your head to the Forerunner  that You might convert the world from sin and save our souls.

Today Christ draws near to be baptized in the Jordan;  today John touches the head of the Master.  The heavenly hosts marvel as they behold the awesome mystery.  The sea fled at this sight;  the Jordan turned back on its course;  and we who have been enlightened sing out:  Glory to God who is revealed today;  He has condescended to take flesh,  thereby bringing light to the world.

Finally, the Great Doxology - the Church's principal hymn of praise - is sung. It begins with the words of the angels to the shepherds, which have been repeated many times in the two weeks since the feast of the Nativity:

Glory to God in the highest,
and to people on earth, peace and good will.

At the conclusion of the Great Doxology, the Trisagion Prayers and the troparion of Theophany (sung three times) are followed by the Litany of Supplication and a festal dismissal.

The night-time service of Theophany has come to an end.

Recommended Reading