Hierarchical Services

We may sometimes be tempted to think of the bishop as simply the chief executive officer of an eparchy or diocese. But in the Catholic and Orthodox tradition, he is first and foremost:

Because of these roles, the bishop (in Greek, episcopos, or "overseer") is also called a hierarch ('high priest", or "steward of holy things") and a pontiff ('bridge-builder"). A bishop who presides over a principal city is called the Archbishop or Metropolitan of that city.

The liturgical role of the bishop

Of course, the bishop can not be everywhere, and he ordinarily delegates the work of preaching, teaching, and sanctifying to others, particularly presbyters (priests) and catechists. A bishop, of course, has all the powers of a presbyter, and he can celebrate services such as the Divine Liturgy and Vespers using the same basic order of services that would be used by any of his priests.

But the Byzantine Rite also provides solemn forms of these services for those times when the bishop presides, surrounded by his clergy and laity, in one of the churches of the eparchy that he leads. These are called hierarchical (or pontifical) services, and often contain elements going far back into the history of the Church, when the bishop was the ordinary celebrant at every service.

Of course, there are also services that only the bishop can celebrate:

These services are collected in the liturgical book called the Archieratikon.

The Hierarchical Divine Liturgy

In the hierarchical form of the Divine Liturgy, the bishop celebrates the Liturgy together with con-celebrating priests and deacons. (Other bishops may take part as well.)

In the early history of the Byzantine Rite, the Divine Liturgy began with the entrance of the clergy to the sanctuary, accompanied by the singing of the Trisagion ("Holy God"). The parts of our modern Divine Liturgy that come before the Holy God took place in processions on the way to church, or in the vestibule and nave of the church. (See The Divine Liturgy: The Enarxis.) The bishop would arrive in time for the solemn entrance, and then serve as the principal celebrant.

This is why, in the hierarchical Divine Liturgy, the service begins with the greeting of the bishop at the outer doors of the church; he is escorted inside, and after preliminary prayers, his outer travelling garments are removed, and he is clothed by the deacons in the vestments he will wear for the Divine Liturgy. Each of these vestments is accompanied by a prayer which stresses its spiritual meaning, along with the role and responsibility of the bishop. Then the bishop is seated in the middle of the church for the Office of Antiphons, until the Small Entrance with the Gospel book, when he is escorted solemnly into the sanctuary by the clergy, and from this point onwards he serves as the principal celebrant.

In a sign of the unity of the Byzantine Rite, after the clergy and people sing "Holy God" twice, the bishop sings it in Greek the third time ("Hagios o theos...."), then the people complete the hymn, and the Divine Liturgy continues as usual. Each time the bishop blesses the people, they sing an acclamation, asking God's protection for him: "God grant him many years!" This acclamation may also be sung in Greek or Church Slavonic. At the Symbol of Faith (Creed), the bishop exchanges the kiss of peace with each of his priests, and it is ordinarily the bishop who distributes Holy Communion.

The following table shows the major parts of the hierarchical Divine Liturgy, and also indicates where special services such as ordinations take place.

The Hierarchical Divine Liturgy
The bishop is greeted at the doors of the church
Bishop and first deacon say prayers before the iconostasis
Bishop blesses the people, who respond with "Many years"
The bishop is seated in the middle of the church
Priests receive his blessing
Deacons vest the bishop for the Liturgy
Bishop blesses with staff to the east, west, north, and south
The people respond with "Many years"
Ordinations to minor orders take place here
Blessing of antimensia takes place here
Hours may be celebrated

Concelebrating priest goes to altar
Blessing by priest: "Blessed is the Kingdom..."
Litany of Peace
First Antiphon or Typical Psalm
Second Antiphon or Typical Psalm
"O Only-begotten Son and Word of God"
Third Antiphon, or the Beatitudes
Concelebrating clergy go in procession from the sanctuary to the bishop's chair
Elevation of an archimandrite, hegumen, or protopresbyter takes place here
Priests sing beginning of Entrance Hymn: "Come, let us worship"
Bishop blesses with candles to east, west, north, and south
The people respond with "Many years", and conclude the Entrance Hymn
Bishop enters the sanctuary with clergy
Troparia and kontakia appointed for the day are sung
Trisagion ("Holy God"); third time is sung by the bishop in Greek

Ordination of a bishop takes place here

Epistle reading
Gospel reading
Bishop blesses faithful with candles
The people respond with "Many years"

Litany of Fervent Supplication
(Litany for the Deceased)
(Litany for the Catechumens)
(Litany of the Faithful)
Great Entrance
Ordination of a priest takes place here
Bishop blesses faithful with candles
The people respond with "Many years"
Litany over the Gifts
The Symbol of Faith (Creed)
The Anaphora of Saint John Chrysostom or Saint Basil the Great
Ordination of a deacon takes place here
Consecration of chrism takes place here
Prayers before Holy Communion
Holy Communion
Thanksgiving after Holy Communion
Prayer before the ambon
Enthronement of a bishop takes place here
Blessing by bishop
"Many years" is sung for the pope, the bishop(s), the clergy and people
Bishop blesses faithful with his pastoral staff, and they respond with "Many years"
Bishop leaves church in procession

PDF version of this table

If however, the bishop is present but is not the main celebrant, he may participate in the Liturgy from a chair placed on the solea, by the right side of the iconostasis; he blesses from the chair, but otherwise the ordinary form of the Divine Liturgy is used.

For musical details and recommendations for cantors, see Singing the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy.

Other Hierarchical Services

The Archieratikon also includes hierarchical forms of Vespers and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.

The ceremonies for the consecration of a church are more extensive, involving the celebration of Vespers, the preparation and blessing of the church, and the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. See Consecration of a church.

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