Singing the Beginning Prayers

This article describes the singing of the prayers that make up the "usual beginning" to Vespers, Compline, the Hours, and most other services in the Byzantine Rite apart from the Divine Liturgies and the holy mysteries of baptism and crowning.

Before these services, the cantor should have his or her music and other materials rehearsed and prepared at the cantor stand. If paraliturgical songs are sung before the service, they should be in accord with the season and the service that is about to be celebrated.

The opening blessing

The beginning prayer start with a blessing of God by the priest:

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

or a plea for God's mercy by the leader, if it is not a priest or bishop:

Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.

In either case, they should be intoned using the ordinary clergy melodies in our tradition, so that the final note sets the "tonic" (home pitch) or do for the service.

The prayers

Then the cantor should lead the people in chanting the prayers, to the usual psalm tone. The "home pitch" (do) should match that of the priest or other leader, and be maintained throughout as much of the service as possible. If it is necessary to start at a different pitch or set a particular pitch (for example, because the priest has a weak or unsure voice), the cantor should set the pitch and maintain it.

NOTE: In the second half of the customary psalm tone, the voice drops to the leading tone ti immediately before the last accent in the line. The place where the pitch changes is often marked in our books using bold italic text; unfortunately, this can have the unintended effect of leading singers to emphasize this syllable. In the examples below, we use underlining instead.

The tempo of these prayers should be steady and at a normal speaking pace, without long pauses. If the beginning prayers are allowed to drag, this will slow down the entire service and damage the liveliness of the prayer and the interest of those participating in it.

If the congregation is large enough, it is possible to alternate the singing of the prayers between two sides of the church, between men and women, or between clergy and people. Ideally, each group should have one cantor or person to start the singing of their side.

Here are the beginning prayers, set to the usual psalm tone. The indented line in each group shows where the second part of the psalm tone (on re) begins, and the underlined syllable is where the voice drops from re to ti before concluding the verse. (You can listen to the beginning prayers here, or from 0:30 to 2:55 in this complete recording of Vespers).

Glory to you (psalm tone)

Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things,
Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life,
come and dwell within us, cleanse us of all stain,
     and save our souls, O gracious One.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
      Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us. (3 times)

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

Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us; Lord, cleanse us of our sins;
Master, forgive our transgressions;
     Holy One, come to us and heal our infirmities for your name's sake.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
      Lord, have mercy.

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

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
     but deliver us from evil.

Then the priest intones the doxology:

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever.

and the cantor and people respond with the usual "short" Amen:

short Amen

Finally, the people, led by the cantor, sing "Lord, have mercy" twelve times. In our tradition, this is usually sung as follows:

The beginning prayers conclude with the doxology, chanted once more to the usual psalm tone:

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

We have come to the end of the "spiritual warm-up" of the beginning prayers, and are ready to continue with the service being celebrated.