Singing the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy

This article covers the practical aspects of singing the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy - that is, a Divine Liturgy (of St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil the Great) at which the bishop serves as principal celebrant. For more about the liturgical role of the bishop, see Hierarchical Services.

You will need a copy of the green Divine Liturgies book, together with the Supplement for the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. (The latter booklet is unofficial, and if an alternate book is prepared, follow that instead.)

Before the service

A chair should be prepared for the bishop in the middle of the church, along with eagle rugs on which he will stand. Also, make sure that suitable books for the service are available to the people who will attend.

A priest or deacon will normally be appointed to serve as the master of ceremonies - that is, the person responsible for organizing the service and making sure that it takes place in good order. The cantor should find out who the master of ceremonies will be, and meet with him before the service.

Note that the hierarchical Divine Liturgy does NOT involve a significant amount of new music, or complicated responses on the part of the faithful. Their role is to sing the ordinary music of the Divine Liturgy; respond to the bishop's blessings (usually by singing "God grant you many years"); and by NOT singing at certain points when the clergy themselves, or the bishop, sing certain parts of the service which are normally sung by the congregation. The role of the cantor is critical in leading the singing at the hierarchical Divine Liturgy.

A note about the entrance of the bishop

In ancient times, the clergy made a solemn entrance into the sanctuary to the singing of the Trisagion ("Holy God"), before the readings and the Gospel. Over time, other parts of the service, such as the antiphons and troparia, were added before this entrance, and so the clergy left the sanctuary with the Gospel book (this is the Small Entrance) and re-entered the sanctuary to the singing of Holy God.

Our most solemn services tend to maintain the most ancient usages. So when the bishop presides at the Divine Liturgy, he enters the church, but remains in the nave until the time of the Small Entrance while a priest leads the Divine Liturgy from the altar. Then from the Small Entrance to the end of the Liturgy, it is the bishop who leads the service until the final blessing.

The entrance of the bishop into the church

The arrival of the bishop is normally an occasion for celebration, since he is the high priest for the eparchy, and its spiritual leader. The church bells are rung, and a delegation from the parish usually meets the bishop at the doors of the church with traditional gifts of bread and salt, sometimes together with a key to the church. The bishop will be accompanied by the priest, deacons, and servers who will celebrate the Liturgy with him. In an ecclesiastical procession, the place of honor is at the end, so the servers enter the church, folllowed by the deacons and priests, and finally the bishop.

Two deacons with censers stand inside the church and meet the bishop just after he steps inside. The first deacon (sometimes called the protodeacon) intones:

May the Lord bless you from Zion, and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life, always, now and ever and forever.

and the faithful, led by the cantor, respond:

Short Amen

Then the cantor and faithful sing one of three different things as the bishop and his concelebrants take their places:

For the first option, any melody could be used. But since three of our four settings from the Divine Liturgy only repeat the "now and ever" rather than the entire hymn, the Divine Liturgy setting that would normally be used is this one:

Blessed be the name C

But since the procession into the church may take some time, a festive choral setting of the same text might be used, for example one of the versions by Bortniansky.

If "It is truly proper to glorify you" or the feast-day irmos is sung, then the music from the Divine Liturgies book should be used. Again, a longer and more ornate setting may be used to accompany the procession, as long as it is sung well.

The vesting of the bishop

If the bishop processes into the church fully vested for the Divine Liturgy – that is, in sticharion, epitrachelion, phelonion or sakkos, epigonation, omophorion, and crown or miter – then he immediately proceeds to bless the faithful with candles (below) and the Divine Liturgy begins.

But if he enters the church wearing his "travelling clothes" – his kamilavkion (hat), mandyas (mantle), and rason (cassock) – this is an indication that the older and more formal way of beginning the liturgy will take place: the bishop will be prepared for the Divine Liturgy in the middle of the church, stripped of his ordinary clothes and robed in sacred vestments, as the spiritual meaning of each is made clear.

First, the bishop goes to stand before the holy doors, on an orlets (rug with the depiction of an eagle), and says the customary prayers before the iconostasis that every priest is to say before beginning the Liturgy, together with the two deacons. There are no congregational responses during this part of the service.

Then the bishop turns to the faithful and blesses them with his pastoral staff (a symbol of his authority, and also his responsibility for his flock). The people respond by asking God to watch over him and protect him:

God grant you many years. God grant you many years. God grant you many blessed years.

Any of the melodies in the Divine Liturgies book (pages 90-92) may be used for this response. (Choral settings may also be used, but unless they are well known to the congregation so that the latter can sing along, these should be held until later in the service.)

As an alternative to this initial singing of "Many years", there is a custom in some places of singing a fuller response:

Preserve, O Lord, our Master and Hierarch. Many years to you, O Master!

In its oldest form, this is sung in Greek, the original liturgical language of the Byzantine liturgical tradition:

Ton Dhespotin ke arkhiereaimon, kyrie filate, eis polla eti Dhespota!

The pronunciation is easier to learn if paired with this easy-to-sing melody, which can be found at this point in the supplement booklet referred to above:

Ton Dhespotin

When this initial response is sung in Greek, it is sometimes taken in another well-known but much shorter form – namely, just "For many years, O Master" in Greek:

Eis polla eit

(Listen to a recording by the PreŇ°ov Seminary Choir)

There is no requirement at all that you sing either version in Greek, but some parishes (or clergy) may start singing either one, and it's always good for a cantor to be familiar with music that is likely to be used at some point!

Then the vesting begins. The bishop goes to his chair, and the concelebrating clergy approach him for a blessing, then go into the sanctuary to vest for the Liturgy. (At this point, one of the priests will normally go to the side table in the sanctuary to prepare the gifts of bread and wine.)

Other clergy bring the bishop's vestments. The deacons remove the bishop's outer "travelling clothes" while the faithful sing an appropriate liturgical hymn for the day. The liturgical books say that this is to be a sticheron – from Vespers, for example – and these should be prepared or at least made available to the faithful; or else well-known troparia or kontakia for the day may be sung. (Patronal stichera or troparia could also be used.)

One of the deacons takes each of the bishop's vestments and intones:

Let us pray to the Lord.

and the people respond, as usual:

Lord have mercy

(If you have taken the MCI class on Services for the Living, you may recall that this is what we almost always sing whenever the priest or deacon intones, "Let us pray to the Lord.") The other deacon censes the vestment and intones a verse from Scripture which provides a symbolic meaning for the vestment, to which the faithful respond:


The bishop then blesses the vestment, optionally reciting a verse of Scripture; these usually relates each garment to the events of the Passion of Christ, and these is NO response to these Passion verses.

This process – "Let us pray to the Lord", "Lord, have mercy", a scriptural verse by the deacon, "Amen" – is repeated for each of the bishop's vestments, ending with his crown.

Then the first deacon reminds the bishop of the responsibilities of his office:

Just so, your light must shine before others so that they may see your good deeds and glorify our heavenly Father, always, now and ever and forever.

And the faithful response once more:


The first blessing with candles

Now that the bishop has been solemnly vested (or if he entered the church already vested), he blesses the entire church, to the East, West, North, and South, with two candelabra: the trikirion (with three candles, representing the Trinity) and the dikirion (with two candles, representing the divine and human natures of Christ). By blessing in all four directions, he is symbolically calling God's favor down on the whole world, but most especially on the church, and also asking a blessing for himself:

Lord, O Lord, look down from heaven and see, and visit this vineyard and perfect this vine which your right hand has planted. May your hand be upon the son of man whom you made strong for yourself.

He blesses this way in all four directions, and after the FOURTH and final blessing, the cantor and faithful sing:

God grant you many years. God grant you many years. God grant you many blessed years.

using any of the melodies from the Divine Liturgy. This will be the congregational response to the bishop's blessing throughout the service, whenever he blesses with his staff or with candles. (Note that we do NOT sing "In health and happiness..." until the very end of the Liturgy.)

If the priest who will prepare the Gifts has not done so already (for example, if the bishop entered already vested), he may enter the sanctuary and do so now. One of the Hours may be celebrated at this point, or appropriate hymns may be sung, during which the bishop, priests, and deacons say quietly the prayers that would normally be said before the altar.

The beginning of the Liturgy

Finally, when all is in readiness, the deacons and one of the concelebrating priests go into the sanctuary, and from before the altar it is this priest who gives the opening blessing of the Divine Liturgy:

Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever.

The Divine Liturgy is celebrated as usual, while the bishop sits on his chair in the middle of the nave. The Litany of Peace is intoned by a deacon, followed by the First, Second, and Third Antiphons, or the Typical Psalms and Beatitudes, with the ordinary melodies.

The Small Entrance

Normally at the Divine Liturgy, during the Third Antiphon, the priest and deacon make a procession with the Gospel book through the church. This procession is quite different at the hierarchical Divine Liturgy.

The priests, deacons, and servers go in procession from the sanctuary to the middle of the church, where the bishop is. At the end of the Third Antiphon, the deacon intones:

Wisdom! Be attentive!

The instinct of the cantor and faithful at this point is to begin singing the entrance hymn, "Come let us worship." DON'T DO IT!

Instead, the candles will be brought to the bishop, and he will sing

Come, let us worship and bow before Christ!

together with the priests. Then the bishop blesses to the East, West, North, and South, while saying:

O Christ, you are the true light who enlightens and sanctifies everyone coming into the world. Sign us with the light of your face, so that walking in it, we may see the light of your unapproachable glory. Direct our steps in the observance of your commands. Through the prayers of your most pure Mother, O Christ our God, save us.

When he has finished saying this, the cantor and faithful sing:

God grant you many years. God grant you many years. God grant you many blessed years.

and then they sing the REST of the entrance hymn of the day, while the bishop, priests, deacons and servers enter the sanctuary. Usually, this concluding part of the entrance hymn will be:

O Son of God, risen from the dead, save us who sing to you. Alleluia! (on Sundays)

O Son of God, wondrous in your saints, save us who sing to you. Alleluia! (on weekdays)

The usual melodies can be employed for these. But remember that certain feast days such as Christmas have a special entrance hymn. If this the case, check with the master of ceremonies to find out what should be sung at this point.

The Trisagion – "Holy God"

Now the troparia and kontakia of the day are sung. The bishop intones, "For you are holy..." and the deacon comes to the holy doors to exclaim, "And forever." to which the faithful respond, "Amen."

The cantor and faithful begin to sing the Trisagion ("Holy God"), the ancient entrance hymn of the Byzantine liturgical tradition. But they sing it TWICE ONLY; the third time, it is sung by the bishop, in Greek:

Agios o theos, agios ischyros, agios athanatos, eleison imas.

If there is a deacon, he will exclaim:

Give glory to Christ our God!

and the cantor and faithful sing the remainder of the Trisagion: "Glory.... now and ever.... Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us. Holy God...."

If there is no deacon, this exclamation is omitted, and the cantor should begin the "Glory..." of the Trisagion immediately.

If it is a day on which "All you who have been baptized" or "We bow to your cross" replaces "Holy God", then the alternate hymn is sung in the fashion described above, with the third time being sung by the bishop in Greek.

The Divine Liturgy continues

The Divine Liturgy continues as usual, with the bishop now officiating from the sanctuary. At the end of the Gospel, he leaves his seat in the back of the sanctuary and goes out through the holy doors to bless the people with candles, saying nothing. The cantor and faithful sing:

God grant you many years. God grant you many years. God grant you many blessed years.

And after the Great Entrance, the bishop will again come out through the holy doors, bless the people with candles, and the same response is sung:

God grant you many years. God grant you many years. God grant you many blessed years.

If there are a large number of concelebrants, you can expect the kiss of peace among the clergy to take some time. Do not be alarmed; wait in patience until it is time to chant the Symbol of Faith (Creed).

When it is time for the great sacrificial prayer of the Anaphora, the bishop celebrates this exactly as does a priest, except that at "Let us lift up our hearts", he blesses with the candles rather than with his hand. Do NOT sing "Many years", but the usual response, "We lift them up to the Lord."

Holy Communion

Finally, the bishop will exclaim:

Holy gifts to holy people!

and the faithful respond, as usual,

One is holy, one is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

The chalice(s) will be prepared, and the consecrated Bread will be given to each of the priests and deacons in the sanctuary. Once this is complete, the clergy and faithful together say the pre-Communion prayer, "O Lord, I believe and profess..."

Since this distribution of the blessed Bread to the clergy will take some time, it is reasonable to ask what should be sung, and there is no clear and definite answer.

Check with the master of ceremonies and your pastor, and use your best judgment. But remember that if singing is slow, it must NOT drag, but remain intense and prayerful. If this is not possible, silence may be a better option.

AFTER the pre-Communion prayer, the clergy will receive from the chalice, and the cantor should lead the faithful in singing the Communion Hymn of the day, with its psalm verses. See Singing the Divine Liturgy: Holy Communion for options.

When all the clergy have received, a deacon will intone:

Approach with the fear of God and with faith.

The cantor and faithful sing "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord", then come up to receive. The Communion Hymn of the day is continued; if there are two Communion Hymns, both may be sung, together with their psalm verses.

Thanksgiving and Conclusion

After Holy Communion, the bishop blesses the faithful with the chalice, saying:

Save your people, O God, and bless your inheritance.

Immediately, the cantor and faithful respond to the blessing with one of the following, as appropriate:

We have seen

The hymns and prayers after Holy Communion, the Ambon Prayer,and the final blessing are otherwise the same as those at the non-hierarchical Divine Liturgy.

The bishop himself gives the dismissal, and when the faithful sing "Most reverend Bishop, give the blessing" or "Most reverent Archbishop, give the blessing" instead of the usual "Give the blessing."

In summary

If the bishop celebrates "simply"

In cathedral parishes, and occasionally in other circumstances, the bishop may celebrate the Divine Liturgy simply, rather than with the full ceremonial described above, especially if he celebrates with a small number of concelebrants, or none.

When a bishop celebrates the Divine Liturgy in this fashion, the only change that is customarily made is to replace "Reverent father", where it occurs, with "Most reverend Bishop" or "Most reverent archbishop." If you will cantor regularly for a bishop, be sure to ask his preferences as well.