Singing Sunday Evening Vespers during the Great Fast

Among Ukrainian and Ruthenian Catholics, in both Europe and America, a custom developed of celebrating Vespers on the afternoon or evening of Sundays and feasts. In this way, the local church marks the "journey down the mountain" to the ordinary work of the week.

In the Byzantine Catholic Church, this service continues to be popular on:

This article describes the order of the service as celebrated at Saints Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh, using books from the Metropolitan Cantor Institute. According to this tradition, the service begins with ordinary Vespers melodies, and switches halfway through to Lenten melodies.

Note that all publications from the Metropolitan Cantor Institute are unofficial, and are subject to change based on the decisions of the Inter-Eparchial Commissions for Sacred Liturgy and Music and/or the Council of Hierarchs of the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh. Cantors who use other versions of this service may benefit from the outline below, but should follow the directives of their local hierarch and pastor.

What you will need for the service

Two different books for this service are available from the Metropolitan Cantor Institute:

The Order of Vespers on the Sunday of Forgiveness (Cheesefare Sunday) and the Sundays of the Great Fast is an 88-page booklet containing the texts and music for the service, including the Sunday evening hymns in all eight tones, and the special hymns for each Sunday. It is intended to be used with a small leaflet for each Sunday that contains the hymns for the saint of the day

The Order of Vespers on the Sunday of Forgiveness (Cheesefare Sunday) is a 28-page booklet with just the text and music for the fixed parts of Vespers on the evening of Cheesefare Sunday.

Parishes that only celebrate Vespers on the evening of Cheesefare Sunday may want to use the second (smaller) book, but in general we recommend the use of the larger one, which minimizes the amount of printing to be done each year. In this guide, we concentrate on the use of the larger book.

The clergy and faithful should each have a copy of this book, along with the propers leaflet for the day that go with the book being used; these are found on the Liturgical Calendar. Follow the link marked "Sunday afternoon Vespers" for the leaflet with ALL the changeable parts for the day; follow the link marked "saints only" for the small leaflet with just the stichera for the saint of the day.

The cantor should also have a copy of Cantor Verses in the Eight Tones for Vespers and Matins, preferably with a spiral binding, since you will be moving through the book as the tones change.

Outline of the service

Blessing by priest: "Blessed is our God..."
Beginning prayers
Psalm 103: "Bless the Lord, O my soul"
Litany of Peace
Psalms 140, 141, 129 and 116, with stichera
The Hymn of the Evening: "O joyful light"
Prokeimenon for the Great Fast
begin using Lenten melodies here
Hymn of Glorification: "Make us worthy, O Lord"
Litany of Supplication
Prayer of Simeon: "Now you may dismiss your servant, O Lord"
Trisagion, etc., and the Lord's Prayer
The Lenten dismissal:
Three fixed troparia, with prostrations
Hymn to the Mother of God: "Beneath your compassion"
Lord, have mercy (40 times)
"first dismissal"
Prayer of St. Ephem, with prostrations
Trisagion, etc., and the Lord's Prayer
Psalm 33: "I will bless the Lord at all times"
Blessing by priest

Take a look at the outline of the service; it follows the basic pattern of daily Vespers, with the addition of the longer dismissal for fast days.

The music for the service, however, changes abruptly in the middle. From the priest's initial blessing until the hymn "O Joyful Light", we use the ordinary melodies for responses, psalm tones, and stichera. But beginning with the prokeimenon, we switch to Lenten melodies and use them through the end of the service. This marks the switch from Sunday to more strictly penitential weekdays of the Great Fast.

In the outline, the changeable parts of the service are in bold face. Since the dismissal for fast days has its own unchanging troparia, we do not sing any variable troparia at this service.

Psalm 103 and the Litany of Peace

The service begins with the priest's opening blessing, and the people's response, "Amen." These are in the normal (major key) melodies, not the Lenten tone!

The cantor and people then chant the "usual beginning" prayers, and Psalm 103. Here, the psalm is chanted simply on ordinary weekdays, rather than singing it to a festive melody). Everything is done in the usual psalm tone.

Listen to recorded examples of the beginning prayers (lightly harmonized) and Psalm 103, if you are unsure of these.

Then the Litany of Peace is chanted just as at the Divine Liturgy (listen).

The Lamp-lighting Psalms

Now we sing the opening verses of the Psalm 140: "O Lord, I have cried to you, hear me." But to know which melody to use, we have to consider the first set of changeable hymns: the Lamp-lighting Stichera, or "stichera at Psalm 140."

Every celebration of Vespers includes stichera at this point: liturgical hymns which are sung in alternation with psalm verses. On Sunday evenings in the Great Fast, ten stichera are sung:

We always sing the opening verses of Psalm 140 using the samohlasen melody in the tone of the first sticheron – here, it will always be in the Tone of the week, the same as the tone of the Sunday we are concluding (since each new tone begins on Saturday evening).

If you are using the larger service book - the one with music in all eight tones - when you get to page 8, you will be directed to the section with the Lamplight Psalms and stichera of repentence in the Tone of the week. The short "saints only" propers leaflet will provide the exact page number.

If you are using the smaller service book, the propers leaflet will give the music for "O Lord, I have cried".

Listen to "O Lord, I have cried" in the eight tones: Tone 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8.

Then the remaining verses of Psalms 140 and 141 are chanted in the usual psalm tone, stopping just before the verse labelled "on 10." This is where the stichera start.

The Lamp-lighting Stichera – from the congregation's point of view

Remember that when we sing stichera, we normally use the samohlasen tones (or occasionally, special melodies called podobny). Each samohlasen tone has two melodies: a short melody for the psalm verse, and a longer melody consisting of repeating phrases for the hymn. These melodies move smoothly from one to another; the psalm verse melody "announces" the melody that will be used for the hymn.

The easiest way to explain the cantor's role in this part of the service is to take it first from the point of view of someone in the congregation.

If they are using the larger service book, they are already at the end of the recited psalm verses, and hear the cantor sing the psalm verse marked "Cantor (on 10)." Then they sing the sticheron "on 10", to the music provided. Even those who can't read music will generally be familiar with the melody in each tone. (In fact, this is one reason that the Divine Liturgies book includes the Our Father in the eight samohlasen sticheron tones, in order that the faithful become used to singing and hearing them.)

After singing four hymns in the Tone of the week, they will be directed to the page for the particular Sunday (this page number is also provided in the "saints only" propers leaflet, in case they are not sure). The same process is repeated: the cantor sings the psalm verses, which have no musical notation, and then the faithful sing the hymn after each verse.

At the end of the hymns for the particular Sunday, the congregation is directed to the propers leaflet for the last three psalm verses and hymns (of the saint of the day), as well as for the theotokion (hymn to the Mother of God).

If they are using the smaller service book, the propers leaflet will give the music for the psalm verses AND stichera for the Tone of the week, followed by the particular Sunday, followed by the saint of the day.

In either case, at the end of the saint's hymns, they are sent to the appropriate page in the service book for the hymn, "O Joyful Light."

The Lamp-lighting Stichera – from the cantor's point of view

Music for the 10 final verses of the Lamp-lighting Psalms, in each of the eight tones, can be found in the Cantor Verses book mentioned above, or in the Cantor's Companion. A very experienced cantor who is used to leading Vespers can probably sing many of these from memory, or else has put page markers in the Cantor Verses book for the right psalm verses in the proper tone. By leaving the music for the psalm verses out of Vespers books, a great deal of space is saved, and the faithful can easily see what they are supposed to sing.

But since many parishes don't celebrate Vespers often, the majority of cantors are not yet familiar with the psalm verses.

If your parish uses the recommended service book - the one with all the hymns in the eight tones and for each of the Sundays of the Fast - we suggest that you print off the "saints only" leaflet for the congregation, and print off copies of the "complete" set of propers just for the cantor(s). That way, you will have all the music for the psalm verses and hymns, in order, in one place.

If you do this, be careful to note that the page numbers for the fixed parts of the service differ slightly between the two books, so don't try to follow the page numbers in the complete-propers leaflet if you are using the large service book!

And of course, if you are using the smaller service book, you and the congregation will both be following the complete set of propers.

The middle of the service

At the end of the Lamp-lighting Stichera, you will be on page 9 of the larger service book, or page 8 of the smaller service book. As the clergy enter the sanctuary, you will lead the congregation in singing the ancient evening hymn, "O Joyful Light" (listen - another version with harmonization). Memorize this hymn; it will allow you to recover from singing the stichera.

Then one of two special Lenten prokeimena are sung; note that the deacon or priest, NOT the cantor or reader, chants the verses of the prokeimenon at Vespers.

Prokeimenon for Cheesefare Sunday, and the Second and Fourth Sundays of the Fast:

Prokeimenon for the First, Third, and Fifth Sundays of the Fast:

At this point in the service, we have moved back into the Great Fast, and begin using the Lenten melodies - in particular, the "Lenten psalm tone" which should be familiar from the Litany of the Presanctified Gifts.

Note that at daily Vespers, some of the hymns that we sing to particular melodies at Great Vespers are instead chanted very simply, to a psalm tone. Here is the next hymn of Lenten Sunday evening Vespers, the "Hymn of Glorification", as it is chanted to the Lenten psalm tone:

Italics mark the points at which the voice moves down from the reciting tone; the double dot over certain syllables shows where two notes of the tone are slurred together.

Then the Litany of Supplication is sung, with the Lenten responses:

The Aposticha

Now we come to the second changeable part of the services - a set of "dismissal stichera" or "aposticha", one for each Sunday of the Fast.

If you are using the larger service book, the aposticha will be found on the indicated page for each Sunday (the exact page is given in the "saints only" propers leaflet). Between the stichera are psalm verses, each of which is sung to the samohlasen verse melody in the tone of the hymn that follows it. Music for these can be found in the Cantor Verses book, but in most cases it will be easier if you have your own copy of the complete propers (for use with the smaller service book) and sing them from there.

If you are using the smaller service book, the propers leaflet will give the music for the aposticha and the cantor's psalm verses.

The aposticha are followed by the Prayer of Simeon ("Now you may dismiss your servant, O Lord"), chanted to the Lenten psalm tone:

and the Trisagion prayers and Our Father, also chanted to the Lenten Psalm Tone.

The Lenten Dismissal

At ordinary daily Vespers, we would now sing the troparion and theotokion for the saint of the day, and the ordinary Vespers conclusion. But on fast days during both the Great Fast and the three lesser fasts, a longer dismissal is used, with no changeable parts.

First, we sing three troparia in Tone 4: one to the Theotokos, one to John the Baptist, and one to the apostles and all the saints. Before the last two troparia, we sing "Glory..." and "Now and ever..." to the Tone 4 troparion melody (music in the Cantor Verses book). Be careful not to switch to Tone 4 kontakion melody, as you would at the Divine Liturgy!

(A historical note: the official liturgical books clearly mark these troparia as being in Tone 4; but at the end of the 19th century, there was a move to change them to Tone 1, which was seen as more solemn. In the Cantor Institute books for this service, we have returned to the tone specified in the Roman editions of the Church Slavonic liturgical books.)

After each of these troparia, we make a prostration (lowering ourselves to the ground). But please be aware that it is not appropriate for the cantor to make prostrations unless there is NO singing going on at that point in the service. Simply humble yourself internally and perform your role in leading the singing.

Next, we sing a hymn imploring the prayers and assistance of the Mother of God; two different melodies are given. Note that the first is slightly different from the version in the back of the green Divine Liturgies book.



Then we sing a series of responses to the Lenten psalm tone, and the Prayer of Saint Ephrem (spoken, not sung), with prostrations, and the Trisagion prayers once more.

Finally, we chant Psalm 33 to the Lenten psalm tone, and the priest gives the dismissal.

On Cheesefare Sunday, immediately after the dismissal, the ceremony of mutual forgiveness may be held; this can be found on the last page of either service book.

At the conclusion of weekday Lenten services (with the exception of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts), it has been our custom for many years to sing the hymn "Having suffered the passion for us" (Preterpivy). Other Lenten hymns may be sung as well.