Singing the Panachida

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This article explains how to lead the singing of a panachida, our short memorial service for one or more of the faithful who have died. For more about these services, see Commemoration of the Departed.

The Panachida service can be found in our green 2006 Divine Liturgies book, on pages 432-440. But because we do not yet have an official version of our funeral services which match the texts and music in this book, this article will also explain how to sing the Panachida in the form given in our older funeral book, The Office of Christian Burial (1983, PDF).

A word about the Panachida

This is one of our most important services outside of the Divine Liturgy; it is held several times as part of the funeral and graveside services for one who has died, and may be celebrated after the Divine Liturgy, particularly on All Souls Saturdays or on the anniversary of the death of a loved on.

So any cantor in our church should be able, on a moment's notice, to begin singing a Panachida - in the exact same way that when a priest gives a blessing or prayers over someone, beginning "Let us pray to the Lord", the cantor should immediately lead the reply, "Lord, have mercy." The ability to smoothly make the transition into a Panachida is a good test of a cantor's abilities and knowledge of our services and our chant.

Before the service

The Panachida may be celebrated for a particular person (e.g. in the funeral home or at graveside) or for several persons (e.g. for departed mothers on Mothers' Day). It is important to know if the service is being held to pray for a man, a woman, or several people.

If the Panachida is being held in church, be ready to announce the page in the Divine Liturgies book. Outside of church, make sure that everyone present has a book containing at least the words of the service. The Panachida is simple enough that most of our faithful should be able to sing their parts from memory, but the cantor in particular should not count on this ability - have a book ready in front of you.

For a Panachida in the home of the departed, or in the funeral home, the celebrating priest may begin the service at the casket, or may ask you to lead the singing of the processional, "Holy God", as you and the priest go to the casket. Work this out in advance.

Singing the Panachida from the Divine Liturgies book

Our 2006 Divine Liturgies book is very prescriptive for the Panachida; in this one case, it even provides music for the priest's initial blessing:

This blessing is in a minor key (la - ti - do, do - ti - la), and the "Amen" you sing in response will use exactly the same three pitches as the last three notes of the priest's blessing:

Make sure to start the singing clearly, and loud enough to be heard by those present. Your singing will also (to some extent) set the tempo that those present will expect for the rest of the service.

The beginning prayers

The first part of the Panachida consists of the "usual beginning", the prayers that customarily begin any service:

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us. (3 times)
Glory... now and ever...
Most holy Trinity, have mercy on us...
Lord, have mercy. (3 times)
Glory... now and ever...
Our Father, who are in heaven...
Priest: For thine is the kingdom...
All: Amen.

The Trisagion (Thrice-Holy Hymn, or "Holy God") is ordinarily sung to one of the funeral melodies. In the Divine Liturgy books, the "E" version of Holy God is given:


Don't add "Glory... now and ever.... Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us"; this is only done at the Divine Liturgy.

The rest of the beginning prayers are sung to the MINOR psalm tone, just like the opening blessing. It may not be completely necessary to write these all out under notes, but the setting in the Divine Liturgies book does so, for clarity. These should be sung as smoothly as possible - remember always that we are singing prayers, not notes.

The troparia for the dead

Next, we sing a total of four troparia for the dead. These will be used many times during funeral services as well as at the Panachida, and should be memorized.

First troparion:


Seccond troparion:

"Glory", and the third troparion. The "Glory" starts a little higher, on the third degree of the scale (mi), and the troparion itself on the fifth degree (so):

"Now and ever", and the last troparion. Here the "Now and ever" and the troparion both start on so:

(By the way, this last hymn is also called a theotokion - a hymn to the Mother of God, the Theotokos. Very frequently, the last hymn of a set is directed to Mary, the Mother of our Lord.) Note that YOU are responsible for correctly singing "soul(s)", "servant(s)", and "him / her / them", depending on whom everyone present is praying for in this Panachida.

Very often, the faithful know these troparia by heart. If so, and the singing is being done at a good tempo, you can drop back your own singing a little and let the sung prayer proceed at its own pace. You only need to step in at points of uncertainty, or if the music starts to drag or go flat. As cantor, your job is to lead, but this does NOT mean that you need to be heard at every instant.

The Litany for the Deceased

Next, the priest or deacon will lead a litany for the one(s) we are remembering. This is exactly same same Litany for the Deceased sung at the Divine Liturgy (pages 38-39), but there those pages provide two different sets of melodies for the responses, here we use only the ones in a minor key.

We sing a triple "Lord, have mercy" to the first three petitions. (If the deacon is intoning properly in a minor key, ending do - ti - la, he should end on the starting note of the response.)

When the deacon intones "For the mercy of God..." we respond:

And when he intones "Let us pray to the Lord", we sing "Lord, have mercy" starting higher, on mi, giving it a somewhat mournful or plaintive sound:

Then the priest intones the prayer, "O God of spirits and of all flesh...." This is our most ancient prayer for the dead; a version of it is found in the 8th century Barberini Codex, our first collection of Byzantine priestly prayers. At the end of the prayer, we sing the minor-key "Amen", but this time adding a D# as a sort of grace note:

With this "Amen", we've almost come to the end of the Panachida. All that is left is the dismissal.

The dismissal

When the deacon intones, "Wisdom", we sing "More honorable than the Cherubim", to the same minor psalm tone (la - ti - do; do - ti - la) that we used for the beginning prayers:

And when the priest intones, "Glory to you, O Christ God..." we sing "Glory.... Give the blessing" using the exact same minor psalm tone:

The priest intones the dismissal prayer and we sing our final affirmation:

Eternal memory

But we're not QUITE done. At the end of a service for the departed, we usually conclude by asking God to hold them in the divine compassion and mercy. We have two basic versions, and cantors should know both.


If Slavonic is used in your parish or mission, you can also sing these in Slavonic - but I would recommend you always sing them in English FIRST, so that everyone present can understand what is being sung:

When singing the A version in Slavonic, MAKE SURE you know whether to sing "jemu" (him), "jej" (her), or "jim" (them).

The singing of "Eternal memory" is an expected and important part of our services for the dead, so give it due attention.

Singing the Panachida from the old (1983) funeral book

Now let's look at the Panachida in our current funeral book (PDF), where it occurs on page 59, as part of the service "in the home" before the body is taken to the church for the funeral service and burial.

A few things stand out:

The musical choices are slightly different, and in some cases several alternate melodies are given. Such alternatives might be desirable in the forthcoming funeral book as well, as long as they're done in such as way as to be helpful to the cantor, but not confusing to the faithful.)

Notice that there is NO musical notation for the beginning prayers (except for "Holy God"); in many cases the old funeral book assumes that the cantor either "knows how to sing", or can pick from several possible melodies. The key question is whether the congregration can sing along, and contribute to the pattern of prayer being made.

The music for the troparia is quite similar to what is in our Divine Liturgies book; only the text is different in some places.

For the Litany for the Departed, the funeral book provides the same two sets of melodies given for the same Litany in the Divine Liturgy (Divine Liturgies book, pages 38-40), but in the reverse order.

There is no music for the dismissal.

The three very similar melodies given in the funeral book for "Eternal memory" are NOT the ones normally used in our parishes; I would use the melodies from the Divine Liturgies book instead.