Singing the Service of Paschal Matins

This article provides practical advice for leading the singing the Matins of the Resurrection (Paschal Matins) on the Sunday of Pascha (Easter), and during Bright Week.

What you will need

For many years, the book normally used for this service was the yellow-covered "Resurrection Matins" book, prepared by Monsignor William Levkulic and published by Byzantine Seminary Press in 1976.

In 2009, the Metropolitan Cantor Institute published a service book in the same general format, but following the new translation of the Divine Liturgy. In this article, we assume that this is the book you are using. For Resurrection Matins on the days of Bright Week, you will need either the propers leaflet for the day, or a copy of the MCI Sunday Matins Book and the Cantor Verses book.

Time of celebration

On Pascha, the Typikon appoints this service to be celebrated around midnight, immediately after the Midnight Office of Pascha. Depending on parish custom and episcopal directives, the actual time of celebration may vary between mid-evening on Great and Holy Saturday, and mid-morning on the Sunday of Pascha. During Bright Week, Matins would normally be celebrated in the morning, before the Divine Liturgy if there is one.

The transfer of the plashchanitza

If the burial shroud was not moved from the tomb to the holy table before the start of Paschal Matins, then a "micro" version of the Midnight Office is celebrated, at which the celebrant transfers the shroud to the holy table while the faithful sing the troparion of the Resurrection in Tone 2. There will normally be a slight pause at this point, while the clergy and servers prepare for the procession.

The Paschal procession

Matins of the Resurrection begins when the clergy open all the doors of the icon screen (iconostasis). The sticheron, "Your Resurrection, O Christ our Savior", which accompanies the procession may be started by the cantor, or by the clergy as they come out of the sanctuary. (Both customs are in use.) Either way, the faithful take up the singing, while the celebrant lights their candles and the procession begins. ORDINARILY, the servers are followed by the clergy, who are followed by the faithful. (In ecclesiastical processions, it is normal for the clergy to come at the END of the procession, as the place of honor; but in this case, the celebrant needs to be at the doors of the church when the procession reaches them.) During the procession, the sticheron is sung repeatedly, in English or in English and Slavonic.

The lights of the church are normally lit AFTER most of the faithful have left the church, and before they return. If a singer can stay behind while the cantor goes with the procession, then he or she can help lead and support the singing of the "tail end" of the procession if there are many people. However, at least one cantor should be in thee procession, just behind the clergy, in order to be present for the singing which takes place at the doors of the church.

At the church doors, the cantor leads the singing of the Paschal troparion, while the celebrant intones selected verses from Psalms 67 and 117. Finally, the celebrant sings the first half of the troparion, which the cantor and faithful complete, and the procession moves into the (now brightly lit) church. The singing of the Paschal troparion should continue as everyone finds their places; this might be a good place to use alternate musical settings of the Paschal troparion, IF they are well known to the faithful.

The Litany of Peace concludes this part of the service, and provides a "breather" before we sing the Canon.

The Paschal Canon of Saint John Damascene

The bulk of Paschal Matins consists of the singing of the Paschal Canon. This composite hymn follows the usual order for a canon, but differs in that the entire canon is sung. (Ordinarily the troparia that follow each irmos are simply chanted using a reading melody.)

The celebrant starts each Ode, singing the first verse or irmos himself. Since most priests already have this text and melody memorized, the booklet doesn't give the music for the irmos at the point where the celebrant sings it, but instead gives it at the end of each Ode, when the faithful repeat it. (Also, note that in times past it was customary for the clergy to form a "choir" of voices and sing the irmos of each ode together, harmonizing as they are able.) Once the celebrant has sung the irmos, he incenses the church, often exclaiming "Christ is risen!" as he does so. Meanwhile, the cantor leads the singing of the refrain, "Christ is risen from the dead!" (This is given in both English and Slavonic after the English and Slavonic text of the celebrant's irmos, so that the response can match whichever version the celebrant uses.) The singing of the Ode continues with the troparia and the refrain, in alternation.

The repetition of the irmos at the end, called "katavasia", is very ancient. It comes from a time when two choirs, one on either side of the church, sang the irmosy and other hymns in alternation. At the end of each Ode of the canon, they would "come down" from their places (katavasia means "descent") and form a single choir in the center of the church, which would sing either the initial irmos, or the irmos of another canon which applies to the day. So a katavasia, if you will, is the "big finish" to a section of a canon.

(NOTE: normally at Matins, the canon refrain - here, "Christ is risen from the dead!" - would NOT be sung before the katavasia. In the present booklet, the refrain is included before the katavasia to keep the singing moving and to avoid confusion, due to the longstanding custom of taking the "Christ is risen!" at this point in each ode.)

Odes 1 and 3

When sung at Matins, a canon is divided into three parts, each of which ends with a Small Litany and some additional hymns. At Paschal Matins, a Small Litany is intoned after EVERY Ode of the Canon, but the additional hymns are in their usual places after Odes 3 and 6. (There is no Ode 2, since that Ode is considered penitential, and only used in canons for the Great Fast.)

Odes 1 and 3 follow the music that cantors who used the old books will largely have memorized; some accents have been corrected in the new books, and the rhythms have been standardized toward the pattern of the Slavonic. One text change should be noted: In the last phrase of the irmos of Ode 1 (also sung as katavasia), "ThereFORE we sing" is now "We THEREfore sing", to make the English accent fall correctly.

The special hymn after Ode 3 is the Hypakoje, or "Jerusalem troparion", of Pascha. This hymn ("The women, with Mary, before the dawn, found the stone rolled away from the tomb") describes the visit of the Myrhh-bearing Women to the tomb of Christ, and their amazement on finding it empty. This can be sung by the faithful, but it works equally well when sung by a small choir or group of voices, preferably with harmonization.

Odes 4, 5, and 6

These odes are sung in the same pattern as Odes 1 and 3. The additional hymns that follow Ode 6 are more extensive:

Odes 7, 8, and 9

The seventh Ode is sung along the same pattern as the previous Odes. In Ode 8 of most canons, however, the final or next-to-last hymn of the Ode is a song of praise to the Holy Trinity, and this hymn is preceded by a different refrain, "O most holy Trinity, our God, glory to you!" In the Paschal Matins booklet, where the refrain is also sung before the katavasia, this separate refrain is thus sung both before and after the Ode 8 hymn to the Trinity, "O Almighty Father, Spirit, and Word..."

Ode 9 is generally dedicated to the Mother of God. It is introduced by the deacon's exclamation, "Let us greatly extol the Theotokos and the Mother of Light in hymns!" Then the magnification of the feast is sung, followed by the irmos and the troparia. The magnification for Pascha is "The angel exclaimed...", and the irmos is "Shine in splendor, O new Jerusalem." The Paschal Matins booklet provides these two hymns in both English and Slavonic; use one or the other, depending on parish custom.

The Hymn of Light

The canon of Matins is always followed by a short hymn (generally in three parts, or repeated to make three parts) called the Hymn of Light (Greek: Exapostilarion; Slavonic: Svitilen). This hymn marks the end of the part of Matins that includes the canon. Here is the Hymn of Light for Pascha:

(Listen to the tutorial recording in English, or to a recording in Slavonic.) Generally, the clergy sing this hymn the first time, and then the faithful sing it twice more. If you have a choir harmonization based on the same plainchant that the people sing, then the final repetition of "You, O King and Lord" would be a good place for the choir to join their voices in harmony with those of the faithful. (Listen to a sample harmonization)

The Praises

At Matins, the Canon is followed by the singing of the Psalms of Praise (Psalms 148-150) which conclude the Psalter, along with stichera "at the Praises."

The Praises at Matins and their stichera are sung exactly like the Lamp-lighting Psalms of Vespers: the opening verses of the first psalm are sung to the same melody that will be used for the first of the stichera. (NOTE: in the old Resurrection Matins book, the opening verses of Psalm 148 are given in the wrong melody, probably due to a confusion with another hymn in the Slavonic chant books that uses the same text.) Then the psalm verses are chanted until there are exactly as many psalm verses left as stichera to be sung. From that point on, the verses are sung by the cantor, and the stichera are sung by the cantor and faithful.

At Paschal Matins, there are two groups of stichera at the Praises. The first set consists of four stichera "of the Resurrection" in Tone 1. These are the first four stichera sung at this point in Matins on ANY ordinary Sunday in Tone 1. (So if your parish celebrated Matins regularly, not only would this part of the service be nice and familiar; but the back of your brain would be calling out, "Tone 1! Fresh start in the Octoechos! Tone 1!" On the days of Bright Week, when Paschal Matins in sung, a diferent tone is used for these hymns each day of the week, in order.) The translation and music for these four stichera is taken from the MCI Sunday Matins book, so they may not be familiar, and should be practiced.

The second set of stichera are the Paschal stichera, at which the celebrant (normally) takes over the cantor's role and chants the psalm verses, beginning with "Let God arise....", while the faithful sing the stichera, beginning with "Today, the Sacred Pasch is revealed to us." While this set of stichera is sung, the faithful come forward to be greeted by the celebrant, and to kiss the cross placed before them for veneration. If for some reason the celebrant is unable to chant the verses himself, he may sometimes appoint someone else - a deacon, lector or cantor - to chant them.

As with the Paschal Canon, the translation of the Paschal Stichera is the same as in the old book, and the musical setting has only been adjusted to fix bad English acccents, and to regularize the rhythms in the manner of the Slavonic. As always, prostopinije is sung in an approximation of a speaking rhythm, rather than with a strict beat; but in this new setting you will see fewer dotted notes and triplets. Singing the text in a "normal" style will generally produce the right rhythm.

(Point of interest: the way you can tell that the Paschal stichera go WITH the four stichera of the Resurrection, is that the Resurrectional stichera do not end with "Glory.... Now and ever...". The "Glory... Now and ever..." for this part of the service comes at the end of the Paschal stichera. So it would be best not to make a division in the service between the two sets of stichera.)

The Paschal Sermon

After the Paschal Stichera and the kissing of the cross, the liturgical books appoint the Paschal Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom to be read. (See the front page of the MCI website for a link to the text of this sermon.) In some places, the sermon is read while the procession is still going on.

When the sermon is complete, the same liturgical books appoint that the troparion of Saint John Chrysostom be sung in his honor; the setting here is from the MCI monthly Menaion. Of course, if the sermon is omitted, then the troparion should not be sung either.

Litanies and dismissal

The Paschal stichera (and, optionally, the sermon of Saint John Chrysostom) are followed by two litanies and the Paschal dismissal. Note that the Litany of Fervent Supplication, when sung at Matins, does not include the two petitions, "Let us all say with our whole soul..." and "O Lord almighty, God of our Fathers..." that begin this litany at the Divine Liturgy. These petitions were included in the old Matins of the Resurrection book by mistake.

The dismissal at Paschal Matins uses the same melodies as the dismissal at a Panachida or General Moleben during the Paschal season; see page 439 of the Divine Liturgies book.

Blessing of Paschal foods

In many parishes, baskets of Paschal foods are blessed immediately after the services of Pascha; the Paschal Matins book includes the blessing service at the end. The dismissal is sung the same as at Paschal Matins.

Matins during Bright Week

The Paschal Matins book can also be used to sing Matins throughout Bright Week. The procession that opens the service is omitted, and Matins starts when the priest, standing at the holy table, gives the opening blessing and then sings the Paschal troparion. The Small Litanies at the Canon are omitted, except after Odes 3, 6, and 9, and the first four stichera at the Praises (the stichera of the Resurrection) are sung in the Tone of the DAY:

Monday: Tone 2
Tuesday: Tone 3
Wednesday: Tone 4
Thursday: Tone 5
Friday: Tone 6
Saturday: Tone 8

The stichera of the Resurrection in each tone can be found in the MCI Sunday Matins book, or in the daily Matins propers for Bright Week.