Singing Vespers: The Litija Procession

This article explains how to lead the singing of the procession at Vespers: the hymns of the Litija, the responses at the Litija litany, and the aposticha. For liturgical background, see Vespers: The Procession.

On the eves of major feasts in the Byzantine Rite (great feasts and vigil-rank feasts), the liturgical books call for a special procession to be made in the narthex at Great Vespers. This procession is called litija (entreaty), and when it is not held, the service continues with aposticha (described below).

The hymns of the Litija

While the clergy and servers, followed by the people, go in procession to the narthex (or even outdoors; check with the priest in advance!), special stichera called the hymns of the Litija are sung. The Slavonic liturgical books usually include a fair number of these hymns, in case the procession is a long one, but in most cases, only as many hymns are sung as needed to "cover" the process.

Unlike most stichera, these hymns do not have psalm verses before them or between them; instead, they are simply sung in order, ending with "Glory... now and ever..." and a final sticheron (the doxastikon), or "Glory...", "Now and ever..." and two final stichera. If some of the Litija hymns are omitted, then:

Each of the hymns of Litija is assigned to one of the eight tones, and in the prostopinije tradition they are sung to the Bolhar ("Bulgarian") melodies, which are used at times of especially fervent prayer: namely, for the Litija at feast-day Vespers, and for the Hymns of St. John Damascene at the funeral service. These melodies are not easy, and should be practiced welll in advance! There are Bolhar melodies in Tones 1, 2, 4, and 5; for stichera in Tones 3, 6, 7, and 8, the ordinary samohlasen melodies are used. See Melodies for stichera.

If Litija is held and the proper hymns are not available, use the hymns of Litija for the patronal feast of the parish.

Because the next part of the service takes place in the narthex (or even outdoors), the cantor should accompany the procession so that the singing can be maintained throughout.

The Litija litany

In the narthex, the deacon censes as the hymns of Litija are concluded, and then intones a long petition, naming many spiritual intercessors, to which the cantor and people respond, "Lord, have mercy" twelve times:

There are two more petitions, each with the same response. This is also an excellent place to consider singing "Lord, have mercy" in other languages, depending on the culture of the local parish:

After a short prayer by the priest ("Hear us, O God our Savior, hope of the ends of the earth and those far off at sea...), the cantor and people sing:

This is followed by a Prayer over Bowed Heads, with the usual responses:

These prayers and petitions may be long, but listen to them and make them your own! This will make a difference in how they sound, and are heard and internalized by the congregation.

Once the litany is complete, the clergy, servers and people return to their places in the nave, while the aposticha are sung.

The aposticha

These stichera (with psalm verses in between, "Glory... now and ever...", and doxastika) are sung as the procession returns into the main part of the church. (If there was no procession, the cantor and congregation sing these hymns in the main part of the church.) The aposticha are sung to samohlasen melodies, unless special melodies (podobny) are appointed.

For Sunday, the aposticha are for the Resurrection in the Tone of the Week, and can be found in the MCI Sunday Vespers book. Music for the psalm verses can be found in the MCI Cantor Verses book. Remember that each psalm verse is sung in the tone of the NEXT sticheron, so that the congregation has a chance to hear what tone will come next when it changes.

Here are the Sunday aposticha in Tone 6

Many saints and feasts have a special hymn which is sung at the "Glory..." that concludes the aposticha; this is called an aposticha doxastikon. It may be followed by a theotokion in the same Tone (often taken from Saturday evening), or a different hymn for a recent or upcoming feast.

At daily Vespers, the aposticha are for the day of the week, in the Tone of the Week. Again, the stichera are in the MCI Daily Vespers book, and the music for the psalm verses is found in the MCI Cantor Verses book. You will need to have both books open! If there are special hymns at "Glory... now and ever...", use bookmarks or sticky notes to make sure you can quickly find the music you need.

Here are the aposticha for Thursday evening in Tone 7

For feast-days, the aposticha are found in the propers for the feast. Music for the psalm verses is in the MCI Cantor Verses book, unless special melodies are used that have their own music for the psalm verses. When this happens, the psalm verses in the propers will also have music written out

Here is a leaflet containing the propers for the feast of Saints Nicholas (samohlasen melodies)
Another version, using the special melodies appointed in the liturgical books

The Metropolitan Cantor Institute propers indicate the aposticha for every Sunday (that is, on Saturday evening) and all major feasts. As you can see from looking at the Liturgical Calendar, there are usually two versions: one with the ordinary (and easier) samohlasen melodies, and one using the special melodies (podobny) called out in the liturgical books of the Byzantine Rite. Parishes can use either set, as needed.

When the singing of the aposticha is complete, Vespers continues with the Prayer of Simeon. See Singing Vespers: the Conclusion.