Tuesday, January 05, 2021

The Royal Hours of Epiphany Eve

The Royal Hours are a special service which is held three times a year in the Byzantine Rite, on Christmas Eve, Epiphany Eve, and Good Friday. It consists of the Hours of Prime, Terce, Sext and None, followed by a service called the Typika, the closest parallel to which in the Roman Rite would be the so-called dry Mass, but without any Scriptural readings. (These five parts are said one after the other without interruption.) They are known as “Royal” from the tradition that the Byzantine Emperor and his court would attend them at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople; a memory of this is preserved in the singing of “Many Years” during the service in cathedrals and monasteries, now in a modified form, but originally for the Emperor, whose presence was understood to be an act of submission to Christ the King, and also for the imperial court and the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
Royal Hours of Good Friday at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Toronto in 2014. (Photograph from Wikipedia by ΙΣΧΣΝΙΚΑ-888; CC BY-SA 3.0)
Several features mark the Royal Hours off from the celebration of the same Hours on other days. It is served by a priest and deacon in their sacred vestments, where these Hours are usually done by a reader, with a priest saying only the conclusions of the prayers (e.g. “for Thine is the kingdom…”) and the blessing at the end. A bell is rung at the beginning of each Hour, once for Prime, thrice for Terce, etc., and twelve times for the Typika.
In addition to a series of very beautiful proper chants, a group of Scriptural readings, consisting of a prophecy from the Old Testament, a New Testament epistle (called “the Apostle” in Byzantine terminology) and a Gospel, is added to each Hour as well. (Normally, there are no Biblical readings at the minor Hours; however, they are often done at Vespers.) Several of the chants are evidently inspired by the Scriptural readings that follow them.
Even though “epiphany” is a Greek word, in the Byzantine Rite, the feast is called “Theophany – the manifestation of God”, (Θεοφάνεια in Greek, Богоѧвленїе in Church Slavonic), a term which is also found in many ancient liturgical books of the Roman Rite. The principal manifestation which it celebrates is the Baptism of the Lord, which in the West is commemorated on the octave of the Epiphany. The proper texts of the Royal Hours on the vigil of the Theophany are all chosen in regard to this event. (The visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, the feast’s principal focus in the Roman Rite, is celebrated on Christmas in the Byzantine tradition, and the relevant Gospel, Matthew 2, 1-12, is read during the Royal Hours of Christmas Eve at Sext, , and as the Gospel at the Divine Liturgy on the feast itself.)
A Russian icon of the Baptism of Christ, end 15th century.
Prime starts with the group of prayers that are normally said at the beginning of the Hours, helpfully named “The Usual Beginning.” Whenever Hours are said together as a group, at those that follow the first one, this is reduced to just its final element, “Come, let us worship etc.” In either case, there immediately follows a group of three Psalms, which are said by a single reader. The Byzantine Rite does not have antiphons for the psalmody analogous to those of the Roman Rite, but after the third Psalm are said the doxology, and three repetitions of “Alleluja, alleluja, alleluja, glory to Thee, o God!”
Ordinarily, the psalms of the Hours are the same every single day outside of Easter week, but at the three sets of Royal Hours, special ones more appropriate to the day are chosen to replace two of the regular psalms, with one of the daily ones retained. For those of Theophany, at Prime, Psalms 5, 22, and 26 are said, instead of 5, 89 and 100; at Terce, 28, 41 and 50, instead of 16, 24 and 50; at Sext, 73, 76, and 90, instead of 53, 54 and 90; and at None, 92, 113 and 85 instead of 83, 84 and 85. Many of these are chosen because of references to water (e.g. Psalm 22, “he has nourished me by the water of rest”), and light (e.g. Psalm 26, “The Lord is my illumination”), since “illumination” is commonly used in the East to mean the sacrament of Baptism.
There follow the first part of the doxology, and a chant called a troparion, which is the same at all four of the Hours.
“The river Jordan was turned back of old by the cloak of Elisha, when Elijah had been taken up, and the waters were divided on either side; and the river became for him a dry path, truly as a type of that Baptism, by which we cross over the flowing passage of life. Christ has appeared in the Jordan, to sanctify the waters.”
Then the second half of the doxology is said, and the regular daily tropar of the Virgin Mary, which changes from Hour to Hour.
Next are sung a group of three chants called Idiomels, with two Psalm verses and the doxology between them. The rubric in the liturgical books says that each chant is done twice, the second after each of the two psalm verses, the third after each part of the doxology. In practice, they are usually just sung once as noted here.
The Idiomels at Prime: Today, the nature of the waters is sanctified, and the Jordan is rent asunder, and the flow of running waters holdeth itself in check, seeing the Lord being washed.
(Ps. 41, 7) Therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Ermonites; (Ps. 76, 17) the waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee, and feared.
As a man Thou didst come to the river, Christ the King, and didst hasten, o Good one, to receive the Baptism of a servant at the hands of the Forerunner because of our sins, Thou who lovest mankind.
Glory to the Father…
At the voice of him that crieth in the desert, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord,’ Thou didst come, o Lord, having taken the form of a servant, asking for baptism, even Thou who never knewest sin. The waters saw Thee and feared, and the Forerunner grew all atremble with them, and cried out, saying, ‘How doth lantern enlighten the Light? How doth the servant lay his hand upon the Master? Sanctify me, and the waters, o Savior, who takest away the sin of the world.’
The three Scriptural readings that follow are introduced by a brief psalmodic chant called a prokimen, but there is no Alleluja before the Gospel. During the reading of the Apostle, there is always an incensation of the Church, whether at this or any other service; some churches add an extra incensation at the beginning of Prime and at the end of the Typika service as well.
The readings at Prime:
Isaiah 35, 1-10 (“Rejoice, o thirsting desert…”)
Acts 13, 25-32 (St Paul’s account of John the Baptist’s ministry, during his speech at the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia.)
Matthew 3, 1-6 (The first account of John the Baptist’s preaching.)
The Idiomels at Terce: The right hand of the Forerunner and Baptist and Prophet, who is honored above all the prophets, trembled when he saw Thee, the Lamb of God, who purifies the sins of the world, and constrained by anguish, he cried out, ‘I dare not touch Thy head, o Word; sanctify and enlighten me, o compassionate one; for Thou Thyself are the life and the light, and the peace of the world.’
Therefore will I remember thee…
The Trinity, our God, hath made itself manifest to us today indivisibly; for the Father spoke forth a clear testimony to His Son, the Spirit flew down from heaven in the likeness of a dove. The Son inclined His immaculate head to the Forerunner, and having been baptized, delivered man’s nature from servitude, as one who loves mankind.
Glory to the Father …
As Thou didst come with the flesh to the Jordan, o Lord, wishing to be baptized in the form of a man, o Giver of life, so that Thou might deliver and enlighten us who had been led astray from every device and snare of the dragon; Thou didst receive the witness of the Father, and the divine Spirit came upon Thee in the likeness of a dove. But do Thou dwell in our souls, o lover of mankind.
The readings:
Isaiah 1, 16-20 (“Be ye washed and become clean…”)
Acts 19, 1-9 (St Paul baptizes the Christian community of Corinth; the Roman Epistle of the vigil of Pentecost.)
Mark 1, 1-8 (parallel to the Gospel of St Matthew read at Prime.)
The Idiomels at Sext: Thus saith the Lord to John: ‘Come, o Prophet, baptize Me, who made thee, who enlighten with grace, and purify all men; touch My divine head, and do not hesitate. Prophet, permit this now, for I have come to fulfill all justice. Do thou therefore in no wise hesitate, for I am eager to destroy the ruler of darkness, the enemy that is hidden by the waters, now releasing the world from his snares, and granting eternal life, as one who loves mankind.’
Therefore will I remember thee… 
Today the prophecy of the Psalm hastens on to reach to its end: ‘For the sea’, it saith, ‘saw and fled, the Jordan was turned back at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob’ (Psalm 113, 3 & 7), who came to receive baptism from a servant; so that we, washed clean of idolatrous impurity, may be enlightened through Him in our souls.
Glory to the Father …
Why throwest thou back thy waters, o Jordan? Why settest thou back thy flow, and goest not forth in thy natural way? ‘I cannot bear’, it saith, ‘a devouring fire; I am astonished and awed at this great condescension; for I am not wont to wash the Pure; I have not learned to wipe clean the sinless One, but rather to purify befouled vessels. Christ, who is baptized in me, teacheth me to burn the thorns of sins; John beareth witness with me; the voice of the Word crieth out: “Behold the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sin of the world.” ’ Let us believers cry out to Him: o God Who hath appeared for our salvation, glory to Thee.
The readings:
Isaiah 12, 3-6 (“Draw water with joy from the springs of salvation…”)
Romans 6, 3-11 (“All we that are baptized into Christ are baptized into His death…”)
Mark 1, 9-11 (Christ’s Baptism)
The Idiomels at None: Wondrous was it to see the Maker of heaven and earth naked in the river, like a servant receiving baptism from a servant for our salvation; and the choirs of angels were astounded with fear and joy; and with them we worship Thee; save us, o Lord.
Therefore will I remember thee…
When the Forerunner saw the Lord of glory coming to him, he cried out, ‘Behold the One who ransometh the world from corruption; behold, He delivereth us from tribulation; behold the one who granteth remission of sins hath come upon the earth from the Holy Virgin for mercy’s sake, and in place of servants, maketh sons of God, and in place of darkness, enlightneth man’s nature through the waters of His divine baptism. Henceforth, come, with one voice let us glorify Him with the Father and the Spirit.’
Glory to the Father…
(The final idiomel is sung slowly by the leader of the choir, standing in the middle of the church.)
– Thy hand that hath touched the immaculate head of the Lord (thrice)
– With which thou didst also point Him out to us, raise also over us, o Baptist.
– As one that hath great confidence; for He hath borne witness that thou art greater than all the prophets.
– And thine eyes again, that saw the All-holy Spirit
– Coming down in the likeness of a dove, open unto Him, o Baptist, and render Him merciful to us.
– And come, stand with us (thrice)
– Confirming our praise, and leading us in the feast!
The readings:
Isaiah 49, 8-15 (“In an acceptable time I have heard thee…”; this Epistle is read at the Roman Mass of the last day before Passiontide, a Mass which is very much concerned with the upcoming baptismal rites of Easter.)
Titus 2, 11-14 and 3, 4-7 (These two passages both begin with the word “hath appeared”; with the addition of verse 2, 15, the first is the Epistle of the Roman Midnight Mass of Christmas, and the second of the Dawn Mass.)
Luke 3, 1-18 (The fullest synoptic account of St John’s public ministry before the Lord’s Baptism.)
Once the reading are done, the Hours follow their normal pattern: a series of Scriptural verses, which change from Hour to Hour but not from day to day; the Trisagion prayers, which are the same as the Usual Beginning, without its first and last part; then a single chant called the Kontakion, which is the same at all four Hours and the Typika service.
“Today the Lord, coming to the streams of the Jordan, crieth out to John, ‘Hesitate thou not to baptize Me, for I have come to save Adam, the first created.’” 
Each Hour concludes with the same series of elements as on the other days: Kyrie, eleison 40 times, the Prayer of the Hours, Kyrie, eleison 3 times, Glory to the Father, a brief prayer to the Virgin (“Higher than the Cherubim…”), a conclusion said by the priestly celebrant, and a final prayer said by the reader, after which the next Hour begins.
The Royal Hours are considered to be a service for a fasting day, and penitential services may not be held on either Saturday or Sunday. Therefore, whenever Christmas or Theophany falls on either a Sunday or Monday, the Royal Hours are said on the preceding Friday. This may seem rather odd, but in point of fact, Theophany is preceded by a series of 4 days, January 2-5, which are known as the “pre-festal” days; the Royal Hours thus anticipated to either the 3rd or 4th of January fall within this special period of preparation.
On the evening of January 5th, Vespers is served together with the Divine Liturgy of St Basil; this is one of the ten occasions on which the anaphora of St Basil, which is much longer than the daily-use anaphora of St John Chrysostom, is said. The service contains a series of thirteen prophecies, although in practice, some of these may be omitted, especially the two which are repeated from the Royal Hours; this does not make the service inordinately long, as one might imagine it would, since altogether, they add up to fewer than 100 verses of Scripture, an average of fewer than 8 verses each. (The other occasions on which the Liturgy of St Basil is celebrated are St Basil’s feast day, January 1st, which is also that of the Circumcision; the eve of Christmas; the Sundays of Lent except Palm Sunday; Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. However, if Christmas or Epiphany falls on Sunday or Monday, Vespers are celebrated without the Divine Liturgy at all, and the Liturgy of St Basil is used for the feast itself.)
The full text of both of these services can be read at the following links.
Royal Hours:
Vesperal Divine Liturgy:

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