Our Faith

Hymnology & Hymnography


The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.

Before proceeding to other introductory topics it is necessary that a preliminary understanding of the basic hymnological terminology be attained, since this terminology will be continuously encountered. Parallel to the Scriptural 3 the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9,10) is the ancient proverb the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right name. If we are to comprehend any subject, it is imperative that we know the key words well. Naturally, we will not extend ourselves to scholastic interpretations and analyses, with etymological references and linguistic notations, as would be necessary in a specialized study of hymnographic terminology.

For the purpose of giving a practical overview, what follows is a list of the most common terms, in alphabetical order, used in hymnology and afterwards, the basic liturgical books of our Church. These books are referred to often, and in them the great majority of the ecclesiastical hymns are preserved.

Akolouthia (liturgical service)

Every ecclesiastical ritual, whether performed daily (i.e. Orthros, Vespers, Hours, etc.) or irregularly (i.e. water blessings, mysteries, special processions), is accompanied by hymns, prayers and readings, as dictated by the Typikon (see below). Today we also refer to the Phyllada as Akolouthia. This book contains the hymnography and Synaxarion for a particular Saint or feast not found in the other liturgical books or a service that has been composed by another hymnographer for some particular miracle, such as newly-revealed Saint or other events.

Anabathmoi (plural)

These are 75 small troparia, which are attributed by many to Saint Theodore the Studite. They are chanted antiphonally in the Sunday orthros, according to the mode of the week. Each Antiphon contains three Anabathmoi; each mode contains three antiphons, hence, nine Anabathmoi, except for mode IV plagal, with four Antiphons and twelve Anabathmoi. The contents of the Anabathmoi are compunctionate and theological (trinitarian). The Anabathmoi have a special relationship with the ancient Songs of Ascent in the Psalter (Psalms 119-133). Of great usefulness in the interpretation of the Anabathmoi is the Nea Klimax (New Ladder) written by Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite, as well as the interpretation by Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos.

Antiphons (read, sung)

The name Antiphons usually denotes a) the groups of resurrectional Anabathmoi, which we just mentioned above, b) the groups of troparia in the orthros of Great Friday (15 Antiphons), and c) the short troparia which are chanted in the Divine Liturgy, “Through the intercessions of the Theotokos” and “Save us, O Son of God,” with or without verses.


This is the central troparion of the day (in honor of the Saint or feast). Its content relates in a condensed and laudatory fashion the honored person or theme of the feast. It is chanted at the end of the Vespers, after the “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart,” as well as in the Orthros, the Divine Liturgy and other daily services. It is often accompanied by a

Theotokion, but on feasts of the Lord or of the Mother of God it is repeated three times, sometimes with the “Glory; Both now.”

Aposticha (or apo stichou)

These Troparia are always chanted at the end of the Vespers, and sometimes at the end of the Orthros. They are chanted with verses, except for the first in each set.

Automelon (or protomelon)

This is a troparion that contains the prototype metre and melody (in other words, both poetic and musical metre) for other troparia. The troparia that mimic the automela are called prosomoia. In the case of the kanon, the automelon is called heirmos.


This troparion praises the persons of the Holy Trinity, the Mother of God, a Saint or Saints, or some feast. It is always preceded by the doxology, “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.”

Heirmos (from the verb heiro, which means to connect or attach)

It is the prototype first strophe of the ode of a Kanon. It serves as the model upon which the rest of the troparia in the ode are composed as isosyllabic and homotonic. The heirmos uses the language of the corresponding biblical canticle. The heirmos plays the role of automelon for the remaining troparia of the ode, which could for this reason also be termed prosomoia (see citation).


The troparion that is chanted towards the end of the Orthros, immediately before the Ainoi and their stichera. The name comes from the frequent use of the word exaposteilon (to send out) in the related hymns for the Great Fast: 3Send forth Thine eternal light, “Send forth Thy light,” “O Lord, the Giver of light, send down Thy light,” etc.

Epilychnios (psalm or hymn)

The epilychnios psalmos is the so-called Prooimiakos or Introductory Psalm (103) of David, “Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great,” which is read at the beginning of the Vespers. Epilychnios hymnos refers to Psalm 140, the “Lord, I have cried unto thee”; nevertheless, it is commonly used also to refer to the most ancient trinitarian hymn of the Vespers, read or chanted at the Entrance, “O gladsome Light”. This hymn is usually attributed to the martyr Athenogenes, though this attribution has not been firmly established.


These are the troparia that follow the verse “Blessed art thou, O Lord, teach me thy statutes” (Psalm 118). The name comes from the first word of the verse in the Greek, evlogetos. The two most ancient sets of evlogetaria are known by the names a) anastasima, or resurrectional, chanted in the Sunday Orthros and referring to Christ’s Resurrection “The company of angels was amazed” and b) the nekrosima evlogetaria of the dead, chanted at funerals, memorials and the Saturdays of the dead “The choir of the saints has found the fountain of life.” Both conclude with the “Glory, Both now” (triadikon and theotokion) and the Alleluia.


These were once called the heothina hymns or Doxology, “Glory to thee who hast shown forth the light.” Today the name is used to refer to a) the Orthros Gospel reading used on Sundays and those feasts days that call for a Gospel in the Orthros and b) the eleven Doxastika of the Sunday Ainoi or Praises at the end of the Orthros Service. The composition of these heothina doxastika is attributed to Leo VI. Their content is based on the eleven resurrection Heothina Gospel readings. An old Jerusalem codex preserves an earlier liturgical practice showing the heothinon Gospel being read immediately after the chanting of the Ainoi and followed straightway by the chanting of the heothinon doxastikon, which is a summary and poetic annotation of the corresponding Gospel reading. The reason for their common name is, then, self-evident.

Theotokion troparion

A hymn referring to the Theotokos, in its verses are usually interwoven dogmatic expressions related to the incarnation of Christ, His two natures, etc. The theotokia for weekdays and Fridays are called Stavrotheotokia (theotokia of the Cross) because, in addition to hymning the Theotokos, Christ’s Cross and crucifixion are also alluded to.


This troparion is always a prototype, chanted according to its own melody and metre. It is not bound or related to any other troparion by having the same number of syllables (isosyllaby) or the same pattern of accentuation (homotony). Nevertheless, some of the more well-known and famous idiomela did play the role of automelon and, in this way, during the years of imitation and decline there are cases of doxastika which are in essence prosomoia!


The term is primarily used in the division of the Psalter, whose 150 Psalms are divided into twenty kathismata. Each kathisma is made up of relatively equal psalm texts which are read in the Church. The Christians listening to the psalms would sit down. In the Greek the word for sitting is kathomai. This is how we have the term Kathisma. In between the three kathismata of the Orthros certain troparia were chanted and, by extension, also came to be known as kathismata or kathismata troparia the hymns after the first, second and third stichologia.


This is a system of troparia or strophes of nine units or odes, as referred to as canticles. Each ode is related to the corresponding biblical odes (at least its heirmos). Each ode contains at least two troparia chanted according to the preceding heirmos, which they completely follow according to metre and tonic rhythm. Kanons seldom contain nine odes, however. A full kanon will normally contain eight odes, abandoning the second ode, which has a highly penitential character. The name Kanon is most likely from the fact that the heirmos is the rule or “canon” and prototype for the troparia that follow it. In this way the whole takes on the name of the part. According to any particular kanon’s content it can receive a variety of names, such as triadikos (Trinitarian), anastasimos (resurrectional), parakletikos (supplicatory), hiketirios (of petition), stravroanastasimos (referring to the Cross and the Resurrection), etc. (cf. Chapter 3). Kanons can be composed with 2, 3, 4, 8 or 9 odes.

Katabasia or katabasion

The heirmos is repeated at the end of each ode of the kanon. It is performed in a slower, more deliberate way, “with a common voice.” More commonly, however, after the Kanon or, at least, at the first odes and synaxarion of the day, and can be chanted as a unit, all together as Katabasiai with unique melodic grandeur. As it seems, within the liturgical usage of the Oecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople only on the 21st of November (the feast of the Entrance of the Virgin into the Temple) do the chanters come down (katebasion = that which brings down) from their normal positions to stand in the middle of the Church to show their reverence, as was the common practice in more ancient times.


This is the evening hymn Kyrie ekekraxa (“Lord, I have cried,” Psalm 140) which, according to liturgical practice, is chanted in all eight modes at the beginning of each Vespers. Today we also refer to the troparia (idiomela or prosomoia- stichera) that follow the Psalm as kekragaria.

Koinonikon or Communion Hymn

This is a short text (usually only one verse with an “Alleluia” at the end) that is chanted in a melismatic and compunctual manner by the Lambadarios toward the end of the Divine Liturgy, while the clergy are communing the Holy Sacrament in the altar and preparing it to be given to the faithful. On Sundays it is normally the verse “Praise the Lord from the heavens. Alleluia” (Psalm 148). Other early koinonika include Psalm 33, “O taste and see,” Psalm 32, “Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous” and Psalm 115, “I will lift up the cup of salvation.”

Kontakion (Diminutive for the Greek word kontos, which means “short”)

In the past this term was used to refer to a hymn form made up of one or more prooimia and followed by a set of oikoi (cf. Chapter 2). Today, however, the term is usually used to refer only to the prooimion (or proasma) of the ancient Kontakion. Today they are usually only read with the first oikos in the Orthros service, before the synaxarion (between the sixth and seventh odes).

Makarismoi (Beatitudes)

This term refers to the words of Christ from the Gospels blessing the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, etc. (Matthew 5,3-11). They are usually chanted as a third antiphon in the Divine Liturgy, before the Small Entrance in the monasteries and seldom in the parishes today. By extension the same name is given to the troparia chanted with verses from the Beatitudes, whose content is characterized by an attitude of compunction and repentance. The repentant thief on the Cross and his words “Remember me, O Lord” are often incorporated into the hymn texts.


This is a troparion chanted in honor of a martyr or group of martyrs.


Today we have two main types of megalynaria: a) those short hymns (one or at the most two verses long) that precede the troparia of the ninth ode of the kanon on great feast days, when the “More honorable than the Cherubim” is not used (e.g., “Magnify, o my soul, her who is greater in honor and more glorious than the hosts on high”) and b) the laudatory hymns chanted at the end of the Supplicatory Kanon (Paraklesis) after the ninth ode or during the reading of the Diptychs in the Divine Liturgy, just before the Axion estin. The Encomia at the Epitaphios on Great and Holy Friday (Holy Saturday Orthros) are also referred to as megalynaria in the ancient Typika.


This word is used to refer to each strophe or troparion of the ancient Kontakion following the metre of the first oikos or heirmos. Today usually only the first oikos is used, which is said with the prooimion in the Orthros between the sixth and seventh odes, before the synaxarion. Composers of new services today write the kontakion and oikos as prosomoia, using the ancient heirmoi of the Kontakia as prototypes.


The morning service of the daily office in the Orthodox Church that begins with the Hexapsalmos (Six Psalms) is known as the Orthros. It contains a variety of hymns and readings. Its basic shape can be found in the liturgical book known as the Horologion.

Pasapnoaria or Ainoi

This refers to idiomela or prosomoia troparia chanted toward the end of the Orthros before the Doxology and after the psalmic verse “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 148), hence their name (the verse begins in the Greek, pasa pnoe). Each troparion, as a sticheron, is preceded by a verse, which can be specially chosen in the cases of martyrs, apostles, righteous, etc.

Prokeimenon (from the Greek pro-keimenon, meaning before the reading)

This is a short hymn, usually a psalmic verse or verse from a Biblical Canticle that is chanted before Scriptural readings. They are used in the Divine Liturgy before the Epistle and Gospel (rarely before the Gospel today) readings. In the Vespers the prokeimenon is used in place of the Old Testament prophecy readings, which today are only used for Great Feasts and during the Great Fast. When there is a Gospel reading in the Orthros it is also preceded by a prokeimenon. In some ancient Typika published by Dmitrievskj (I, 551 and 553) the troparia of the Small Hours are also called Prokeimena “O Lord, who at the third hour” (Third Hour), “O thou who on the sixth day and hour” (Sixth Hour), and “O thou who at the ninth hour” (Ninth Hour).

In the past there was a distinction between Prokeimena and Alleluiaria, which is all but forgotten today. Presented here is the distinction of the Great Prokeimena for the Great Feasts of the Master, “What God is as great” and “Arise, O God.” Older rubrics refer to the psalmic verses in the Orthros and Vespers of Great and Holy Week and the Great Fast, “Turn not away” and “My spirit seeks thee early” and the Great Alleluiaria. Hence, it seems that these Alleluiaria have taken on a kind of penitential and compunctual character.

Prosomoion (from the Greek, “toward the same”)

This is a troparion having the same number of syllables (isosyllaby) and the same pattern of accentuation (homotony) as a particular prototype automelon. In Byzantine chant the prosomoia are called prologoi. These troparia are always preceded by an indication of the prototype hymns they follow.


These are troparia, either idiomela or prosomoia, chanted in the Vespers or Orthros. They are always accompanied by a psalmic verse, hence the term sticheron (from the Greek, “a verse”).


This refers to a hymn whose content is of a Trinitarian character and that supplicates, petitions, glorifies or in some way hymns the Holy Trinity.


Firstly, this is a system of Kanon containing only three odes (just as a kanon can also be a Diodion for two odes or Tetraodion for four odes, and so on). It follows that the book containing services for the days when mostly three-ode kanons are chanted would take the same name. These days correspond to the pre-lenten, Lenten and paschal periods of the Church calendar. The Triodion is divided into two parts, a) the Katanyktikon or Compunctionate Triodion and b) the Triodion ton Rodon, which is today referred to as the Pentekostarion. It is the Compunctionate Triodion that is usually referred to as simply the Triodion today.


This is a general term that refers to almost any hymn chanted with or without a psalmic verse, according to its own tropon (manner) or some other hymn. The apolytikion is often called the “troparion of the day” in the Typika. Even the stichera and strophes of the odes are referred to as troparia, because they are chanted according to the melody of the heirmoi according to Zonara, “Troparion because it is fashioned and followed by it [the heirmos] and the heirmos serves as its example and final cause” (Migne, PG 135,124).


This troparion is said after the Evlogetaria and before the Antiphons of the Anabathmoi in the Sunday Orthros. In times past, however, the ephymnion (refrain) or epodos of some hymn which was repeated by the people or clergy or chanters. This is clearly shown in the Symposium of the Ten Virgins by Methodios Pataron of Olympus, where we find the refrain “I search thee holding illumined lamps, O Bridegroom; I meet thee,” which is repeated at the end of each of the 24 strophes of the hymn written with alphabetical acrostics. Hypakoe hymns exist for the great feasts also.

Cheroubikon or Cherubic Hymn

This hymn is chanted in the Divine Liturgy during the Great Entrance and begins with the words Hoi ta cheroubim mystikos (Mystically representing the Cherubim). Three times a year alternate cheroubika are used: on Great and Holy Thursday, Of thy mystical supper, on Great and Holy Saturday and at the Liturgy of St. Iakovos the Brother of the Lord, Let all mortal flesh keep silent, and at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, Now the powers of heaven.

Odes and Canticles

As has already been mentioned, these names refer to Biblical texts often used in worship. Eight are from the Old Testament and one, the ninth, from the New Testament. According to ancient rubrics the verses of the odes are followed by the troparia of the kanons. By extension, these troparia of the kanons also came to be referred to as odes. These troparia are also divided into nine sections and their entirety is called a kanon (cf. below for more, Chapter 3).