In the Orthodox Church, we have a very orderly, disciplined approach to worship – despite the glorious disorder of the services.
Each day of the week has its own significance and special prayers and hymns. Prayers and hymns are recited and chanted pertaining to the commemoration of each day. This cycle is not based on a natural cycle, since the seven-day week does not appear in nature. The week was given to us by God in a direct revelation. While the different themes of the weekly cycle are repeated every week, the actual hymns that express these themes are divided into an eight-week cycle based upon the eight musical modes or tones of the Church’s musical system. This means that the volume of liturgical material that makes up the weekly cycle is so large that only after eight weeks is this material again repeated.
The hymns of the weekly cycle are collected into one large book—which often divided into two volumes. This book is called the Octoechos or Book of the Eight Tones, which is often printed in two volumes.
The most important day of the week is the first day, which we call Sunday, but is also known as the Lord’s day. On this day, every week, the Church commemorates Christ’s resurrection. This is such an important day liturgically, that it’s always celebrated just like a great feast—that is, it always has a vigil the evening before. Sunday is so important that it almost never gives place to any other commemoration. The only possible exceptions are the great feasts of the Lord, which always take precedence—even over Sundays.
The character of Sunday is always festive, so during fast seasons the fast is always relaxed to a certain extent on Sunday. Thus, during Great Lent oil and wine are always allowed on Sundays, and during the other, lesser lenten periods fish is almost always permitted.
The second day—Monday—is dedicated to the Angels—the bodiless hosts. Most monastics and even some pious laymen keep this day as a voluntary fast day. By fasting, they deny the needs of the body and in this small way they strive to imitate those heavenly beings who are bodiless by nature.
The third day—Tuesday—is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Christ Himself said that there was no greater man born of woman, and the Church recognizes this greatness by giving the Forerunner a special place in the weekly cycle.
The fourth day—Wednesday—is dedicated to the Holy Cross of the Lord. It was on this day that Judas agreed to betray Christ, thus setting in motion the events of the Passion. This is a fast day which is obligatory for all Orthodox Christians.
The fifth day—Thursday—is dedicated to the holy Apostles and also to Saint Nicholas. The fact that Saint Nicholas has been given a place in the weekly cycle indicates the great veneration that the Church accords him.
The sixth day—Friday—which is the day of Christ’s crucifixion, is again dedicated to the Holy Cross. Like Wednesday, it is a fast day for all Orthodox Christians.
The seventh day—Saturday—is dedicated to the Mother of God – the Theotokos – to all the saints and also to all the faithful departed. Saturday was the day of rest in Old Testament times and always had a festal character. The Church has maintained this festal character to a certain extent in its liturgical practice. We can also see this by the fact that during fasting seasons the Church’s fasting rules are exactly the same for Saturdays as they are for Sundays.
The weekly cycle is always used in conjunction with the yearly cycle, but the amount of liturgical material from the weekly cycle that is used on any particular day can vary significantly from day to day. At one end of the scale the weekly cycle dominates. And at the other end, it is completely suppressed in favor of the yearly cycle.
Each day has it’s own special “songs” called a Troparion and a Kontakion. On Sunday, we will chant one of 8 sets of Troparia and Kontakia depending on the weekly cycle.
Daily Troparia and Kontakia
Commemoration of the Holy Angels.
Troparion: Supreme Leaders of the Heavenly Hosts, we implore you that by your prayers you will encircle us, unworthy as we are, with the protection of the wings of your immaterial glory, and guard us who fall down I before you and fervently cry: Deliver us from dangers, for you are the commanders of the Powers above.
Kontakion: Supreme Leaders of God’s armies and ministers of the divine glory, princes of the bodiless Angels and guides of men, ask what is good for us and great mercy, as Supreme Leaders of the Bodiless Hosts.
Commemoration of St. John the Baptist.
Troparion: The memory of the just is celebrated with hymns of praise, but the Lord’s testimony is enough for thee, O Forerunner, for thou wast shown to be more wonderful than the Prophets since thou wast granted to baptize in the running waters Him Whom thou didst proclaim. Then having endured great suffering for the Truth, thou didst rejoice to bring, even to those in hell, the good tidings that God Who had appeared in the flesh takes away the sin of the world and grants us the great mercy.
Kontakion: O Prophet of God and Forerunner of Grace, having obtained thy head from the earth as a most sacred rose, we are always receiving healings; for still as of old in the world thou preachest repentance.
WEDNESDAY AND FRIDAY
Commemoration of the Cross and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Troparion: O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victory over their enemies to Orthodox Christians, and protect Thy people with Thy Cross.
Kontakion: O Christ our God, Who wast voluntarily lifted up on the Cross, grant Thy mercies to Thy new people named after Thee. Gladden with Thy power Orthodox Christians and give them victory over their enemies. May they have as an ally that invincible trophy, Thy weapon of peace.
Commemoration of the Holy Apostles and St. Nicholas.
Troparion: Holy Apostles, intercede with our merciful God, that He may grant to our souls the forgiveness of our sins.
Kontakion to St. Nicholas: The truth of things revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, a model of meekness, and a teacher of temperance. Therefore thou hast won the heights by humility, riches by poverty. Holy Father Nicholas, intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.
Koniakion to the Holy Apostles: Thou hast taken the firm and divinely inspired Preachers, O Lord, the top Apostles, for the enjoyment of Thy blessings and for repose. For Thou hast accepted their labours and death as above every burnt offering, O Thou Who alone knowest the secrets of our hearts.
Commemoration of the Mother of God, all Saints, the Faithful Departed.
Troparion for all Saints: Apostles, Martyrs, and Prophets, holy Hierarchs, Saints and Righteous, having fought the good fight and kept the faith you have boldness towards the Saviour. Intercede for us with Him, for He is good, we pray, that He may save our souls.
Troparion for the Faithful Departed: Remember the souls of Thy servants, O Lord, for Thou art good, and insofar as they sinned in this life, forgive them; for no one is sinless but Thee, Who canst also give rest to the departed.
Kontakion for the Faithful Departed: With the Saints, give rest, O Christ, to the souls of Thy servants, where there is no pain, no sorrow, no sighing, but life everlasting.
Kontakion for Martyrs: The world offers to Thee, O Lord, as the Father of creation, the God-bearing Martyrs as the first-fruits of nature. By their prayers through the Mother of God keep Thy Church in deep peace, O Most Merciful One.
Sunday Troparia and Kontakia
Troparion: When the stone had been sealed by the Jews and when the soldiers were guarding Thy pure Body, O Saviour, Thou didst rise on the third day and give life to the world. Therefore, the Powers of Heaven cried to Thee, O Giver of life: Glory to Thy Resurrection, O Christ! Glory to Thy Kingdom! Glory to Thy Providence, O only Lover of men!
Kontakion: Thou didst rise as God from the tomb with glory and with Thyself didst raise the world, and the nature of men sings to Thee as God, and death has vanished, and Adam dances for joy, O Lord, and Eve, now freed from her fetters rejoices, crying: Thou, O Christ, art He Who givest to all resurrection.
Troparion: When Thou, the Deathless Life, didst go down to death, then didst Thou slay hell by the lightning flash of Thy divinity. And when Thou didst raise the dead from the lower world, all the Powers of Heaven cried aloud: Christ our God, Giver of life, glory to Thee.
Kontakion: Thou didst rise from the tomb, all-powerful Saviour, and seeing the miracle, hell was terrified, and the dead rose, whilst creation at the sight of it rejoices with Thee, and Adam exults, and the world, O my Saviour, ever sings to Thee.
Troparion: Let the Heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad, for the Lord has done a mighty act with His arm. He has trampled death by death and become the First-born of the dead, He has delivered us from the depths of hell, and has granted the world His great mercy.
Kontakion: Thou didst rise today from the grave, O Merciful One, and hast led us out of the gates of death. Today Adam dances for joy and Eve rejoices, and with them the Prophets and Patriarchs unceasingly sing of the divine triumph of Thy power.
Troparion: When the women disciples of the Lord learned from the Angel the glad tidings of the Resurrection and cast off the ancestral curse, they exultingly told the Apostles: Death is despoiled, Christ our God has risen and is giving the world the great mercy.
Kontakion: My Saviour and Deliverer from the grave, as God, raised the earth-born from their chains, and shattered the gates of hell; and He rose as Lord on the third day.
Troparion: Let us, the faithful, praise and adore the Word, co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, Who for our salvation was born of a Virgin. For He was pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, and to endure death, and to raise the dead by His glorious Resurrection.
Kontakion: Thou didst descend into hell, my Saviour, and having shattered its gates, as All Powerful, Thou didst raise the dead with Thyself, as Creator, and didst deliver Adam from the curse, O Lover of men. Therefore, we all cry to Thee: Save us, O Lord.
Troparion: The Angelic Hosts were before Thy tomb, the guards became as dead men, and Mary stood in the sepulchre looking for Thy pure Body. Thou didst despoil hell, for Thou wast not tempted by it. Thou didst come and meet the Virgin to give life. O Lord, Who didst rise from the dead, glory to Thee.
Kontakion: Having raised all the dead from the valleys of darkness by His life-giving hand, Christ our God granted resurrection to the human dough. For He is the Saviour of all, the Resurrection and Life and God of all.
Troparion: Thou hast destroyed death by Thy Cross, Thou hast opened Paradise to the thief. Thou hast changed the lamentation of the Myrrbearers into joy, and Thou hast commanded Thine Apostles to proclaim that Thou, O Christ our God, hast risen and grantest the world the great mercy.
Kontakion: No longer can the dominion of death hold mortals, for Christ has come down and has shattered and broken its power. Hell is bound, and the Prophets rejoice with one voice, saying: The Saviour has appeared to those who have faith. Come out, you faithful, for the Resurrection.
Troparion: Thou didst come down from on high, Merciful Saviour, and accept burial for three days, that Thou mightest free us from our passions. O Lord, our Life and Resurrection, glory to Thee.
Kontakion: Having risen from the tomb, Thou didst raise the dead and resurrect Adam, and Eve dances with joy at Thy Resurrection. And all the ends of the earth keep festival at Thy Rising from the dead, O Most Merciful One.
We have cycles built upon cycles built upon cycles. No two weeks are exactly alike, and no two years are exactly alike. We don’t have complete, identical repetition of all cycles for something like 492 years (someone correct me!).
Much of the foregoing was cribbed from: