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The Octoechos (Greek: ; Slavonic: Октоихъ, Oktoikh, or Осмогласникъ, Osmoglasnik)—literally, the book "of the Eight Tones"—contains an eight-week cycle, providing texts to be chanted for every day at Vespers, Matins, the Divine Liturgy, Compline and (on Sundays) the Midnight Office. Each week begins a new mode (Greek: ἤχος, échos) or tone (Slavonic: глáсъ, glás' ), and within that mode texts are provided for each day of the week. The new mode begins with Saturday night Vespers.

Sometimes the word "Octoechos" will be used to describe a briefer volume that contains only the texts for the Sunday services. To distinguish the full version from the briefer one, the term Paraklētikē (Greek: Παρακλητική) can be used to describe the complete volume. The word Paraklētikē comes from the Greek parakalein (παρακαλείν), meaning, "to supplicate" (the more penitential texts are found on weekdays).

In addition to the standard melodies provided by the eight modes, there are also several "special melodies" (Greek: Idiomelon, Slavonic: Samoglasen), and the "pattern melodies" (Greek: prosomoia, Slavonic: podobny) which are based upon them. Each of these belongs to one of the tones and will be indicated in the superscription introducing some of the hymns in the Octoechos and other liturgical books.

Historical development

The origins of this book traditionally go back to the Monastery of Mar Sabba in Palestine, with compositions by St. John Damascene (c. 676–749) and St. Cosmas of Maiuma († 773). Other prominent hymnographers include Saint Joseph the Hymnographer (810-886)[452853]; Saint Theophanes the Branded, Bishop of Nicaea (c. 775-845)[452854]; Paul of Amoriummarker; Metrophanes of Smyrna; as well as numerous anonymous authors.

The Oktoechos was the very first book printed (incunabulum) in Cyrillic typeface. It was published in Cracowmarker in 1491, by Schweipolt Fiol, a German native of Franconia. There are only seven known copies of this first publication remaining, the only complete one being in the collection of the Russian National Librarymarker.

In the Russian Church a special singer's Octoechos developed in the second half of the fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, containing not only the text but also musical notation. The first printed edition, the Oktoikh notnago peniya, sirech' Osmoglasnik, using square notation, was published in 1772. It contained the hymns in Znamenny Chant, as well as the "pattern melodies" mentioned above, that belong to each of the Eight Tones.


The cycle of the Octoechos is a part of the Paschal cycle (moveable cycle) of the church year; that is to say, it is dependent upon the date of Pascha (Easter). During Bright Week (Easter Week), one of the eight tones is used each day of the week (excluding the Seventh or "Grave" Tone). Then, beginning on Thomas Sunday (the Sunday after Pascha), the First Tone is used for the entire week, and the cycle continues uninterrupted, one tone per week, until Palm Sunday of the following year. It should be noted that Holy Week has no tone assigned to it (the natural order of things is interrupted), while Bright Week has all tones assigned to it (the Resurrection is the sum of all joy).

The Octoechos is not used at all from Lazarus Saturday (the day before Palm Sunday) through Thomas Sunday. It is not used on major feast days when they fall on weekdays. It is always used on Sunday, unless a Great Feast of the Lord occurs on that day.

The hymns of the Octoechos (the moveable cycle) will be combined with hymns from the Menaion (the fixed cycle), which contains the texts for the saints whose commemorations are determined according to the day of the calendar year. When more of the service is chanted from the Menaion, less of the Octoechos will be used; when less material is found in the Menaion, more from the Octoechos will be used. Since the services from the Octoechos on weekdays tend to be penitential, days on which more of the Octoechos is used are more penitential in nature. For this reason, services to monastic saints in the Menaion tend to be simple services, so that more hymns from the Octoechos will be utilized.

Most liturgical texts are not printed with either staff notation or neumes; rather, only the tone is named, and the chanter is expected to know the appropriate melody and apply it extemporaneously to the text.


In the Orthodox liturgical tradition, each day of the week has a distinct theme: These themes are developed primarily in the texts of the Octoechos.


The names ascribed to the eight tones in the texts of the Octoechos (and other books) will differ between the Greek and the Slavic usage:
Greek Slavic
First First
Second Second
Third Third
Fourth Fourth
Plagal of the First Fifth
Plagal of the Second Sixth
Grave Seventh
Plagal of the Fourth Eighth

In the Greek usage, the first four tones are referred to as the "authentic" (authentes or kyrioi) modes, and the last four are "plagal" variations on them. The latter term comes from the Medieval Greek plagios, "oblique" (from plagos, "side"). The plagal modes have a range from the fourth below to the fifth above their final tone. These modal structures do not carry over into the Slavic tones, which are melodic compositions. (See the article Octoechos for further information on the development of the Greek modes.)

Syriac Usage

The Syriac Orthodox Church also makes use of a system of eight modes (makams). Each hymn (Syriac: qolo, plural: qole) is composed in one of these eight modes. Some modes have variants (shuhlophe) similar to the "special melodies" mentioned above. Only skilled chanters can master these variants.

The modal cycle consists of eight weeks. Each Sunday or Feast day is assigned one of the eight modes. During the weekday offices, known in Syriac by the name Shhimo, the 1st and 5th modes are paired together, so are the 2nd and 6th, the 3rd and 7th, and the 4th and 8th. If a particular Sunday makes use of the 1st mode, the following Monday is sung with the 5th mode, Tuesday with the 1st mode, etc., with the pair alternating every day of the week (see the table provided in Guide to the Eight Modes in the External Links below).

The ecclesiastical year starts with Qudosh `Idto (The Consecration of the Church), a feast observed on the eighth Sunday before Christmas (Yaldo). The 1st mode is sung on this day. The following Sunday makes use of the 2nd mode, and so on, repeating the cycle until it starts again the next year. The cycle is interrupted only by feasts which have their own tones assigned to them. Similar to the Byzantine usage, each day of Easter Week has its own mode, except the Syriacs do not skip the 7th mode. Thus, the Sunday after Easter, called New Sunday (Hadto) is in the 8th mode rather than the 1st.

In one type of hymn used by the Syriac Church, the Qole Shahroye (Vigils), each of the modes is dedicated to a theme: The 1st and 2nd modes are dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the 3rd and 4th to the saints, the 5th and 6th to penitence, and the 7th and 8th to the departed.

The primary collection of hymns in the eight modes is the Beth Gazo d-ne`motho, or "Treasury of Chants."

Armenian Usage

In the Armenian Apostolic Church, the system of eight modes is referred to as oot tzayn (eight voices). Although there is no structural relation between the Greek and Armenian modes, the division into "Authentic" and "Plagal" modes is parallel. In Armenian terminology, the "Authentic" modes are referred to as "Voice" (Tzayn) and the "Plagal" modes are called "Side" (Koghm), and are utilized in the following order:

Greek Armenian
First First Voice
Plagal of the First First Side
Second Second Voice
Plagal of the Second Second Side
Third Third Voice
Grave Third Side
Fourth Fourth Voice
Plagal of the Fourth Fourth Side

This order is important, because it is the order in which the modes are used liturgically. Instead of using one tone per week, the Armenians use one tone per day. Easter Sunday is always the First Voice, the next day is First Side, and so on throughout the year. However, the cycle does not actually begin on Easter day, but counts backwards from Easter Sunday to the First Sunday in Lent, which is always Forth Side, regardless of what mode the previous day was. Each mode of the oot tzayn has one or more tartzwadzk‘ (auxiliary) modes.

The Sharagnots is the book which contains the Sharakan, or Sharagan (Canons), hymns which constitute the substance of the musical system of Armenian liturgical chant in the eight modes. Originally, these were Psalms and Biblical Canticles that were chanted during the services. A Sharagan was composed of verses which were interspersed between the scriptural verses. Eventually, the Sharagan replaced the biblical text entirely. In addition, the eight modes are applied to the psalms of the Night office, called ganonaklookh (Canon head). the Armenian Church also makes use of other modes outside of the oot tzayn.


See also

External links

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