Description of a "real" All Night vigil in Russia

By Professor Mikhail Skaballanovich


The celebration of an all-night vigil reflecting all the requirements of the Typicon-with the chanting of Psalm 103 in its entirety (with a refrain after each verse), of all eight psalms of the first kathisma, with the extended chanting of the two great Psalms of polyeleos or of Psalm 118, the lengthiest, and especially with the chanting of the irmoi and troparia of the canon, 120 in all, not to mention the multitude of stichera, sessional hymns, troparia, etc. the performance of an all-night vigil with such a mass of hymnody, as well as with the seven prescribed readings, may appear to be quite unfeasible.

And the use of polyphony in the Church of Russia in the 16th-17th centuries, i.e. in the era when the all-night vigil completed its evolution, apparently confirms such an opinion historically.

Yet, as though to refute such an opinion, which is so harmful to the Typicon, an attempt at performing just such an all-night vigil was recently made at the Kiev Theological Academy, apparently the first and only such attempt made in Russia since the 17th century (it is well known that there is not a single Russian monastery where the canon is chanted in its entirety; rather its troparia are read, just as the first kathisma, polyeleos and Psalm 118 are nowhere chanted in full).

The idea of performing such an all-night vigil occurred simultaneously two years ago [ca. 1911] to two professors of the Academy - Fr. V. D. Prilutsky, professor of liturgics, and the author of this book [i.e., Mikhail Skaballanovich]. Having discussed this question, they decided that to bring their plan to fruition would require an outlay of 300 rubles for two choirs (which, to satisfy the ideal of the antiphonal singing, on which all of our divine services is based, had to be equally balanced), and no less than two months of intense preparation (rehearsals).

When these professors shared their dreams with Bishop Gabriel (Chepuro) of Akkermansk, who was a supporter of their approach to liturgics, he accused them of naivete and said that it would cost 3,000 rubles and require two years of preparation. The idea of an ideal all-night vigil, thus cast into the air, fell into the soul of two pious fourth-year students - the priest Z. T. Saplina (of Kursk) and I. A. Lagovsky (of Kostroma; the aforementioned individuals hailed from Ryazan', Lithuania and Kherson). They decided that this all-night vigil was something they really had to undertake, and found among the students about twenty singers who expressed themselves ready, with no small risk to their voices, to sing, even if it took all night, i.e. from 6:00 P.M. until morning.

Seven of these twenty were fourth-year students; the rest comprised, in order of number, students of the first, second and third years. As to nationality, the participants were more or less evenly divided between Great Russians and Ukrainians.

It was originally decided to serve the all-night vigil on December 5th, the commemoration of St. Sabbas the Sanctified; but for various reasons November 10-11 was chosen, which fell on a Sunday of Tone I, which is musically the richest.

Rehearsals took six weeks. The site chosen for the celebration of the all-night vigil was the little Church of the Holy Spirit at the Bratsky Monastery (on whose grounds the Academy is located). This church is provided with benches along all of its walls.

Bishop Innocent, the Rector of the Academy, who was greatly sympathetic to this project, agreed - so as not to interfere with the full implementation of the requirements of the all-night vigil, which, as is well known, does not envision the participation of a hierarch at such a service-to confine himself to the part of the superior and perform only the functions appointed for same in the Typicon (honor was rendered to his [i.e., Bishop Innocent's] rank only after the conclusion of the all-night vigil with the chanting of Eis polla and the ringing of a bell to see him off).

He occupied a place along the wall, halfway down the church, and vested in mantia. Hieromonk Anthony (Romanovsky), a fourth-year student, and Hierodeacon Nectarius (Trezvinsky), served the vigil.

At 6:00 P.M., the royal doors being shut, the censing of the sanctuary began. Before this, the rector had suggested that everyone present sit down (unfortunately, there were far from a sufficient number of seats). After the censing of the sanctuary, the veil was drawn aside and the holy doors opened, before which stood a student - a novice in monastic garb, holding a tall candle in his hand, who was carrying out the duties of the paraecclesiarch.

At the moment when the holy doors were opened, he exclaimed: "Arise!" The hieromonk (without deacon, vested in mantia and epitrachilion) issued forth through the holy doors bearing a censer. Amid a solemn silence, broken only by the rattle of the censer and continuing for some time, the censing of the entire three-naved church was performed, during which those who were doing the censing described a six-part, wavy line (along each side of the walls and columns), the end of which brought them to the narthex.

When they emerged after censing it, the paraecclesiarch proclaimed: "Lord, bless!" Those who were censing went to the holy doors and, when they had made there the prescribed final censing of the main icons, the priest intoned the initial exclamation.

The priest V. D. Prilutsky, who was acting as ecclesiarch, chanted, solo, "Amen. O come, let us worship", and the beginning of Psalm 103 with its refrain. The psalm was chanted by two choirs, verse by verse, each with its appropriate refrain, to the Bakhmetev melody.

Immediately after the exclamation, the royal doors were opened and the priest came forth and stood at the right end of the solea before the analogion and icon, where he stood practically throughout the entire vigil service. The slow chanting of the psalm, with what seemed like an endless repetition of each of its prescribed refrains, with nothing distracting being done during it (even censing), opened the mind's comprehension to ever newer thoughts at each verse.

At verse 24 of the Psalm ("In wisdom hast Thou made them all"), the priest approached the royal doors to read the Prayers of Light. Enthusiasm shone forth on the faces of everyone. The psalm concluded at 6: 35 P.M.

"Blessed is the man" was also sung to the Bakhmetev melody, with a threefold Alleluia after each verse. The singing of the first stasis, i.e. Psalms 1-3, took only about ten minutes, thanks to the lively antiphonal singing: the second choir began its verse when the first was still finishing its. The second and third stases of the first kathisma, i.e. Psalms 4-8, were chanted to the (usual) Tone I troparion melody, i.e. just as the Typica are chanted at Liturgy.

In this the leader of the singing apparently committed an error: it would have been more appropriate to use a sticheron melody, since during vigils troparion melodies are only encountered after "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart", and thereafter predominate (in the sessional hymns and hypacoe) almost to the canon.

A moving idiosyncrasy characterized the singing of these five Psalms: on the basis of the ancient rules for the chanting of psalms, the singing of each verse of a psalm was shared between the two choirs, i.e. the right choir sang the first half of each verse, and the left choir sang the second half. Since biblical poetry is based on parallel phrasing, i.e. in each verse of the psalm its second half contains a thought parallel to that of the first half and develops and carries further the thought of the first half, this style of singing strikes the mind immediately with unexpected ideas and comparisons.

For example: Right choir: Sacrifice a sacrifice of righteousness Left choir: And hope in the Lord.

Right choir: Many say: Who will show unto us good things? Left choir: The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, hath been signed upon us.

Right choir: Sheep and all oxen Left choir: Yea, and the beasts of the field.

The litanies after the first and second stases were intoned by the priest, while that following the third stases was done by the deacon.

On "Lord, I have cried", the candles before the icons were lit, and the church immediately took on a more triumphal character: up to this point, only the hanging lamps were burning, and the church was half in darkness. "Lord, I have cried", before which the tone was announced, was chanted to the Great Znamenny melody; parts of the first two verses were chanted by a solo bass, while the full choir responded at the prescribed places (of which there were more than in the usual settings) with the refrain "Hearken unto me, O Lord". The rest of the verses of Psalms 140 and 141 were sung on one note, as is the practice in the Lavra of the Caves of Kiev.

The resurrectional stichera were sung to the Bakhmetev melody, but the six stichera from the Menaion were chanted using the designated special melodies [podobny/prosomoia] of the Kiev-Caves chant, in view of which the special melody was announced before each set: "As one valiant among the martyrs" before the first three, and "O all-glorious wonder" before the second three.

It is useless to try to describe the beauty, majesty and compunctionate quality of these chants to anyone who has not heard them. We only remark that, at the words of the sticheron of the martyr Stephanida, "Bound between two palm trees, thou wast torn asunder, and didst like a sparrow take flight to God", the notes were so expressive of all the horror of this torture (the tearing apart of a human body by binding it two palm-trees which had been bent down to the ground and then released) and the full triumph of the martyr's great soul over it, that everyone who was in a position to listen to these words began to tremble, and was convinced that their horror was conveyed by the music.

The impression made by the chants was intensified by the fact that the stichera, like all the singing at the all-night vigil, was chanted without a canonarch (in the Lavra of the Caves of Kiev too, the more important stichera, the "idiomela", e.g. on Christmas, Dormition, Annunciation, are chanted without a canonarch).

At the prescribed place the choirs descended into the nave. The entrance, led by two monks in mantias bearing two large candles, took place at about 7:35 P.M., hence about an hour and a half after the beginning of the service, a period of time which might with a little effort have accommodated an entire vigil service [as commonly performed].

Instead of being merely announced, the prokimenon was sung solo by the canonarch (before it was chanted by the united choirs in the changeable chant of the Lavra); its stichoi were likewise chanted by the canonarch, but on one note.

The litia procession (at 7: 43) was issued forth through the north door, the royal doors being shut, the procession being led by two monks in mantias bearing candles. The priest was vested only in epitrachilion. The singers, their choirs united and disposed four to a line, followed the priest, and sang "All-glorious things today" and "Glory..., Now & ever..., "O heavenly King" (the patronal stichera of the church). The procession entered the narthex itself, to which the majority of those who attended, including the hierarch, also went (the narthex was quite spacious). One of the singers read "Lord, have mercy!".

The aposticha stichera were sung (to a simple melody) by the unified choirs disposed in a semicircle before the analogion. The royal doors were not opened even for the blessing of the loaves. Psalm 33, as Psalm 50 would later be, was recited (following the direction of the Typicon: "We say") by one of the choirs, and was very effective.

After "The blessing of the Lord be upon you" came the "great" reading. An analogion was placed on the left end of the solea for the reader, diagonal to the iconostasis and the people. Following the prescribed order, all of II Thessalonians was read. The reader was Archpriest D. I. Bogdashevsky, the prefect of the Academy and professor of New Testament. He of course read without epitrachilion, striving to instill therein, by means of intonation, all the understanding he had acquired in his many years of labor. (This reading, as the others would be, was done in a conversational voice, although in Slavonic.)

The final "Amen" of the epistle was not uttered by him, but, as the Typicon requires, by the reader of the Six Psalms, who was (again as the Typicon stipulates) the rector-bishop in the role of superior (earlier, he had also read "Vouchsafe, O Lord" and "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart").

During the reading of the epistle, a prosphoron and a cup of wine was given to each of the singers, and a prosphoron dipped in wine to the people. With the beginning of the reading, the church was again plunged into darkness (until "God is the Lord and hath appeared", which latter word means "shone forth" in Hebrew).

Matins began at 8:40.

The Great Litany was intoned by the priest.

"God is the Lord" was carefully executed, as the prokimenon had been (see above).

The kathismata were chanted in the middle of the church by a student.

The sessional hymns were sung in the compunctionate and slow chant of the Lavra of the Caves of Kiev (which is somewhat like the hymns of Passion Week; indeed, the sessional hymn of Tone II actually forms part of the hymnody of Passion Week: "The noble Joseph..."). We were unable to sing these hymns while seated, because there was insufficient space on the klirosy.

After the first kathisma and its sessional hymns, the rector read from the solea the interpretation of the next day's Gospel from the "Evangelarion" of Theophylactus, introducing his reading with the phrase "A narration on the Gospel according to Luke by the blessed Theophylactus, Archbishop of Bulgaria". Thanks to the brevity of the Gospel (on the foolish rich man), the reading was in length only two folio-sized pages of widely-spaced print. The rest of the readings were done by V. P. Afonsky, a native of Kiev and a second year student.

After the second kathisma, the Polyeleos and Ode III of the canon, the interpretation of the next day's epistle of the Apostle Paul was read. This interpretation takes up five folio pages closely printed in two columns, and despite being read quite rapidly, it was lengthy, in view of which we had to abandon our original intention to read from the Pearl [Margarita] after Ode III of the canon, of which the Typicon, however, speaks very indefinitely.

The author of this article guided the readings, having exerted no little labor in locating the necessary Slavonic books. The "Catechesis of St. Theodore the Studite", which is prescribed to be read, was found only in an all but unique manuscript of the Lavra of the Caves of Kiev. It was, however, discovered at a very late date, and we had instead to translate the appropriate passage from Russian into Slavonic.

The highlight of the all-night vigil was the Polyeleos. Chanted to the majestic, triumphal melody of the Lavra of the Caves of Kiev, these forty-seven verses of the polyeleos psalms, it seemed, constituted an endless hymn to the Trinity. A certain unresolved mystery flowed from the double mention of Og and Seon ("and Og, king of the land of Basan. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. For His mercy endureth forever"). The chandelier, which was lighted at this point, reinforced the impression. Yet strangely enough, the royal doors remained closed even through all of this.

The chanters really gave themselves over to the Polyeleos. It is generally admitted that here the all-night vigil surpassed even the most daring expectations. The enthusiasm of those who attended the service reached its apogee. "The assembly of angels" was sung to the rapid chant of the Lavra (reflecting the myrrh-bearers' running to and from the tomb).

The hypacoe was sung solo by a good tenor; an intense silence prevailed within the church, remarkably illustrating the meaning of this hymn ("attention").

And again there was a reading.

At the beginning of the Songs of Ascent the royal doors were opened, and they remained open until the Gospel-book was carried back into the sanctuary at Ode I of the canon. The Songs of Ascent were chanted according to the melody of the Lavra, each verse being done twice. This was magnificent responsorial singing by the klirosy.

Psalm 50 was read by the choir of the left kliros. All were particularly pleased that the Gospel was presented for veneration by the priest, he holding it in his hands, while a candle was held on either side.

The canon began at 10:45 and finished at 12:50. They used the Bakhmetev melody, and when they descended to do the katavasia, "I will open my mouth", they used the Lavra melody. The verses of the biblical odes were executed with particular effectiveness. Each of the odes of the canon seemed to be something never-ending.

When those who were present saw that all fourteen troparia of each ode were being sung, some of them became afraid that the singers' voices would suffer damage, the moreso in that their growing animation apparently inspired them to sing ever louder. One respectable listener begged the leaders to terminate this "dangerous experiment". But such would have meant terminating the work at its very end.

The kontakia, ikoi and sessional hymns after Ode III were chanted to the usual troparion melodies; there were seven of them. The kontakion and ikos after Ode VI was done the same way. At the reading after Ode III the church was plunged into a darkness which lasted until Ode IX, from which point the candles were not extinguished until the dismissal.

During the reading of the Prologue, which consisted of ten folio pages, the author made a circuit of the church with the purpose of counting the number of those who "endured to the end". He was struck by the percentage of Academy students, as well as of educated females of various ages, from prominent women to young high school students. There were also many well-educated men. In all, about two hundred people were there.

The exapostilaria were chanted solo, antiphonally, to the Greek troparion melody.

The Praise stichera were done to the usual melody, and the choirs descended at the prescribed moment.

The Great Doxology was sung to the chant of the Lavra. It was strange to see the royal doors closed during the Great Doxology and the litanies which follow it; they were opened only for the dismissal, at the first "Wisdom!".

After Matins, the chanters in procession followed the priest, who was preceded by two large candles (though not carried by deacons), to the narthex, singing "The Holy Spirit hath ever been, and is, and shall be...".

The rector read from the Catechesis of St. Theodore the Studite (written on a half page of paper) concerning the aim and benefit of catechesis. The singers thanked St. Theodore by chanting his troparion. The First Hour was then read.

Everything was over by 1:50 A.M. It is difficult to communicate in words thee feelings of those who listened to, and especially those who participated most closely in, this service, which someone called "a historical all-night vigil". The degree to which everything in it was unusual is shown by the following circumstances. The two leaders of the service, who can recite by memory the entire second chapter of the Typicon, after the vigil service lost their minds, as it were, one after another, and had to ascertain from each other whether this would continue.

On the following day, the majority of those who participated in the service described themselves as almost intoxicated all throughout the all-night vigil. No one mentioned having been tired. One of the singers stated that he could sing another such vigil service then and there. One student, a lover of sleep, left the church several times, undressed and lay down on his bed, but, unable to fall asleep because he knew that a few steps away such an original, unheard of service was taking place, he returned to the church. One female student, before the vigil, studied all the psalms, stichera, canons and biblical odes which were to be sung.

Those acquaintances of the leaders who had not been informed about the vigil service, almost fell into argument with the leaders and made them promise that anything similar was planned for the future, they would be told. And a repetition is possible... When this is done again, it is proposed to sing everything to the Great Znamenny Chant, which will lengthen the vigil service by three to four hours.

Translated from the Russian by the reader Isaac Lambertsen, from The Typicon Explained, by Michael Skaballanovich, Vol. II (Kiev: St. Vladimir's Imperial University Press, 1913, pp. 330-336). All rights reserved.

In the "Ustav" mailing list archives, See Mon, 27 Sep 1999 at, post #2802

We confidently recommend our web service provider, Orthodox Internet Services: excellent personal customer service, a fast and reliable server, excellent spam filtering, and an easy to use comprehensive control panel.

St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas