About the Basic Services
The Orthodox Church has a cycle of services that take us from one day into the next. These serve to order our lives around the worship of God. The main services are:
Vespers is actually a service sung in “anticipation”: It marks the beginning of the next day and offers prayers in preparation. In both Jewish and Orthodox tradition, the new day begins at Sunset, so we sing praises and prayers to God as the evening comes, to prepare for the new day. Learn more here.
This morning service of the church prepares us for and precedes the Divine Liturgy. There is actually no real break between Orthros and Divine liturgy. This is why if you show up to Divine Liturgy it may seem as though you have arrived late, that something is already going on. It is! But it is perfectly okay to arrive during Matins or Orthros. This service prepares the space and the people for the worship that is to come. In fact, it is really great if you can attend both services, as Orthros provides both preparatory prayers and a lesson for the day that sets the stage to help you understand the feast or fast or biblical passage and the Saints’ lives celebrated that day. It’s in some ways like the pre-game commentary before a sports event! But much more reverent and eternally important.
This is the culminating service of worship and communion with God. It does not look like what you may be familiar with if you come from a contemporary protestant Christian tradition. There are no instruments, no rock bands, no Power Point presentations. The whole service, from Matins to Divine Liturgy, moves forward fluidly from the initial preparation prayers and censing of the church space in Matins, to the reading of the Epistle (the letters of the Apostles to the early churches) to the reading of the Gospel (during which we all stand, by the way!), to the elevation of the Holy Gifts of the Eucharist, the consecrated bread and wine, to the distribution of those Holy Gifts, to the dismissal. It happens in one forward movement, from beginning to end. Even the sermon, or homily, is swept into this movement through space and time, as a loving offering to God, in concert with his Heavenly Host and the Saints.