Teaching the Sunday Resurrection Matins

Resurrection Matins (24 October 2021)

Notes for Teaching through the Resurrection Matins service
Fr. Anthony Perkins

Matins is a category of service known as an “Office.” Offices are common prayers that can be prayed without a priest, if one is not available or one wants to serve at home. Other Offices include: Vespers, Compline, Akathists, Supplicatory Canons, and the Hours.

Just like any other service in the Church, Matins has various themes.  One theme is that of the fall of mankind.  We join Adam in his weakness.  As Fr. Alexander Schmemman describes it in For the Life of the World;

When we first wake up, the initial sensation is always that of illumination; we are at our weakest, as our most helpless.  It is like a man’s first real experience of life in all its absurdity and solitude, at first kept from him by family warmth.  We discover every morning in the amorphous darkness the inertia of life. 

And while Matins – and especially the Six Psalms – does call us to experience this darkness, it does not leave us there.  This brings us to the second theme.  To continue with Fr. Alexander’s meditation;

[T]he first theme of Matins is … the coming of light into darkness.  It begins not like Vespers with the creation, but with the Fall.  Yes in this very helplessness and despair, there is a hidden expectation, a thirst and hunger.  And within this scene the Church declares her joy, not only against the grain of natural life, but fulfilling it.  The Church announces every morning that God is the Lord, and she begins to organize life around God.  [During Matins] the sun itself rises, dispelling the darkness of the world, and in this the Church sees the rising of the true Light of the world, the Son of God.

Along with this theme of “the Fall”, we also remember that Light has dawned in the world through Jesus Christ.  The Matins service guides the believer from the Fall to Illumination.

The Matins service is an amalgamation of several services: the Royal Office, the Nocturnal Office (Six Psalms through the Kathisma), the Cathedral Vigil (from the Poleyeleos through “Having Beheld the Resurrection of Christ”), and the Morning Office (from Psalm 50 through to the end).  

Because of its flexibility, serves as the basis for the Funeral service, the memorial Panakhida, and various Molebans (prayer services for specific purposes).  When done in its entire monastic form, it takes several hours.  The version we use, which comes from our Ukrainian Orthodox prayer book, takes around an hour and a half

The Royal Office

The first part, sometime skipped in parish use, is the “Royal Beginning”, so called because the psalms that can be chanted (19 and 20) speak of the “king of kings,” tropars in honor of the emperor (“O Lord, save your people”), and litanies for the civil authorities. The Royal Office section is often omitted in parish usage.

The Six Psalms

About the Six Psalms, Fr. John Whiteford writes;

The faithful should be aware of the fact that the reading of the “Six Psalms” is one of the most important points in the service ‚ a time when all should put aside other thoughts‚ stand quietly‚ and concentrate on these penitential prayers. The reading does not constitute a pause in Divine Services‚ a time during which to go for a walk outside or to talk to one’s neighbor. It is one of the holiest moments in the entire service.

During this time the lights are turned off – and the lampadas remain unlit – so that we can better contemplate our mortality and the futility of a life lived separate from God.  Some believers close their eyes so that they are not distracted as they “keep their mind in hell and despair not” (St. Silouan the Athonite).  Tears of repentance – metaphorical or real – are entirely appropriate during this time.

Psalm 3

Fr. Patrick Reardon:
“Conflict we have here, and the distress that conflict brings, for fighting battles is one of the major motifs of the Book of Psalms. This is not a prayer book for the noncombatant, and unless a person is actually engaged in hostilities it is difficult to see how he can pray Psalm 3: “Arise, O Lord, save me, O my God; for You have smitten all my enemies on the jaw; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.”…

The psalms are prayers for those engaged in an ongoing spiritual conflict. No one else need bother even opening the book.

And what are our resources in [this battle]? “But You, O Lord, are a shield to me, my glory and my head’s support. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill.… I will not fear the thousands that confront me round about.… Salvation is of the Lord, and Your blessing rests upon Your people.”

Psalm 37

Fr. Patrick Reardon:
[Again] there are enemies … the demons are the only enemies of the man who correctly prays the Book of Psalms. Nowhere does Holy Scripture exhort us to forgive or pity the demons. They are the only true enemies that our prayer recognizes. Unlike human enemies who are to be prayed for, the demons are always to be prayed against. Our fight with them is unsleeping, as is their fight with us, plotting our ruin: “Those also who seek my life lay snares for me; those who seek my hurt speak of destruction, and plan deception all the day long.”

Psalm 62

Fr. Patrick Reardon:
As one of the Bible’s most intense prayers of yearning, the words of Psalm 62 open the mind to what the Holy Spirit prays to God within our souls.  At the same time, the soul’s spiritual enemies are ever present, and they, too, are referenced when our psalm speaks of “those who vainly seek my soul,” those destined to be “delivered to the hands of the sword” and to become “the portion of foxes.”  As a prayer of longing for communion with God, Psalm 62 is especially to be recommended as partial preparation for Holy Communion.

Pause – the most difficult one, and then they bring us back out.

Psalm 87

Fr. Patrick Reardon:
One occasionally meets pagans and unbelievers who avow that they are not afraid to die. Well, this psalm suggests that maybe they should be. In line after line of Psalm 87, a writer under the guidance and impulse of the Holy Spirit says, in the sharpest terms, that death is a most terrifying prospect.

Psalm 102

Fr. Patrick Reardon:
In Psalm 102, … the soul is called to the contemplation of God’s infinite, forgiving mercy: [as St. Paul writes to the Romans (5:8)]“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy … He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” Indeed not, for “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Psalm 142

Venerable Bede:
This history, how David was persecuted by his son, is well known from the lesson in Kings. And this similitude, as some will have it, is extended to every Christian, who is harassed in the bitterness of this world by raging sins, as it were his own children, but against this is opposed remedial penitence, which this Psalm contains.

The Great Litany, “God is the Lord”, Resurrection Tropar

Archpriest Dimitri Sokolof.
After the Six Psalms, we offer up to God our petitions for the granting of spiritual and bodily mercies in the words of the Great Litany, then we sing a hymn of praise to God, Who hath descended to earth for our salvation, a continuation to the Angelic Hymn; “God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us; blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord.”  To this hymn is added the Troparion for the feast, as a reminder of the mercies bestowed upon us through the Incarnation of the Son of God.  While the hymn, “God is the Lord,” and the Troparion are being sung, the illumination of the church is increased, to signify that Christ, having come, is the Light of the world.  

After this, in a full service, the Psalms and hymns of the Kathisma would then be sung. 

Polyeleos (Psalms 134 and 135); from the Greek for “much mercy”

These two psalms constitute the third reading of the Psalter at Matins on Great Feasts and certain Sundays (in some places, on all Sundays), and on all other Vigil or Polyeleos-rank feasts. The name “polyeleos” arises from the repetition of the phrase “for His mercy endureth forever” in Psalm 135. On the three Sundays which immediately precede Great Lent, Psalm 136 (LXX) “By the waters of Babylon…” is added to the other two Psalms.

In parish practice, the Polyeleos is usually abbreviated. The abbreviated version leaves out examples of the many ways God has demonstrated His mercy throughout history (including defeating the Nephalim King, Og of Bashan – the last of the Rephaim).  In general, the Polyeleos matches Israel’s freedom from slavery and conquering of the Holy Land to all Christians’ deliverance from bondage to sin through Baptism and Chrismation.

This is one of the most festive moments of a Vigil, when the Royal Doors are opened, and the clergy begin censing the entire church (usually it is a team censing by the priest and deacon).

Resurrectional Evlogitaria

The Polyeleos is followed by the Resurrection tropars that celebrate, among other things, the witness of the Myrrbearing Women.  These hymns are separated by Psalm verse 118:12, reminding us that following God’s statutes allow us to participation in the resurrection.  

The Hymns of Ascent.

This is another section that is abbreviated in modern Slavic usage.  There are many songs that have been composed for this section.  They are related to the Psalms of Ascent (119-134; we sing these at Presanctified).  These are the Psalms that were sung on the way up to the Temple in Jerusalem.  Symbolically, we ascend in them towards the pinnacle of the Matins service: the proclamation of the Resurrection Gospel and the Hymn of Resurrection. The only section of these that we sing in our tradition is the haunting; “From my youth, many passions have fought against me.”

The Proclamation of the Gospel

The Gospel is preceded by two prokimens (pieces of Psalm).  The first rotates with the eight week cycle of the Octoechos while the second “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” is the same every Sunday (although the tone/melody can vary with the Octoechos). To give any math-geeks something to chew on, we rotate through the cycle of eleven proclamations of the Gospel; you can figure out how often those line up!  One tradition has this Resurrection Gospel proclaimed from the south side of the altar towards the north, proclaiming Christ’s victory over the forces of evil (which sacred geography has residing to the North).  The Gospel reading is followed by the last part of the Cathedral Vigil portion of Matins, the hymn “Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ.”  During this hymn the people are invited to come forward and venerate the Gospel.

The Hymns of Repentance and Psalm 50 through the Canon.

[This will be the last pause before the beginning of Liturgy so that I can finish the Proskimedia and hear confessions.] 

The Morning Office proper begins now with the Hymns of Repentance, Psalm 50, and the Deacon’s prayer.  You will notice that this prayer is very similar to the one offered at Great Vespers when the Litya is served.  It is followed by one of the most variable of all portions of Matins, the Canon.  In its present form, each of the nine sections of the Canon begins with an Ode that is designed to connect specific Old Testament themes to the New Testament.  Two notable things that happen are the singing of the Resurrection Kondak after the Sixth Ode and the Magnificat, sung before the Ninth Ode.  It is accompanied by a full censing by the deacon.   

The Praises (Psalms 148-150) and Doxology

After a brief dialog between the deacon and kliros about the holiness of the Lord God, the Praises are sung.  The structure of this section is very similar to “Lord I Call at vespers, with the first few verses being sung in the tone of the week, the bulk of the Psalms plain-chanted, and then the final few verses chanted in alternation with hymns that are sung in the tone of the week.  The now and ever Bohorodichen is always the same words sung in tone two at Sunday Matins.

After the Praises comes the Great Doxology. 

Fr. Dimitri Sokolof
After the Psalms of Praise with their hymns have been chanted, the Holy Doors are opened and the priest calls out “Glory to You Who has shown us the Light,” thus inviting the faithful to glorify God for having given us the Light of the spirit – Christ Savior, who came into the world to illumine mankind, which had theretofore lived in the darkness of superstitions and iniquities.  

 During the Great Doxology, the Deacon performs the Great Censing of the Proskemedia, purifying us and the worship space one last time before the Divine Liturgy begins.  At the end of the Doxology, a hymn of the Resurrection is sung.  In another neat bit of math, this hymn alternates every other Sunday between two versions.  The final litanies and dismissal are taken quietly in the altar.


Neale, J. M., & Littledale, R. F. (1874). A Commentary on the Psalms from Primitive and Mediæval Writers: Psalm 119 to Psalm 150 (Vol. 4, pp. 357–358). London: Joseph Masters.

Reardon, P. H. (2000). Christ in the Psalms Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing.

Sokolof, D. Archpriest. (1968) A Manual of the Orthodox Church’s Divine Services. Jordanville, NY:  Holy Trinity.