Traditional Eastern Orthodox Chant Documentation Project
A Glossary of Orthodox Chant Terminology

Gk = Greek; Sl = Slavonic

Idiomelon (Gk),
Samoglasen (Sl),
Independent Melody
The Idiomelon (one's own-melody) is a hymn that is neither an automelon or prosomoion, which melodically follows the schema of the tone and yet is usually eccentric in its own way metrically. Thus following the guidelines for the tonal sequence and cadence of the tone prescribed, the words are chanted as it were "ad lib" according to need.
Automelon (Gk),
Samopodoben (Sl),
Model Melody
The Automelon (self-melody) is a melody following the musical theory of the tone, usually in regular meter, that is the original prototype of the metric scheme and melody for the genre of Prosomoia.
Prosomoion (Gk),
Podoben (Sl),
Special Melody
The Prosomoion (fore-embodied; or: "toward similar") is a hymn that follows the metre and melody of the Automelon for which it is named, though the words differ from those of the Automelon. (See the Podoben page for more information.)

Within the older "Znamennyi" Chant tradition, there are two categories of chant melodies:

Velikii raspev
Great Chant
The "Great Znamennyi Chant" (used for the Idiomela melodies) consists mostly of "popevki" – the collection of melodic phrases (the "building blocks") that make up the eight tones. There are several hundred of these in all, and their occurrence is not predictable, but must be learned for each text.
Malyi raspev
Small Chant
The "Small Znamennyi Chant" or "Lesser Chant" is based on the simpler formulary principle of composition, and is found particularly in the melodies used for stichera on "Lord, I cry", the Aposticha at Vespers and at Lauds, and the Aposticha at Matins. (The same principle is found in the samohlasen tones of the "Kievan Chant", which is in fact simply the Ukrainian/Bielarusian rescension of the Znamennyi chant; and hence in the melodies for stichera of the Russian Court or Common Chant, which are simplified forms of the Kievan chant.) Here there is a predicatable sequence of phrases, and the phrases themselves are few in number and simple in construction, containing a lot of recitative that can be applied to more or fewer syllables depending on the text to be sung.

(pl. stichera)

In the original Greek (or occasionally Syriac) language and tradition, stichera (singular: sticheron) are poetic verses of varying content and length, having usually between 8 and 12 lines, set to a corresponding number of melodic phrases. Groups of stichera for any occasion (for instance, on “Lord, I have cried” for any given day) often share a particular metrical or rhythmic scheme, so that the melody used for the first sticheron is virtually the same for the following stichera (very similar in concept to the different verses of a Protestant hymn). As the Church spread out into new countries, the hymns had to be translated into new languages; unfortunately, the metre and rhythm of the Greek hymns could not be preserved, and thus the underlying musical principles had to be redefined. Certain favourite hymns and melodies served as models for new hymns; the hymnographers simply wrote new texts having the same melody as a well-known existing melody, making it easier for one to sing the new hymn.

Stichera are sung primarily at Vespers and Matins, and can be classified according to the following categories:

  1. Stichera on ‘Lord, I have cried’ (Vespers)
  2. Stichera on the Litya (Vespers)
  3. The Stichera Aposticha (Vespers and Weekday Matins)
  4. Stichera on the Praises (Sunday and Festal Matins)
  5. 11 Resurrection Gospel Stichera (Matins)
  6. Individual Stichera (Vespers and Matins):
    1. Doxastikon — a sticheron following the first half of the small doxology: “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,” usually indicated in books as “Glory…”
    2. Theotokion — a sticheron following the second half of the small doxology: “Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen,” usually indicated in books as “Both now…”
    3. Stavrotheotokion — a sticheron commemorating the Cross and Theotokos, replacing the usual Theotokion on Tuesday evening/Wednesday and Thursday evening/Friday
    4. Dogmaticon or Dogmatic Theotokion — the Theotokion on “Lord, I have cried” for the Resurrection Services; there is one for each Tone
    5. Anastasimon — a sticheron commemorating the Resurrection
    6. Stavroanastasimon — a sticheron commemorating the Cross and Resurrection
    7. Martyrikon — a sticheron commemorating the martyrs
    8. Triadikon — a sticheron in honour of the Trinity
    9. Nekrosima — stichera for the reposed

In performance, a group of stichera are commonly inserted between the verses of a psalm in such a way that the psalm verse precedes the sticheron; less often, the psalm verse follows the sticheron. In performance by two choirs, each sticheron of a group is performed by only one of the choirs, often with a canonarch. If, however, the Typicon calls for a given sticheron to be repeated, it is repeated by the opposite choir. When a canonarch is involved, the psalm verses preceding the sticheron are performed responsorially: the canonarch intones the first half of the verse, while the choir answers by singing the second half. In Church Slavonic terminology, a preceding psalm verse is called a ‘pripev’, while a psalm verse that follows a sticheron is called a ‘zapev’ (see Gardner, page 35). In English this is usually called a refrain (stichos, stikh), whether it comes before or after the sticheron. The canonarch usually announces the Tone of the stichera before the first refrain is sung; he also announces changes of Tone (and Special Melody) in the same manner.

Some of the types of stichera are traditionally performed with greater ceremony than others. Many churches no longer preserve such traditions, but the Old Believers maintain them diligently, and indeed they give the services more variety and splendour. These traditions are:

On "Lord, I have cried", the stichera are sung antiphonally by the choirs in the standard manner, but the Doxasticon and Dogmaticon are performed by both choirs coming together into the middle of the church, down below the raised choirs but toward the front of the church (more or less under the chandelier); this location is usually referred to as "below the ambon" (the same place that the priest reads the prayer at the end of the Divine Liturgy). The appointed Great Chant stichera melodies should be sung, but many congregations lack people properly trained to read and sing the notation, so usually the "Small Chant" melodies are sung instead. However, for the Doxasticon, and especially the Dogmaticon, the Great Chant melodies should always be sung (unless there are no singers capable of reading the notation). The canonarch may announce each line of text before it is sung (particularly for the Doxasticon and Theotokion), but this practice is not observed among the Old Believers.

The stichera sung at the Litya are sung together by the choirs in the back of the church, the narthex or outside in front of the church, depending on the occasion or if there is a procession. The first sticheron is usually the sticheron for the church (i.e. for which it is dedicated, such as the Church of the Protection). Such a hymn is memorized by the choir, and it is sung while the choir is processing to the back of the church. Then the appointed stichera are sung. The Typicon mentions that the Litya stichera are to be sung according to their unique Idiomelon (Samoglasen) melodies, and not according to Automelon (Podoben) melodies. Whether Great or Small Chant melodies are sung, the Theotokion is usually sung in the Great Chant. (It should be known that in the Old Rite the Litya is always done at Saturday evening Vespers, no matter the rank of the service in the Menaion.)

The stichera for the Aposticha (both at Saturday evening Vespers and at weekday Matins) are always performed "below the ambon" by both choirs coming together. On Saturday evening, the choirs are returning from the back of the church from the Litya procession, and stop at the customary place.

The stichera at the Praises are done in the usual manner, but the Gospel Sticheron (or Doxasticon) and the Theotokion are always sung "below the ambon" in the Great Chant. Whenever the Gospel Sticheron is transferred to the end of Matins, the choirs likwise sing it "below the ambon".

(pl. Troparia)


Thanks to Dr. Stephen Reynolds and others for their contributions.

For more detailed explanations see Johann von Gardner, "Russian Church Singing", Vol. 1, Orthodox Worship and Hymnography, trans. by Vladimir Morosan (Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1980), chapter 3.

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