Significant Differences in the Manner of Worship
Between the Russian Old and New Rites

by Nikita Simmons

Russian Orthodox Church Traditions
BEFORE Patriarch Nikon (c. 988 to mid-1600's)
Russian Orthodox Church Traditions
AFTER Patriarch Nikon (mid-1600's to the present)
A complete cycle of services is served strictly according to the St. Savas (or "Jerusalem") Typicon, in monasteries and parishes alike. Only basic services (truncated Vigils and the Hours & Divine Liturgy) are served in ordinary parishes, at the discretion of the priest; some parishes in modern times omit Vespers, Matins and the Hours altogether.
  • No abbreviation of the services is allowed.
  • A considerable amount of abbreviation of services is standard practice.
  • In the appointed psalmody (stichologia), the complete text of psalms is read, with the chanters responding with selected psalm verses.
  • The choir sings only selected psalm verses of appointed psalmody. The proper performance of stichologia is rarely done even in New Rite monasteries.
  • Some (if not all) of the liturgical homilies are read at their appointed places at Matins.
  • The patristic liturgical homilies have been abandoned altogether, with the single exception at Paschal Matins.
  • The Sign of the Cross, bows and prostrations are done at their appointed places during the services, according to a strictly disciplined tradition of performing such actions all together as a single body of worshippers (and without variation in the manner in which they are done).
  • The Sign of the Cross, bows, prostrations, kneeling are done whenever (and wherever) people want to do them, and according to numerous individual methods – all in a free-willed manner.
  • The Sign of the Cross is done with two fingers while saying the Jesus Prayer, and is a Christological symbol.
  • The Sign of the Cross is done with three fingers while invoking the Holy Trinity (often using the Latin formula "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit").
  • There is a great focus on communal prayer (sobornost'), with the individual losing his/her "separateness" during the public worship services. During the services we partake in the "Mystery of Unity" and experience the fullness of being members of the Church as the Body of Christ.
  • During the public worship services the individual members of the congregation may run around and perform their private devotions, venerate icons, light candles, read from prayer books, chat with friends. Furthermore, the priest may even hear private confessions during parts of the Vigil or Hours.
  • Good order (blagochinie), discipline and decorum are maintained during the services, and distracting behavior is not tolerated. Children are taught to adhere to this ordered behavior from the time they are able to stand in church with their parents.
  • There is a great laxity of church order. Members of the congregation may tolerate someone's distracting behavior and take no steps to bring it under control. Children are frequently left on their own and thus do not acquire personal discipline.
  • Old Ritualists seek their path to Salvation through conformity to well-established "iconic" principles and methods of living, especially family life or monasticism -- both methods of living focus upon taking one's place in a unified community. Orderly, obedient and humble ways of thinking are emphasized. Practical vocational skills are valued above theoretical knowledge.
  • New Ritualists often seek their path to Salvation by "striking out on one's own", and many people stand out as intensely individualistic. Free-thinking and self-sufficiency are valued, as is a higher academic education.
  • All children are taught (usually at home) to read Church Slavonic as soon as they are able to read.
  • Reading Church Slavonic is a skill that is not widely taught, and is usually only acquired by adult men readers who attend a seminary program.
Traditional liturgical singing consists of unison (monophonic) chant. The modern musical tradition consists of choral (polyphonic) singing.
  • No compositions are allowed – only ancient traditional chant melodies.
  • Choirs sing composed music and harmonized arrangements (often simplified) of melodies from the 17th century.
  • Singing is done by two antiphonal choirs, each under the leadership of a "golovshchik" (cantor or "starter"). The cantor tries to lead the singing solely by means of his voice, as arm movements are considered distracting to the congregation. He does not turn his back to the altar and iconostasis, and occasionally makes discrete use of hand signals to correct singing that has become too slow or fast, or to indicate phrasing.
  • All the singers are grouped into a single choir under the leadership of a modern-style choral conductor ("dirigent" or "regent"). Some conductors make use of a baton and stand with their backs to the iconostasis, making full use of their arms in modern conducting techniques.
  • Congregational singing is included as part of the singing tradition.
  • Congregational singing is discouraged, and singing is usually done only by a trained choir.
  • The two choirs are always at the front portion of the church, in front of the iconostasis on the right and left sides.
  • The choir is located in any number of places, including in a western-style choir loft in some churches.
  • There is an abundance of ritual, including processions, alternating of choirs, the choirs coming together in the middle of the nave, etc.
  • There is a great loss of ritual; much of this is due to the loss of antiphonal singing, as there is no ability to maintain liturgical actions without the interaction of separate choirs.
  • The use of specific kinds of readers has been maintained in our rituals, especially the Canonarch and the Psalmist.
  • The offices of Canonarch and Psalmist have been absorbed into the duties of the readers, and some of their unique liturgical actions have become obsolete.
  • Readers always get a blessing before reading, and ask forgiveness of the priest and congregation when finishing their duties.
  • Readers frequently do not get a blessing to read on the cleros (choir), except to read the Epistle in front of the congregation.
  • The ambon, a slightly raised platform, is used by the Canonarch (as well as by the bishop during hierarchical services).
  • The ambon is no longer used, except by the bishop during hierarchical liturgies.
  • Chant melodies are preserved in books with "Znamenny" (neumatic or symbolic) notation, derived from the ancient Byzantine Chant; the interpretation (exegesis) is fluid and open to a bit of interpretation.
  • Music is notated with the Kievan square-note notation or modern western round notes; the notation is not conducive to freedom of interpretation.
  • There is an elaborate system of hymn genres within a single unified "Znamenny" chant tradition. Demestvenny Chant is used for hierarchical and festal services, while Put' Chant melodies are used for lengthy hymns which must cover long liturgical actions.
  • Modern Russian Chant is a "mixed bag" of hymn tunes from various traditions, combined in any number of local traditions without much cohesion or consistency. (The inclusion of composed works makes this situation even more chaotic.)
  • Znamenny Chant preserves the use of true Idiomela (unique, individual) melodies for stichera for Sundays and Feasts. The Prosomoia (Podobny or Special Melodies) singing tradition continues to thrive as an integral part of Vespers and Matins hymnody.
  • All stichera are now sung only to generic formulas, and a small repertoire of "Podobny" (Special Melodies) are usually heard only in monasteries and a relatively few parishes with well-trained choirs.
  • Many of the appointed readings are done with a melodic reading style called "poglasitsa", which is similar to "cantillation".
  • A plain monotone style of reading is the accepted style of reading in the New Rite; the dramatic "deaconal style" of reading the Epistle and Gospel (raising from a low to a high pitch) is promoted in most parishes as a "sophisticated" manner of reading the Scriptures. (This is considered very inappropriate in most Old Rite communities.)