Russian Orthodox Liturgical Resources

Liturgical Handbook
of the Practices of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
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Handbook of Liturgical Practice of the Russian Church Abroad
Liturgical Question:
In what tones / styles should readings be read?
Handbook Category: Readers, and Reading in the Services (index)

The work of the reader during the Divine Services (whether a tonsured Reader or a layman blessed to read) is to convey the sacred words of Holy Scripture, as well as the prayers and texts of the Divine Services, in a manner fitting for the comprehension and sanctification of the faithful gathered there for prayer. He must read soberly, without emotiveness or any attempt at ‘interpreting’ the text by altering the intensity, pitch, or pace of his reading at certain words or phases, bearing in mind that he is called not to interpret the text for the faithful, but diligently to deliver it to them such that the Holy Spirit Himself may cause the faithful to be touched by those words they most need to hear, interpreted not by any man’s intellect, but by God’s Will.

The reader should chant the text on a single note, at a steady pace, loudly enough to be clearly audible by all (and thus the size of the temple must be taken into consideration) but not so loud as to be shouting. The text must be read exactly as printed in the service book, without any alterations of phrasing or vocabulary, all proper names pronounced as per the standard forms used throughout the Diocese (e.g. we say ‘Jesus’ with a ‘J’, not ‘Iesus’); when reading in Church Slavonic, special care must be taken to pronounce terms properly in Slavonic pronunciation, not modern Russian (e.g. ‘Господь’ with two long ‘o’ sounds, not the short opening vowel as in contemporary spoken Russian). The pitch of the reader’s voice should not alter greatly throughout the reading, beyond gentle inflections of tone that come naturally with breath: the aim should be to retain the main note throughout the reading — with the exception of a clear inflection to mark the conclusion of the reading (which is essential, so that the Deacon knows the reading is concluded and can announce the next, or issue the appropriate response). The purpose of this single-tone chanting when we read is to remove the possibility of the reader emotionalising or interpreting the text, but to deliver it ‘as it is’ to the faithful.

Throughout the reading, the pace should be brisk but never overly speedy or racing. The pace of reading derives from the Church’s conviction that in the temple we do not intellectually ‘dwell on’ the readings via a slow reflection, but rather have the words delivered into our heart without extended intellectual deliberation: the Divine Services in which they are read are themselves the reflections upon and explanation of the texts’ meaning. This being said, at no time should a reading ever be so fast that words are clipped or improperly pronounced.

The ‘resurrectional style’ of ascending tones: There is a longstanding tradition within the Russian Orthodox Church of some readings being read on an ascending tone, the reader beginning on a low note and, as the reading progresses, increasing the pitch by small steps, so that by its conclusion he is reading in a louder and higher tone. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘resurrectional’ tone, as the ascending pitch is iconic of the ascent from depths to heights, and is most often reserved for the reading of the Holy Apostle and a few other texts. This is an authentic part of our tradition; however, it should never be undertaken until a reader has been trained to do it properly, with a blessing.

This is an entry from our Liturgical Handbook of the practices of the Church Abroad. Please see the full handbook for more than 100 entries on other topics.

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