The Scriptures in the Orthodox Church
Every Divine Liturgy includes scripture readings, specifically the Epistle and Gospel readings of the day. Immediately prior to the reading of the Epistle, there is a short verse called the Prokeimenon, which is chanted several times with verses in between. The word in Greek means “that which precedes” and introduces the scripture reading. The Prokeimena are taken from the Octoechos, the book of the eight tones, using the particular tone of the day or week. Major feast days also have their own Prokeimena. The verse of the Prokeimenon is usually taken from the Psalms, such as, “Pray and make your vows before the Lord our God” (Psalm 76:11).
After the prokeimenon is chanted, the Epistle reading is read. The choice of epistle reading is fixed by the lectionary, which is a book that contains scripture readings appointed for Christian worship on a given day or feast day. The tradition of having appointed readings on a given day has its origin in the Jewish faith, where Torah readings for various occasions was contained in the Mishnah, which dates from about the 3rd century B.C. The epistle and gospel readings use a one-year lectionary cycle, which is different from other Christian traditions, which may use a two-year or a three-year cycle. Most Orthodox lectionaries include an epistle and a gospel reading for each day. The importance of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, cannot be overstated. This idea will be explored in the rest of this chapter.