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Choral Corner #7: What does the choir sing during clergy Communion, and why does it change so much?

It does change every week. Clergy Communion is the only point in any Orthodox service where the choir director has a large degree of freedom in music selection. At St. Mark's, we always begin with "What shall I render to the Lord, for all His bounty to me?", which is a short reflection on gratitude to God, excerpted from Psalm 115 (116), that is appropriate in every circumstance. After that, we usually sing some of the stichera (verses) for the saint(s) of the day, taken from the hymns sung the previous night at Vespers (or Vigil, if it's a major feast).

In the Orthodox Church, the liturgical day begins with Vespers, so if you attend Great Vespers on Saturday night, liturgically speaking, you're at a Resurrection (Sunday) service; that's why these hymns are appropriate choices for clergy Communion. On one of the 12 Great Feasts, such as Nativity, we typically sing a portion of the Canon(s) instead of stichera from Vespers. The Canon is the centerpiece of the Matins service, which is always part of a festal Vigil.

The hymns of Vespers, Grand Compline and Matins hold a treasury of theology within them, and this is our only opportunity to hear them during the Divine Liturgy. Listening to the words — intently listening, not merely to hear but to understand — informs our prayers and reveals more of the Holy Spirit's activity throughout every time and place. Let us attend!

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