Irmologion (Greek: τὸ εἱρμολόγιον heirmologion) is a liturgical book of the Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite. It contains irmoi (οἱ εἱρμοί) organised in sequences of odes (αἱ ᾠδαὶ, sg. ἡ ᾠδή) and such a sequence was called canon (ὁ κανών "law"). These canons of nine, eight, four or three odes are supposed to be chanted during the morning service (Orthros). The book Irmologion derives from heirmos (ὁ εἱρμός) which means "link". The irmos is a melodic model which preceded the composition of the odes. According to the etymology, the book "collects" (λογεύω logeuō) the irmoi.

Tropligin, (Melchite Use). Depicted are Irmos 705-709 (Syriac Sertâ book script. 11th century, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai. Now part of the Schøyen Collection, MS 577.

The melodic irmos and the odes of the canon and its use during the morning serviceEdit

An important portion of Matins and other services in the Orthodox Church is the canon, a long liturgical poem divided into nine strophes with a sophisticated meter called ode.[1] Each ode and its prosodic meter is made according to a certain irmos, and concerning its celebration during Orthros it is followed by troparia called akrosticha.[2] Sometimes certain longer irmoi are sung which are called katabasiai because of their descending melos.[3] The troparia sung with the canon are performed out of a textbook (Reader,[4] Menaion) according to avtomela, but the irmoi and katabasiae are chanted by the choir according to the model of the irmoi. Since the Irmologion was invented as a chant book provided with musical notation, it only contained the smaller number of heirmoi with those texts which identified them. The other canons and akrosticha were usually collected in a separated text book, and the incipit of a certain heirmos or, in case of troparia the avtomela, indicated the melody which had to be applied for the recitation of the hymns.

Since the Byzantine period, there already developed a soloistic kalophonic way to perform just one certain ode during more important religious feast, if the celebration took more time than usual, but the genre became even more popular and innovative during the Ottoman period following the example of Balasios the Priest. The printed edition of the kalophonic irmologion (1835) is dominated by Ottoman era composers like Chrysaphes the Younger, Germanos of New Patras, Balasios, and later generations like Petros Bereketis and even later the hyphos school founded by Panagiotes Halacoğlu and his followers at the New Music School of the Patriarchate (Daniel the Protopsaltes, Petros Peloponnesios, Georgios of Crete).[5]

Organisation of the irmologionEdit

The earliest sources with heirmoi were the tropologion (Georgian iadgari, Armenian šaraknot') which organised hymns of different genres with modal signatures according to the calendar, beginning with the Christmas and Theophany cycle. The book irmologion developed not earlier than during the 10th century (GR-AOml Ms. β.32 is probably the oldest fully notated irmologion).

Echos devteros part with first ode settings (OdO) of a Greek Heirmologion with Coislin notation as palimpsest over pages of a former tropologion (ET-MSsc Ms. Gr. 929, ff. 17v-18r)

Within the Irmologion, the new chant book of the Stoudites' reform, the irmoi are usually arranged according to the eight tones of Byzantine chant either according to the odes (order of the odes, OdO, divided into eight parts according to the echoi, but within each echos all odes are ordered beginning with all first odes of each canon, all second or third odes etc.) or according to the canon (canon order, KaO, divided into eight parts according to the echoi, but the odes within each echos are organised according to the canon of each irmos).[6] As example for the ode order (OdO), one might study the earlier irmologia of the Greek collection at the library of Saint Catherine's Monastery at the food of Mount Sinai: the manuscripts 929 and 1258 are organised, that the first, second, third, etc. odes are together. Since the second ode is only sung during Lent, there were much less second odes than first or third odes.[7] As example for the canon order (KaO), one might study the very early fully notated manuscript of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos (GR-AOml Ms. β.32 written about 1000 with Chartres notation), the standard example for Coislin notation (F-Pn Ms. Coislin 220), or the later manuscripts of the Sinai collection (ET-MSsc Sin. gr.) such as Ms. 1256 and the first half of 1257. Here each ode has an ode number, such as ωδ α᾽ for the first ode, usually followed by a modal signature corresponding to the echos section. The next ode is mostly ωδ γ᾽ for the third ode, because according to the more common canon the second one is left out. Thus, one canon follows the preceding one until the order is fulfilled. These canons usually follow within each echos section according to the calendaric order. There is no real chronology between both orders, both existed already in the oldest heirmologia and they persisted until the current print editions. It also seems that the earlier manuscripts which still numbered the canons within the canon order, sorted them according to ascribed authors, Ms. Coislin 220 has also more or less concrete descriptions of the festive occasion, and still provides a choice of several canons in different echoi and composed by different authors for the very same feast. The number of canons is higher than in the later heirmologia of the 14th century, and it should be mentioned that certain schools like the one of Germanus I of Constantinople had been completely abandoned in the current print editions of the Orthodox church.

canon order GR-AOml Ms. β 32 F-Pn Coislin 220
ēchos canons folios canons folios
πρῶτος 40[8] 1r-34r 25 1r-31r
δεύτερος 43 34r-74r 26 32r-63r
τρίτος 37 74r-107v 23 64r-89v
τέταρτος 47 107v-156v 25 90r-123r
πλάγιος τοῦ πρώτου 41 156v-191v 20 124r-148r
πλάγιος τοῦ δευτέρου 53 192r-240r 23 149r-176r
βαρύς 28 240v-262v 17 177r-197v
πλάγιος τοῦ τετάρτου 54 263r-312v 24 198r-235v

Concerning the Slavonic reception, first by Cyril and Methodius' students around Clement of Ohrid and Constantine of Preslav, the translators did not very close translations of the Greek hymns, they rather tried to preserve the sophisticated system of the melodic models such as avtomela and irmoi without changing the melodies.[9] Within Slavonic manuscripts, the separation between Irmolog and the Oktoich and other books of the sticherarion was less common, usually the Oktoich books were so voluminous, since they included the irmoi (similar to the composition of the older tropologia which persisted until the 12th century), that they were separated into two volumes—one for Glas I-IV (the authentic modes) and a second for Glas V-VIII (the plagal modes).[10] But there are irmologs provided with znamennaya notation since the 12th century—the irmolog preserved at the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts (RUS-Mda / ргада fond 381 Ms. 150), for instance. All Old Church Slavonic irmologs are organised in ode order.

Today the Irmologion is often replaced by another chant book which is called "Anthology of the Orthros" (Ἀνθολογία τοῦ Ὄρθρου or Псалтикиина Утренна) which replaced the earlier Akolouthiai used since the 14th century.[11] Some of these Anthologies do also contain the odes of the canon, but also many other hymns of the Psalterion (especially the more elaborated compositions the Polyeleos psalms) and of the book Octoechos which are sung during the morning service (Orthros, Utrenna). Already Codex sinaiticus graecus 1257 dating back to 1332, has a second part dedicated to the recitation of psalm verses (psalmody) during Orthros and Hesperinos, including the Polyeleoi.

These additional hymns sung during Orthros are:

  • Antiphons (ἀντίφωνα) which should not be confused with the Latin Antiphon (even if they are often reduced today to a few short troparia which were once sung as a refrain), since it is a rather elaborated form, usually organised in three sections (they usually follow the Great Ectenia at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy and of the Orthros)
  • Dogmatica, hymns in honour of the Mother of God (Theotokos) which are also chanted during the Little Entrance of Vespers
  • Theotokia, troparia in honour of the Mother of God, but not as specific as the Dogmatica
  • Orthros psalm "Theos kyrios" (Богъ Господь) (Ps. 117:27a) three times and Evlogetaria anastasima in echos plagios protos (Благословенъ еси Господи, Ps. 118:12)
  • Troparia of the Resurrection in the eight tones
  • The full text of the Polyeleos (Psalms 134 and 135; also Psalm 136, which is used during the Pre-Lenten Season), which is chanted at Matins on Sundays and feast days
  • Songs of praise for feasts and saints
  • Anabathmoi, or "Hymns of Ascent", based upon Psalms 119–133
  • Prokeimena preceding the Gospel
  • Doxologiai (Slavoslovie)
Mineya služebnaya with the page for 12 May, feast of the Holy Fathers Epiphanius and Germanus (RUS-Mim Ms. Sin. 166, f.57r)


The oldest manuscripts which contained canons, were tropologia which are composed according to a calendaric order. There were also types like the Georgian Iadgari[12] and the Armenian Šaraknoc'. The book Irmologion was created later as a notated chant book by the reformers at the Stoudios Monastery, although not all Irmologia have musical notation.[13] Concerning the traditional repertoire of these books, a Studites edition can be distinguished from the one at Sinai.[14] The earliest notated Irmologion can be dated back to the 10th century in Byzantium. A full version of the Russian Irmologion, in Church Slavonic includes about 1050 irmoi.[15] Earlier examples provided only the written text; later, the "hooks" and "banners" of Znamenny Chant were added above the text. The first printed edition of a notated Irmologion in Russia, the Irmologiy notnago peniya, using neumes (square notes) on a staff, was published in 1772. Today, most Russian Irmologia are printed using modern musical notation (with the exception of some Old Believer communities, which continue to use the older znamenny neumes[16]), although elsewhere, Byzantine musical notation is nearly universally used.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The irmos is a melodic model which was used for the composition of the odes. As homiletic poetry it refers thematically to the biblical odes, with exception of the second ode which is no longer sung today. According to medieval Irmologia this second ode was only sung during Lenten tide.
  2. ^ Simon Harris (2004). A fully notated office menaion was written in Novgorod during the 12th century (RUS-Mim Sin. 159-168), obviously to control the impact of a Slavonic re-translation on the system of melodies (the heirmoi and the akrosticha).
  3. ^ See the current edition of Petros Peloponnesios' Katavasies (GB-Lbl Ms. Add.16971) by Chourmouzios (1825) which is also used in other Orthodox traditions and their editions.
  4. ^ For instance, "These Truths We Hold - The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings". The English translation here follows the one by Monk Tykhon.
  5. ^ See also the 18th-century manuscript of an Irmologion kalophonikon in Athens (MIET, Historical and Palaeographical Archive, Ms. Pezarou 15) and in Birmingham (Mingana Collechtion, Ms. Gr. 6).
  6. ^ Peter Jeffery (2001), Harris (2004).
  7. ^ It is possible to identify the texts with the repertory of avtomela and irmoi made by the friends of music in Constantinople, at least as far as these texts are still in use until the present day.
  8. ^ The first eight are missing in the current manuscript.
  9. ^ See Dagmar Christian's edition of the hymns of December (2001).
  10. ^ See Jørgen Raasted's study (1969) of the oldest papyrus fragments of the tropologion.
  11. ^ Todorov's Bulgarian edition (1992) includes a Bulgarian version of Petros Peloponnesios' Katavasies in calendaric order, the troparia have to be sung from a textbook Miney, while other Anthologies (Phokaeos 1978, Sarafov 1912) have to be used in combination with an Irmologion (Chourmouzios 1825).
  12. ^ The Iadgari has survived as the oldes tropologion (Frøyshov 2012), while there are only fragments of Greek tropologia (Troelsgård 2009).
  13. ^ Gerda Wolfram (2003), Enrica Follieri (1961).
  14. ^ Only later Irmologia like the one in Lesvos (Leimonos Monastery, Ms. 262) combined both redactions in a diplomatic way during the 14th century (Martani 2013).
  15. ^ The Russian translation into Old Church Slavonic (Školnik 1994) can be distinct from the earlier one at Ohrid, that the latter tried not to change the irmoi, but thus, a litterate translation of the hymns was not possible (Dagmar 2001).
  16. ^ See the Rozniki Irmolog at the National Library of Petrozavodsk.

Chant booksEdit

Tropologia (6th to 12th centuries)Edit

  • "Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Papyrus Vindobonensis G 19.934" (PDF). Fragment of a 6th-century tropologion. Retrieved 4 October 2013.

Office Menaia, Fasten and Flower Triod with AkrostichaEdit

Slavic irmologs with znamennaya notation (12th to 16th centuries)Edit

Slavic irmologs with kryuki notation (16th to 20th centuries)Edit

Old Byzantine notation (10th to 13th centuries)Edit

Middle Byzantine notation (13th to 19th centuries)Edit

Without notation (10th to 18th centuries)Edit

Chrysanthine notation (since 1814)Edit


  • Christians, Dagmar, ed. (2001). Die Notation von Stichera und Kanones im Gottesdienstmenäum für den Monat Dezember nach der Hs. GIM Sin. 162: Verzeichnis der Musterstrophen und ihrer Neumenstruktur. Patristica Slavica. 9. Wiesbaden: Westdt. Verl. ISBN 3-531-05129-6.


External linksEdit