Meaning behind Vespers Old Testament Readings for Monastic Saints

 The Old Testament lessons (or parameia readings) for monastic saints reveal some interesting aspects of the monastic life, some of which are misunderstood in modern Orthodoxy, especially in America. The strongly Protestant-derived culture of the United States affects both those converting to Orthodoxy from Protestantism, but also those who have grown up Orthodox, but from within a non-Orthodox culture.

What is immediately noticeable is the similarity between the readings for monastic saints and those for martyrs; two of the three readings are shared. Of the three monastic readings presented below, the first and the third are also used for martyrs.

This somewhat helps define what it is to be a monastic: those who have chosen a living martyrdom. In the book of Revelation, when St. John the Theologian sees of the martyrs under the throne, there is a key word that speaks to this living martyrdom: “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony [or martyrdom] which they held [were possessing, obtaining, having].” (6:9)

The time and mood of that last verb is not easily translatable into English: they were in the process of possessing (or obtaining, having, holding) their martyrdom. It is a continuing action, not a moment in time. Meaning, their life was the possessing of the martyrdom, not the moment of their killing. So, though this is a quirky rephrasing, it could also read, “slain for the word of God and for the living martyrdom which they were possessing during their time in the world.”

Keep this living martyrdom in mind as you hear the readings for monastics.


  1. The readings for monastics are not always the same, but there is a clear pattern. All three readings are the same as those used in the general Menaion for monastic saints (that is, not for a specific saint, but just a general service that could be used for any monastic saint). Among many others, they were used in the services for St. Seraphim of Sarov (2Jan), St. Job of Pochaev (28Oct), St. Sabbas the Sanctified (5Dec), and St. Herman of Alaska (15Dec or 15Nov).

    Interestingly, the service for St. Sergius of Radonezh (25Sept) uses the first two readings for hierarchs (both from Proverbs), and then only the first reading for monastics...and he was not a hierarch. He was, in some ways, the father of Russian monasticism, and maybe his position is so unique, the Church used hierarchical readings for him to slightly elevate his “rank”. That is just me thinking out loud; I do not know if that is the reason for the difference.


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