Ektenia (from Greek: ἐκτενής ektenés; literally, "diligence"), often called simply Litany, is a prayerful petition in the Eastern Orthodox/Eastern Catholic liturgy. The prevalent ecclesiastical word for this kind of litany in Greek is Συναπτή Synaptê, Ektenia being the word preferred in Church Slavonic (ектенїѧ ekteniya).
- For the use of litanies in the Western Churches, see Litany.
A Litany is normally intoned by a deacon, with the choir chanting the responses. As he concludes each petition, the deacon will raise the end of his orarion as a signal to the faithful to raise their hearts and voices in prayer. If there is no deacon serving, the petitions may be intoned by a priest. Often, during the litany, the priest will be saying a silent prayer as he stands in front of the Holy Table. The last petition of a litany often praises the Theotokos. After the last petition of the litany, the priest will say an ecphonesis, summing up the petitions of the faithful, which concludes with a doxology giving glory to the Holy Trinity.
When there is no priest present during the service, the litanies are not said; rather, the reader replaces them by saying "Lord, have mercy," three, twelve, or forty times, depending on which litany is being replaced.
The main forms of the Litany are:
- Great Litany (Greek: Συναπτή μεγάλη/Synaptê Megalê; Slavonic: Ектенїѧ Великаѧ/Ekteniya Velikaya) --so called not only because of its length, but because of its importance, coming near the beginning of major services such as the Divine Liturgy, Matins, Vespers, Baptism, Great Blessing of Waters, etc. This ektenia is also called the Litany of Peace (Greek: Εἰρηνικά/Eirênika; Slavonic: Мирнаѧ Ектенїѧ/Mirnaya Ekteniya) because of the opening petition: "In peace, let us pray to the Lord."
- Litany of Supplication--so called because most of the petitions end with the deacon saying, "...let us ask of the Lord," to which the choir responds, "Grant this, O Lord."
- Litany of Fervent Supplication (Slavonic: Ектенїѧ Сугубаѧ/Ekteniya Sugubaya) also sometimes Impetratory Litany, Augmented Litany, Fervent Litany—this litany is remarkable because of the fervor conveyed in the petitions, and heard audibly in the responses, as indicated by the threefold response of the choir, "Lord, have mercy" (thrice). At the Divine Liturgy, this litany may also be augmented with special petitions, according to need as the pastor sees fit.
- Little Litany (Greek: Αἴτησις/Aitêsis or Μικρὴ Συναπτή/Mikrê Synaptê; Slavonic: Ектенїѧ Малаѧ/Ektenia Malaya) --so called because of its brevity, being only three petitions long. The Little Litany has elements of the other ektenias in it: the fervency of the Litany of Supplication, and the prayer for peace of the Great Litany. The Little Litany is a brief statement of the faith and hope of the church. The Little Litany will often serve as a bridge between parts of the services.
- Litany of the Catechumens (Slavonic: Ектенїѧ о Оглашенныхъ/Ekteniya o Oglashennuikh) --at the Divine Liturgy, this litany traditionally ended the part of the service which the catechumens were permitted to attend. This litany is composed of several petitions for the catechumens as they prepare for baptism, and concludes with a dismissal of the catechumens, and (in older times) the closing of the doors of the temple to all but baptized members in good standing.
- Litany of the Faithful--at the Divine Liturgy there are two Litanies of the Faithful. The first dismisses the catechumens, and the second begins the Liturgy of the Faithful, as all prepare for the Mystery of Holy Communion. When there is no deacon serving, this second litany is normally abbreviated. The Litanes of the Faithful are unique in that the deacon exclaims, "Wisdom!" before the priest says the ecphonesis.
- Special Litanies--litanies that occur only in particular services. These will usually be in the form of special petitions that are added to the Great Litany (such as at Baptism, or the special Kneeling Vespers at Pentecost), or unique litanies that occur in only one service (such as those at Requiem services or Holy Unction).
At the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts many of the same litanies occur as during the Divine Liturgy, some of them being altered to conform to the needs of the Presanctified. One unique litany during this service is the Ektenia for Those Preparing for Illumination (i.e., for those catechumens in the final stages of preparation for baptism on Pascha).
There is also a special form of litany called a Litiy (Greek: Λιτή/Litê; Slavonic: Литїѧ, Litiya) which is chanted at All-Night Vigils, consisting of several long petitions, mentioning the names of numerous saints, to which the choir responds with "Lord, have mercy," many times.
- Some litanies, such as the ones used at the Laying-on of Hands (Ordination) of a priest or bishop, are intended to be intoned by a priest.
- If there is no deacon serving, the choir will often prolong their response to the last petition to give the priest time to say his silent prayer.
- Hapgood, Isabel F. (1922), Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church (5th ed.), Englewood NJ: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese (published 1975), pp. 13, 594