Russian Orthodox deacon intoning an ektenia. Note the stole, or orarion, the end of which is raised by the Deacon after each petition. Painting by Andrei Ryabushkin, 1888

An ektenia (from Greek: ἐκτενής, romanizedektenés; literally, "diligence"), often called by the better known English word litany, consists of a series of petitions occurring in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic liturgies. In Greek: συναπτή, romanizedsynaptê is the prevalent ecclesiastical word for this kind of litany, while in Church Slavonic: ектенїѧ, romanized: yekteniya is the preferred word.

A litany is normally intoned by a deacon, with the choir or people chanting the responses. As he concludes each petition, the deacon raises the end of his orarion and crosses himself; if there is no deacon serving, the petitions are intoned by a priest.[a] During many litanies the priest says a prayer silently;[b] after the last petition of the litany, the priest says an ecphonesis which, when a silent prayer is said during the litany, is the final phrase of that prayer.

When there is no priest present during the canonical hours, 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:

Special litanies

Some litanies occur only in particular services, usually in the form of special petitions that are added to the Great Litany (such as at baptism, the special Kneeling Vespers at Pentecost), or unique litanies that occur in only one service (such as those at Requiem services or Holy Unction).

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts contains the litanies found in the other forms of the divine liturgy, a few being altered for the context 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 lity (Greek: Λιτή/Litê; Slavonic: Литїѧ/Litiya)[1] which is intoned at great vespers, consisting of several long petitions, mentioning the names of numerous saints, to which the choir responds with "Lord, have mercy," many times.


  1. ^ A few litanies are prescribed to be intoned by a priest, such as the ones at the end of compline and the midnight office and those used at the laying-on of hands (ordination) of a priest or bishop.
  2. ^ When no deacon is serving, the response to the last petition is typically prolonged to give the priest time to finish the prayer.


This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please help improve this article by introducing citations to additional sources.Find sources: "Ectenia" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (June 2023)
  1. ^ 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