Menologion has several different meanings:
- "Menologion" is not infrequently used as synonymous with "Menaion" (pl. Menaia). The Menaia, usually in twelve volumes—one for each month—but sometimes bound in three, form an office-book, which in the Orthodox Church, corresponds roughly to the Proprium Sanctorum of the Latin Breviary. They include all the propers (variable parts) of the services connected with the commemoration of saints and in particular the canons sung at Orthros (Matins and Lauds), including the synaxaries, i. e. the lives of the saints of the day, which are always inserted between the sixth and seventh odes of the canon. The Synaxaries are read in this place very much as the Martyrologium for the day is interpolated in the choral recitation of Prime in the offices of Western Christendom.
Page from a calendar of saints' days in a 14th century Greek menologium held by the Bodleian Library
- Secondly and more frequently, "menologion" is the collection of those lives of the saints just mentioned, without the other liturgical materials. Such a collection, consisting as it does purely of historical matter, bears a considerable resemblance, as will be readily understood, to a Catholic Martyrology, although the lives of the saints are, for the most part, considerably larger and fuller than those found in a Martyrology, while on the other hand the number of entries is smaller. The Menologion of Basil II, a work of early date often referred to in connexion with the history of the Orthodox Offices, is a book of this class.
- Frequently the tables of scriptural lessons, arranged according to months and saints' days, which are often found at the beginning of Gospel Books or other lectionaries, are described as menologia. The saints' days are briefly named and the readings indicated beside each; thus the document so designated corresponds much more closely to a calendar than anything else of Western use to which we can compare it.
- Finally, the word "menologion" is very widely applied to the collections of long lives of the saints of the Orthodox Church, whenever these lives, as commonly happens, are arranged according to months and days of each month. This arrangement has always been a favourite one also in the great Legendaria of the West, and it might be illustrated from the Acta Sanctorum or the Lives of the Saints by Surius. In the liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church, September is the first month of the ecclesiastical year, and August is the last.
One of the most important collections of this kind is that made by Symeon Metaphrastes. Father Delehaye and Albert Ehrhard working independently grouped together works which are really attributable to this author, but uncertainty remained to the provenance of his materials, and as to the relation between this collection and certain contracted biographies many of which exist among the manuscripts of our great libraries. The synaxaries, or histories for liturgical use, are nearly all extracted from the older Menologia, but Delehaye, who gave special attention to the study of this class of documents, considered that the authors of these compendia have added, though sparsely, materials of their own, derived from various sources. (See Delehaye in his preface to the "Synaxarium Eccles. Cp.", published as a Propylæum to the Acta Sanctorum for November, lix-lxvi.)