Startling image? Maybe not so
far-fetched as it might seem!

Bells in the Russian Tradition
Christianity's 'Talking Drums'

African communities use drums to communicate over long distances— just as Russia's great cupola of booming bronze gathered her vast territories into a single liturgical soundscape without parallel in all the world.... And Russian bells are played like drums— as percussion, not melody instruments like carillons.

Bell-ringing in the Orthodox Church is a lot more than just a call to worship or an announcement of various parts of the services to those who are absent. It really is an important liturgical art form, like iconography or architecture. And sometimes bells are even called "singing icons".

The Typikon prescribes several ways of striking bells on different occasions. You can read about the methods in the table below, and about the different occasions here.

But if you listen to some actual zvons, you'll realize that Russian bells are far more than mere signaling devices.

In Russian bell music, wave upon wave of dancing alleluias declare above all the communion that has become ours in Christ.

Matter itself sings the vibrant hymn of the incarnate God!


Preliminary call to the major services. While reading psalm 118(119), strike the largest bell once at the beginning and once after every second 8-line section indicated in the psalm by a hebrew letter (12 times total). Alternatively, strike the bell once for each of 12 recitations of psalm 50(51). Blagovest takes a long time.

Zvon ("Peal")

Play the bells rhythmically. Depending on the bells you have and whether you’re using all of them at any given time, there are numerous ways to do this.

("Double Peal")

Play all the bells twice by striking a full zvon, then pausing for a moment (perhaps continuing the pulse with the largest bell(s) only), and then striking a second full zvon.

("Triple Peal")

Like dvuzvon, but play all the bells three times, pausing between movements (possibly keeping time with the largest bell). This peal is for the liturgy and at times of joy, and especially after the liturgy, it should last for some minutes if possible in your neighborhood.


Strike the bells in order, beginning with the largest bell and proceeding to the smallest, each bell several times before going to the next. Repeat this chain as long as necessary. Used at any blessing of water. A single perezvon is struck only twice a year, on Great Friday before the Shroud is brought forth, and on Great Saturday, at the magnificat of matins. Always followed by trezvon. The large-to-small pattern symbolizes the self-emptying humility of the Son of God..


Slowly strike each bell once beginning from the smallest bell and proceeding to the largest. After the chain, strike all bells together; repeat several times. This is the funeral toll. Symbolizes the christian’s ascent from birth to maturity; striking all the bells at once here symbolizes death. Alternatively, symbolizes the ascent from this life (small) to the life to come (great).

(Vspoloshniy Zvon) ("Alarm")

A frequent striking of the largest bell.

Go to the rubrics for services page.