Service of the Hours (Part 2)
This Orthodox Tidbit will feature a series of articles on the Orthodox worship services known
as "Service of the Hours".
This second part will be an explanation of the Daily Cycle. These articles are excerpted from 2 books by a
prolific author of several works on Orthodoxy, Father Anthony Coniaris: Daily Vitamins for Spiritual
Growth and Introducing The Orthodox Church; Its Faith and Life.
The Daily Cycle:
As the year and week are broken into cycles, so is each day.
The New Testament follows a system of telling time according to which the first hour of the day is hour one
after sunrise or 7 a.m. Hour two is eight a.m.. Hour three is 9 a.m., etc.
Using this time schedule the early Christians would pause for prayer and meditation every third hour during the
day and night. For example, we know that the apostles Peter and John "went up together into the temple at the
hour of prayer, being the ninth hour" (Acts 3:1). We find St. Peter praying on Simon's housetop "at the sixth
hour" (Acts 10:9).
The monastic orders devised prayer services for common worship around the system of "hours." Their life
became a constant balance between prayer and work. They would enter the sanctuary for prayer at the third
hour (9 a.m.), the sixth hour (noon), the ninth hour (3 p.m.), the twelfth (6 p.m.), and midnight. They
paused for prayer in the morning, noon, afternoon and evening. We still celebrate "the service of the hours"
in every Orthodox parish every Holy Friday, Christmas and Epiphany. This New Testament way of telling time
is still in use today in the monasteries of Mt. Athos.
Each of the six hourly cycles of prayer had a special theme related to something in the history of salvation
that happened at that hour. The worship service composed by the Church Fathers for that hour usually
included scripture readings, psalms and hymns relating to that event.
Let us examine each hour with the special purpose of helping us to pause briefly on these hours each day
to mediate and pray.
The First Hour
The first hour (hour one after the rise of the sun or 7 a.m.), has as its central theme the coming of the
light in the dawn of a new day. The coming of the physical light reminds the Christian of the coming of Him
Who is the Light of the World. The physical light is but an icon or image of Christ. Thus, the Christian
begins the day by praising God for the dawn of the physical light as well as for the Light of the World
which shines brightly in the face of Jesus. We pray that His light will guide us and show us the way for
the day, blessing also the work of our hands which begin daily at this hour.
O Christ the true light, enlightening and
sanctifying every man who comes into
Let the light of Your countenance shine on
us, that in it we may behold the
Guide our footsteps aright in keeping Your
Through the intercessions of your all-pure
Mother and of all the saints. Amen.
From the Prayers of the First Hour
The Third Hour
The third hour (three hours after sunrise 9 a.m.), was the exact time the Holy Spirit descended upon the
apostles on the day of Pentecost (Act 2:15). This single theme dominates the third hour. One of the three
psalms that are read is the 51st which contains petitions for the sending of the Holy Spirit: "Create in
me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me . . . take not thy holy spirit from me . . .
and uphold me with the free spirit" (Ps. 51:10-12).
Special prayers are said to thank God for sending the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, beseeching Him also to
bestow the gift of the Spirit's presence upon us for the works of that day. The third hour is a daily
reminder that the life of the faithful Christian remains empty without the inner presence of the Spirit.
He is the One Who provides inner peach and power. He is the One "in Whom we live and move and have our
being" (Acts 17:28).
O Lord, You sent down Your Most Holy
Spirit upon Your apostles at the Third
Take Him not from us, O Good One, but
renew Him in us who pray to You.
From the Prayers of the Third Hour
Continued on Part 3: The remaining Hours of the Day
Did you miss Part 1? Service of the Hours: Days of Each Week
Thanks to Philip Zimmerman,
Come and See
Icons for allowing us to use the Icon image of The Three Holy Hierarchs (St. Gregory
the Theologian, St. John Chrysostom & St. Basil the Great).