Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church in Oakmont, PA

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 Holy Archangels (Michael, Gabriel, Raphael) by Philip Zimmerman 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
   the world:
Let the light of Your countenance shine on
   us, that in it we may behold the
   ineffable light.
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).

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