Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church in Oakmont, PA
 

Service of the Hours (Part 3)

This Orthodox Tidbit will feature a series of articles on the Orthodox worship services known as "Service of the Hours".

This third part will be the remaining 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 (Continued):

The Sixth Hour

The sixth hour, six hours following sunrise (noon), coincides with the hour the Lord Jesus was crucified (Matt. 27:45, Luke 23:44, John 19:14). Each day at noon, the Church tries to focus our attention on this great event in the history of our salvation. We offer Him prayers of gratitude for so loving each one of us that He gave His only begotten Son so that we who believe in Him may not perish but have life everlasting (John 3:16). Our noontime prayers (sixth hour) include petitions that He save us from the sins and temptations of that day.

Jesus (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com)

O Christ God, on the sixth day and hour,
   You nailed to the Cross the sin which
   rebellious Adam committed in paradise.
Tear asunder also the bond of our iniquities,
   and save us!

You have wrought salvation in the midst of
   the earth, O Christ God. You stretched
   out Your all-pure hands upon the Cross;
   You gathered together all the nations
   that cry aloud to You: Glory to You,
O Lord!
                   — From the Prayers of the Sixth Hour

The Ninth Hour

The ninth hour, nine hours following sunrise (3pm), is the time when Jesus dies on the cross. "And at about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is to say, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' . . . When he had cried again with a loud voice (Jesus) yielded up the ghost" (Matt. 27:46,50). At this time prayers of thanksgiving are offered to Him Who by His death destroyed death. The prayers of the ninth hour conclude with a petition that we put to death the old sinful nature within us to enable us to live the new life in Christ Jesus with whom we were not only crucified but also resurrected through baptism.

O Master, Lord Jesus Christ our God,
   You have led us to the present hour,
   in which as you hung upon the life-giving Three,
   You made a way into Paradise
   for the penitent thief,
   and by death destroyed death:
Cleanse us, Your unworthy servants,
   for we fall into sin continuously and
   are not worth to lift up our eyes and
   look upon the heights of heaven.
   Forgive us for departing from the path of righteousness
   and following the desires of our own hearts.
                   — From the Prayers of the Ninth Hour

Vespers

Morning and evening were always considered to be proper times for prayer. Worship services were held every morning and evening in the Temple of Jerusalem and were continued by the early Christians even after they separated themselves from the worship of the Temple. The old Jewish psalms are still used. The theme of vespers takes us through creation, sin and salvation in Christ. It includes thanksgiving for the day now coming to an end and God's protection for the evening. In the Orthodox Church the liturgical day begins in the evening with the setting of the sun. The coming of darkness reminds us of the darkness of our sin and death and makes us long for the light. One of the great themes of vespers is the coming of Christ the Light to dispel the darkness. Jesus is praised as "The gladsome light of the holy glory of the Immortal Father" and "a light for revelation to the Gentiles." Vesper services are offered daily in monasteries and usually only on Saturday evenings in parishes. Evening prayers may be offered in private by Orthodox Christians daily by praying the Psalter and the other vesper prayers at home.

Jesus (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com

O GLADSOME LIGHT
   O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal,
   Heavenly, Holy Father: Blessed Jesus Christ!
   Now that we have come to the setting of the sun,
   and see the light of evening,
   We praise God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
   For it is right at all times to worship you with voices of praise,
   O Son of God and Giver of Life.
   Therefore all the world glorifies You!
                   — From the Prayers of Vespers

Midnight

The hour of midnight was designated as a time for prayer for three reasons: 1) the Jewish people were led out of Egypt at midnight (Exodus 12:29). In remembrance of this event, the Messiah at the time of Jesus was expected to come at midnight. This expectation was fulfilled when Jesus was resurrected in the early morning while it was still dark (Matt. 28:1). Midnight also became associated in early Christian thought with the hour of the Second Coming of Jesus (Mark 13:35). He was expected to come "as a thief in the night" (I Thess. 5:2,4). This hour of prayer is kept today only in certain monasteries where monks rise at midnight, as if from the grave of death, to meet the risen Lord in prayer. The prayers offered at this hour remember those who have died in Christ and also invoke God's mercy upon us for the coming judgment. Although we do not live in monasteries, we may use midnight as an hour of prayer if we happen to waken during the night. Instead of counting sheep, we can use the time to speak and pray to the Shepherd of our souls.

O Lord our God, through your Holy Spirit
   you gave us an example in David,
   inspiring him to sing psalms and
   even at this hour of the night to say:
   'At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws';
   make us worthy to offer you from the bottom of our hearts
   our grateful confession of faith;
   in your goodness look with compassion on our wretched state
   and at your dreadful day of judgment
   let us too be like the faithful and wise servants;
   we ask it through the mediation of the holy Mother of God and
   all your saints.
                   — From the Prayers of the Midnight Office

Continued on the final Part 4: Praying the Hours Today

Did you miss any Part of the series?
Part 1: Service of the Hours: Days of Each Week
Part 2: Service of the Hours: The Daily Cycle

Part 3: Service of the Hours: The Daily Cycle (Part 3)

Next week: Praying the Hours Today

Icons courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission.


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