Daily Cycle or Hours of Prayer in the Church
The daily prayer cycle begins at sundown with Vespers. This tradition comes to us via the Jewish tradition, the way the disciples and Christ would have prayed.
"Let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice."
The tradition of praying a sundown coincides with the time of lighting the lamps, before the time of electricity. This was a definite transition time in ancient times, something we have lost in our electrical power world where there is no need to change what we are doing because of the setting of the sun. But, this transition required a definite change of activity in the days before electricity.
In the Church at this time of day, as the sun sets, we traditionally gather in the Church to give thanks for all the blessings our Lord has granted us this day. This prayer service begins with the psalm of creation (Psalm 103(104)).
"In Peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety."
The after our evening meal and before we go to sleep we say personal prayers which is how the service of compline is usually done. Here we reflect on the difficulties of the day and examine how we handled them and ask for forgiveness our shortcomings as well as our negligence of things we did not do we should of done.
Great Compline is a church service used to commemorate occasions such as the Eve of the Nativity and is also used during weekdays in Lent.
Prayer as we go to sleep
"At midnight I will rise and praise you."
In the monasteries the monks will rise at midnight for prayer. We know this tradition goes back at least as far as the time of David.
Matins or Orthros
"O God, You are my God, early will I seek You!"
At dawn we rise at sunrise and experiencing the goodness of God praise Him, give thanks, make petitions, and seek His blessing for the activities of the coming day.
"To You I pray, O Lord; in the morning You hear my voice!"
Before the use of clocks the hours of the day were determined from sunrise. So the first hour is probably at 7:00am At this hour we ask God to guard us from everything that could harm us in either body or soul. As our senses are being awakened we ask for spiritual awakening through Jesus Christ who is the "true light who comes into the world.'' This is usually joined with the Matins prayers. This is the time at which Christ was led into the Praetorium before Pilate.
Order my steps in Your word and so shall no wickedness have dominion over me.
Deliver me from all wrongful dealings of men, and so I shall keep Your commandments.
Show the light of your countenance upon Your servant and teach me Your statutes.
Let my mouth be filled with Your praise, O Lord, that I may sing of Your glory and honor all the day long.
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 commandments.
Through the intercessions of Your all-pure Mother and of all the saints. Amen.
"Take not Your Holy Spirit from me."
This is about 9:00am and is the hour when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles on Pentecost. We give thanks to God for this gift and ask that He never deprive us of the fruits and graces of the Spirit. We also commemorate the condemnation of Christ by Pilate.
O Lord, You sent down Your Most Holy Sprit upon Your Apostles at the Third Hour.
Take Him not from us, O Good One, but renew Him in us who pray to You.
Prayer of Saint Basil the Great
O Lord our God, You have given Your peace to men and sent down the gift of Your All-Holy Spirit to Your disciples and Apostles, opening their lips with fiery tongues by Your power.
Open also my lips and teach me, sinner that I am, how and for what I ought to pray.
Guide my life, O calm Haven of the storm-tossed, and reveal the way in which I should walk.
Renew in me a right spirit and make my mind steady with a governing spirit, so that guided and guarded each day by Your good Spirit, I may be enabled to practice Your commandments, always remembering Your glorious presence which looks upon the deeds men do.
Do not let me be deceived by corrupting delights of this world, but rather strengthen in me the desire to attain the treasures of the world to come.
For You are blessed and praised in all Your saints, unto ages of ages. Amen.
Through the prayers of the holy Fathers, may the Lord have mercy on us. Amen.
"There they crucified Him... It was now about the sixth hour"
Luke 23: 33,44
This is about 12 noon, the time when the divine drama of Christ began. It is when Pilate released Him to the Jews and they condemned Him and He was nailed to the Cross. We rejoice in the infinite life of God and show our gratitude, for through this event He wrought our salvation.
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!
Prayer of Saint Basil the Great
O God, Lord of hosts and Maker of all created things, who in Your great compassion and mercy sent down Your Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, for the redemption of mankind, and by His precious cross destroyed the writing of our sins, thereby triumphing over the source and power of darkness.
O Lord and Lover of man, accept also the thanksgiving and fervent prayers of us sinners.
Deliver us from every dark and harmful transgression and from all the visible and invisible enemies which seek to destroy us.
Nail our flesh to the fear of You, and do not incline our hearts to words or thoughts of guile, But wound our souls with Your love, that ever looking to You, and guided by You in the light, and beholding You, the Light ineffable and ever lasting, we may offer ceaseless praise and thanksgiving to You:
To the Father who has no beginning, together with Your only-begotten Son and Your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
"And at the ninth hour...Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last."
Mark 15: 34,37
This occurs about 3:00pm, the time that Jesus died on the Cross. It is when he promised His kingdom to the repentant thief. We give thanks singing hymns of these saving events.
O Christ God, at the ninth hour You tasted death in the flesh for our sake: mortify the rebellion of our flesh and save us!
In the midst of two thieves, Your Cross was revealed as the balance-beam of righteousness.
For while the one was led down to hell by the burden of his blaspheming, the other was lightened of his sins to the knowledge of things divine.
O Christ our God, glory to You!
Prayer of Saint Basil the Great
O Master, Lord Jesus Christ our God, You have led us to the present hour, in which, as You hung upon the life-giving tree, You made a way into Paradise for the penitent thief, and by death destroyed death:
Cleans us, Your unworthy servants, for we fall into sin continuously and are not worthy 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.
We implore Your unending goodness: Spare us, O Lord, according to the multitude of Your mercies, and save us for Your holy name's sake, for our days are passing away in vanity.
Take us from the hand of the adversary and forgive our sins, and mortify in us all impure thoughts.
Help us to lay aside our old ways so that we may be clothed with new resolve and may dedicate our lives to You, our Master and Benefactor, so that by following Your commandments, we may come to the eternal rest which is the abode of all those who rejoice.
For You are the true joy and exultation of those who love You, O Christ our God, and to You we ascribe glory, together with the Father who is without beginning and Your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Through the prayers of our holy fathers, may the Lord have mercy on us Amen.
For most people who do not live a monastic life, following this routine is not very practical. It is practical, however, to pause for a minute at these times to say a short prayer such as the Jesus Prayer or the Prayer of the Hours. If you listen to Ancient Faith radio on the internet they offer short prayers on the hours.
For a pocket sized book that contains the above and more see A Manual of the Hours of the Orthodox Church compiled by Archimandrite Cherubim, Monastery of the Paraclete, Attica, Greece, translated and published by Community of the Holy Myrrhbearers, 1993.
A good book with the complete services adapted for use without a priest is The Hours of Prayer Published by the Orthodox Brotherhood of the Virgin Mary in Elkhorn VA. See the page on prayer books.