Thursday, February 24, 2022

Byzantine Great Compline: First Part

The longer form of Byzantine Compline known as “Great Compline” is celebrated twice in the first week before Lent (this week on the Gregorian calendar), on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. It is also said on the ferial days of Lent (but excluding Friday in the Greek tradition), and the first two days of Holy Week. On the eves of Christmas and Epiphany, it is celebrated with significant modifications and joined to Orthros as part of what is called an All-Night vigil; there is another important change to the order on the first four days of Lent. I shall here describe it as it appears in the liturgical books, and the major variants later. Unlike the shorter form of Byzantine Compline which is said most of the year, and which I described in an article last week, the longer form does require the participation of a choir.
After the opening prayers known as the Usual Beginning, a group of six psalms are said in two blocks: 4-6-12 and 24-30-90. (A similarly arranged group is said at the beginning of Orthros, 3-37-62 and 87-102-142.) These include three of the four Psalms traditionally said at Roman Compline, 4, 30 (the first six verses only) and 90; 6 and 12 were added to the psalmody of Compline on Monday and Tuesday respectively by the reform of St Pius X.
This is followed by a very ancient chant attributed to St Basil the Great, in which the reader sings a verse from Isaiah 8 once, then a selection of verses from Isaiah 8 and 9, after each of which the choir sings the last part of the first verse as a refrain. As with so many liturgical compositions of all traditions, the Biblical texts are not exact citations. While I am a great admirer of the Slavic choral tradition, it has to be said that many of the common settings of this particular text are extremely bombastic. Here is a more properly liturgical version in which the full verse is sung very beautifully at the end, but the doxology is omitted.
God is with us; know this, ye nations, and be defeated, * for God is with us.
– Hear ye, unto the ends of the earth, for God is with us. Isa. 8, 9
– Ye that have grown mighty, be defeated, for God is with us.
– For if again ye grow mighty, again ye shall be defeated, for God is with us.
– And if ye take counsel together, the Lord shall scatter it, for God is with us. vs. 10
– And whatsoever word ye shall speak shall not abide in you, for God is with us.
– And we shall not fear your terror, nor be troubled, for God is with us. vs. 12
– And the Lord our God, Him shall we sanctify, and He shall be our fear, for God is with us. vs. 13
– And if I put my trust in Him, He shall be my sanctification, for God is with us. vs. 14
– And I will put my trust in Him, and shall be saved through Him, for God is with us.
– Behold, I and the children whom God hath given me, for God is with us. vs. 18
– The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light, for God is with us. Isa. 9, 2
– We that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, on us hath the light shined, for God is with us.
– For unto us a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given, for God is with us. vs. 6
– And the government shall be upon His shoulder, for God is with us.
– And of His peace there shall be no end, for God is with us.
– And his name shall be called the Angel of Great Council, for God is with us.
– Wonderful, Counsellor, for God is with us.
– The Mighty God, the Great Ruler, the Prince of Peace, for God is with us.
– The Father of the world to come, for God is with us.
– Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
– God is with us; know this, ye nations, and be defeated, for God is with us.
– Both now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
– God is with us; know this, ye nations, and be defeated, for God is with us.
The next two chants were created as choral parts, although in practice, they are now often done by just the same reader who sings the verses of “God is with us.” The rubrics for how they were sung in alternation by two parts of the choir or by both choirs together vary from one tradition to another.
The first is a set of tropars praying for peace in the coming night, in which four words in Greek are varied at each repetition.
Having completed the day, I thank Thee, o Lord; grant, I ask, that the evening with the night may be sinless, o Savior, and save me. Glory to the Father…
– Having passed the day, I glorify Thee, o Master; grant, I ask, that the evening with the night may be without offence, o Savior, and save me. Both now…
– Having run the course of the day, I praise Thee, o Holy One, grant, I ask, that the evening with the night may be undisturbed, o Savior, and save me.
The bodiless nature, the Cherubim, with never-silent hymns glorifieth Thee.
– The six-winged living beings, the Seraphim, with unceasing voices exalt Thee.
– And all the host of the angels with thrice-holy songs praiseth Thee.
– For Thou art before all things, the Father who art, and hast Thy Son, Who with Thee is without beginning.
– And bearing the Spirit of life, equal in honor, Thou showest forth the undivided nature of the Trinity.
– O all-holy Virgin, Mother of God, and ye eye-witnesses and servants of the Word.
– All the choirs of the prophets and the martyrs, as those who have immortal life,
– Intercede fervently for us all, for all we are in dangers:
– That being delivered from the deception of the evil one, we may sing out the song of the Angels:
– Holy, holy, holy, thrice-holy Lord, have mercy on us, and save us. Amen.
The reader continues with the Nicene Creed, which is the only proper element from the first part of Great Compline also said in Small Compline. The two choirs then alternate the following invocations, the first of which is said three times, the rest twice; the members of each choir are supposed to prostrate themselves as the other choir sings.
All-holy Lady, Mother of God, intercede for us sinners.
– All ye heavenly powers of the holy angels and archangels, intercede for us sinners.
– Saint John, Prophet and Forerunner and Baptist of our Lord Jesus Christ, intercede for us sinners.
– Holy, glorious apostles, prophets and martyrs, and all the saints, intercede for us sinners.
– Our venerable and God-bearing fathers, shepherds and teachers of the world, intercede for us sinners.
– Invincible and perpetual and divine power of the honorable and life-giving Cross, forsake not us sinners.
– O God, be gracious unto us sinners. (three times)
– And have mercy on us (once.)
Part of the ceiling of the narthex in the monastery of St Luke (Hosios Loukas) in Distomo, a town on the Greek island of Boeotia. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Shakko, CC BY-SA 4.0) At the left from this point of view is Christ; in the center, the Virgin, the Baptist and the archangels Michael and Gabriel; around them, several of the Apostles.
The reader then says the Trisagion prayers, which are the same as the Usual Beginning, minus the first two and last parts, and then another group of troparia are sung, which are certainly some of the most beautiful in the vast Byzantine repertoire of such compositions. On a major feast, however, they are replaced by its single troparion.
On Monday and Wednesday evenings, the following are sung.
Enlighten my eyes, o Christ God, lest ever I sleep unto death, lest ever mine enemy say: I have prevailed against him. Glory to the Father…
– Be Thou the defender of my soul, o God, for I walk amidst many snares; deliver me from them, and save me, o Good One, as the lover of mankind. Both now…
– Since we have no confidence because of our many sins, do thou, o Virgin Mother of God, fervently entreat Him Who was born of Thee: for the prayer of a mother availeth much to the good will of the Master. Despise not the supplications of sinners, o all-revered one, for merciful and mighty to save is He Who undertook to suffer for us in the flesh. (This last is also said daily at Sext.)
The set for Tuesday and Thursday has four chants.
Thou understandest, o Lord, the sleeplessness of my invisible enemies, and knowest the weakness of my miserable flesh, Thou Who madest me; wherefore into Thy hands will I commit my spirit. Cover me with the wing of Thy goodness, that I sleep not unto death; and enlighten my spiritual eyes in the delight in Thy divine words; and raise me up in an acceptable time unto Thy glorification, as the only Good One and lover of mankind. Ps. 118, 132 Look Thou upon me, and have mercy on me, according to the judgment of them that love Thy name.
– How fearful is Thy judgment, O Lord, when the angels stand round about, and men are led before Thee, and the books are opened, and deeds are searched through, and thoughts examined. What sort of judgment shall be unto me, who was conceived in sins? Who shall quench the flame for me? Who shall enlighten my darkness, if Thou, o Lord, shall not have mercy upon me as the lover of mankind. Glory to the Father…
– Grant me tears, O God, as to the sinful woman of old, and vouchsafe that I may wash Thy feet which delivered me from the path of straying, and bring forth unto Thee as ointment of sweet fragrance even a pure life, fashioned by my repentance, that I may also hear so, hear Thy longed-for voice (saying), “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” Both now …
– Having in thee, o Mother of God, that hope which knoweth no shame, I shall be saved; possessing Thine intercession, o all-immaculate one, I will not fear. I will pursue mine enemies, and drive them away, cloaked round by Thy protection alone as by a breastplate, and fervently imploring Thine all-powerful aid, I cry to Thee: o Lady, save me by Thine intercessions, and raise me up again from dark sleep to Thy glorification, by the power of Him that was incarnate from Thee, even the Son of God.
There follows a series of elements also said at the other Hours except for Vespers and Orthros: Kyrie, eleison 40 times, the Prayer of the Hours, Kyrie, eleison 3 times, Glory be, a brief prayer to the Virgin (“Higher than the Cherubim…”), a conclusion said by the priestly celebrant, and then in Lent, a very well-known prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian, accompanied by three prostrations.
An 18th-century Russian icon of St Basil. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
The first part of Great Compline concludes with a prayer said by the reader, which is attributed to Saint Basil.
Lord, Lord, Who hast delivered us from every arrow that flieth by day, deliver us also from everything that walketh about in darkness. Receive the lifting up of our hands as an evening sacrifice. Vouchsafe us also to pass without blame the course of the night untempted by evils, and redeem us from every disturbance and dread that cometh to us from the devil. Grant to our souls contrition, and unto our thoughts care for the trial of Thy fearful and just judgment. Nail our flesh to the fear of Thee, and mortify our earthly members, that, even in the quiet of sleep, we may be illuminated by the contemplation of Thy judgments. Put away from us every unseemly fantasy and noxious desire. Raise us up at the time of prayer confirmed in the faith and progressing in Thy commandments, through the favor and goodness of Thine only begotten Son, with Whom Thou art blessed, together with Thine all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
The second part begins immediately after this, and will be described in a separate article.

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