Thursday, March 03, 2022

Byzantine Great Compline: Third Part

Many of the features of the third part of Great Compline are also in the shorter and more frequently used version of that Hour known as Small Compline, and I refer the reader to my description of it published last month for the full texts.
The third part starts with just the final element of the Usual Beginning, as is normal when one Hour is said right after another. There follow Psalms 69, 142, and the Small Doxology, all of which are said at Small Compline. When Great Compline is said as part of the All-Night Vigil on the eves of Christmas, Epiphany and the Annunciation, it ends here, and another service called the Liti begins, which I will write about another time.
Otherwise, at this point there is supposed to be said every day a canon, one of the most complex features of the Byzantine Office, which I have described elsewhere, and which varies from day to day. On the first four days of Great Lent, the canon is one of the Byzantine Rite’s most famous texts, composed by the inventor of the genre, St Andrew of Crete, and traditionally known simply as “The Great Canon.” It is an astonishingly long piece of work; in my Greek hand-missal sized “synekdemos”, an anthology of the most commonly used liturgical texts, it runs to 26 pages of eye-wateringly small type. For these days, therefore, only one quarter is said per day, but the whole thing is appointed to be said at Orthros of the Fifth Thursday of Lent as well. (In practice, it is usually very much abbreviated outside of the more liturgically energetic monasteries.)
The second hymn will suffice here to indicate its penitential theme.
“Whence shall I begin to mourn for the deeds of my miserable life? What sort of beginning shall I make, o Christ, with the lament I now sing? But as One that hath compassion, give me remission of my transgressions.”
The text is replete with Biblical typologies, of which, again, a single example must suffice here.
“In Adam the first-created, I recognized myself, having imitated (him) in transgression, despoiled of God, and of the everlasting kingdom and of delight through my sins.”
An ivory box carved with a scene of the Expulsion from the Garden, made in Constantinople in the 11th century, now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Most of the Slavs have preserved the older custom by which on these four days, Psalm 69 and the Great Canon are said as the very first feature of Great Compline after the opening prayers. The Greeks, on the other hand, have moved it to the same place where the other canons are said; a Greek Horologion printed by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1900 has a rubric in the apposite place that states, “this Great Canon is today usually sung after (the Small Doxology), by almost everybody.” Because nothing ever changes in the East, except the things that do...
After the canon, a tropar based on Psalm 45 is sung between the verses of Psalm 150.
“Lord of hosts be with us, for we have no help apart from Thee in our tribulations. Lord of hosts, have mercy upon us.”
When the Psalm is done, assuming there are two choirs singing in alternation, the first choir sings, “Praise God in His Saints”, to which the second answers, “Praise Him in the firmament of His might”, and the two then repeat “Lord of hosts…” together. This segues into “Glory be to the Father…”, and two more tropars; the last in such a group of three is always about the Virgin Mary.
Lord, if we had not Thy Saints as our intercessors, and Thy goodness that did suffer with us, how had we dared, o Savior, to sing of Thee, whom the angels bless unceasingly? Knower of the heart, spare our souls. Both now and forever…
Great are the multitudes of my transgressions, o Mother of God; to Thee have I fled, o pure one, begging for deliverance. Look upon my ailing soul, and intercede to Thy Son and our God, that remission may be given to me for the terrible things I have done, o only blessed one.
The first choir sings, “All-Holy Mother of God, abandon me not all the time of my life to the protection of men; entrust me not (i.e. to myself), but do Thou help me and have mercy on me.” And the second replies, “All my hope I have placed in Thee, o Mother of God, protect me beneath Thy shelter.”
There follows a series of elements also said at the other Hours except for Vespers and Orthros, and which at this point have already also been said in the first two parts: 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 in Lent, a very well-known prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian, accompanied by three prostrations.
Twelve more Kyrie, eleisons are added, and then the prayers “O stainless, undefiled, uncorrupted, immaculate, chaste Virgin…”, “And grant to us, o Master, as we go to sleep…”, “Most glorious, Ever-Virgin…”, “My hope is the Father…”, and “All my hope I place in Thee…” as at Small Compline.
All those present in the church now bow, and the priest says this prayer.
“Master of great mercy, Lord Jesus Christ our God, by the intercessions of our all-immaculate Lady, the Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, by the power of the previous and life-giving Cross, by the protection of honorable bodiless powers of heaven, by the supplications of the honorable and glorious Prophet, Fore-runner and Baptist John, of the holy, glorious and all-renowned Apostles, of the holy, glorious and nobly triumphant Martyrs, of our venerable and God-bearing Fathers, of the holy and just ancestors of God Joachim and Anne, and of all Thy Saints, make acceptable our supplication, grant to us remission of our transgressions, watch over us beneath the protection of Thy wings, chase away from us every enemy and adversary, give peace to our lives; Lord, have mercy on us and on Thy world, and save our souls, as Thou are good and lovest mankind. Amen.”
Finally, there is a mutual asking of forgiveness between all those present in the church, a brief litany of intentions “for the peace of the world, for all pious and right-believing Christians” etc., and a final prayer.
“Forgive those that hate us and treat us unjustly, o Lord, do good to them that do good to us, grant to our brethren and those of our household all they ask that is profitable to salvation, and eternal life; watch over those who are sick, and grant them healing, guide those upon the sea, walk beside those who travel, fight beside the king, grant forgiveness of sine to those who serve and those who have mercy on us, forgive those who enjoin us, though we are unworthy, to pray for them, and have mercy upon them according to Thy great mercy. Remember, o Lord, all our fathers and brothers who have fallen asleep before us, and give them rest, where the light of Thy countenance looketh upon them. Remember, o Lord, our brothers who are prisoners, and deliver them from every difficulty. Remember, o Lord, those that bring fruit (i.e. material contributions for the poor) and do good works in Thy holy churches, and give them all they ask that is profitable to salvation, and eternal life. Remember also, o Lord, us Thy humble and sinful and unworthy servants, and enlighten our minds with the light of the knowledge of Thee, and lead us on the path of Thy commandments, by the prayers of Thy all-immaculate Mother, our Lady, the Mother of God, and of all Thy Saints, for Thou are blessed unto all ages. Amen.”

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