February 28, 2023

Great Compline in the Worship of Great Lent

 By Stylianos Gerasimos

Throughout the course of his life the Christian has his attention directed to God and is brought into communion with Him through prayer. This is why St. Gregory the Theologian emphasizes: "Unite your breathing with the remembrance of God."

Prayer is the tangible means by which man feels in his heart the energies of the Infinite God visiting him. This whole prayerful state of man culminates during the period of Great Lent. The Church helps in this matter with its frequent worship services.

In the morning we chant a very long service that includes the Midnight Hour, Matins and the Hours, as well as the next day's Vespers. There is also Great Compline, the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts and the Great Canon. Every Sunday morning the Divine Liturgy of Basil the Great is celebrated, while in the afternoon there is a Solemn Vespers. Finally, every Friday we sing the Salutations to the Most Holy Theotokos.

Of course, it is not possible to analyze all the worship services in a single study. That is why we will limit ourselves to commenting on the Great Compline service.

The duration of the night has always been an opportunity for man's relationship and communication with God. And this is because man at that moment comes to a possibility of moving away from the earth, in order to develop his journey towards heaven. And the Lord himself often prayed in the evening "and spent the night in prayer to God" (Luke 2:12). So the Church, aware of this human need, placed next to the personal prayer a common prayer, called Apodeipnos (Greek for Compline). It was called Apodeipnos, because it was determined to take place after the evening meal (apo=after, deipnos=supper).

After the 14th century, the need to shorten the Compline appeared imperative, which over the years and with the constant addition of prayers, now acquired a long duration. Finally, the Service of Small Compline prevailed, which is read during most of the year. The older and most extensive Service prevailed to be read during the period of Great Lent and is called the Great Compline. And because Great Lent is more solemn, this Service "constitutes an entreaty for the forgiveness of the sins of the day and the unscandalous passage of the night."

Great Compline is read on the evening of Monday, Tuesday and Thursday during Great Lent. On Wednesday afternoon, the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is celebrated, while on Friday evening, as we said above, the Salutations to the Most Holy Theotokos are chanted. On Saturday evening, the Small Compline is celebrated. In monasteries, the Small Compline is read in the narthex of the katholikon, while the Great Compline is read in the nave of the church.

The believer, with the help of the Psalms and the prayers of Great Compline, takes into account the events of the past day. This self-criticism will help him to break down and repent of his spiritual failures: "Every night I wet the mattress of my bed in tears" (Psalm 6:6).

During Great Compline we chant two ancient hymns of our Church: "God is with us: know this ye nations and tremble, for God is with us", comes from the ode of Isaiah which is found in the 9th chapter of the Old Testament book. We also sing the following poem: "The bodiless nature of the Cherubim, glorifies you with ceaseless hymns." This is a praise to God the Father, which is an expression of man's spiritual elevation to God. Man with this doxological poem now feels dependent on God's grace and mercy.

We observe, then, that God's unspeakable philanthropy extends even to when man sleeps. This reality is also emphasized by the following prayer: "Lord, Lord, who have delivered us from every arrow that flies by day, deliver us from anything that lurks about in darkness ... make us worthy to traverse the time of night blamelessly."

Only God can provide real help to his creatures at all stages and especially when he is tested. Because man is tested and grieves day and night, he can say: "Lord of the Powers, be with us; for we have no other helper in tribulations but you. Lord of the Powers, have mercy on us."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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