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The Greek Orthodox

Cathedral of the Annunciation

24W Preston St, Baltimore, MD 21201

Compline with Great Canon of St. Andrew

Wednesday, April 01, 2020 1:31 PM | Anonymous

Good Afternoon Cathedral Community,

Tonight we will celebrate the service of Compline with the Great Canon at 6pm.  Although this service is long, it is one of the most beautiful and introspective services during the Lenten season.  You can follow along with us during the live stream using the text here.  Tonight’s we will pray the service of Compline with a canon inserted into the middle.

Compline (ἀπόδειπνο) is a service done after dinner.  ἀπό (after) + δείπνο (supper) = ἀπόδειπνο.  The Compline service is typically done in monasteries— sometimes together in the church, and sometimes as private prayer in their cells.  Many parishes do a form of Compline during Lent, and some people read parts or the whole Compline service as their evening prayer before bed.  If you have “My Orthodox Prayer Book” by the Archdiocese Religious Education Department you can find a selection of prayers from Compline to use in your personal prayers.
The Compline service can have other liturgical parts inserted into it, such as canons or kontakia.  In this way, Compline can serve as a shell for new material or new services.  The Service of the Akathist Hymn on Friday evenings during Lent is simply Compline with a canon for the Theotokos inserted into the middle.  Tonight’s service is simply Compline with a canon by St. Andrew of Crete inserted into the middle.

A canon is a long poem of odes typically found in the Orthros service (the morning prayer service).  Canons introduce a melody and add hymns (called “troparia”) following the same melody, with refrain verses interspersed.  Since many people are familiar with the Akathist Hymn, here is how that canon starts.

  • Melody: “I open my mouth and pray the Spirit fill it, like David said…”
  • Refrain: “Most-holy Theotokos, save us.”
  • Troparion: “O Maiden and Virgin pure, the great Archangel saluted you…”
  • Refrain: “Most-holy Theotokos, save us.”
  • Troparion: “Hail, O Virgin Bride of God! Through you was Adam restored to life…”
  • etc.

Tonight we will add the Great Canon, composed by St. Andrew of Crete, into the Compline Service.  This canon is unique in that it is very long (250 troparia!), it contrasts many Biblical images of good and bad, and it is a dialogue between the person praying it and his/her own soul.  Some people will cross themselves or do a prostration during each refrain.  The canon starts like this.

  • Melody: “He became for me a helper and a shelterer for salvation…”
  • Refrain: “Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.”
  • Troparion: “Where shall I begin to weep for the actions of my wretched life…”
  • Refrain: “Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.”
  • Troparion: “Come, wretched soul, with your flesh to the Creator of all…”
  • etc.

St.  Nicholas Orthodox Church in McKinney, Texas has outlined some general themes that we can pay attention to while praying this canon.

  • How we should think about ourselves
    • “Where shall I begin to weep for the actions of my wretched life? What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, in this my lamentation? But in Your compassion grant me forgiveness of sins.” (Ode 1, Troparion 1)
  • Desire to change – dialogue with the soul
    • “Come, wretched soul, with your flesh to the Creator of all. Make confession to Him, and abstain henceforth from your past brutishness; and offer to God tears of repentance.” (Ode 1, Troparion 2)
  • Recognizing reality
    • “The end draws near, my soul, the end draws near; yet you do not care or make ready. The time grows short, rise up: the Judge is at the door. The days of our life pass swiftly, as a dream, as a flower. Why do we trouble ourselves in vain?” (Ode 4, Troparion 2)
  • How to pray – laments and supplications to God
    • “You are the Good Shepherd: seek me, the lamb that has strayed, and do not forget me.” (Ode 3, Troparion 6)
  • Old Testament and New Testament examples of righteousness and unrighteousness, for emulation or avoidance
    • “Do not look back, my soul, and so be turned into a pillar of salt. Fear the example of the people of Sodom, and take refuge in Zoar. (Genesis 19:26)” (Ode 3, Troparion 24)
    • “All the names of the Old Testament have I set before you, my soul, as an example. Imitate the holy acts of the righteous and flee from the sins of the wicked.” (Ode 8, Troparion 12)

I hope this outline and explanation of the service was helpful.  Join us tonight at 6pm by going to our parish website:

In Christ,

Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation

24W Preston St, Baltimore, MD
(410) 727-1831

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