Volume II - Worship

The Daily Cycles of Prayer

Hours, Compline and Nocturne

In addition to the liturgical services of Vespers and Matins, there are also the services of the Hours, Compline, and Nocturne. These services are chanted in monasteries but are seldom used in parish churches except perhaps during Lent and Holy Week, and on special feast days.

The services of Hours are called the First, Third, Sixth and Ninth. These “hours” conform generally to the hours of six and nine in the morning, noon, and three in the afternoon. The services consist mostly of psalms which are generally related to the events in the passion of Christ which took place at that particular hour of the day. The Third Hour also refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples on Pentecost.

The troparia of the given day or of the feast being celebrated are added to the Hours. During the first days of Holy Week as well as on certain major feasts, the Gospel is also read during the Hours. On days when there is no Divine Liturgy, the so-called Typical Psalms which include elements of the Divine Liturgy such as the liturgical psalms, the Beatitudes, and the Creed are read after the Ninth Hour.

Compline is called the “after-dinner” service of the Church. Its name, both in Greek and Slavonic, indicates this. It is a service of psalms and prayers to be read following the evening meal; after Vespers has been served. On days when Vespers are connected to the Divine Liturgy, such as the eves of Christians and Epiphany, Great Compline is added to Matins to form a Vigil service. During the first week of Great Lent, the Penitential Canon of St Andrew of Crete is read at the Compline Service.

Nocturne is the midnight service of the Church. In monasteries it usually begins the all-night vigil of the monks. It contains a number of psalms together with the normal prayers found in other services, such as the call to worship, the Thrice-Holy, the Our Father, the Troparion, etc. Its theme is obviously the night and the need for vigilance. In the parishes, it is known almost exclusively as the service preceding Easter Matins at which the winding-sheet depicting the dead Saviour is taken from the tomb and is placed on the altar table.