The Great Hours
Isaiah 52:13-15, 54:1-12
Jeremiah 11:18-23, 12:1-5, 9:11, 14-15
Today the veil of the Temple is rent as a reproach to the lawless; the sun hides its own rays as it beholds the Master crucified.
Like a sheep You were led to the slaughter, Christ King, and for our sins, loving Lord, as a blameless Lamb You were nailed to the Cross by wicked men.
While enduring to be seized by the lawless, Lord, You spoke thus: "Though you ‘strike the shepherd, the sheep, my twelve disciples, will be scattered,’ (Zechariah 13:7) I could have summoned more than twelve legions of angels. But I forbear, so that ‘the depths and secrets’ I have shown to you through my prophets may be fulfilled." Lord, glory to You.
Christ our God, worshiped and glorified in every place and time, in heaven and on earth, longsuffering, full of mercy, full of compassion, loving the righteous but showing pity for the sinner, You call all to salvation through the promise of blessings to come. Lord, accept our prayers at this hour, and order our lives according to Your will. Sanctify our souls, purify our bodies, set our minds aright, cleanse our thoughts; spare us all affliction, evil and distress.
The Life of all, yet You were condemned to death. The very ones who crossed the Red Sea by the power of Moses; staff, nailed You to the Cross. Those whom You nourished with honey from the rock, fed You gall. But willingly You endured, to free us from the bondage of the enemy. Christ our God, glory to You.
As You were dragged to the Cross, Lord, You demanded: "For which of my works do you wish to crucify me, my people? For healing your paralytics? For raising your dead as from sleep? For curing the woman with an issue of blood, or taking pity on the Canaanite? For which of these deeds do you wish to kill me? But consider whom you now pierce, you lawless people."
Pharisees and lawgivers of Israel, the company of the Apostles calls out to you: "Behold the Temple which you have destroyed; behold the lamb whom you have crucified. You consigned Him to the tomb, but by His own power He arose. Do not deceive yourselves. For it is He who saved you from the sea and fed you in the wilderness. He is life and light and the peace of the world."
Each of the four Hours bears a numerical name, derived from one of the major daylight hours or intervals of the day as they were known in antiquity: the First (corresponding to sunrise); the Third (midmorning or 9 a.m.); the Sixth (noonday); and the Ninth (mid-afternoon or 3 p.m.).
Each Hour has a particular theme, and sometimes even a sub-theme, based upon some aspects of the Christ-event and salvation history. The general themes of the Hours are the coming of Christ, the true light (First); the descent of the Holy Spirit (Third); the passion and crucifixion of Christ (Sixth); the death and burial of Christ (Ninth).
The central prayer of each Hour is the Lord’s Prayer. In addition, each Hour has a set of three Psalms, hymns, a common prayer (Christ our God, worshiped and glorified . . .) and a distinctive prayer for the Hour.
Slight variations occur in the Service of the Hours on feast days as well as on fast days. For example, in the place of the regular troparia, the apolytikia of the feast days. For example, in the place of the regular troparia, the apolytikia of the feast are read; or in the case of the Great Fast, penitial prayers are added at the end.
A radical change in the Service of the Hours, however, occurs on Great Friday. The content is altered and expanded with a set of troparia and Scripture Readings (Prophecy, Epistle, and Gospel) for each Hour. In addition, two of the three Psalms in each of the Hours are replaced with Psalms that reflect themes of Great Friday. While the stable-fixed Psalm of the service reflects the theme of the particular Hour, the variable Psalms reflect the theme of the day. In their expanded version these Hours are called The Great Hours or the Royal Hours.
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