Our services – Vespers, Matins, and portions of the Divine Liturgy and the services of need – are punctuated in many places by the so-called "Small Litany." What is this Litany, and what is it for?
The text itself tells us. It begins, "Again and again, in peace let us pray to the Lord."
This recalls to our minds the opening line of the Great Litany – the series of petitions which we read at the very beginning (either immediately or after singing or reading a psalm) of each of these services. The Great Litany begins, "In peace let us pray to the Lord." We are in church to pray, and are exhorted to do so with God's peace in our hearts.
From there the services are a mixture of prayers, psalms, scripture readings, sacraments and hymns.
At several points, after we have spend some time reading psalms, singing the hymns we call "the canon," or singing antiphons composed of psalm verses, the deacon comes out onto the Ambo and call us to prayer: "Again and again, in peace let us pray to the Lord."
All of our psalmody and hymnody is, of course, prayer. But now we are as it were asked to collect ourselves. Perhaps our mind has wandered or perhaps our thoughts have strayed from the basic, simple prayer of faith that should always be at the core of our being.
And so we are recalled: "Again and again…" And recollecting our attention, we again focus on direct petition for the things that matter most. What are these things?
"Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace."
That says it all, does it not? "By grace ye are saved." All of our hope, all of our trust, all of our confidence is and should be in God. And so our petition is to him, to help us in all things, to save us, to have mercy on us (i.e. to pour out upon us everything good), and to keep us. And we don't receive these things by our own effort or will, but by His grace.
"Calling to remembrance our most holy, most pure, most blessed, glorious lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary with all the saints, let us commit ourselves and one another and all our lives unto Christ our God."
This is our part of the equation. He gives us all things by His grace; it remains to us to completely commit ourselves and all of our loved ones to Him, to trust Him in everything, and to obey His commandments with childlike faith, knowing that all things will work out for the good if we love and obey Him.
This task might seem difficult to us — and it is, because we are weak in faith. And so to strengthen us, the Church asks us to bring to mind those who have gone before us: our Lord's mother and all the saints, who by completely committing themselves to Him inherited eternal life themselves and brought many others to the Lord.
The Litany then ends with an exclamation by the priest. These vary, but they always give glory to our God — to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — for His Power, His Love, His Holiness, etc. In this way, we crown our prayer by joining the angels in their unceasing praise of our Thrice-Holy God.
Dn. Nicholas Park