Archive for the ‘Prayers of the church:Lenten Prayers’ Category

Links to Lenten Lectionary, Great Compline, Great Canon, Prayer of St Ephrem, Life of St Mary of Egypt in multiple formats.

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Lenten Lectionary

Prayers and Services commonly or exclusively used in Great Lent

The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete. Explanation, themes, texts, biography

Saturday, February 13th, 2010


Explanation of the Canon liturgical format

Short Explanation of the Great Canon

Themes of the Great Canon.

Full Text of the Great Canon as chanted on 5 days of Great Lent

Biography of St Andrew


The Great Canon of St Andrew, Bishop of Crete, is the longest canon in all of our services, and is associated with Great Lent, since the only times it is appointed to be read in church are the first four nights of Great Lent (Clean Monday through Clean Thursday, at Great Compline, when it is serialized) and at Matins for Thursday of the fifth week of Great Lent, when it is read in its entirety (in this latter service, the entire life of St Mary of Egypt is also read).


There is no other sacred hymn which compares with this monumental work, which St Andrew wrote for his personal meditations.  Nothing else has its extensive typology and mystical explanations of the scripture, from both the Old and New Testaments.  One can almost consider this hymn to be a “survey of the Old and New Testament”. Its other distinguishing features are a spirit of mournful humility, hope in God, and complex and beautiful Trinitarian Doxologies and hymns to the Theotokos in each Ode.


The canon is a dialog between St. Andrew and his soul. The ongoing theme is an urgent exhortation to change one’s life. St Andrew always  mentions his own sinfulness placed in juxtaposition to God’s mercy, and uses literally hundreds of references to good and bad examples from the OT and NT to “convince himself” to repent.


A canon is an ancient liturgical hymn, with a very strict format. It consists of a variable number of parts, each called an “ode”. Most common canons have eight Odes, numbered from one to nine, with Ode 2 being omitted. The most penitential canons have all nine odes. Some canons have only three Odes, such as many of the canons in the “Triodion” (which means “Three Odes”).


In any case, all Odes have the same basic format.  An “Irmos” begins each Ode. This is generally sung, and each Irmos has a reference to one of the nine biblical canticles, which are selections from the Old and New Testament, which can be found in an appendix in any complete liturgical Psalter (book of Psalms, arranged for reading in the services). A variable number of “troparia” follow, which are short hymns about the subject of the canon. These are usually chanted, and not sung. After each troparion a “refrain” is chanted. At the end of each Ode, another hymn, called the “Katavasia”, either  the Irmos previously sung, or one like it is sung.


The troparia of the Great Canon in all its twelve Odes are usually chanted by the priest in the center of the church, with the choir singing the Irmos and Katavasia. There are varying traditions about bows and prostrations. Some prostrate and some make the sign of the cross and bow three times after the Irmos and each troparion.

General Themes of the Great Canon.


How we should think about ourselves


Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life? What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, for my present lamentation? But in Thy compassion grant me release from my fallsMon:1.1


Desire to change – dialogue with the soul


Come, wretched soul, with your flesh, confess to the Creator of all. In the future refrain from you former brutishness, and offer to God tears of repentanceMon:1.2


Recognizing Reality


The end is drawing near, my soul, is drawing near! But you neither care nor prepare. The time is growing short. Rise! The Judge is at the very doors. Like a dream, like a flower, the time of this life passes. Why do we bustle about in vain? Mon:4.2


How to pray – Laments and supplications to God


Thou art the Good Shepherd; seek me, Thy lamb, and neglect no me who have gone astray Mon:3.5


OT and NT examples of righteousness and unrighteousness, for the purpose of emulation or avoidance.


Do not be a pillar of salt, my soul, by turning back; but let the example of the Sodomites frighten you, and take refuge up in Zoar.(Genesis 19:26) Thu Ode 3:5


I have reviewed all the people of the Old Testament as examples for you, my soul. Imitate the God-loving deeds of the righteous and shun the sins of the wicked.Tue Ode 8




The Great Canon was written by a holy man to teach himself the right way to live. We cannot benefit from it unless we make it a priority to stand in prayer, in the church, and listen to it, with a great desire and expectation for God’s grace to teach us and heal us. Our theology is first and foremost – experienced and prayed, and not only “studied”.



The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete

All these texts are available at

As chanted on Monday of the first Week

As chanted on Tuesday of the first Week

As chanted on Wednesday of the first Week

As chanted on Thursday of the first Week

As chanted on Thursday of the Fifth Week

St Andrew, Archbishop of Crete.

Commemorated July 4

From the Prologue


Born in Damascus of Christian parents, he was dumb until the age of seven. When his parents took him to church for Communion, the power of speech was given to him. Such is the divine power of Communion.


He went to Jerusalem at the age of fourteen and was tonsured in the monastery of St Sava the Sanctified. In his understanding and ascesis, he surpassed many of the older monks and was an example to all. The Patriarch took him as his secretary.


When the Monothelite heresy, which taught that the Lord had no human will but only a divine one, began to rage, the Sixth Ecumenical Council met in Constantinople in 681, in the reign of Constantine IV. Theodore, Patriarch of Jerusalem, was not able to be present at the Council, and sent Andrew, then a deacon, as his representative. At the Council, Andrew showed his great gifts: his articulateness, his zeal for the Faith and his rare prudence. Being instrumental in confirming the Orthodox faith, Andrew returned to his work in Jerusalem.


He was later chosen and enthroned as archbishop of the island of Crete. As archbishop, he was greatly beloved by the people. He was filled with zeal for Orthodoxy and strongly withstood all heresy. He worked miracles through his prayers, driving the Saracens from the island of Crete by means of them. He wrote many learned books, poems and canons, of which the best-known is the Great Canon of Repentance which is read in full on the Thursday of the Fifth Week of the Great Fast.


Such was his outward appearance that, ‘looking at his face and listening to the words that flowed like honey from his lips, each man was touched and renewed’. Returning from Constantinople on one occasion, he foretold his death before reaching Crete. And so it happened. As the ship approached the island of Mitylene, this light of the Church finished his earthly course and his soul went to the Kingdom of Christ, in about the year 740.

From The Prologue from Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich  ©1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK

Priest Seraphim Holland    St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


New material throughout the year is posted on our BLOG: http://www/

Daily Lenten Meditations on the service texts and scripture readings:

Compendium of materials about Great Lent::


Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL were the text was found. We would love to hear from you with comments.


10 Questions about Lenten Services – Volume 1

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Also at:




What service begins Great Lent, when is it served, and what distinctive rite is observed which is done only once a year?


Forgiveness vespers

, which marks the beginning of Great Lent, is served in the evening (in some parish usage, the early afternoon, a short time after Divine liturgy) of Forgiveness Sunday, which is also called

Cheesefare Sunday

, being the last day that Orthodox eat cheese, any other milk product, and eggs and fish.

The previous Sunday (The Sunday of the Last Judgment, or Meatfare Sunday) was the last in which meat was eaten. At the end of the forgiveness vespers is the "rite of forgiveness". The pastor preaches a short homily about forgiveness, asks forgiveness of everyone with a prostration, and everyone in turn approaches the pastor and they exchange mutual forgiveness. A receiving line is formed, so that all the faithful exchange forgiveness with each other, individually. In this way, we begin Lent having no bitterness towards anyone (if we do in our heart what we perform externally in the ceremony).



What distinctive penitential prayer is said in almost every service during the Lenten season? Give the full text. You should know it by heart!



prayer of St. Ephrem

is said in most services of Great Lent, and pious Orthodox include it in their morning and evening prayers. It has three parts as follows:

O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, idle talking give me not.
But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow up me Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of amen..



Give the two ways in which this prayer is said in the services.


Usually, the prayer of St. Ephrem is said with 4 prostrations and 12 bows as follows:

O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, idle talking give me not. Full Prostration

But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow up me Thy servant. Full Prostration


Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of amen.. Full Prostration

Then twelve "reverences" (bows from the waist with the sign of the Cross). With each one say: God, cleanse me a sinner..

Then say the entire prayer all at once, and make a full prostration.

There are some times that the prayer is said once, with a prostration after each sentence.



Name ALL the services it is said, and ALL the services it is not said (paying particular attention to what day it is).


The prayer of St. Ephrem is said in almost every weekday (Monday – Friday) Lenten service.

For The weekday Services:
Twice, with 4 prostrations and 12 bows.
Vespers: (Monday – Thursday night)
Great Compline (if appointed)
Midnight Office: (Mon – Fri morning)
Matins (Mon – Fri morning)
The Hours (1st, 3rd, 6th, 9th)
The Typica

Once, with 3 prostrations.
Vespers: (Sunday night)
The Presanctified Liturgy (There are two times the prayer is said this way).

The prayer is not said in Small Compline.

It is also not said in the Hours following the Great Canon service (matins on the 5th Thursday of Great Lent), because of the length of this service.

On weekends, it is not said on Saturday at all, or on Sunday, until after the entrance at vespers (which marks the "beginning" of the new day, Monday).



Name the last time this prayer is said during before Pascha.


After the presanctified liturgy on Holy Wednesday, the prayer is said after the dismissal. It is not said again in church.



Name the times outside of Great that the prayer is also appointed.


The prayer is said the first three days of Holy Week, at vespers and matins.

It is also said Thursday Vespers and Friday Matins and Vespers, of Cheesefare Week

There are typicons which appoint the prayer on the first day of the Apostles Fast, and of the Nativity Fast, if they fall on a weekday.



What distinctive, long penitential hymn is chanted 5 times in Great Lent. Name the days, and the services it is chanted in. What else is read in the last service?


The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is chanted in four parts on the first four evenings of Great Lent, as part of the Great Compline service (Clean Monday – Thursday), and the entire long and compuncionate hymn is chanted as part of matins on the Sixth Thursday of Great Lent (the Thursday before the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt). In this latter service, which is usually served on Wednesday evening, the entire life of St. Mary of Egypt, by St. Sophronius, is read in two parts.



There is a service which is sung 5 times in the Lenten period, as well as several other times throughout the year . Name this service, and mention the other days outside of Great Lent that it is chanted (hint: there are usually 4 other times). There are two ways in which this service is served. Name them.


The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served on all the Sundays of Great Lent. It is also served on, St. Basil’s day (January 1st),. These services appear to be just like the usual liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, except that the Megalynarion hymn to the Theotokos is different, and the priest’s private prayers are longer.

It is also served on Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday and is usually served on the prefestivals of Nativity and Theophany. These services are "Vespral Divine Liturgies", where the service begins as a vespers, and switches to St. Basil’s liturgy after the Old Testament readings. These are the ONLY times when a vespral divine liturgy is appointed, except when the Vespral Divine liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is served for the Feast of the Annunciation when it falls on a weekday in Great Lent. On all other feasts of the Lord and the Theotokos, the vigil service is served the eve of the feast and the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is served in the morning.

In all, St. Basil’s liturgy is usually celebrated 10 times in the church year.



Divine liturgy is not served every day during Great Lent. What service is chanted so that the faithful can partake of the holy mysteries? Who is the author?


The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts was written by St. Gregory the Dialogist, Pope of Rome. This service is very similar to vespers.



When is the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom celebrated during the Lenten period?


On Saturday and Sunday the Lenten fast is relaxed a bit, and the services are more festive, on account of the celebration of the resurrection. The services are celebrated very similar to times outside of Great Lent. The liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated on every Saturday morning (but not on Sunday, which is reserved for St. Basil’s liturgy). It is also usually celebrated on the Annunciation, and is always celebrated on Great feasts of the Lord, such as Palm Sunday.

O Lord and Master of my life. The Prayer of St Ephrem explained

Friday, February 12th, 2010

The “Prayer of St Ephrem” is ubiquitous during Great Lent, and is used in all weekday services, and in prayers at home.


This prayer is much like the “Our Father”, in the following way. When the disciples asked the Lord to teach them to pray, He told them to “pray in this way”, and then recited the “Our Father”, thus giving us a model for how to pray and a prayer which perfectly fulfilled these principles. So should we treat the prayer of St Ephrem. Its content is truly sublime, and teaches us the right way to approach God in prayer, how to think of ourselves, and what to ask for. It also is a perfect prayer fulfilling these principles.


Everyone should say this prayer daily during the week in Great Lent. Because of the  physical way in which we say this prayer (it is done with bows and prostrations), it has the remarkable ability to put the soul in the right frame of mind.  One might even go so far to say that if the Prayer of St Ephrem has been prayed with attention at least once during the day,  and nothing else has been done, the Christian has prayed well.


The reality of our scattered, busy, distracted and often lazy lives is that we do not pray often enough, or with enough attention, or in the proper frame of mind. If a person is consistent in praying the prayer of St Ephrem, no matter how well he does in other prayer and spiritual reading, he has a “life line” and is grounded in the most important aspects of the way a Christian should conduct himself during Lent.


Of course, to just pray the prayer of St Ephrem is NOT enough for a Christian, but a pastor must prescribe “baby steps for baby feet” We all are in some measure “babies”, and all of us should pray this prayer, attentively, and carefully, without fail. The person who takes this advice to “come and see” will soon find the fruit of this practice.


The prayer of St Ephrem is found in any complete Orthodox prayer book. For instance, the “Jordanville prayer book” has this prayer in its Triodion section (page 166 in the latest printing). Our website has it in English and Slavonic with 4 sections per page so it can be printed, cut in quarters and inserted in a prayer book, in RTF and PDF formats.  It is part of  a dedicated page containing information about our Theology, Homilies, Services, and other Resources about Great Lent.


Other resources for this prayer include a catechetical talk about the prayer of St Ephrem.


Like anything worth doing, the prayer of St Ephrem takes some practice before we can receive the full benefit. There are bows AND prostrations during the prayer, and a certain number of repetitions. To someone who is accustomed to this prayer, the physical actions and specific repetitions free the mind and penetrate the soul. This can only be understood if it is done, else, a person will consider the prayer to be too complicated, or worse, an example of “vain repetition”, which the scripture forbids.


He who has ears to hear, and mouth to speak, arms to make the sign of the cross, and knees to bend, let him understand!


The prayer of St Ephrem is said two different ways in church. The best way to say it at home is the “longer” way, twice a day, in morning and evening prayers. If a person is not organized or motivated enough to say formal morning of evening prayers, at least this prayer can be said. As my father used to say, Once or twice, but never “nunce”!


This is the “long way”.



The prayer is said two times, one time in parts, and the last time in full. After each part, or the entire prayer, a prostration is made. In between the two “O God cleanse me a sinner” is said twelve times, with a bow each time. This is easy to remember after doing it a few times.  Two prayers, four prostrations, twelve bows (and 100 calories burned).


“O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, and idle talking give me not.“


Prostration [i].


“But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow upon me Thy servant.“




“Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.“




Then, twelve repetitions of:


“O God, cleanse me a sinner.”  



And then repeat the entire prayer all at once:


“O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, and idle talking give me not. But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow upon me Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.”





A Prostration is a full bow to the ground with the knees touching the ground, and the head touching or near the ground, then immediately standing back up. As the bow to the ground is begun, the sign of the cross is made. Some people touch their knees to the ground first and then bend their upper body down, and the more athletic or coordinated essentially “fall” forward to the ground  with their knees and hands touching at essentially the same time. This is very similar to the familiar gym class “burpee”.


A Bow, also known as a “reverence” or “Poklon” is when the sign of the cross is made, while simultaneously bowing the head by bending at the waist. Some bow deeply and touch the ground with their right hand, and other make very shallow bows. It really does not matter as long as the movement is done with attention.


Something NOT TO DO: No “waving at the air”. Some do prostrations and bows quickly or carelessly, and the sign of the cross they make looks like they are shooing away a fly. “Let all things be done in good order”.



The author has many fond memories of saying this prayer way back when, when a layman, especially in church, or with his children. The church would be dark, and lit only by candles, the priest standing in front of the royal doors. It would be very quiet, and only his voice and “swishing” sounds from the prostrations or bows would be heard. Everybody would be doing the same thing at once; this was always a profoundly holy moment and I remember thinking sometimes that I wish I would always be in this state of mind.  There was a feeling that something profoundly good and important was happening. A mixture of sorrow for my personal condition and great hope in God that I really would get better sometime, would flood my soul. Many times I would even feel warmth. With the sublime, was always mixed “real life” – sounds of grunts, heavy breathing, the sights of children making very creative prostrations.  When I had to say the Trisagion prayers immediately after, I would sometimes struggle to say them without betraying that I was out of breath!


Parents: say this prayer with your children! I know, it is sometimes a “circus”, but where are they going to learn piety is not from you. Prayer is not always neat and pretty with children, but you will be glad you went to the trouble.


Here is the most important “take home” point: SAY THIS PRAYER EVERY WEEKDAY IN GREAT LENT!

Prayers of the Church – Lazarus Sat and Palm Sunday Troparion

Friday, April 18th, 2008


In confirming the common Resurrection, O Christ God, / Thou didst raise up Lazarus from the dead before Thy Passion. / Wherefore, we also like the children, bearing the symbols of victory, / cry to Thee, the Vanquisher of death: / Hosanna in the highest, // blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.

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Prayers of the Church:Prayer of St Ephrem – catechetical talk

Friday, April 4th, 2008


O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, idle talking give me not.

But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow up me Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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Prayers of the Church:Before Thy Cross – catechetical talk

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008


Before Thy cross, we bow down and worship, and Thy holy resurrection, we glorify.

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The Great Canon, Monday of Clean Week: All the demon chiefs of the passions

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

All the demon chiefs of the passions have plowed on my back, and long has their tyranny over me lasted
(Great Canon, Ode 2, Troparion 12, Clean Monday)

We read this troparion tonight, in the first of four nights of serving the Great Canon service. Unfortunately, in our church, few heard it.

This is one of many poetic and powerfully brutal representations of sin which St Andrew uses, and it has always particularly moved me.
I suppose it is because we are not able to easily protect our back, and it is on our “blind side”. How many sins do I commit and not see them? How easily the demons punch through my weak defenses – often without me even knowing they are there!
I also always think of the “good ground” from the parable of the Sower when I hear this troparion. We should be “good ground” and yet we grow so many tares from our passions in this ground, which is our soul. St. Andrew likens his soul here to “ground” on his back, over which the demons sow their tyranny over us.
Can you feel how tired he is here? We should be this tired! “LONG HAS THEIR TYRANNY OVER ME LASTED”. This is the plaintive cry of a man who has had enough. He, like the Apostle Paul, is saying “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” (Romans 13:12, read on the Sunday of Forgiveness, 1 day before this troparion, from the Great Canon of St Andrew, is sung on Clean Monday)

Oh! if only our soul felt the full weight of our sins, and was truly tired and disgusted with our condition! We would change immediately, I am sure, if only we could join our weak voice to St Andrew’s with complete sincerity and resolve.
I welcome all your comments. Please use the link below.

Audio talk on: Prayers of the church, Lenten Prayers, By The Waters of Babylon, Psalm 136

Thursday, March 6th, 2008


Psalm 136
By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and we wept when we remembered Sion. Alleluia.

Upon the willows in the midst thereof did we hang our instruments. Alleluia.

For there, they that had taken us captive asked us for words of song;
And they that had led us away asked us for a hymn, saying: sing us one of the songs of Sion. Alleluia.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Alleluia.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten.

Let my tongue cleave to my throat, if I remember thee not,
If I set not Jerusalem above all others, as at the head of my joy. Alleluia.

Remember, O Lord, the sons of Edom, in the day of Jerusalem, Who said: Lay waste, lay waste to her, even to the foundations thereof. Alleluia.

O daughter of Babylon, thou wretched one,
blessed shall he be who shall reward thee wherewith thou hast rewarded us. Alleluia.

Blessed shall he be who shall seize and dash thine infants against the rock. Alleluia.

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