Orthodox America

  On the Orthodox Church Services

Introduction and Ninth Hour

    A previous issue (OA #53-54) contained the general outline of the daily cycle of nine services, the number reflecting the nine hierarchies of angels, according to St. Dionysius the Areopagite, who day and night offer praise to God. Having briefly explained the various books which supply the texts for these services, we shall now proceed to examine each of the services in greater detail.

The services are grouped into a schedule of evening, morning and midday services, for as the Psalmist wrote: 

Evening, morning and noonday will I tell of it and will declare it, and He (the Lord) will hear my voice. (Psalm 54:18) 

From Old Testament times the day was considered to begin at evening, and therefore the daily cycle begins with Vespers. For convenience' sake the Ninth Hour--the last service in the cycle-is included in the evening schedule. It immediately precedes Vespers with which the next day's cycle begins. It is important to keep this distinction in mind, for the changing elements of the Ninth Hour service (as, for example, the troparia and kontakia) relate to the day just ending, while corresponding parts of Vespers pertain to the next day. Or again, if the Ninth Hour concludes an ordinary day and Vespers begins a festal day (such as normally occurs on Friday evenings), prostrations are made on entering the church for the evening services but not on leaving, when only bows are prescribed.

    Outside Great Lent when the Hours are longer and therefore attract more emphasis, these brief sets of prayers are all but disregarded. They are usually read so rapidly as to be almost unintelligible, and their place at the beginning or end of the groups of services coincides with the sad habit of late arrivals and early departures. But, like all the services in the centuries' old tradition of the Church, the Hours contain lessons important to the task of forming the Christian soul, and we would do well to absorb their meaning.

    The Hours correspond to the Old Testament services beginning each of the four "watches" of the day. In New Testament times these services have been enhanced through their association with various events in the life of our Saviour and of the Church: the First Hour commemorates the bringing of Christ before Pilate, which took place in the morning hours; the Third Hour commemorates Pilate's judgment of Christ, the mocking and scourging, and also the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples (Acts 2:3,15); the Sixth Hour--Christ's voluntary Passion and His Crucifixion on Golgotha; the Ninth Hour--Christ's death on the Cross and its significance for our salvation. The Hours all follow the same schematic, but within this arrangement each contains different psalms and prayers which relate to the particular event commemorated in that Hour and which evoke correspondingly different feelings in the heart of the attentive reader or listener.

The basic pattern for the Hours is as follows:

1. Opening prayers
2. Three psalms:

1st Hour: 5, 89, 100
3rd Hour: 16, 24, 50
6th Hour: 53, 54, 90
9th Hour: 83, 84, 85

3. Glory...Both now, Alleluia
4. Troparion: daily and/or of the day's saint
5. Theotokion
6. Trisagion...Lord's Prayer
7. Kontakion of the day's saint or feast
8. "Lord have mercy" (40x)
9. Prayer to the Lord: "Thou Who at all times..."
10. Dismissal prayer


    The Ninth Hour, because it begins the evening services, starts with the full sequence of opening prayers: O Heavenly King.. ," the Trisagion, "All Holy Trinity have mercy on us.. ," "Lord have mercy" (3x), Glory... Both now..., the Lord's Prayer, and the invitation: "O come let us worship God our King..."

    The three psalms read in the Ninth Hour--Psalms 83, 84 and 85-begin by describing the blessedness of those who dwell in the courts of the Lord and the earnest desire of the pious soul to enter therein: For better is one day in Thy courts than thousands elsewhere. This entrance is made possible by Christ's death on the Cross whereby man was freed from his captivity to sin and reconciled with God: Thou hast turned back the captivity of Jacob, Thou hast made all Thy wrath to cease. Thou hast forgiven the iniquities of Thy people .... Mercy and truth are met together (at the Cross)... With faith in Christ’s redemptive work on the Cross, the soul boldly cries out: Guide me, O Lord, in Thy way, give Thy strength unto Thy servant... Work in me a sign unto good.., that it may indeed be numbered among the blessed.

    The troparion which, as we have said, belongs to the changeable elements of the service, is taken from the Octoechos or from the Menaion (where it is located at the end of the Vespers service). There may be more than one troparion; this is indicated in the Typicon. During Great Lent there is a special troparion belonging to the Ninth Hour, and it is sung rather than read.; 'O Thou Who at the ninth hour for our sake didst taste of death in the flesh, mortify our carnal mind, O Christ God, and save us."

    The kontakion (of which only one is read at each Hour) is found after the sixth ode of the Matins canon in either the Octoechos or the Menaion, depending on whether the daily kontakion is used or the kontakion honoring the day's saint or feast; this again is indicated in the Typicon.

    The Ninth Hour dismissal prayer, written by St. Basil the Great (d. 379), is penetrated by a feeling of repentance evoked by the thought of Christ's sufferings on the Cross and His unbounded goodness towards us, His sinful and unworthy servants. It offers a clear and concentrated reflection of the thought delivered by the three psalms at the beginning of the service: "O Master, Lord Jesus Christ...Who hast brought us even unto this present hour, wherein Thou didst hang upon the life-giving Tree... cleanse us, spare us O Lord .... deliver us from the hand of the Adversary, and forgive us our sins, and mortify our carnal mind..." The prayer culminates in an entreaty for what should be a Christian's primary task: "...that putting aside the old man, we may be clothed in the new one, and live for Thee, our Master and Benefactor; and that thus by following Thy commandments, we may attain to rest eternal, wherein is the abode of all them that rejoice..."

    Having read this brief explanation, may you listen attentively when the Ninth Hour is read. Imagine yourself at the foot of the Cross, take the prayers you hear into your heart and offer them to the Lord God, to Whom may there be glory and honor, now and evermore.

A Brief Glossary

Troparion: a short hymn in honor of the Saint or Feast commemorated, in which the significance of the Saint or the meaning of the Feast is explained.

Kontakion: from the Greek Kontos = small, brief; a short h y m n describing a particular aspect of the Feast or Saint commemorated.
Theotokion: a short hymn honoring the Mother of God as Theotokos, God's Birthgiver.

Trisagsion: "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us" (repeated 3 times in honor of the Trinity).

Glory...Both now: abbr. of "Glory to the Father and to the son and to the Holy Spirit, Both now and ever and to the ages of ages, Amen,