By Lisa Ryan
Prayer is one important way we serve as stewards of the time. Future posts will discuss morning and evening prayer, as for most of us that is the bulk of our individual prayer on a daily basis. It is worth remembering, however, that the Body of Christ is one, although it is made up of many people with many different vocations; and even if you and I are in the midst of the secular world, odds are pretty good that somewhere within our time zone there are monastics who are praying the Canonical Hours all day every day. Have you ever wondered why services are set for certain times of the day? The schedule of Divine Services is constructed so that when it is prayed by monastics, they are sanctifying the time for all of us, hour by hour each day. Their prayer is offered to make holy even the hours when most of us are lost in the cares of the world. We are one Church, monastics and laity, and so all of us benefit from their labors.
It is good to remember their efforts, and also to find little ways to keep the hours ourselves, so that we feel connected to the rest of the Body of Christ. The first thing might be to have an awareness of the hours so that when you glance at the clock and see one of those times, know that somewhere prayer is offered to make this hour holy. If you would like to make a small offering yourself, perhaps you could cross yourself or say the Lord’s Prayer as a way to keep the hour. Short prayers to honor the hours have been written by several church fathers: St. John Chrysostom has one for each of the twenty-four hours in the day, you can see them here on the OCF site: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/prayers/chrysostom.html. Perhaps a Lenten project would be to pick one of these and memorize it and pray it at that hour each day during Great Lent. A larger and more worthy project, learning to pray the Jesus prayer, helps us sanctify the time in another way: praying continuously is a stewardship of prayer time offered to God continuously in the heart.
What are the Canonical Hours? Time in the Church differs from time that we learned in school: each day begins at sunset, and the services keep the rhythm of life as it was before clocks and artificial lights changed our ideas of day and night. So the Hours as the Church understands them are: sunset, night, midnight, sunrise; and then the hours of daylight: first (approximately 6am), third (9am), sixth (12pm), ninth (3pm), and then back to sunset and the beginning of the next day. In the days without clocks, judging the third hour by the position of the sun roughly halfway between the horizon and directly overhead (and the ninth the same way in the other direction) was more practical than trying to judge 9:30am, so scheduling services at those Hours was natural. Night time was a good time for prayer in those days, not only because it was so bad for productive laboring, but because it is a good way to counteract the fears that are so natural when it is dark outside. The four night offices: Vespers, Compline, Nocturne and Orthros/Matins, are the beginning of each day in the Church and help us remember the Light while the world is dark.
Keeping the Daily Services in mind can greatly help us in our stewardship of the time each day. Each service has its own character which is appropriate to that time of the day. Even when we do not attend the services, we can look for little ways to live that particular theme in our everyday lives, to let it shape us spiritually, and to find little ways to offer that back to God and to others. In future posts we will discuss the Daily Services in more detail, but for now, consider some little ways you can “keep the hours” in your daily life. Here are a few suggestions, but please post others you may think of in the comments section!
- Do your daily Scripture readings at the appointed hour. We’re reading Isaiah now at the sixth hour during Lent, which is lunch time for most of us. Say a prayer to thank God for your food and read while you eat: monastics also contemplate the Word of God during their meals.
- Say a prayer at 9am (or when you get to work) dedicating the morning’s work to the glory of God.
- Counter the mid-afternoon urge to nap with a brief walk while reciting the Jesus prayer.
- Listen to an Ancient Faith Radio podcast during your morning or evening commute.
We welcome your comments and invite you to share your thoughts about the following questions, or other ways that the theme for today can be better lived out in our Christian walk:
- How do you keep the hours in your daily life?
- What does an awareness of God and your calling as his Steward do for you during your day?
Lisa Ryan is a member of St. Peter & St. Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Carnegie, PA. She is an IT Business Analyst in her professional life; co-Head Coach of the UOC of the USA’s Strategic Planning initiative; and an enthusiastic convert to Orthodoxy.”