Prayer Life in an Orthodox Home
by Archpriest Roman Lukianov, Holy Epiphany Church, Boston, MA
Hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Christians live in the United States of America. In many places, ethnic communities of Orthodox Christians may be found, usually centered around a church serving in their own liturgical language. Other Orthodox Christian immigrants and their children are scattered throughout the country and live where there are no Orthodox churches, no right-believing Orthodox churches, or even Orthodox friends. Recently, many converts to Orthodoxy have been added from life-long Americans, whose eyes have been opened to the immorality and spiritual vacuum of the materialist, secular culture in which we all live. Perhaps it is incorrect to call it a spiritual vacuum; rather, the Spirit of God is being driven out of our society, replaced by the spirits of darkness, by the powers of the prince of this world. Russian immigrants were perhaps among the earliest to recognize this development, having lived through a similar experience in their homeland. Now this transformation is becoming more and more evident to others in America.
In times of trouble, people turn (or return) to God. This homecoming may be seen in many souls who seek refuge in God's only Church, the Orthodox Church. But Baptism and an occasional visit to a distant parish or monastery are insufficient for an active spiritual life; that is, for the life of prayer, the prerequisite for true repentance and salvation. A soul needs Christian nourishment any day of the week and in every hour of the day.
The late Archbishop Andrew of Rockland (of blessed memory) taught his spiritual children what the holy Fathers of the Church established long ago: to be, as the Apostle commands, in a state of constant prayer, one must have regular prayers at intervals of no more than four hours. Indeed, if one places the daily cycle of church services in its proper, ancient order, one will see that the interval between services is always three hours or less:
6:00 p.m. Vespers
9:00 p.m. Compline and Evening prayers
The Midnight Office
3:00 a.m. Morning prayers and Matins
7:00 a.m. First Hour
9:00 a.m. Third Hour
12 noon Sixth Hour
3:00 p.m. Ninth Hour
The Divine Liturgy is set within this cycle, usually between the first and sixth hour, except in some monasteries and on the eves of certain feasts.
While such an order of services is ideal, in recent memory it has been observed only in the monasteries of the "Unsleeping Ones"—where services are conducted uninterruptedly by shifts of monks and priestmonks. But it is important for us to be aware of the original schedule of the services, that we may humble ourselves as we realize how far we are from fulfilling the apostolic command, "Pray unceasingly."
However, we should not despair if we cannot attain this ideal. Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church do not demand from us anything more than what is within our capacities. We are expected to do what we can, within our circumstances; as is reflected by the grouping of the daily cycle of worship into morning, evening and midnight services in our monasteries, and into vigils and liturgies only on Sundays and feast days -in our parishes.
Those who live far away from an Orthodox church can participate in prayer with the whole Church by celebrating its feasts in their own homes. Others may have the time and the desire to add the reading of the weekday or the services to the saints to their usual morning and evening prayers. This practice is encouraged by the Church, especially for those who cannot come to church regularly. The Aleuts and Eskimos of Alaska kept the Orthodox faith alive for over 100 years despite the virtual absence of the clergy.
In 1950, when the resettlement of Russian refugees from the Second World War was at its height, Fr. Sergei Shukin, with the blessing of Metropolitan Seraphim of Berlin and Germany, wrote a short Typicon to guide Orthodox Christian refugees how to conduct prayer services if an Orthodox priest were unavailable where they relocated. Today, when many American-born Orthodox Christians find themselves as spiritual refugees from their own society and may soon find themselves subject to persecution, a translation of this Typicon is timely, with a revised list of prayer and service books available in English. Besides its immediate value from a deeper immersion in the Church's daily life of prayer, an Orthodox Christian, who begins reading church services privately, will find that when he goes to church, the services and chants will become more understandable and enjoyable to him and his family, and thus more profitable for their souls.
From Orthodox Life, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Jan-Feb 1983), pp. 39-40.