The HOURS of the DAY in PRAYER

The monastic orders in the Holy Orthodox Church devised prayer  services
for  common  worship  around the system of "hours".  Their life became a
constant  balance  between  prayer  and  work.   They  would  enter  the
sanctuary for prayer at the third hour (9:00 AM), the sixth hour (noon),
the ninth hour (3 PM), the twelfth  hour  (6  PM)  and  midnight.   They
paused for prayer in the morning, noon, afternoon and evening.  This New
Testament way of telling time is still in use today in  the  monasteries
around  the  world  (e.g. in the Monasteries of Mt.  Athos for example).
Each of the six hourly cycles of prayer has a special theme  related  to
something  in  the history of salvation that happened at that hour.  The
worship service composed by the Church Fathers  for  that  hour  usually
includes  scripture  readings,  psalms and hymns relating to that event.
Let us now examine each hour with the special purpose of helping  us  to
pause briefly on these hours each day to meditate and pray.

                            The FIRST Hour

The first hour (hour one after the rise of the sun or 7 AM), has as  its
central  theme  the  coming  of the light in the dawn of a new day.  The
coming of the physical light reminds the Christian of the coming of  Him
Who  is  the  Light  of the World, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  The physical
light is but an icon or image of Christ.  Thus, the Christian begins the
day  by  praising  God for the dawn of the physical light as well as for
the Light of the World which shines brightly in the face of  Jesus.   We
pray  that  His  light  will  guide  us and show us the way for the day,
blessing also the work of our hands which begin daily at this hour.

                            The THIRD Hour

The third hour (three hours after sunrise or 9AM), was  the  exact  time
the  Holy  Spirit  descended  upon  the Apostles on the day of Pentecost
(Acts, Chapter 2, Verse 15).  This  single  theme  dominates  the  third
hour.   One  of  the  three psalms that are read is the 51st Psalm which
contains petitions for the sending of the Holy Spirit:  "Create in me  a
clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me ...  take not thy
holy spirit from me ...  and uphold me with the free spirit" (Psalm  51,
Verses 10-12).

Special prayers are said to thank God for sending  the  Holy  Spirit  on
Pentecost,  beseeching  Him  also  to  bestow  the  gift of the Spirit's
presence upon us for the works of that day.  The third hour is  a  daily
reminder  that  the life of the faithful Christian remains empty without
the inner presence of the Spirit.  He is  the  One  Who  provides  inner
peace  and  power.  He is the One "in Whom we live and move and have our
being" (Acts, Chapter 17, Verse 28).

                            The SIXTH Hour

The sixth hour (six hours following sunrise or noon), coincides with the
hour  in which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified (Matthew, Chapter 27,
Verse 45, Luke, Chapter 23, Verse 44, John, Chapter 19, Verse 14).  Each
day  at noon the Church tries to focus our attention on this great event
in the history of our salvation.  We offer Him prayers of gratitude  for
so  loving  each one of us that He gave His only begotten Son so that we
who believe in Him may not  perish  but  have  life  everlasting  (John,
Chapter  3,  Verse  16).   Our  noontime  prayers  (sixth  hour) include
petitions that He save us from the sins and temptations of that day.

                            The NINTH Hour

The ninth hour (nine hours following sunrise or 3 PM), is the time  when
Jesus  died on the cross.  "And at about the ninth hour Jesus cried with
a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' That is to say,  'My
God,  my  God,  why hast thou forsaken me?' ...  When he had cried again
with a loud voice (Jesus) yielded up the ghost"  (Matthew,  Chapter  27,
Verse  46, 50).  At this time prayers of thanksgiving are offered to Him
Who by His death  destroyed  death.   The  prayers  of  the  ninth  hour
conclude  with  a  petiton  that  we  put to death the old sinful nature
within us to enable us to live the new life in Christ Jesus with Whom we
were not only crucified but also resurrected through baptism.


Morning and evening are always considered to be proper times for prayer.
Worship  services  were  held every morning and evening in the Temple of
Jerusalem and this tradition was continued by the early Christians  even
after they separated themselves from the worship of the Temple.  The old
Jewish psalms are still used.  The theme of  vespers  takes  us  through
creation,  sin,  and  salvation in Christ.  It includes thanksgiving for
the day now coming to an end and God's protection for the  evening.   In
the  Orthodox  Church  the liturgical day begins in the evening with the
setting of the sun.  The coming of darkness reminds us of  the  darkness
of  our sin and death and makes us long for the light.  One of the great
themes of vespers is the coming of  Christ  the  Light  to  dispell  the
darkness.   Jesus is praised as "The gladsome light of the holy glory of
the Immortal Father" and "a  light  for  revelation  to  the  Gentiles."
Vesper  services  are  offered  daily in Monasteries and usually only on
Saturday evenings in parishes.  Evening prayers may be offerd in private
by Orthodox Christians daily by praying the Psalter and the other vesper
prayers at home.


The hour of midnight was designated as  a  time  for  prayer  for  three
reasons.   First,  the  Jewish  people were led out of Egypt at midnight
(Exodus, Chapter 12, Verse 29).   In  remembrance  of  this  event,  the
Messiah  at  the  time  of Jesus was expected to come at midnight.  This
expectation was fulfilled  when  Jesus  was  resurrected  in  the  early
morning  while  it  was  still  dark  (Matthew,  Chapter  28,  Verse 1).
Midnight also became associated in early Christian thought with the hour
of  the  Second  Coming  of  Jesus (Mark, Chapter 13, Verse 35).  He was
expected to come "as a thief in the night" (I Thessalonians, Chapter  5,
Verse  2,  4).   This  hour  of  prayer  is  kept  today only in certain
monasteries where monks rise at midnight, as if from the grave of death,
to  meet  the  risen  Lord  in prayer.  The prayers offered at this hour
remember those who have died in Christ and also invole God's mercy  upon
us for the coming judgment.  Although not all of us live in monasteries,
we may use midnight as an hour of prayer if we happen  to  waken  during
the  night.  Instead of counting sheep, we can use the time to speak and
pray to the Shepherd of our souls.

"Christ hath risen from the dead, by death trampling upon Death, and  to
those in the tombs He hath bestowed Life."

"Thou, hast ascended in glory, O Christ  our  God,  giving  joy  to  Thy
disciples  by  the  promise  of the Holy Spirit; and they were confirmed
through the b;essing, that Thou art the Son of God, the Redeemer of  the

"Blessed art Thou, O  Christ  our  God,  Thou  Who  made  the  fishermen
all-wise,  having sent down upon them the Holy Spirit; and by them didst
draw the world into Thy net; O Merciful Lord, glory to Thee."