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. VESPERS 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. MIDNIGHT 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 world." "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."