Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Grand Junction, Colorado

Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (AD 73)
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (AD 1922)
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver (AD 1979)

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Text of Small Compline
Text of Great Compline

The Daily Liturgical Service of Compline
“Great” and “Small” Compline Services

Compline is the last liturgical service of the day, celebrated after the evening meal and before going to sleep. To better understand its relationship to the other daily services, we must first explain the complete daily cycle of worship in the Orthodox Church.

Note that in its fullness this cycle is observed only in monasteries, while an abbreviated cycle is celebrated in parishes.

The Typical Monastery Cycle of Daily Services

The full daily cycle of worship services, as typically practiced in monasteries, is:

Morning Prayer, typically beginning between midnight and 4 am and lasting four to five hours:
  • Μεσονυκτικόν - Midnight Office, immediately followed by
  • Ὄρθρος - Matins, immediately followed by
  • Α´ Ὧρα - The First Hour (nominally a service at 6 am), immediately followed by
  • Θεία Λειτουργία - The Divine Liturgy (if Liturgy is scheduled on that day).
The Hours, usually said by the monks privately in their cells:
  • Γ´ Ὧρα - The Third Hour (nominally a service at 9 am), and
  • Στ´ Ὧρα - The Sixth Hour (nominally a service at noon).
Evening Prayer, typically beginning between 3 and 6 am and lasting three to four hours:
  • Η´ Ὧρα - The Ninth Hour (nominally a service at 3 pm), immediately followed by
  • Ἐσπερινός - Vespers, immediately followed by
  • Evening meal, immediately followed by
  • Ἀπόδειπνο - Compline.

The Typical Parish Church Cycle of Daily Services

The abbreviated daily cycle of worship services, as typically practiced in parishes, is:

Morning Prayer, typically beginning between 6 am and 9 am and lasting about two hours:
  • Ὄρθρος - Matins, immediately followed by
  • Θεία Λειτουργία - The Divine Liturgy (if Liturgy is scheduled on that day).
Evening Prayer, typically beginning between 5 and 7 pm and lasting less than an hour:
  • Ἐσπερινός - Vespers, perhaps preceded by the Ninth Hour.

The Typical Individual Cycle of Personal Daily Prayers

The daily cycle of personal, private prayer for Orthodox Christians is:

“Morning Prayer:”
  • An abbreviated form of the Midnight Office.
“Evening Prayer:”
  • Small Compline.

These Morning and Evening Prayers are found in the printed prayer books, and each takes about 15 minutes to read.

Visiting Monasteries and Other Parishes
To Participate in their Cycle of Daily Prayer

It has long been the custom of Orthodox Christians to visit monasteries on occasion, and to attend some or all of the daily services. Unfortunately in the United States our monasteries are very few and quite far between. In the traditional Orthodox countries they are everywhere, and you are never far from a church or a monastery! It is also the custom to visit neighboring parishes on their special name days or feast days.

The Word “Compline”

The Greek word for this service, Ἀπόδειπνο, is self-explanatory: it is the service after (ἀπό) the evening meal (δειπνον).

The English word for the service, Compline, is derived from the Latin noun completorium since this service marks the completion of the working day.

The word was first used in this sense by Saint Benedict at the beginning of the 6th century in his “Rule,” the Regula Benedicti. There he uses the Latin verb complere stating in one place, “Omnes ergo in unum positi compleant” (“All having assembled in one place, let them say Compline”) and in another place “ exuentes a completorio...” (“...and, after going out from Compline...”).

The Development and Practice of the Compline Service

There are clear references in fourth-century manuscripts to the existence of an “after supper” or “before retiring for sleep” prayer that was recited in common in monastic communities. Most likely the practice is as old as monasticism itself, and surely reflects the common practice of faithful people in all generations to offer prayer to God before sleep.

Note: The following information has been adapted from “Meditation on the Service of Great Compline” by Stylianos Gerasimos source.

The overnight hours have always offered the opportunity for man and God to communicate and have a relationship. This is because man at this time has a certain capacity to remove himself from the earth, in order to develop his path towards heaven.

The Lord Himself often prayed at night, as we read “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12).

The Church, realizing this need of man, established that in addition to personal prayers there ought to be common prayers at this time .They came to be known as Compline (ἀπόδειπνον). It was named such because it was established to be performed “after supper” (ἀπὸ τὸν δείπνον).

After the fourteenth century it seemed necessary to cut short the Compline Service, which over the years had became quite lengthy due to continuous additions. This abbreviation resulted in the Service of Small Compline which is read every evening throughout the year, except on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights of the Great Fast.

In practice, Small Compline is read nightly inserting the 24 odes of the Salutations to the Theotokos. In monastic communities Small Compline is read in the lití of the monastery church with all the community. In homes, Small Compline with the salutations comprises the typical Evening Prayer of Orthodox Christians, read either individually or as a family.

The older and more extensive Service of Great Compline is still read during the period of the Great Fast. Since Great Lent is a solemn period, this Service “is a prayer for the forgiveness of sins committed during the day and for an unscandalous passage through the night.”

In practice, Great Compline is read only on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights during Great Lent.

On the first five Friday nights during the Great Fast, Small Compline is read, and the Akathist Kanon as well as the odes of the Salutations to the Most Holy Theotokos are chanted.

On the sixth Friday evening during the Great Fast, Small Compline is also read, and the Kanon of Saint Lazarus is chanted.

Small Compline is always read on Saturday and Sunday evenings, year round.

In monastic communities and in parishes, Great Compline is read in the nave of the church with the community.

The Themes of the Great Compline Service

The Psalms and prayers of the Compline Service, particularly of Great Compline, lead the faithful to consider the events of the past day so as to lead them toward repentance.

For example, we read “Every night my couch is drenched with tears, my bed is soaked through” (Psalm 6:6).

Two ancient hymns of the Church are chanted at Great Compline. The first, derived from the Old Testament hymn in the ninth chapter of Prophet Isaiah is “God is with us. Understand, all you nations, and submit yourselves: For God is with us.”

The second hymn is a doxology addressed to God the Father, in which man abandons himself to the grace and mercy of God. It begins, ”With never-silent hymns, the bodiless powers of the Cherubim glorify You.”

The prayers express the ineffable love the God has for man. For example: “Lord, Lord, Who delivers us from every arrow that flies by day... grant that we might also to pass without reproach the course of the night.”

The last hymn sung at Great Compline is a profound cry for God’s mercy and help. Man is tested and grieved day and night, until he cries out: “Lord of the Powers, be with us, for we have no other help in times of distress but You. O Lord of the Powers, have mercy upon us.”

Text of Small Compline Text of Great Compline

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