The Feast of the Theophany

Part IV: Great Compline

Introduction - Arrangement of Services - Vespers - Great Compline - Matins - Divine Liturgy - Great Blessing of Water

The service of Great Compline for the feast of Theophany forms the first half of the night-time service of the feast. It is held during the evening hours of January 5, and (according to the liturgical books) followed by Matins. In North America, however, it is often omitted, along with Matins.

This page describes the Great Compline service of Theophany, as given in the liturgical books. For information about the prostopinije chant of the service, along with practical suggestions and commentary, see Singing Theophany Compline.

About the service of Great Compline

Great Compline is celebrated on the eves of a small number of great feasts (Christmas, Theophany, and the Annunciation) and on certain weekdays during the Great Fast. However, since many of the faithful only encounter it at the feast of the Nativity, it is sometimes thought of specifically as a "Christmas service."

Great Compline actually consists of three separate services:

On Christmas and Theophany, these are combined with a litija service - an intercessory procession with prayers for the whole world.

The beginning of the service

Great Compline begins with the priest's opening blessing: "Blessed is our God, always, now and ever and forever." This is followed by the usual beginning prayers: "Glory to you, our God, glory to you", "Heavenly King", and the Trisagion prayers, concluding with the Our Father.

However, if Matins will immediately follow Great Compline, then the combined service begins with the opening blessing of Matins: "Glory to the holy, consubstantial, life-creating and undivided Trinity, always, now and ever and forever", and the beginning prayers are omitted.

The first part of the service

Each of the three parts of Great Compline begins with the same invitation to prayer:

Come let us worship our King and God.
Come let us worship Christ, our King and our God.
Come let us worship and bow before the only Lord Jesus Christ, our King and our God.

Then the lector begins the six psalms of Great Compline. Like the six psalms of Matins, they are divided into two groups of three psalms, and appointed for singing "without melody" by a single voice.

(It is said that the six psalms of Matins are the hymns that will be sung by the angels during the Last Judgment, and for this reason the faithful are instructed to listen "with compunction" while the lector chants them on a single pitch. However, especially when only a few of the psalms are taken, it has become customary for the entire congregation to chant these psalms.)

The first psalm (Psalm 4) is the usual bedtime psalm that begins Small Compline, and contains the words, "I lie down in peace and sleep comes at once, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety."

But that is not the end of the story. It is followed by two psalms (Psalm 6 and Psalm 12) of anguish, asking for God's assistance and mercy during times of trial. They end with a note of hopeful expectation; the cry, "How long, O Lord, will you hide your face?" yields to "As for me, I trust in your merciful love."

The next three psalms (Psalm 24, Psalm 30 and Psalm 90) are songs of confidence and hope: the Lord will look with favor on those who trust him, and keep his commandments.

Psalm 90 is followed by the liturgical hymn God is with us (in Slavonic, S nam'i Boh):

God is with us!
Understand, all you nations, and submit yourselves,
For God is with us.

This refrain, which is sung by the people in alternation with the cantors or clergy), should not be understood as a claim that God is with us and NOT with "the nations"; instead, as the verses the follow make clear, it is a hymn of joy that God-with-us, Emmanuel, has come into the world, and that He brings us the saving help promised in the preceding psalms.

Then the cantors and faithful chant a series of verses in praise of the Holy Trinity, and invoking the prayers of the angels and saints. After chanting the Nicene creed, those present again beg the prayers of the Mother of God, the angels, prophets and martyrs, and conclude by begging God's protection and mercy. This series of petitions ends with the Trisagion prayers and the Our Father.

The singing of the troparion of Theophany and a short set of concluding prayers closes the first part of the service.

The second part of the service

The second part of the service - the penitential vigil - begins with the invitation to prayer ("Come, let us worship the King, our God"), as before.

Then two psalms of repentence are chanted (Psalms 50 and 101), along with the Prayer of Manasseh, King of Judah. Manesseh was one of the most idolatrous of the Kings of Judah, but after being captured by the Assyrians, he repented of his idolatry and begged for God's mercy (2 Chronicles 33:10-17). The king's penitential prayer was included in the Septuagint Bible.

The Prayer of Manasseh is followed by the chanting of the Trisagion prayers and the Our Father.

The singing of the kontakion of Theophany and a short set of concluding prayers closes the second part of the service.

The third part of the service

The third part of the service - the vigil of praise - begins once more with the invitation to prayer: "Come, let us worship the King, our God".

Then two psalms of trust in God (Psalms 69 and142, from the ordinary Small Compline service) are chanted, followed by the Lesser Doxology, which begins:

Glory to God in the highest,
and to people of earth, peace and good will!

The litija

The Doxology is immediately followed by litija - an intercessory procession to the entrance ("narthex" or porch) of the church, where prayers will be said for the whole world and its needs.

As the clergy make their way to the church entrance, the cantors and people sing the "hymns of the litija":

The One who clothes himself with light as with a robe  deigned, for our sakes, to become as we are. 
Today He is clothed in the streams of the Jordan  even though He has no need to be purified. 
He refashions us through the cleansing that He receives.  What a marvelous wonder! 
He creates anew without fire  and refashions without tearing apart; 
He grants salvation to those enlightened in Him, 
Christ our God, the Savior of our souls.

When John the Baptist saw You approach 
the One who purifies the sin of the world by fire and the Spirit, 
he cried out with fear and trembling, saying: 
I am unworthy to place my hand on your immaculate head. 
Therefore, O Master, purify me by your Epiphany, 
for You alone love the human race.

Let us imitate the wise virgins; 
come, let us go to meet the Master who is now present, 
for He approaches John as a Bridegroom. 
When the Jordan saw Him, it bowed down in fear and stopped; 
John spoke out, saying:  I am unworthy to touch your immortal head. 
The Spirit descended in the form of a dove and sanctified the waters, 
and a voice was heard from on high: 
This is my Son who comes into the world to save all. 
O Lord, glory to You!

Today Christ is baptized; 
He emerges from the waters and uplifts the world with Him. 
He beholds the opening of the heavens 
which Adam had closed for himself and his descendants. 
The Spirit testifies to his divine nature,  for He is in accord with his own. 
A voice is heard from the heavens,  giving witness to the One who has descended; 
for He is the Savior of our souls.

Upon touching your immaculate head,  the hand of the Baptist trembled. 
The streams of the Jordan turned back,  feeling unworthy to serve You. 
How could the one who stood in awe of Joshua, the son of Nun, 
be unafraid to stand before the Creator of Joshua? 
You have completed all that was assigned to You, O Savior, 
so that You might redeem the world by your Epiphany, 
for You alone love the human race.

Desiring to fulfill all that was ordained for You from eternity, O Lord, 
You received ministers from all creation at this mystery of yours: 
Gabriel from among the angels, 
the Virgin from among the human race, 
the star from among the heavens, 
and Jordan from among the waters; 
and in it You have cleansed the sins of the world. 
O our Savior, glory to You!

Today all creation is enlightened. 
Today all nature rejoices,  those in heaven and those upon the earth. 
Angels and people join together  in the presence of the King and his army. 
Let us hasten to the Jordan; 
let us witness to John as he baptizes a sinless and uncreated head. 
Let us sing out in one voice,  echoing that of the apostle: 
The grace of God which brings salvation to all has come forth, 
enlightening the faithful and granting them great mercy.

At the church entrance, the deacon calls for prayers

for our most reverend metropolitan (Name), for our God-loving bishop (Name); for our spiritual fathers and for all our brothers and sisters in Christ,

and for every Christian soul that is troubled and afflicted and in need of God's mercy and help;

for the protection of this city and those who dwell here;

for the peace and serenity of the whole world,

for the stability of the holy Churches of God;

for the salvation and assistance of our fathers and brothers and sisters who labor and serve with diligence and fear of God;

for those who are absent and for those who are traveling;

for the healing of those who are confined by illness;

for the repose, blessed memory, and remission and forgiveness of sins of all our true-believing fathers and brothers and sisters who have gone before us;

and for all our brothers and sisters who are present at these services;

and for all who have served and now serve in this holy church

After this litany, as the clergy return to the sanctuary, the cantors and people sing the "aposticha" of Theophany:

O Lord, when John saw You approaching him at the Jordan River, he cried out:  How do You, O Lord who are sinless, come to me your servant?  In whose name shall I baptize You?  In the name of the Father whom You possess in yourself?  In the name of the Son, while You are the very Son in the flesh?  In the name of the Holy Spirit whom You grant to the faithful  with the breath of your mouth?  O God who has appeared to us, have mercy on us.

Verse: The sea fled at the sight; the Jordan turned back on its course.

The waters have seen You.  When the waters saw You, O Lord, they trembled,  for the very Cherubim do not dare to look upon your glory,  nor can the Seraphim rest their eyes upon You.  They stand in awe before You,  some on guard, others glorifying your might.  Together with them, we proclaim your praise, O Merciful One, and say:  O God who has appeared to us, have mercy on us.

Verse: Why was It, O sea, that you fled, that you turned back, Jordan, on your course?

Today the Creator of heaven and earth  approaches the Jordan River in the flesh;  the One who is free from sin seeks to be baptized  in order to cleanse the human race from the error of the enemy;  the Master of all is baptized at the hand of the servant  in order to grant us the cleansing through water.  Therefore, let us cry out to Him:  O God who has appeared to us, glory to You!

Verse: Glory... now and ever...

When John, the bright lamp that was born of a barren mother,  perceived that Christ, the Sun who had risen from a virgin,  was now asking for baptism, he cried out with joy:  O Lord, sanctify me by your Theophany.

Evening prayers and dismissal

When Great Compline includes litija (as it does on Christmas and Theophany), it ends just like Great Vespers with litija.

First, the Prayer of the Holy Prophet Simeon ("Now you shall dismiss your servant, O Lord") is sung, followed by the Trisagion prayers.

Then the troparion of the feast is sung, and bread, wheat, wine and oil are blessed, signifying the blessing of all the world's goods:

Lord Jesus Christ our God, you blessed the five loaves in the wilderness and fed the five thousand. Likewise bless these loaves, wheat, wine, and oil, and multiply them in this city and through your whole world. Sanctify your faithful who will partake of them, for you yourself bless and sanctify all things, O Christ our God, and we give glory to you with your eternal Father and your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and forever.

Psalm 33, used in ancient times for Holy Communion, and also for the distribution of blessed bread (either that left over from the Divine Liturgy, or that blessed at litija), is chanted by the people.

Finally, the dismissal of the priest is given, and Great Compline of Theophany comes to an end.

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