By Stylianos Gerasimos
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: "Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God" (Lk. 6:12). The Church, realizing this need of man, established that besides ones personal prayers there ought to be common prayers for this time, and they came to be known as Compline [Gr: Apodeipnon]. It was named Apodeipnon because it was established to be performed "after supper" [apo deipno].
After the fourteenth century it seemed necessary to cut short the Compline, which over the years became quite lengthy due to continuous additions. Eventually the Service of Small Compline prevailed, which is read throughout most of the year. The older and more extensive Service prevailed to be read during the period of Great Lent and came to be known as the Great Compline. Since Great Lent is a solemn period, this Service "is a prayer for the forgiveness of the sins of the day and for an unscandalous passage through the night."
The Great Compline is read on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights during Great Lent. Wednesday night the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is performed, and Friday night is chanted the Salutations to the Most Holy Theotokos. Saturday night the Small Compline is read. In monasteries the Small Compline is read in the narthex of the church. The entire Great Compline is read in the nave.
With the help of the Psalms and prayers of Great Compline, the believer is able to make an inventory of the events of the day that passed. This self-evaluation will help stir within him repentance for his spiritual failures. "Every night my couch is drenched with tears, my bed is soaked through" (Ps. 6:6).
During Great Compline we chant two ancient hymns of our Church. The first is "God is with us. Understand, all ye nations, and submit yourselves: For God is with us." This comes from the hymn of Isaiah in the ninth chapter of his Old Testament book. The second poem chanted begins "With never-silent hymns, the bodiless powers of the Cherubim glorify Thee." It is a hymn of doxology addressed to God the Father, which is an expression of the soul's exaltation of man to God. Man, with this doxological hymn, has the feeling of abandoning himself to the grace and mercy of God.
We thus observe, that God's ineffable love for man extends even when he sleeps. This fact is emphasized in the following prayer: "Lord, Lord, Who deliverest us from every arrow that flieth by day... Vouchsafe us also to pass without reproach the course of the night."
Only God can provide effective assistance for His creation in every course of life, especially when we are being tested. 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 Thee. O Lord of the Powers, have mercy upon us."
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos