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Beginning Orthodoxy, Part II
Translated from Russian by Natalie Semyanko

The Royal Hours

"Hours" — are a short service, established by the Church to remember several holy events. There exist the first, third, sixth and ninth hours. The first hour remembers the banishment of Adam and Eve from heaven, and the appearance of Christ at the trial before Caiaphas. In the third — the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, in the sixth — the crucifixion of the Savior, and in the ninth — His death on the cross.

The hours are usually performed in the following order. The first — upon completion of the all-night vigil, after matins; the third and sixth — immediately preceding the liturgy; the ninth according to the bylaws should be read prior to the all-night vigil, before vespers, but in many local churches it is omitted. The fundamental prayers are psalms (there are three in each), as well as the chants of the current day — the troparions and kondakions. But three times in the year a special order for the hours is established, which in the liturgical books are called great, and among the common people: royal, or tsar’s. The common title came out of the ancient traditions of Byzantium: the Emperor himself was required to be present at these hours, forsaking all his governmental duties. Russia took on the traditions of the Byzantine church services, and our faithful sovereigns unwaveringly complied with this rule.

The great hours are served the day before Christmas and Epiphany, on the so-called "eves" (January 6 and 18), and are dedicated to these holy events, and also on Great and Holy Friday — in commemoration of the Lord’s Passions. Besides the psalms, in each hour (and they are performed in order, from the first to the ninth) there are readings from the Old Testament containing prophecies about the coming day, a text from the Apostles and a Gospel reading. Besides this, special troparions are sung. If any of the eves fall on a Saturday or Sunday, then the great hours are performed on the preceding Friday, and no Liturgy is served that day.

There are no faithful sovereigns in Russia any longer, but the tsar’s hours do not stop being such. For the Heavenly Tsar presides in the churches with His grace. Let us not forget about the great hours, because the celebrations of Christmas and Epiphany begin with them, and they preface Pascha (Easter).

Published with the kind permission of Bishop Alexander Mileant

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