Compline

Compline (Gk. apódeipnon, "after meals"; Slav. povečérije, "after supper") is a liturgical service, monastic in origin, which is celebrated in the late evening.  In the Byzantine Rite, it has two different forms:  Small Compline, which is celebrated on most days, and Great Compline, a longer and more solemn sevice which is celebrated on the eves of the Nativity, Theophany and Annunciation, and on certain weekday evenings during the Great Fast.

After describing the service of Vespers, Saint Basil the Great (d. 379) mentions the service of Compline as follows:

And again, at the beginning of the night we ask that our rest may be without offence and free from phantasies, and at this hour also Psalm 90 must be recited. (Longer Rules, in Taft, Liturgy of the Hours in East and West)
Great Compline presents us with themes of gratitude, repentence and praise, while Small Compline revolves around the Canon appointed for the day, and the Prayer of the Hours. The prayers for a restful sleep, described by Saint Basil, are no longer contained in the service of Compline as it has come down to use today.

 Depending on local tradition and circumstances, the time of Compline may vary widely. If used in the home, it is best celebrated just before retiring to sleep;  in this case, it can be followed by one of more of the prayers before sleep from a prayer book such as the Byzantine Book of Prayer.  (These prayers actually come from the Horologion / Časoslóv, one of the Church's liturgical books, but they are intended for private rather than for public use.)

Outline of the service

The following table shows the parts of the service for Great Compline and Small Compline.  

Great Compline Small Compline
Blessing by priest: "Blessed is our God..."
"Heavenly King"
Trisagion, etc., and the Lord's Prayer
Psalms 4, 6, 12
Psalms 24, 30, 90
"God is with us"
three troparia, beginning "Now that I have passed through the day"
hymn to the angels and saints: "Our human ears have never heard"
Nicene Creed
invocation of the saints: "All-holy Lady Theotokos"
Trisagion, etc., and the Lord's Prayer
troparion of the feast or troparia of the day
Psalms 50, 69, 142
Small Doxology
Nicene Creed
Canon of the Theotokos, or Canon appointed for the day
"It is truly proper"
Trisagion, etc., and the Lord's Prayer
Kontakion of the feast or troparion of the day
Psalms 50, 101
The Prayer of Manasses
Trisagion, etc., and the Lord's Prayer
Kontakion of the feast, or appointed troparia
prayer
 
Psalms 69, 142
Small Doxology
 
On the eves of certain great feasts, Litia is celebrated at this point;  the remainder of Great Compline is omitted, and the service concludes as at Great Vespers  
Trisagion, etc., and the Lord's Prayer
Troparion "Lord of Hosts", and Psalm 150
other troparia
  
Prayer of the Hours
Prayer to the Holy Virgin
Evening Prayer to Christ
Prayer to the Holy Trinity
Dismissal by priest
Mutual forgiveness
Final Litany, "Let us pray for the peace of the world"

There are additional variations when Compline is celebrated during the Great Fast, which are not shown here.

Compline is not normally combined with other services, although it may be followed immediately by Matins on the eves of the Nativity, Theophany and Annunciation, depending on the day of the week.  

Texts and sources

The official Church Slavonic texts for both Small Compline (Povečérije máloje) and Great Compline (Povečérije velíkoje) can be found in the Ruthenian Služébnik (for the priest and deacon;  their parts in this service are fairly brief) and the Ruthenian Časoslóv (for the cantor, choir and people).  Depending on the day, these texts must be supplemented from the Octoechos, the Triodion, the Pentecostarion, and the Menaion.  The Velikij Sbornik only contains the service of Great Compline on the eves of the Nativity, Theophany and Annunciation.

There is no official English text for Compline.  Archbishop Joseph Raya's Byzantine Daily Worship includes the services of Small and Great Compline in Melkite usage.  Monsignor Levkulic's booklet Christ is Born - Glorify Him contains an abbreviated service of Great Compline with Litija for the feast of the Nativity, and the Byzantine Catholic Seminary produced an Office of Compline (undated) with Small Compline, noting the variations for the Great Fast.   

The Metropolitan Cantor Institute has prepared booklets for Great Compline and Small Compline, with both text and music.

A complete translation of the eight Canons to the Mother of God from the Octoechos (one in each tone) used at Small Compline is available from St. John of Kronstadt Press.

Compline in the Parish and Home

Great Compline is seldom held in parish settings, except on the vigils of the Nativity and Theophany when Great Compline with Litija is celebrated (the exact order of services depends on the day of the week).  In these circumstances, it may be especially worthwhile to use this service as a conclusion to the traditional Holy Supper.

Parishes seeking to celebrate the Great Fast more fully may wish to add Great Compline on the first three days of the Great Fast.  On these days, the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete is divided into three parts, one of which is sung at Compline on each day.

Small Compline, on the other hand,  is a domestic office.  In a parish with suitable resources, it would be better the celebrate the (liturgically more important) office of Vespers rather than Small Compline, if an evening service is desired.

Compline can be celebrated, in whole or in part, as evening prayer in the home, following the rubrics for Reader's Services.  It is especially suitable as a family prayer before bedtime;  the domestic aspects of the service (the fixed order, and the service of mutual forgiveness at the end) which make it less suitable for regular use in a parish, make it eminently appropriate for home use at the end of a long day.

Recommended reading