The Prayers of Vespers

In liturgical prayer, the Holy Spirit working through the Church shows us how to pray. Most of the Church's prayers have this form, which is inherited from the pattern of Jewish prayer:

God knows all our needs, but wants us to cooperate in the healing and sanctification of the world by standing before him and praying on its behalf. As St. Paul wrote to his disciple, Timothy: "First of all, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be offered for all men, especially for kings and those in authority, that we may be able to lead undisturbed and tranquil lives in perfect piety and dignity."

The minor services of the Byzantine Rite (the Hours, Typika, and Compline) are primarily given to us as a constant remembrance of God's presence and a meditation on his deeds and teachings. But at all of the major services (Vespers, Matins, the three Divine Liturgies, and services based on Matins such as molebens and the funeral services), the deacon leads the people in extended litanies in which we ask for God's benefits and assistance.

At the beginning of Vespers, in the Litany of Peace, we pray for the Church, for the world and those in it, asking for natural blessings (favorable weather, protection for travelers, and so on). But most of the petitions of Vespers are collected into a block of prayer which follows the evening prokeimenon and any readings. (For the musical details of this part of the service, see Singing Vespers: The Prayers.)

The Litany of Fervent Supplication

At Great Vespers, the prokeimenon, readings if any, and the homily are followed by the Litany of Fervent Supplication, sometimes called the "Augmented Litany or "Redoubled Litany" because the response of "Lord, have mercy" is sung three times rather than once after each petition.

The deacon first directs the people to pray, and asks God to hear the prayers of the assembly. To each petition, the people respond, "Lord, have mercy" (once).

Then he directs the people to pray for:

To each petition, the faithful respond, "Lord, have mercy" three times.

Notice that the deacon does not tell the people (or God) what is being requested; the faithful are invited to lift them up to God and ask him for all that is necessary and best. (Or course, we can add our own more specific petitions, or remember particular individuals and needs as we pray.) The priest concludes a simple exclamation:

For you are a merciful and loving God, and we give glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever.

and the faithful seal this prayer with their response, "Amen."

Note: at daily Vespers, this litany is not prayed at this point, but inserted (at least on non-fasting days) later in the service.

The hymn, "Make us worthy"

After the Litany of Fervent Supplication (or at daily Vespers, immediately after the prokeimenon and any readings), we sing or chant the hymn, Make us worthy, O Lord (in Slavonic, Spodobi Hospodi):

Make us worthy, O Lord, to be kept sinless this evening.

Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
and praiseworthy and glorious is your name forever. Amen.

May your mercy, O Lord, be upon us, for we have placed our hope in you.

Blessed are you, O Lord: teach me your commandments.
Blessed are you, O Master: make me understand your commandments.
Blessed are you, O Holy One: enlighten me with your commandments.

O Lord, your mercy is forever; despise not the work of your hands.

To you is due praise; to you is due a hymn;
to you is glory due, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
now and ever and forever. Amen.

Notice how this hymn (which also concludes the Great Doxology at Matins) combines praise of God with a fervent desire that he teach us, preserve us from sin, and have mercy on us.

The Litany of Supplication

At both Great Vespers and daily Vespers, "Make us worthy, O Lord" is followed by the Litany of Supplication.

The deacon announces, "Let us complete our evening prayer to the Lord", and then intones petitions:

To each petition, the faithful respond, "Lord, have mercy" (once) or "Grant this, O Lord.". Then, led by the deacon, the faithful publicly commit themselves to follow Christ, and the priest prays:

Great and most high God, you alone possess immortality and dwell in unapproachable light. You made all creation with wisdom, dividing light from darkness, establishing the sun to rule the day and the moon and stars to rule the night.

You have allowed us sinners to approach your presence with thanksgiving in this present hour and to offer you evening praise.  O loving Lord, make our prayer ascend to you like incense and accept it as a sweet fragrance.

1. Grant that we may spend the present evening and the coming night in peace; clothe us with the armor of light; deliver us from the fears of the night and from everything that lurks about in darkness. 

2. Grant that the sleep you have given us to refresh our fatigue may be free from all illusions of the devil. 

3. Yes, O Master of All, Giver of good things, let us feel contrition as we lie on our beds remembering your name throughout the night. 

4. Enlightened by meditation on your commands, may we rise with gladdened soul to give glory to your goodness, offering to your compassion prayers and supplications for our sins and those of all your people. 

5. Visit us with mercy through the intercession of the holy Theotokos.

(words of praise – in Greek, doxology)
For you are a good and loving God, and we give glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever.

and the people seal this prayer with their response, "Amen" (Hebrew for So be it!).

The petitions of the Litany of Supplication are the most personal of Vespers. At the beginning of the service (after Psalm 103) we prayed for natural benefits; after the prokeimenon, we prayed for the Church and civil leaders, and for each other. Here, after all other issues have been addressed, we pray for our own personal needs during the night. Finally, while the priest chants his prayer, we should strive to make his words our own.

At Great Vespers or daily Vespers on most days, we now sing the dismissal stichera, or aposticha. But on the eves of great feasts, we extend our intercessory prayers with a procession called Litija. See The Procession at Vespers.

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