As Orthodox Catholic Christians, we not only maintain private prayers but also participate in the corporate prayer of the Church. The importance and significance of this type of prayer at the Divine Services is stressed in the Gospels. The Lord Himself, during His earthly life, used to visit the Temple of Jerusalem, as well as the synagogue, and pray therein. He often prayed, not only in solitude, but also before the people, and the first Christians were day by day, attending the temple together (Acts 2:46). Therefore our Holy Orthodox Catholic Church exhorts her children to attend Divine Services, which is particularly essential to our salvation.
By its very significance church prayer is incomparably higher than prayer said at home, for as St. John Chrysostom tells us, a single Lord have mercy uttered in church together with the congregation of believers, is worth a hundred prostrations during lonely home prayer. Why is this so? Because our Lord said:
“For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).
Although many say that it is not essential to attend liturgical services and that one can pray just as well at home, St. John Chrysostom warns that that such teaching is deception. One can, of course, pray at home, but one cannot there pray as one can in church, amidst others, speaking to God as with one voice. The Saint taught that private prayers are less effectual than those prayed in community with one’s sisters and brothers, for one’s prayer is enhanced when prayed together in unanimity, concord, a union of love and of prayer with the officiating priests. That is why the priests stand before the holy altar uplifting prayers to Heaven united and strengthened by the prayers of the faithful.
Corporate prayer has much greater power and is far more bold and effective than private prayer recited at home! During the liturgical prayer of the Church, it is not only people who lift up their voices, but the Saints, Archangels, Angels, and Heavenly Hosts join the faithful and make their devotion in prayer to the Lord. Earth and Heaven united in prayer, we pray not only for the living, but also for the departed, that God may forgive them their sins and grant them repose in the heavenly mansions of the righteous.
The services of the Daily Liturgical Cycle are divided into three groups of three services each, entitled:
- Evening Service (9th Hour, Vespers and Compline);
- Morning Service (Nocturns, Matins and 1st Hour); and
- Midday Service (3rd Hour, 6th Hour and Divine Liturgy or Typical Psalms).
In addition, on Saturday evenings, as well as on Major Feasts, the Russian typicon (уставъ) prescribes the All-Night Vigil, which consists of joining Great Vespers and Matins into one service. In ancient times in monasteries, this service literally lasted all night (from early evening until daybreak of the following day), but in parish life, the All-Night Vigil may only last several hours.