Divine Services Conducted During Holy and Great Lent (Part II)

Saint Andrew the Archbishop of Crete

Saint Andrew the Archbishop of Crete

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


The Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete

The Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete (also known as the Canon of Repentance) is a lengthy penitential canon composed in the seventh century, which is sung during Great Lent.

Structure and Composition

The Great Canon consists of four parts, each divided into nine odes like a regular canon. However, there are slight differences between the odes of the two compositions. In the Great Canon, there is a greater number of troparia (hymns). At the refrain "have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me," a full prostration (metanoia) is performed. Also, some of the odes have additional refrains and troparia to the author of the canon, Saint Andrew of Crete, or Saint Mary of Egypt, one of the greatest models of repentance in Christian history.


The Great Canon is served during the first week of the Great Lent. During Great Compline (Apodeipnon) on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, one portion of the Canon is sung after the Little Doxology (Greek practice) or Psalm 69 (Russian practice) is read. On Wednesday of the fifth week of the Great Lent, the Life of Saint Mary of Egypt is read together with the entire Canon at Orthros (sometimes Thursday proper in Slavic tradition). This practice was implemented during the life of Saint Andrew, who was also the author of Saint Mary's Hagiography.


A basic distinguishing feature of the Great Canon is its extremely broad use of images and subjects taken both from the Old and New Testaments. As the Canon progresses, the congregation encounters many biblical examples of sin and repentance. The Holy Bible (and therefore, the Canon) speaks of some individual in a positive light, and about others in a negative one--the penitents are expected to emulate the positive examples of sanctity and repentance, and to learn from and avoid the negative examples of sin, fallen nature and pride. However, one of the most notable aspects of the Canon is that it attempts to portray the Biblical images in a very personal way to every penitent: The Canon is written in such form that the faithful identity themselves with many people and events found in the Holy Bible.


Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life? How shall I begin, O Christ, to relieve my present tears? But as Thou art deeply compassionate, grant me forgiveness of sins. Come, O wretched soul, and together with thy body confess to the Creator of all so that henceforth, thou shalt abstain from thy past foolishness and offer tears of repentance to God. Having rivaled the first-formed Adam by my transgressions, I have found myself stripped naked of God, of the everlasting Kingdom of all of its delights because of sins. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. To the Holy Trinity: O Trinity, Who surpasses all creation and is adored in Unity, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and in Thy compassion grant me tears of compunction.

Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete, wrote the Canon for his personal meditations. "Nothing else has its extensive typology and mystical explanations of the Holy Scripture, from both and the Old and the New Testaments. One can almost consider this hymn to be a 'survey of the Old and New Testament". The ongoing theme is an urgent exhortation to change one's life.

General Themes of the Great Canon

How we should think about ourselves

Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life? What first-fruits shall I offer, O Christ, for my present lamentation?

But in Thy compassion grant me release from my falls (Monday: 1:1).

Desire to change--dialogue with the Soul

Come, wretched soul, with your flesh, confess to the Creator of all. In the future refrain from your former brutishness, and offer to God tears of repentance (Monday: 1:2).

Recognizing Reality

The end is drawing near, my soul, is drawing near! But you neither care nor prepare. The time is growing short. Rise! The Judge is at the very doors. Like a dream, like a flower, the time of this life passes. Why do we bustle about in vain? (Monday: 4:2).

How to pray--Laments and supplications to God

Thou art the Good Shepherd; seek me, Thy lamb, and neglect not me who have gone astray. (Monday: 3:5)

Old and New Testament examples of righteousness and unrighteousness, for the purpose of emulation or avoidance.

Do not be a pillar of salt, my soul, by turning back; but let the example of the Sodomites frighten you, and take refuge up in Zoar. (Genesis 19:26) (Thursday: Ode 3:5).

I have reviewed all the people of the Old Testament as examples for you, my soul. Imitate the God-loving deeds of the righteous and shun the sins of the wicked. (Tuesday: Ode 8).

The most important thing to know about the Great Canon

The Great Canon was written by a holy man to teach himself the right way to live. We cannot benefit from it unless we make it a priority to stand in prayer, in the Church, and listen to it, with a great desire and expectation for God's Grace to teach us and heal us. Our theology is--first and foremost--experienced and prayed, and not only "studied".

Frederica Matthews-Green is the author of First Fruits of Prayer in which she writes, "First Fruits of Prayer is for anyone who wants to be stretched and challenged spiritually. It's tough stuff. It seems to me that so much of contemporary Christianity is squishy and sentimental. It presents the faith like a consumer product, and is desperate to please. But go back 1000 or 1500 years, to a work like the Great Canon, and you don't get that at all. There is a sense of "seriousness"--that you won't find in a so-called 'praise chorus'."

"The Great Canon is demanding, no doubt about it. But maybe what we're dealing with--life, death, evil, forgiveness, God's compassion, our joy and gratitude--is serious too.

"There are places where the theological understanding is different than it has historically been in Western Christianity. For example, sin is not seen so much as bad deeds which make God angry, and which require a payment (Christ's blood) in order to be forgiven. Instead, Saint Andrew of Crete speaks of sin as something that arises from deep inside, from a darkened and confused mind. It is a self-inflicted wound. He speaks of God as all-compassionate, rushing toward us with healing love, like the Good Samaritan or the father of the prodigal son.

"So there's no sense that God's justice or honor have to be satisfied by Christ's suffering before we can be forgiven. Christ's suffering, instead, is the 'battle scars' of His fight to free us from Death and the Evil One.

"The concepts are more extreme on both sides. Sin is not just breaking of external laws; it's a poison that infiltrates our whole being and mind. Salvation is not just a 'legal fiction' that imputes righteousness we don't really have; it is life "in Christ," saturation in the lightbearing presence of God."

Who was Saint Andrew of Crete?

Saint Andrew, Archbishop of Crete, was born in the city of Damascus into a pious Christian family. Up until seven years of age the boy was mute and did not talk. However, after receiving Holy Communion he found the gift of speech and began to speak. And from that time the young man began earnestly to study Holy Scripture and the discipline of theology.

At 14 years of age he went off to Jerusalem and there he accepted monastic tonsure at the Monastery of Saint Savva the Sanctified. Saint Andrew led an austere and chaste life, he was meek and abstinent, such that all were amazed at his virtue and reasoning of mind. As a man of talent and known for his virtuous life, over the passage of time he came to be numbered among the Jerusalem clergy and was appointed a secretary for the Patriarchate--a writing clerk. As an Archdeacon he was among the representatives of the Holy City sent to the Sixth Ecumenical Council, and here the Saint contended against heretical teachings, relying upon his profound knowledge of Orthodox doctrine. Shortly after the Council he was summoned back to Constantinople from Jerusalem and he was appointed Archdeacon at the Church of Agia Sophia, the Wisdom of God. During the reign of the Emperor Justinian II (685-695 AD), Saint Andrew was consecrated Bishop of the city of Gortineia on the island of Crete. In his new position he shone forth as a true luminary of the Church, a great hierarch--a theologian, teacher and hymnographer.

Saint Andrew wrote many liturgical hymns. He was the originator of a new liturgical form--the canon. Of the canons composed by him the best know is the Great Penitential Canon, including within its 9 Odes the 250 Troparia recited during the Great Lent.

Saint Andrew of Crete gained renown with his praises of the All-Pure Virgin Mary. To him are likewise ascribed the Canon for the feast of the Nativity of Christ, three Odes for the Compline of Palm Sunday and also in the first four days of Holy Passion Week, as well as verses for the feast of the Meeting of the Lord, and many another church-song.

Church historians are not of the same opinion as to the date of death of the Saint. One suggests the year 712 AD, while others--the year 726 AD. He died on the island of Mytilene, while returning to Crete from Constantinople. His holy relics were transferred to Constantinople. (Source: Orthodox Church in America)



The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George