The times of prayer have been handed down to the Church by her founders, the Apostles and Saints, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in pursuit to the example of the Prophets.
The Apostles set the times for prayer at six. The doctors of the Church added a seventh, thus bringing to fulfillment what the Prophet said:
“Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances.” (Psalms 119:164) This is what our great scholar Mor Gregorius Bar Hebraeus said in his book, “The Ethicon”. This indicates that all servants of God glorify Him as Angels do. The Seven Prayer Times are:
- Evening Prayers or Vespers
- Compline or Prayer upon retiring (sutoro)
- Midnight Prayer
- Morning Prayer (Matins)
- Three O’clock Prayer
- Six O’clock Prayer (Noon)
- Nine O’clock Prayer
We have placed Evening Prayer first as in our ecclesiastical tradition the day begins in the evening. This is the order reported by Metropolitan Yacoub of Bartella in his book entitled: “The Treasures”
We pray in the evening to give thanks to God who gave us night, so that we may rest after the toils of the day. Upon retiring we pray to ask for protection from enemies of darkness and also because of the possibility that we might go to sleep and wake up in the world of eternity. At midnight we pray to meditate on our Savior, Who passed the night of His Passion without sleep, to teach us to always stay awake and pray so that we may escape from the Evil One and his powers.
In the morning we pray to thank God who gave us day. At The Third Hour we pray, for Jesus was condemned to death at that hour after being scourged. Thus we reflect on His passion and thank him for bearing all that for us so that we might escape the pains of the Day of Righteous Judgment on the judgment day. At the Sixth Hour, the hour of His crucifixion, we pray to ponder it and thank God for His goodness and His love.
We pray At the Ninth Hour (three in the afternoon) because it is His actual hour of death. At that hour the whole earth trembled and was shaken, and the whole creation shuddered at the dissimulation of the Jews. We reflect over these things, and thank Him for His love which is the greatest of all. We also ask Him to save us from eternal death and gather us with our faithful departed in the company of those of the right side. We learn from the Book of Acts (Acts 2:15) that the Apostles used to pray at the sixth hour. Peter also prayed at the sixth hour (Acts 10:9), and he and John went up to the Temple to pray at the Ninth Hour (Acts 3:1). Acts 16:25 tells of Paul and Silas praying and praising God at midnight. They never went to sleep or woke up in the morning without offering worship.(Acts 1:14; 2:43).
Mor Gregorius informs us that the Ascetics added another prayer- the Eighth which is called Dawn Prayers. Laymen, however, not being able to keep the seven times of prayer, pray in the morning, at noon and in the evening. As the Psalmist says: “As for me, I call upon God and God saves me, in the evening and in the morning and at noontide.” Daniel, too, was to be found in his upper room, with windows open towards Jerusalem, kneeling humbly three times in the day and praying in the presence of his God, as he used to do before.
At the present time, however, the Church has condensed prayer times into morning and evening worship. The Night, Morning, Third Hour, and Sixth Hour prayers are offered in the morning. The Ninth Hour, Evening or Vesper, and Compline or Retiring prayers (Sootoro) are offered in the evening.
– Patriarch Mor Ignatius Ephrem Barsoum