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The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete

One of the most sacred and inspiring theological works of the Orthodox Church is the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete. It is exclusively sung during two periods of Great Lent. The first week of Great Lent, it is divided into four parts, each part chanted at Great Compline in the evenings from Monday to Thursday.
 
It is the longest canon the Church has with 250 verses. Each of the four parts of the Canon contain nine odes. It also consists of several troparia. Simply said, the Canon is a marvel of liturgical hymnography, with texts of amazing power and poetic beauty. 
 
During the 5th week of Great Lent, the entire four parts of the Canon are typically sung on Wednesday evening that week during Great Compline. Some churches may chant it at Great Compline on Thursday evening. 
 
Furthermore, in the 5th week of Great Lent, there is an additional Presanctified Liturgy celebrated on Thursday. Usually, during the six weeks of Lent, only on Wednesday and Friday are Presanctified Liturgies celebrated. This is the only week of Great Lent, that there are three Presanctified Liturgies.
 
The Great Canon is an antithesis of sin and repentance and has images from both the Old and New Testament. It is sung in its entirety on Wednesday evening. An additional opportunity to receive Holy Communion is given at the Presanctified Liturgy the day after, on Thursday. 
 
The 5th week is a special week, more like a bridge, connecting the previous Sunday, the Ladder of Divine Ascent and the following Sunday, Mary of Egypt. The Ladder of Divine Ascent was composed by St John Climacus and is another great work of the Orthodox Church. It speaks about the spiritual journey throughout life with thirty steps or “rungs” correlating with the virtues that lead to the Kingdom of Heaven.
 
St Mary of Egypt, is a model of repentance. She was a harlot who struggled with the addiction of lust but repented for her sins and lived the rest of her life in asceticism in the wilderness. Her sin was great but her penance was greater. She gives each of us hope that with God, no sin is too great to be forgiven. He loves us and wants to save us. 
 
St Andrew of Crete wrote the hagiography of St Mary of Egypt and there are parts of the Great Canon devoted to her. In fact, it is a tradition of the Church for the life of St Mary to be read along with the Great Canon at Orthros on Wednesday. 
 
We commemorate the feast day of St Andrew on July 4th. He was Archbishop of Crete from the end of the 7th century to the beginning of the 8th. Before he was Archbishop, he lived as a monk in his younger years, at the Monastery of St Sava the Sanctified in Jerusalem. He was also very instrumental at the 6th Ecumenical Council, held in 680-681 at Constantinople.
 
As we approach the end of Great Lent, let the Great Canon inspire each of us to reflect on our own spiritual journey. Let it serve as a gauge to measure our own sinfulness and struggles while leading us to repentance. 
 
May St Andrew of Crete, intercede for each of us before the Lord our God!
 
-John Athanasatos 
 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.

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