THE GREAT COMPLINE
The Great Compline is a worship service after supper and before bed time. Man always, before he retires without defense for the evening in the dark of the night, feels the need to ask protection from God. People in the early days, and also today, consider the time of sleep and generally the night, as the time when the evil powers are lurking in the dark ready to do evil. That’s why they intensely seek the protection of God.
Such a prayer is the prayer of the Great Compline before we go to bed. It is a series of psalms, hymns, troparia and prayers that help man’s soul to ask forgiveness from God for the sins of the day that passed and protection from evil for the night that comes, so that the night will pass peaceful, without danger, temptation and sin.
The Great Compline service is long, because it is a monastic prayer. For this reason from the 15th century on a shorter version was arranged of what we have today the Small Compline which is read every evening at the homes of many pious people. The Great Compline is read only every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon during Great Lent.
The Great Compline ends with the familiar and comprehensive prayer to the Virgin Mary which begins: “O spotless, unstained, incorruptible...”
Great Compline Structure - download pdf file.
Historians have ascribed the Akathist Hymn to Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople (638), to Saint George the Confessor, Bishop of Pisidia (818), or even to Saint Photius the Great (891), all of whom lived either at the time of or after the above-mentioned sieges. However, it appears most likely from its language, content, and style that the true composer of the Akathist Hymn is Saint Romanus the Melodist (6th century).
SALUTATIONS and the AKATHIST HYMN
The Akathist Hymn is a profound, devotional poem or chant, which sings the praises of the Holy Mother and Ever-Virgin Mary (Theotokos). It is chanted in all Orthodox Churches on the fifth Friday of the Great Lent, and constitutes a very concrete spiritual preparation for the Holy Week and Paschal Services. In the Greek tradition, a quarter of the hymn is chanted with the Small Compline on the first four Fridays of the Great Lent.
Devotional Hymns to the Theotokos are as ancient as the first Christian Church. The Byzantine Empire from its very inception at Constantinople during the fourth century, closely allied itself to the Virgin Mary and always sort Her protection or intercessions. This we see from the Prayer Services to the Theotokos between the fifth and eighth centuries, and the reference to Constantinople as the 'Queen City'.
The Akathist Hymn, which in its present form was added to by many Ecclesiastical Hymnographers, existed for most part even before it was formally accepted by the Church in 626 AD. The Kontakion "To the Invincible Champion... we ascribe the victory" was added then, and came to be recognized as the Akathist Hymn, because of the following described miracle attributed to the intercession of the Theotokos.
While the Emperor of Byzantium Heracleios was on an expedition to fight the aggression of the Persians on their own grounds, there appeared outside the walls of Constantinople barbaric hordes, mostly Avars. The siege lasted a few months, and it was apparent that the outnumbered troops of the Queen City were reaching desperation. However as history records, the faith of the people worked the impossible. The Venerable Patriarch Sergius with the Clergy and the Official of Byzantium Vonos, endlessly marched along the great walls of Constantinople with an Icon of the Theotokos in hand, and bolstered the faith of the defenders of freedom. The miracle came soon after. Unexpectedly, as the chronicler narrates, a great storm with huge tidal waves destroyed most of the fleet of the enemy, and full retreat ensued.
The faithful of Constantinople spontaneously filled the Church of the Theotokos at Vlachernae on the Golden Horn, and with the Patriarch Sergius officiating, they prayed all night singing praises to the Virgin Mary without sitting. Hence the title of the Hymn "Akathistos", in Greek meaning 'not seated'.
Akathist Canon - download the pdf file by Father Seraphim Dedes (old version).