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Choral Corner #29: What is Small Compline?

A note on context: This was originally published shortly after our parish began hosting a monthly social event that begins with Small Compline.

Small Compline is a service used after the evening meal (the Slavonic name for Compline is

Povocherniya, which literally means “after supper”), when neither Vigil nor Grand Compline is appointed. The English term Compline comes from the Latin word completorium, signifying that this service takes place at the completion of the day; the first surviving written evidence of this comes from the 6th-century writings of St. Benedict.

When served in church, Small Compline calls for a priest, without a deacon, and is sometimes served entirely in the narthex. Due to its penitential character, the curtain behind the Royal Doors is closed, signifying that through our sins, we separate ourselves from God and His heavenly kingdom.

Small Compline opens with the usual opening prayers, followed by three Psalms (50, 69 and 142), the Small Doxology and the Creed. After the Creed, one or more canons or akathists may be read, although these are sometimes omitted outside of monasteries. The rest of Small Compline consists of the Trisagion prayers, daily and general troparia, the Prayer of the Hours of St. Basil the Great, the Supplicatory Prayer to the Theotokos by Paul the Monk, and the Prayer to Jesus Christ by Antiochus the Monk. The service closes with a brief rite of mutual forgiveness (omitted when Small Compline is prayed privately). Some

Greek prayer books also include a prayer to one’s guardian angel.

There are two other services also called Compline: Great (or Grand) Compline, and Middle Compline. Great Compline forms the first part of the Vigil for Christmas, Theophany and Annunciation*, and is also appointed on certain days during Great Lent and the lesser fasting seasons. Middle Compline is used exclusively by Old Ritualist Orthodox, whose rubrics differ substantially from ours.


*There are (of course!) some exceptions, depending on the practices in one’s particular Orthodox

jurisdiction. The rubrics for the Annunciation Vigil are particularly complex.

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