Struck with wonder

Before Thy birth, O Lord, the angelic hosts looked with trembling on this mystery and were struck with wonder: for Thou who hast adorned the vault of heaven with stars hast been well pleased to be born as a babe; and Thou who holdest all the ends of the earth in the hollow of Thy hand art laid in a manger of dumb beasts. For by such a dispensation has Thy compassion been made known, O Christ, and Thy great mercy: glory to Thee.

Stichera, Tone Eight, Third Hour of the Royal Hours, Eve of the Nativity

In Eastern Orthodox churches throughout the world, on Christmas Eve are read and chanted the Royal Hours. These are short services held at the first, third, sixth, and ninth hours, regular monastic hours of prayer in western tradition as well, where they’re known as prime, terce, sext, and nones, as is well known. Some parishes (like my own this morning) will have all these services in one block, sequentially, which takes just about two hours. Numerous of the psalms are read in full, and fairly lenthy readings are made from both the Old and New Testaments, interspersed with numerous prayers and that particular kind of exegetical hymnography that the Eastern Orthodox tradition excels in. The Old Testament readings are all read as Prophecies of Christ, of course, with most being quoted from in the New Testament in one writing or another in that regard. Here is a summary of the Biblical readings (the Psalm numbering is of course according to the Septuagint, the Bible of the Orthodox Church):

First Hour: Psalm 5, Psalm 44, Psalm 45, Micah 5.2-4, Hebrews 1.1-12, Matthew 1.18-25
Third Hour: Psalm 66, Psalm 86, Psalm 50, Baruch 3.35-4.4, Galatians 3.23-29, Luke 2.1-20
Sixth Hour: Psalm 71, Psalm 131, Psalm 90, Isaiah 7.10-16; 8.1-4, 9-10, Hebrews 1.10-2.3, Matthew 2.1-12
Ninth Hour: Psalm 109, Psalm 110, Psalm 85, Isaiah 9.6-7, Hebrews 2.11-18, Matthew 2.13-23

It’s a very rich selection of materials, particularly within the context of the chanted and read hymns. A presentation by Archimandrite Ephrem Lash of all the Royal Hours in English is available online.

2 Replies to “Struck with wonder”

  1. Royal Hours (both for Nativity and Pascha) is such a beautiful service. Its one of the few services in which we simply offer praise to God and expect nothing in return. All the other serices, it seems to me, we receive at least a blessing. But not during Royal Hours. Its like the Royal Hous are established to remind us who is boss. I need that that reminder.

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