Pray without ceasing, exhorted St. Paul to the ancient Christians in the Church at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 5:17). So be it; but how might Christians pray non-stop, around the clock, without ceasing? The monastic movements of the Early Church answered the question with what is known as the Hours of Prayer, night and day.
The monastics based their practices on the special times of prayer in the Scriptures. Morning and evening prayer followed the times of daily sacrifice in the Old Testament. There was also recognition that in the New Testament apostolic period, those first Christians were praying at set moments during the day, such as the Third (Acts 2:15/Pentecost), Sixth (Acts 10:9), and Ninth hours (Acts 3:1). Furthermore, the Early Church Father Tertullian noted the New Testament Biblical pattern of prayer in his work, On Prayer. He writes, “Touching the time, however, the extrinsic observance of certain hours will not be unprofitable—those common hours, I mean, which mark the intervals of the day—the third, the sixth, the ninth—which we may find in the Scriptures to have been more solemn than the rest” (Ch. 25).
The ancient monks and their movement arising in the third and fourth centuries, taking seriously St. Paul’s injunction to pray without ceasing, followed the Biblical pattern of specific hours of prayer through the day. They continued what the early Christians did, embracing a commitment to pray at least at the three sacred hours of the day (third, sixth, and ninth). Eventually, they expanded this twice and thrice pattern to seven daily times of prayer. These were called simply, “The Hours”. In this way, the Church was being prayed for around the clock, at least in some sense keeping what the Blessed Apostle had called the Church to do. Thanks be to God for those faithful monastics who have prayed, and continue to do so, for the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Someone, somewhere, is always praying for us.
Fast forward to the 16th century of the Western Church. It was a time of reform, what Jaroslav Pelikan described as a “tragic necessity”. One of the contributions, or “necessities,” of this moment in church history was the concept of “turning monasticism inside out”. Not that monasticism should be done away; rather, the great monastic discipline of praying set times in the day would be made available to the laity outside of the monastery. This was a return to the pattern in which lay people in the New Testament prayed at set hours during the day.
It was the English Reformation tradition in particular which made the effort to restore the Hours of Prayer to the laity. The 16th century Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, ingeniously took the seven monastic hours, grouped them into Morning and Evening Prayer, and with them returned to the very early pattern of two set Hours a day. Most importantly, the laity could now join in praying the Hours: the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer. Some historians note that this changed the course of English history. An entire nation at prayer, clergy and laity, all joined together with the same prayers at the same times before the throne of God.
It is in a similar spirit, of turning monasticism inside out to the laity, that the current work, The Anglican Office Book, edited by Mr. C. Lance Davis, builds on the Book of Common Prayer’s daily offices to reconstruct the seven hours of prayer. Other efforts, such as the Anglican Breviary, have attempted the same. Yet often their arrangements are challenging for the layman to figure out. In this alone, The Anglican Office Book is an improvement. It’s easy to use!
Initially published by Fr. Paul Hartzell in 1944 and 1963 as The Prayer Book Office, The Anglican Office Book retains the two basic prayer book offices, Morning and Evening Prayer. In addition, the other hours of prayer are included in the same spirit and style as the traditional 1928 Book of Common Prayer. It can easily be used with the traditional 1928 Book of Common Prayer, or as a stand-alone book of Hours to practice a rule of life—what the ancient church called a regula.
Therefore, to those Christians who would desire to restore just one or two of the Little Hours—those Third, Sixth, and Ninth hours of whose ancient pedigree Tertullian tells us—I highly commend this work. I also recommend this wonderful work to those wishing to enlarge their rule of life even further; I would that my support for this work might help Christians to join the monastics for all seven Hours of Prayer.
Whatever the case, this book of offices will become an immense prayer resource to any believer in our Lord. My simple prayer is for God to use this Anglican book of hours to help all clergy and laity enter into that to which St. Paul called us: to “pray without ceasing”!
+ The Most Rev. Dr. Ray Sutton, Archbishop, The Reformed Episcopal Church