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In accordance with Psalm 119, verse 164, “Seven times in the day have I praised thee for thy judgments, O Righteous One,” the Syriac Orthodox Church set the times for prayer to seven: Evening or ramsho prayer (Vespers), Drawing of the Veil or sootoro prayer (Compline), Midnight or lilyo prayer, Morning or saphro prayer (Matins), the Third Hour or tloth sho`inprayer (Prime, 9 a.m.), the Sixth Hour or sheth sho`in prayer (Sext, noon) and the Ninth Hour or tsha` sho`in prayer (Nones, 3 p.m.). The Midnight prayer consists of three qawme‘watches’ (literarily ‘standing’).
The ecclesiastical day begins in the evening at sunset. For example, Monday starts at sunset on Sunday evening. Hence, Monday's evening (ramsho) and compline (sootoro) prayers, are actually performed on Sunday in our modern reckoning. Today, even in monasteries, the evening and compline prayers are said together, as also the Midnight and Morning prayers, and the Three, Six and Nine O'Clock prayers, reducing the times of prayer to three. However, the common practice today (except during fasts) is to pray twice a day. Evening prayer starts with the ninth hour (tsha` sho`in) prayer of the previous day, followed by the evening (ramsho), and finishes with the compline (sootoro). Morning prayer starts with the prayer of midnight (lilyo) followed by morning (saphro), the third hour (tloth sho`in) and noon (sheth sho`in).
The Syriac Orthodox book of prayer for routine use is called the shhimo, ' simple [prayer]'. The shhimo has offices for the canonical hours for each day of the week. Each canonical office begins and ends with a qawmo (literally 'standing'), a set of prayers that includes the Lord's Prayer. At the end of the office, the Nicene creed is recited. (When prayers are said twice a day, the Nicene creed is said at the end of sootoro in the evening and at the end of the sixth hour in the morning.)
The prayers are intoned as chants or melodies. The melodies are set in the Beth Gazo and chanted in eight modes; the mode for the day is derived from the liturgical calendar. The hymns are sung antiphonally by two choirs (goodo), especially when prayer is said in churches or monasteries.
The faithful say the daily prayers standing in a direction facing the East. A prelate, priest or a senior member of the laity leads the prayer. The sign of the cross is drawn while prostrating in veneration to Lord Jesus Christ at appropriate points in the prayer—in the Trisagion, the Praise of the Cherubim, when the incarnation of the Word is confessed in the Nicene Creed, etc. On days when the Divine Liturgy is celebrated and also between Easter Sunday and Pentecost, the sign of the cross is drawn without prostration.
Various translations of the Syriac shhimo, most of which are partial, have been produced in the twentieth century. The translation by V. Rev. Konattu Mathen Malpan into Malayalam was authorized for use in Malankara by Patriarch Ignatius `Abded Aloho in 1910. This translation was also partial in that prayers from the offices of seven days were combined into one for each office for all days of the week. An edited version of the English translation of the Malayalam text, by Rev. Dr. K. Mani Rajan (1992) is published here and can be accessed from the links on the left. This will be replaced eventually by a direct translation from the Syriac in the future.