The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

My soul, O my soul, rise up! Why are you sleeping? The end draws near and soon you shall be troubled. Watch, then, that Christ your God may spare you, for He is everywhere present and fills all things.

At the heart of the Great Canon is deep repentance, together with a very critical inward look at the self, watchfulness, and amendment of life. This evening, the fifth Thursday of Great and Holy Lent, we will sing the entire service of the Great Canon, a service authored by the 7th century Archbishop of Crete, St. Andrew.

The Canon is a dialogue between St. Andrew and his soul, and as the service is sung, we, the faithful, are to pray it in the same vein, inserting ourselves into the biblical story as the service takes us on a mystical journey through both the Old and New Testaments. The Canon is written in such a way that we are to identify ourselves with many people and events found in the Bible.

For example, towards the very beginning of the Canon, we sing:

By my own free choice have I incurred the guilt of Cain’s murder. I have killed my conscience, bringing the flesh to life and making war upon the soul by my wicked actions.

Basing himself on the story of Cain and Abel, St. Andrew is saying: “Like Cain rose up against his own brother and slew him, so have I warred upon my own soul and smothered my conscience, ignoring the voice of God within and allowing the sinful impulses of the flesh to lead me to wicked deeds.”

But as much as this great work emphasizes critical introspection and repentance, so also does it confess the great compassion and mercy of Christ:

O Son of David, with Your word You healed the possessed: take pity on me, save me, and have mercy. Let me hear Your compassionate voice speak to me as to the thief: “Truly, I say to you, you shall be with Me in Paradise, when I come in My glory.”

In confessing to Christ that we are weak, broken, and ill, we then hear His sweet voice saying to us: “You have been healed; you are whole again; sin no more, and Paradise awaits you!”

Instead of “sweatin’ to the oldies,” we call tonight’s service, “sweatin’ to the holies,” because it really is a spiritual marathon and physically demanding! Nevertheless, I highly encourage you to either 1) join us for the service tonight at 6:00 p.m. as we live stream it, or 2) pray it on your own, in full or in part, and try to absorb and digest as much of it as possible. Return to it again periodically, and you will find the Scriptures opening to you in a whole new way.

Holy Father Andrew, pray to God for us!