The Great Canon and St. Mary of Egypt: Impressions

St. Mary of Egypt and St. Zosimas, 15th c. French (From Wikimedia Commons
St. Mary of Egypt and St. Zosimas, 15th c. French
(From Wikimedia Commons)

Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when ye assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith.

– St. Ignatius of Antioch, “To the Ephesians”

Yesterday evening, for the first time in its history, my parish celebrated Small Compline with the full Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete (all four sections) and the Life of St. Mary of Egypt. It took about two and a half hours. The service is appointed to be served on Wednesday night during the Fifth Week of Lent, and with the coincidence of the Annunciation during this week, it gets shunted to Monday evening.

I’ve actually thought about doing this service before, but always hesitated because I wondered if it would be well-received in the parish. It is quite long, after all, and only rarely done in parish practice. My hesitation was removed this year, however, because our Metropolitan Archbishop, as part of his general plan of elevating the liturgical practice of the archdiocese, mandated all of our parishes to celebrate it.

And I’m so very glad that he did.

I’d never actually even seen the service before. Serving it was pretty straightforward, though. It just takes a while.

But it was so powerfully beautiful, both the glorious poetry of the canon and the moving tale of Mary of Egypt in her encounters with St. Zosimas as told by St. Sophronius of Jerusalem. All the chanters and the faithful rousingly sang the refrains of the canon together: Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me. And even though it stretched out for so long, that refrain never got weak. It was sung with power throughout.

And this couldn’t have come at a better time. There has been a lot of suffering and struggle in my parish this Lent. Death, sickness, loss, marital troubles, difficulty with children, etc. The list goes on. But last night we fought back hard against the demons.

And I daresay that the demons trembled.

Yes, death is real. But the Resurrection is coming.


  1. So pleased for your parish, Father. In our tiny mission church on Vancouver Island we always did the whole St Mary of Egypt service. It is so powerful and beautiful and just what we need at this time in Lent.
    And thank you for your daily writings ,, too.

  2. Fr. Andrew:
    I have been in parishes that do the entire Canon on the fourth week, but I don’t remember that the life of Mary of Egypt was especially featured, apart from the scattered references to her in the Canon. I’m interested, because she’s my patron saint. Is there somewhere online I can see the text of the whole service? I’d like to read it myself, even if I can’t see the service.

    1. You can download the full service as it is served in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America here.

      (And I assume you mean that you saw it served during the Fifth Week of Lent? Doing it during the Fourth Week would be, to my knowledge, rather unusual.)

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