The Shehimo Prayers – Spiritual treasures of the Orthodox Syrian Christianity I Seven Times Prayer
“Seven Times a Day I Praise You” – The Shehimo Prayers, contains liturgical prayers, Psalms and hymns, written beginning around the fourth century. This contains the daily prayers of the Holy Church, according to the Liturgical tradition, that observes the seven offices of prayers for each of the seven days of the week. The Holy Scriptures records that a new day begins in the evening “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (Gen. 1: 5) and for the same reason the ecclesiastical day begins in the evening at sunset in the Orthodox Church a day is marked from 6 pm to 6 pm of the next day, unlike the secular calendar when a day begins at 12 midnight. Each day is recognized by its number as first day, second day, third day and so on.
The seven ‘offices of prayer’ or ‘yama prathanakal’ is commonly referred to as ‘Hours’. These hours are called canonical hours because prayers are prescribed for each of them. Thus, we have seven canonical hours a day and the prayers prescribed for them are known as the Canonical Hours. These seven hours have been modelled and correlated to with David’s model of prayer, the Psalmist, who wrote “Seven times a day I praise You, because of Your righteous judgments” (Psalm 119: 164).
Importance of Shehimo Prayers
‘Shehimo’ (Sh’himo) is the Syriac word meaning “common” or “ordinary.” It simply refers to the prayers that are done on ordinary days, when we do not commemorate or celebrate a Feast of the Church. God created us, to worship Him unceasingly “Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence” (Rev. 7: 15).
- The Shehimo Prayers help us to approach our Lord humbly as a community and personally.
- The primary purpose of prayer is to offer praise and adoration to our Lord and to be in communion with God and saints and departed faithful, who loved God throughout their life.
- Praying the Shehimo helps us to assimilate our lives to the life of the Church and a tool to help us have a deep communion with our Lord and Saviour.
- This is a foretaste of the eternal life, we are destined to pray in the presence of God, worshipping Him, praising and glorifying. These Hours inspire and instigate us to keep our hearts, minds, thoughts and thereby our deeds on God.
- These hours are guiding pointers to our prayer life, teaching us about Triune God, Holy Scriptures, Faith of our Church Fathers, instructing and teaching us, how, when and what to pray.
- This will always enable us to grow closer to the goal of praying, unceasingly (1 Thess. 4: 17). When we are occupied in prayer, we stay away from sinning. The more time we spend in prayer, there is little or no time to sin.
- By keeping our mind on God, focussing our thoughts on God, we can easily fight against sin and alienation from God.
- Prayer is an essential need to maintain the growth of our spirituality.
General Themes of Shehimo Prayers
The Shehimo Prayers have general themes for each day of the week, except Sunday.
1st Day – Sunday – Resurrection (Kymtha Namasakaram)
2nd Day – Monday and 3rd Day Tuesday – Repentance
4th Day – Wednesday – The Theotokos, betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot (Fasting Day)
5th Day – Thursday – The Holy Apostles, Communion of Saints
6th Day – Friday – The Holy Cross, Crucifixion, Martyrs, Confessors (Fasting Day)
7th Day – Saturday – The Faithful Departed
On Friday, we remember the Cross, as it was on Friday when our Lord was crucified. We also remember the Martyrs and Confessors who suffered for love of Christ. On Saturday, we remember the departed as it was on Saturday when our Lord entered Hades and preached the Gospel to the departed. Every Sunday we celebrate the feast of feasts, the Resurrection of our Lord.
Canonical Hours of Prayer
1. Evening Prayer (Ramsho or Vespers) – 6PM
2. Bedtime Prayer (Soutoro or Compline) – 9PM
3. Night Prayers (Lilio or Nocturns, with three “watches” or Quamos) – 12AM
4. Morning Prayer (Sapro or Matins) – 6AM
5. 3rd Hour Prayer – 9AM
6. 6th Hour Prayer – 12PM
7. 9th Hour Prayer – 3PM
The Hours of Prayer help us to mediate on the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord. For example, at the 3rd Hour (9AM), we can meditate on the trial of Christ was put to trial and His journey to Calvary. At the 6th Hour (12PM), we are reminded of the time when Christ was hung on the Cross. At the 9th Hour (3PM), we are reminded of the time when Christ gave up His spirit on the Cross. In the Night Prayer, we proclaim “Halleluiah, Halleluiah, Halleluiah, Glory be to You O God!” As we pray this, we are reminded of the triumphant Resurrection of our Lord. So, the times of prayer have significance in that they remind us daily of the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The modern scientists and experts of the science, opine that our human body bring about a change in the internal systems in each human body at an interval of 3 hours. If it is true, think how great is the instruction of our Church Fathers to have Yaama Prayers at the interval of three hours.
What are Canonical Hours
In ancient India, time was measured using horologue units of twenty-four minutes known as ‘Naazhika.’ One day was divided into sixty ‘Naazhikas.’
The present-day measurement of time using ‘hours’ was not prevalent then.
One day = 60 minutes X 24 hours = 1440 minutes. So, 1440 / 24 = 60 Naazhika
One hour was equivalent to two and a half ‘Naazhika. 60/24 = 2.5 Naazhika
And a time unit consisting of seven and a half ‘Naazhikas’ was called a Canonical HGour.
The first canonical hour that comes at dawn (6 am) is called Matins, followed by, after three hours Terce (9 am). The next canonical hour comes three hours (or seven and a half ‘Naazhika’) later and is called Sext (12 noon). This canonical hour is followed after three hours, by the Hour called None (3 pm). Again, after three hours comes the Hour of Vespers (6 pm). Besides these five canonical hours during daytime, we have Compline (9 pm) and Nocturn (12 midnight) during night.
These hours are called canonical hours because prayers are mandatory and prescribed for each of them. Thus, we have seven canonical hours a day and the prayers prescribed for them are known as the Canonical Hours.
At home we pray twice a day. If you follow any Book of Prayer used in our Church, you shall complete prayers for seven canonical Hours while praying twice a day, other than days of fast. The offices for None, Vespers and Compline are combined for Evening Worship and those for Nocturn (Lilyo), Matins (Prime), Terce and Sext for the morning worship. Evening prayer starts with the ninth hour prayer of the previous day, followed by the evening, and completed with the compline. Morning prayer starts with the prayer of midnight, followed by morning, the third hour and noon.
Significance of 7 times Prayer
- Ramsho/Vespers/Evening (6 PM); Joseph and Nicodemos take His body. Evening. It’s also a time of the exodus from the bondage in Egypt and the time of Passover. (Ex. 12: 6, Ps. 141: 2)
- Soothoro/Compline/bedtime (9 PM); Burial of Jesus; Bedtime We must meditate these facts and must be prepared for our earthly deaths.
- Lilyo/Vigil/Midnight (12 AM); Detention at Gethsemane Mid night (Pathira) Meditate Acts 16:25. This is the time to meditate the time of incarnation and Resurrection of our Lord. It is the time of the prayer of our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane. Our Lord prayed to God the Father, remembering His death.
- Saphro/Matins/morning (6 A.M.); Trial before the high priests / Pontius Pilate Morning Remember that it is the time when our Lord Jesus was judged. Meditate on it. Ps 119:147; 88: 13; 5: 3.
- Tlothsho`in’/Terse/ Prime/3rd Hour – 9.00 a.m. Sentence for crucifixion (9 A.M) So also the time when our Lord started the procession carrying the heavy cross to Golgotha. Meditate Acts. 2:15. It is believed that this is the time when the Holy Spirit descended in the Mansion of Sehion.
- Shethsho`in/Sext/Noon/mid-day 6th Hour – (12 P.M.); crucifixion. It is the time of the Crucifixion of our Lord. (Lk. 23:24; Acts 10:9). It must have been a practice of our Lord and his disciples to pray at this time.
- Tsha`sho`in/9th Hour – Nones/3.00 p.m., Jesus gives His life. It is the time when our Lord’s death took place. So, a time to submit all our departed ones before God. Acts 3:1; 10: 3.
Before beginning each hour of Shehimo prayers, one must wash their hands and face in order to be clean and presentable to God; Prayers must be recited in standing barefooted, facing East, with utmost respect and reverence to God Almighty. We are not supposed pray in the sitting position and as per the Orthodox Tradition, one must acknowledge that one is offering prayer before and to a Holy God. Women should wear a head covering or shawl when praying.
Moreover, the offices used in the Shehimo, with the exception of Sunday (Lord’s Days) and major feast days (Moronayo Perunaal days) and the days from Resurrection to Feast of Pentecost, we must prostrate (Sashtangapranam= Kumbideel) along with our prayers. Daniel 6:10 say that he used to prostrate three times a day, as biblically instructed. (See Ezekiel 3:23, 46; 2, Revelations 1:17, 11:16, 19:4, 22:9). The literal meaning of ‘Sashtanga-Pranamam means respect with 8 parts of the body. These are the parts: Forehead (the source of our brain) Nose (the source of our life giving breathing), two palms, (the source of our activities), two knees of the legs, (the source of our movements), both feet, (the source of our earthly journeys/walking from place to place.) So, while we make the Kumbideel we join all these aspects and dedicates before the Lord God.
We start our prayers with the Kauma Prayers. The word Kauma has derived from the Syriac term ‘Qoum’, which literally means stand/standing and hence the beginning prayers while standing are known as Kaumo prayers. In seven times prayers, (in total 7 Yamams) there are totally 10 Kaumas. The midnight prayers have 4 Kaumas and all the others have one Kauma each. These 10 Kaumas are for the protection of our 5 external sense organs as well as the 5 internal sense organs.
The Shehimo is considered a treasury of Syriac Christianity, dating back all the way to the 4th Century. The early texts were originally in Syriac only but, with the work and translations of the late Mr. C. P. Chandy, the prayers were made available in Malayalam while still preserving the original Syriac meter.