The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is one of the most moving canons in the Byzantine Rite. It is often called the Canon of Repentance because it is only sung during the Great Lent. On the first four days, a part of it is recited during Great Compline. It also is recited in its entirety during Orthos on the Wednesday (or Thursday) of the fifth week of the Great Lent.
As the Canon progresses, the faithful are shown examples of both virtuous and wicked people in the Bible. The Canon highlights the beauty of a life of a holiness while also showing us the dark road of damnation. When I was at Church tonight, I was struck by two of the following lines,
"Deliberately have I imitated blood thirsty Cain, O Lord, enlivening my flesh while murdering my soul by striking it with my evil deeds."
"Prepare yourself, my soul! Be courageous like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that acquiring diligence and wisdom you too may meet your God. Through contemplation may you reach the awesome depths in which He dwells and in so doing become a good steward of the Lord.
Jacob and his sons, the patriarchs, established for you, O my soul, an example in the ladder of active ascent. By his way of Life Jacob took the first step, fathering twelve sons and offering them as further rungs, which step-by-step ascend to God."
When the Priest sung the line about Cain, I was immediately confronted with the reality that I am capable of great evil just like he was. The Church, through this Canon, warns me to stay away from the path of Cain. To stay away from the pain of evil. To stay away from the path that leads to the hellfire.
However, when the Priest sung the lines regarding Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons, I was comforted knowing that there was a path that led to Paradise. The Church was telling me that these are the men that I should take as holy guides. They saved their souls in the midst of worldly chaos.
I could go on and on with examples but I will simply put the link below to the part of the Canon that was sung today. May Our Savior have mercy on us and may the Theotokos intercede on our behalf.
THE GREAT CANON OF ST. ANDREW OF CRETE, TUESDAY OF FIRST WEEK