The Great Canon of St Andrew, Bishop of Crete, is the longest canon in all of our services. The canon is deeply penitential in nature and closely linked with Great Lent, since the only times it is appointed to be read in church are the first four nights of Great Lent (Clean Monday through Clean Thursday, at Great Compline – when it is read in specific sections for each day), and at Matins for Thursday of the fifth week of Great Lent, when it is read in its entirety. The service book contains also the life of Saint Mary of Egypt and in this latter service, the entire life of St Mary of Egypt is also read.

There is no other sacred hymn which compares with this monumental work, which St Andrew wrote for his personal meditations.  This canon is rich in typology and mystical explanations of the scripture, from both the Old and New Testaments.  One can almost consider this hymn to be a “survey of the Old and New Testament”. Its other distinguishing features are a spirit of mournful humility, hope in God, and complex and beautiful Trinitarian Doxologies and hymns to the Theotokos in each Ode.

The canon is a dialog between St. Andrew and his soul. The ongoing theme is an urgent exhortation to change one’s life. St Andrew always  mentions his own sinfulness placed in juxtaposition to God’s mercy, and uses literally hundreds of references to good and bad examples from the OT and NT to “convince himself” to repent.

As one Father has so ably commented, our Faith is not one of study but one of practice. This Canon was written by a deeply spiritual man to remind himself of how he should live. To benefit from this wonderful work of poetry and compunction, we must stand in prayer and listen to it attentively, considering well the deeper meaning of the verses. Let us read this Canon with a great desire and expectation for God’s grace to teach us and restore us. 

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 The first Ode: 

He is my Helper and Protector, and has become
my salvation. This is my God and I will glorify Him. My
father’s God and I will exalt Him. For gloriously has
He been glorified. (Exodus 15:2,1; Psalm 117:14)
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.
Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life?
What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, for my present
lamentation? But in Thy compassion grant me release from
my falls.
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.
Come, wretched soul, with your flesh, confess to the Creator
of all. In future refrain from your former brutishness, and
offer to God tears in repentance.
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.
Having rivaled the first-created Adam by my transgression, I
realize that I am stripped naked of God and of the
everlasting kingdom and bliss through my sins.
(Genesis 3)
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.
Alas, wretched soul! Why are you like the first Eve? For you
have wickedly looked and been bitterly wounded, and you
have touched the tree and rashly tasted the forbidden food
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.
The place of bodily Eve has been taken for me by the Eve of
my mind in the shape of a passionate thought in the flesh,
showing me sweet things, yet ever making me taste and
swallow bitter things.
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.
Adam was rightly exiled from Eden for not keeping Thy one
commandment, O Savior. But what shall I suffer who am
always rejecting Thy living words?
(Hebrews 12:25; Genesis 3:23)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy
(To The Trinity:)
Superessential Trinity, adored in Unity, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and in Thy compassion grant me
tears of compunction.
Both Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Mother of God, hope and intercessor of those who
sing of thee, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and as
thou art our pure Lady, accept me who repent.