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At any given time, eight to 10 percent of Americans are suffering from chronic insomnia. Our supercharged lifestyles have made sleep a luxury too few can afford.
While experts suggest a variety of measures to help us fall asleep – from reducing bedroom light to sleeping on a flatter pillow – the Church offers us perhaps the most perfect antidote to restlessness: the ancient service of Compline.
Compline is the last service of the daily office to be prayed before sleep.
Appropriately enough, in the West, the service begins with the prayer, “Lord, grant us a quiet night and a perfect end.” Like all the hours of the Liturgy of the Hours, it consists of psalms, hymns, Bible verses, and prayers whose origins are lost in the mists of time.
But you need not pray the entire office (praiseworthy though that would be!) to benefit.
Here are four prayers from Compline – two from the traditional Benedictine office, and two from the Byzantine rite used in the Eastern Church – that you can incorporate into your daily prayer routine.
You may notice that the prayers, although originating thousands of miles apart in different cultures, contain similar themes that just may help you rest more peacefully.
1. The traditional office of Compline includes the ancient hymn, Te lucis ante terminum, which asks for God’s protection for the ensuing night, and especially to protect our minds from anxiety-inducing nightmares:
To Thee before the close of day, Creator of the world, we pray That, with Thy wonted favor, Thou Wouldst be our guard and keeper now. From all ill dreams defend our eyes, From nightly fears and fantasies; Tread under foot our ghostly foe, That spot of sin we may not know. O Father, that we ask be done, Through Jesus Christ, Thine only Son, Who, with the Holy Ghost and Thee, Doth live and reign eternally. Amen.
2. The prayer of Compline specifically asks for the angels to spread their wings over us, to grant us peace from all disturbance:
Visit, we beseech Thee, O Lord, this habitation, and drive from it all the snares of the enemy. Let Thy holy angels dwell herein to preserve us in peace; and let Thy blessing be ever upon us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom with Thee and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.
3. This hymn from the Byzantine or Eastern Orthodox service, sung on Tuesdays and Thursdays, adds a petition that God will fill our minds with His heavenly thoughts overnight, so that we may rise in the morning to pray with renewed vigor:
Thou knowest, O Lord my Creator, the sleepless vigilance of my invisible enemies and the frailty of my weak body. Into Thy hands, therefore, I commit my spirit. Cover me with the wings of Thy goodness, that I may not sleep unto death. And enlighten the eyes of my spiritual understanding, that I may delight in Thy divine words. And make me, in a time acceptable unto Thee, to glorify Thee in praise, as the only good One Who loves mankind.
4. Finally, the last proper prayer of Compline in the Byzantine East is attributed to St. Antiochus, a 7th-century monk from Galatia (modern day Turkey). It is difficult to read this prayer all the way to the end without feeling a little drowsy, as the prayer asks God to calm our bodies and stop the barrage of worldly thoughts that keep us awake at night. It, too, asks God to quiet all sinful impulses as our souls rest in Him:
Grant unto us, O Master, when we depart to sleep, repose of body and soul; and protect us from the murky sleep of sin and from all the dark pleasures of the night. Calm the impulses of passions, and quench the fiery darts of evil which are craftily thrown against us. Check the turbulence of our flesh, and still all earthly and material thoughts. And grant us, O God, a prudent reason, a vigilant heart, a tranquil sleep free from all the fantasies of Satan. Raise us up again at the time of prayer strengthened in Thy commandments, holding steadfastly within us the remembrance of Thy judgment. Grant us grace to glorify Thee all through the night that we may praise, and bless, and glorify Thine all-honorable and majestic Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
I pray adding one or more of these prayers will cause restlessness to yield to tranquility. May the Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end!
We Were Designed to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Rev. Ben Johnson is a priest in the Eastern Orthodox Church and a senior editor at the Acton Institute.