The Deesis and Praying with the Orthodox Tradition

by Sister Hilda Kleiman, OSB

For several years now I have used the little book Praying with the Orthodox Tradition for the opening prayer at the beginning of my classes, especially on those day we are focusing on iconography.  The book is composed of Orthodox prayers from the daily cycle that begins with Vespers in the evening and concludes with none or the ninth hour at 3 p.m. the following day.

Since I often teach in the morning, I have used many of the prayers from the hour of Terce at nine in the morning:

O God, you have graciously brought us to this hour, the time when you poured out your Holy Spirit in tongues of fire upon your apostles, filing them with the gift of your grace; so, most wonderful Lord, may we too receive this blessing; and as we seek to praise you, merciful God, in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, may we share in your eternal kingdom.
For your Name is worthy of all honor and majesty and you are to be glorified in hymns of blessing, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and for ever, to the ages of ages.  Amen (41).

I also enjoy using this prayer for morning classes from the hour of Matins at dawn because it refers to drowsiness:

O Lord our God, you enabled us to cast drowsiness aside and in calling us to a holy life you brought us to lift our hands to you at midnight to worship you in thanksgiving for your righteous laws: so hear now our prayers and supplications: accept our grateful confession of faith and our night-time offering of praise.
Give us freely, O God, a firm faith, unfailing hope and heartfelt love; bless us in our going out and coming in, and in all that we do or say or wish for.  Grant that we may await the break of the day with songs of praise, worship and adoration as we bless your goodness and indescribable power.
For your most holy Name is to be celebrated in hymns of blessing and you majesty is to be glorified, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever, to the ages of ages.  Amen (30).

The cover of Praying with the Orthodox Tradition features an example of a Deesis.  According to Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church (public library), another text I use in History of Art, deesis is Greek for "entreaty" and refers to "an icon of Christ enthroned, flanked by the Virgin, John the Baptist, and sometimes other saints" (380).

This is a simpler example of a Deesis, located in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.  Rather than full length figures, this icon gives us just the peaceful, contemplative faces of Christ, the Mother of God, and John the Baptist: