The Midnight Prayer is not for the Monks only, but for all the believers. David the Prophet who used to Pray the Midnight Prayer, to rise midnight, and to thank God for His jugments (Ps119), was a married man and had a big household. He had his secular work and various responsibilities, however, this did not detain him from rising at midnight and Praying.
People often do injustice to the night, depriving it from contact with God!
People think the night is merely for rest and sleep. They pray only by day, whether congregational or private prayers, but would not interrupt their sleep to pray. Unlike those was David the Prophet, for he used to rise before the dawning of the morning and keep awake through the night watch to sing to the Lord and meditate on His word (Ps119). And David says also:
“All you servants of the Lord, who by night stand in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands.. and bless the Lord.” (Ps134)
Prayer by night is beautiful, because of the calmness of the night, therefore I once said while I was in my cave in the mount:
The calmness of night is but music and playful tunes.
The sound of wind tenderly in my ears pours its tunes.
How deep are the words of Mar Isaac : “Night is created for Prayer!” It is true, because the majority are free from all involvements and meetings during night.
The prayer by night sanctifies the night, and sanctifies the person who prays it.
The Midnight Prayer is three watches. This is meant to cut sleep by a prayer every now and then, instead of sleeping the whole night without any prayer.
In the Midnight Prayer we remember the Lord”s Second Coming (Parousia).
We also remember the general resurrection and judgment, so that we might get ready for it as the five wise virgins did (Mt25). We remember how death comes like a thief, and the words of the Lord Christ, “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching” (LK12:37) We remember the repentance that fits His coming, and say to Him, “Give me, O Lord, fountains of tears as you gave in the past to the sinful woman.” This makes the night glowing with God”s Love and with feelings of repentance.
Prayer by night makes one ready for wars by day.
The Midnight prayer starts like any other Prayer of the Hours, but with the addition of a certain passage we sing in Coptic with a beautiful tune. It is called “Tain Thino”, and says:
[Rise, O children of light, praise the Lord of hosts that He may bestow upon us the salvation of our souls. When we stand bodily before you, take away from us the sleep of inadvertence, and give us alertness, that we may learn how to stand before you at the time of prayer and send up to you due glorification to gain forgiveness of our sins.]
Who says these words to us at midnight?
Maybe the angels, seeing people sleeping, wake them up that they might praise the Lord with them. Maybe it is the souls of the saints calling from heaven, or the priests of the churches calling upon their spiritual children to rise up, or the church bells calling upon the monks to rise and praise the Lord of hosts!
Rise, O children of light:
Rise because the night is not for sleep only. Do not be like the three disciples who could not watch with the Lord one hour because their eyes were heavy (Mt26:40,43). God is light (Jn8:12), and you, being His children, are the light of the world (Mt5:14). The might may be dark, but God”s children make it light with their prayers and praise with the angels of light (2Cor11:14).
Rise to praise the Lord of hosts:
Praising God is the most beautiful prayer, like that of the Seraphim (Isa 6:2,3). When praising God we remember His benefits to us, and we meditate on His beautiful attributes. Suffice that He awakens us at midnight that we may talk with Him and be in His presence.
God”s children like to be in God”s presence rather than to sleep.
Their pleasure is in talking with Him by night, not in fun like the people of the world. Our nights are holy, spent in praising Him that He may grant us salvation.
The salvation of our souls:
This is the most important request that occupies our minds by night and by say, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mt16:26) We may not have time by day to think about that, but there is the calm night to ask God for our salvation. It is the work of His grace granted us as the Scripture says, “By grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:5,8). However, this does not mean that we slacken and neglect, for the apostle says, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation,” “you have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” (Heb2:3;12:4).
We should then strive against sin in order to gain salvation.
Are you, brother, on the way to your salvation, or you are inadvertent of the grace of God which you must strive to gain? Some would think that since it is the grace that gives salvation, we can sleep and be at rest. Nay, for the Lord says, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” (Mt26:41)
Wonderful indeed is the spiritual person who rises up at midnight to pray for the salvation of his own soul!
He says to the Lord: Do not permit it, O Lord, that my soul perish, or the enemy snatch it out of your hand, but do give it eternal life (Jn10:28). Do not permit it that my lamp stand be removed from its place, or that anyone take my crown (Rev2:5;3: 11). Do not let me be separated from you.
Would that you watch by night, striving for your own salvation and eternal life! Would that you keep yourself from night sins and impure dreams by sanctifying your beds by psalms, praise songs and spiritual songs, singing in your hearts to the Lord (Col3:16)! This will implant within your minds and subconscious holy spiritual thoughts yielding their fruits in due time. Whatever you implant by day, that you will reap by night. So, keep watch.
The devil also is keeping watch, but to weave snares and nets
By these he makes the children of light fall. That is why St. Peter the apostle said, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith.” (1Pet5:8,9).
When we stand bodily before you, take away from us the sleep of inadvertence.
We are always standing before you, O Lord, as Elijah the Prophet said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand.” (1Kgs18:15) Before you, the angels and archangels stand, but when we stand before you in our bodies, do take from us the sleep of inadvertence. Let us not stand half asleep and half awake.
Give us alertness, that we may learn how to stand before you at the time of prayer.
Give us alertness of body and mind, that neither our minds nor our senses be distracted. To know how to stand before you, is a matter that needs understanding and deep meditation. So many do pray, but do not know how to stand in awe before the king of kings and Lord of Lords (Rev19:16). Mar Isaac therefore says: When you stand before God in prayer, be as one standing before a flame of fire! This is true, For “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb12:29).
We ought to stand before God ashamed of our sins as the tax-collector did.
The tax collector stood afar off, not daring to raise his eyes to heaven, but beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (LK18:13) We also should feel unworthy while standing before God, and each of us should say to Him: O Lord, I am unworthy to stand before you, or to speak to you. I am but dust and ashes (Gen 18:27), base and despised (1Cor1:28); who am I to stand before you, before whom the seraphim and cherubim stand covering their feet with two wings, and covering their faces with two wings (Isa6:2). I am ashamed, O Lord, and dare not raise my face before you because I am caught in my sins and condemned. But for your mercy I would not be able to stand for prayer! Teach me then how to stand before you to pray.
Give us alertness that we may send to you due glorification to gain forgiveness of our sins.
The church teaches us always to glorify God in our prayers by making the sign of the cross and saying, “Glory to the Father, the son, and the Holy Spirit” (Zoxa patri Ke Eio Ke Agio…). And in the Midnight Prayer we repeat the words “Glory be to you, O Lord of mankind”
We glorify God also by prostration, kneeling, and standing before Him in awe. We glorify Him with suitable words of glorification. Therefore St. Basil the Great said:
[Do not start your prayer with request, lest He thinks that but for request you would not pray. Start rather with glorification.]
Through keeping watch in prayer, praise and awe before God, and through alertness of mind and body, through the humbleness of the tax-collector, and through the spiritual feelings, we should then ask for the salvation of our soul and gain forgiveness of those sins which we confess before God in our praise.