One lament I have about present liturgical praxis in much of ROCA is the highly abbreviated manner in whic the Third and Sixth hours are served, before the Divine Liturgy, following All Night Vigils; they are typically hurridly chanted, and seem to serve merely as a warmup for the choir, and in a small parish like mine, also serve to mask the sound of people confessing to the Priest before the Divine Liturgy. The situation is of coure the same across most of ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate. The Ninth Hour is rarely celebrated. Only the First Hour, when it is included as the conclusion of All Night Vigils, receives the prominence one would consider desirable. In this I see a missed opportunity.
Many parishioners who attend the liturgy did not make the All Night Vigil, and hear the Prophecy and the Matins Gospels. In the Third Hour, in between the appointed Psalms, I would propose a Reader or the Priest simply read these, together with the appointed lections for the next service, in a clear voice, in the vernacular language spoken by the majority of the parishioners. This leaves the clergy free to intone in the most artistic manner possible the Epistle and Gospel during the actual Divine Liturgy, in Church Slavonic, without concern over audience comprehension.
In like manner, I propose in the sixth hour, the Priest delivers a lengthy sermon, the primary edification tying the different appointed lessons together. This sermon might be up to 30 minutes in length. This leaves him free in the Divine Liturgy to quote a Patristic homily, or sing a Metrical Homily of St. Ephraim the Syrian, or a Kontakion of St. Romanos the Melodist, or perhaps to compose his own lyrical or metrical homily, or if nothing else, to deliver a brief homily of a primarily mystical nature, the rational and intellectual exegesis of the daily service having already been thoroughly explored during the Sixth Hour.
Finally, many parishes have lunch following major observances. Whenever a meal is served to the parishioners, I propose it be followed in due course with the solemn Ninth Hour, immediately following the thanksgiving prayer at the end of the meal. What better way to end a beautiful feast day than to contemplate the wondrous passion of our Lord and Savior. In each of the Hours, the Psalms might be sung, perhaps congregationally, and to simple matters, or dare I say it, even with the assistance of an organ, providing the congregation with the opportunity to sing, while at the same time ensuring that the music in the Divine Liturgy itself will be provided by the choir, and will be as otherworldly, transcendental and mystical as possible, allowing the average parishioner to simply stand or sit in the nave, absorbing the profound Holiness as the Divine Liturgy is celebrated.
This is not to say that the Divine Liturgy itself should be rendered completely mystical and incomprehensible, with all intellectualization transferred to the revitalized hours, nor that the hours themselves should be dry and intellectual; surely that would be as dire as the present manner in which they are neglected in parish life. Rather, I propose a balance, whereby more preaching could occur during the Third and Sixth Hours; however, these services, like all those of the Byzantine Rite, contain a great deal of solemn beauty and mysticism, if celebrated properly, and by turning them into a preaching-centered service, this solemnity would be better expressed than with their present state of neglect. I do believe the supreme example of a homily in the Divine Liturgy itself is the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom, which remains unsurpassed in its brevity and beauty; by explaining the observance of the day in intellectual detail during his sermon in the Sixth Hour, the Priest will be free to explore in his Eucharistic homily the spiritual dimension, in a manner deemed most appropriate; perhaps also in this manner, Patristic homilies, such valuable works of preaching, might be more widely heard. Some of these are quite long and intellectually intensive, and would be better read during the Sixth Hour, whereas others are short and mystical, and are best fit for the Liturgy of the Catechumens. Finally, Sunday School would be provided during the Third and Sixth Hour Service, whereas children would be urged to remain with their Parents during the Liturgy.
I should lastly like to emphasize one more time, that in no respect would any alterations be made to the service texts of the Third or Sixth Hours; rather, in the Third Hour, the reading of all of the scripture lessons of the liturgical day having begun at Vespers the previous night, and at the Sixth Hour, the sermon, would be inserted at suitable moments. No change at all would be applied to the Ninth Hour, other than being sung properly, rather than hurridly chanted.
The typical daily schedule of worship of a Parish following this system would be as follows:
8:30 AM - Third Hour
9:00 AM - Sixth Hour
9:30 AM - Those who intend to communicate will confess to the priests; those not communicating may rest in the parish hall or spend time in quiet devotion.
10:15 AM - Start of the Divine Liturgy
12:00 PM - Parish Luncheon
2:00 PM - Ninth Hour
The night before, the All Night Vigils would of course be served according to the customary timetable.
If Matins is to be served in the morning, this schedule is somewhat pressured, but the following is easily attainable, with a shorter sermon during the Sixth Hour:
5:30 AM - 8:30 AM - Matins begins, concluding with the First Hour
9:00 AM - Third Hour
9:30 AM - Sixth Hour
10:00 AM - Confessions heard
10:30-10:45 AM Divine Liturgy begins
12:45 PM - Parish Luncheon
3:00 PM - Ninth Hour (at the correct time, one might observe)
Such an order of services interestingly takes us close to the proper times of the Hours in their original use: the Third Hour ought to be 9 AM, the sixth, Noon, and the Ninth, 3 PM. Of course, in contemporary practice, outside of a monastery, getting lay parishioners to sit through even an abbreviated Sixth Hour following the dismissal of the Divine Liturgy is unrealistic, however, other than that, with this schedule some proximity to the natural order is found, especially if a pious congregation has the heart to attend a lengthy Matins and Prime in the early morning hours.