“Whether you are in church, or in your house, or in the country; whether you are guarding sheep, or constructing buildings, or present at drinking parties, do not stop praying. When you are able, bend your knees, when you cannot, make intercession in your mind, ‘at evening and at morning and at midday’. If prayer precedes your work and if, when you rise from your bed, your first movements are accompanied by prayer, sin can find no entrance to attack your soul.” ~ St Ephrem the Syrian
“Pray also before your body rests on the bed.” St. Hippolytus
As we can see from the Church fathers’ quotes (and, better yet, from their lives!) prayer is a vital part of our Orthodox Christian life. Therefore we must include prayer in all parts of our day, including at bedtime. It is so important that we model this in our own lives as well as teach it to our children. Prayers should be part of our family’s bedtime routine. They give us the opportunity to review our day, ask forgiveness for sins we have committed, renew our focus on God, entrust ourselves and our loved ones to His care while we sleep, and thank Him for his kindness and mercy through the day just finished. Bedtime prayers offer the opportunity for the soul to be at peace, and are thus a great way to begin a restful night.
The survey we conducted last summer asked participants about including prayer at bedtime. Only 4% of those surveyed answered that their family does not pray together at bedtime. Of those that do pray together at bedtime, we asked where their family gathers for prayer. Our respondents answered in this way (and evidently the location varies by night for some families):
at our icon corner 53%
- around the dining room table 3%
- in the children’s bedrooms 53%
- in the living/family room 3%
8% of respondents’ families pray elsewhere than the options we gave. For example:
- We made a chapel in our house.
- In our own bedrooms. [We have] older children.
- Children’s icon corners
- Varies between the chapel or our icon corner
- Icon corner in the child’s bedroom
- In front of the icons in the children’s room
Even more important than WHERE the family gathers to pray is the question of WHAT do they pray? Our respondents were very kind and shared their family’s traditions of prayer, often including the prayers themselves. Here are the prayers that they pray together at bedtime (in the order in which they were received). Perhaps you will find them helpful for your own family’s bedtime prayer routine:
- Lord’s Prayer; Heavenly King comforter; Trisagion; Other hymns from liturgy or hymns for feasts (e.g. Troparion for Pascha and Theophany)’ “God please watch over [children’s names], give them sweet dreams and a good night of sleep so they may be good listeners, helpers and learners tomorrow. God please keep [insert names of deceased] close with you in heaven. Thank you for [children offer special thanks]. Please bless [children name special intentions]. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen” (or something similar)
- Lord’s Prayer & Jesus Prayer
- Lord’s Prayer, and a prayer of protection, and they each tell God the answer to the questions: something they are thankful for, something they are sorry for, and something/one they want to pray for.
- “Now I lay me,” God Blesses, prayers from the prayer book.
- Russian Orthodox prayer book
- We say the Lord’s Prayer and we give thanks for each individual in our house, extended family and for our deceased family members and we give thanks for the day that we just finished and pray for a good day tomorrow.
- We pray the prescribed evening prayers from the Orthodox Prayer Book, including the child’s evening prayer.
- “Our Father” followed by “Into thy hands O Lord we commend our souls and our bodies. Do thou thyself bless us, have mercy upon us, and grant us life eternal. Amen.”
- In the upstairs hallway icon corner: O Heavenly King, Trisagion, “Our Father,” the Marriage Prayer (from red Antiochian prayer book), prayer for children and godchildren (from that red prayer book), and end with seasonal (eg, during Paschal season, The Angel Cried, or during Lent, prostrations with Prayer of St. Ephraim) hymn to the Theotokos. Then as laying in bed beside toddler, saying the Jesus Prayer slowly, quietly and monotone until they fall asleep.
- The Lord’s Prayer
- The Jesus Prayer first and then whatever comes into our hearts.
- Usually we sing “O Gladsome Light” as me and my son light the candles in the evening time. Depending on when we get to doing that we either go about the rest of our evening and then come back to do evening prayers or we go right into evening prayers after “O Gladsome Light” which consist of the Lord’s Prayer, “Come let us Worship,” Theotokion, “Remit Pardon Forgive O God…” (I don’t know if some of these are the actual names of the prayers but more like the first line of the prayer.) Sometimes we change it a little to say different prayers but basically it is very similar. If it is a feast day I substitute one of our daily prayers for the festal troparion. I have a bad habit of making prayers too long for my 6 yr old. I have to be careful of that!
- We say a prayer before dinner. Both kids participate 3 & 5.
- The Lord’s Prayer and the Trisagion sometimes
- “Our Father”; “Song to the Mother of God”
- From a children’s prayer book, but mostly nights from memory
- The prayers before sleep from the prayer book put out by Jordanville. We say the whole thing with all the kids all ages (teens down to baby) it only takes 20 min.
- We sing a hymn, usually a troparion. We do whichever one we are trying to memorize. Once the kids know it well we work on a new one. We do the Jesus prayer & Lord’s prayer or Trisagion & pray for our family & friends by name. Right now we are memorizing the Creed so we do that instead of the Lord’s prayer. Our kids are young so can’t do it all due to short attention spans.
- We use the little red prayerbook by the Antiochian archdiocese – evening prayers
- “O Lord our God, as Thou are Good and the Lover of mankind, forgive me wherein I have sinned this day in word, deed, and thought. Grant me peaceful and undisturbed sleep and send thy guardian angel to protect and keep me from all evil. For Thou art the guardian of our souls and unto Thee do we send up glory: to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
- Orthodox prayer book or menaion.
- “O Angel you are truly mine, given to me by God Divine, to always be at my side and teach me what is right. I am little you are tall. I am weak, you make me strong. Never go away from me. From all danger keep me free. Amen” “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John bless this bed that I lay on. Four corners round my bed. Four angels round my head. Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Keep me safe all through the night and wake me with the morning light. Amen”
- The “Our Father”; The Jesus prayer; The Guardian angel prayer; A prayer to the Theotokos for guidance and intervention
- Trisagion, Lord’s prayer, ask their patron saint to pray them, then venerate icons
- At this point, the opening Trisagion Prayers from memory
- Personal [prayers]
- We are recent converts from Roman Catholicism and our bedtime prayers have remained the same- the guardian angel prayer and the prayer to St Michael the Archangel
- the beginning of the formal evening prayers up to “Our Father” and to each Saint our child is named after. We extend evening prayers using the Orthodox Prayer Book as they get older.
- We are ROCOR, so we often do a modified (shortened) version of the Night time prayers from the Jordanville Prayer Book. But we also greatly like and admire the prayers of the Western Rite Orthodox church, so I’d say about 1/3 of the time, we pray/sing either their Vespers or Compline service.
- The evening prayers in the “Come to Me” prayer book
- Basic prayers from Orthodox prayer book. Occasionally shorter, occasionally add hymns from vespers: “Blessed is the man,” “Bless the Lord O my soul,” “Let God arise,” “O gentle light,” etc
- The prayers in the back of the Orthodox Study Bible
- Trisagion, Evening Prayers, other prayers from red prayer book, special other prayers.
- “Our Father” followed by saying what we are grateful for that day and what good deed we did for someone else
- We pray the Trisagion and sing “More Honorable Than The Cherubim…”, then we pray for a list of sick and suffering, a list of the dead, and finish with “In Your hands, Lord Jesus Christ our God, we commit our souls and our bodies. Forgive us, have mercy on us, and grant us life eternal. Amen.” (During Paschaltide, we sign Christ is risen three times or more to open each prayer time.)
- from the Orthodox children’s prayer book
- Evening prayers from the Jordanville prayer book. We read the Trisagion and Psalms in the icon corner, then complete the rest of the prayers snuggling our daughter to sleep.
- We pray the trisagion prayers and then “O Lord our God as thou art good and a lover of mankind, forgive me wherein I have sinned today in word, deed or thought….” and then we have a prayer list (names of family and those we are praying for) that the kids take turns reading, then each member of the family says their own little prayer.
- We have switched between eastern and western rite evening prayers.
- We pray the trisagion, and add intercessions.
- Typical evening prayers outlined in our prayer book.
- The Lord’s prayer, plus individual prayers with our 3 year old daughter.
- The Aaronic blessing from the book of Numbers
- Trisagion prayers is about all we do with a baby and a toddler!
- The Jesus Prayer
- “Our Father”; Jesus Prayer
- Trisagion- chanted, plus evening troparia – sung. Then we adjourn to the kiddo’s room, read a story, hug and snuggle, sing a song, and say the prayer “Into Thy Hands, O Lord Jesus Christ, my God, do I commend my spirit…” Then Mama goes back to the icon corner and finishes her prayers — this part has helped me not put off my own prayers till I get too sleepy.
- Oh Heavenly King, the Trisagion
- “Oh Heavenly King” through “Our Father”, then each night a different person says a personal prayer from the heart, then we recite a verse from the Bible that we are memorizing together that is written on a board in our icon corner.
- At the very least the Trisagion, and sometimes the evening prayers found in the little Antiochian Prayer Book
- small compline or bedtime prayers or prayers in preparation for holy Communion. It is easiest to share a common translation, so we found the digital text to the St. Tikhon’s “Orthodox Daily Prayers” book and have updated some of the language. We added the prayers to our private website for our family’s homeschool and use our phones/tablets for the prayers so we’re all on the same page and the rest of the lights can be kept low.
- Lord’s Prayer; Evening prayers from a prayer book
- The “Our Father”; Jesus loves me; Sometimes work through, over the week, the third and sixth hours. The kids (7&5) enjoy following along and then they get to say the Lord have mercy’s.
- “Our Father”… We also recite three things we are grateful for from our day. Finally, we make special prayer requests for people we know who are sick, in need, etc.
- Evening prayers from the little red prayer book, with family intercessions
- We pray the “Our Father,” followed by asking God to bless our friends and family. Sometimes additional prayers. Sometimes we sing a 7th century prayer, especially when scared of bad dreams: “Before the ending of the 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 no pollution we may know. O Father, that we ask be done through Jesus Christ Thine only Son, who, with the Holy Ghost and Thee, shall live and reign eternally. Amen.”
As you can see, there are a myriad of prayers to pray at bedtime. Some bedtime prayers are very brief, others long: it depends on the children and what they can handle. You may have noted that some respondents told about changes that they have made in the family’s bedtime prayers as their children grow older. Each family, under the guidance of their spiritual father, needs to decide which prayers to pray together before sleep. Whatever route we choose, let us pray to the Lord, especially at bedtime.
Lord, have mercy.
Here are links related to bedtime prayers, including links to some of the prayer books mentioned by the survey participants in their comments about what prayers they pray:
The Russian prayer book mentioned by our survey participants is available as an app on Google Play (https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Dr_John_Ellsworth_Hutchison_Hall_Daily_Prayers_for?id=5Insc_AzAkYC) or in print (https://www.amazon.com/dp/0615666205/ref=rdr_ext_tmb)
The “Jordanville” prayer book mentioned by our survey participants offers its prayers online as well as in print. Find the prayers before bed here: http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/prayerbook/main.htm
The Antiochian prayer book that our survey participants referred to is available online here: http://www.antiochian.org/orthodox-prayers (Find the evening prayer service here: http://www.antiochian.org/orthodox-prayers/evening-prayers.) But the printed book is such a nice size for children to handle, and it fits in a pocket or purse, so you may want to purchase it already printed: http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-pocket-prayer-book-for-orthodox-christians-vinyl-cover/
Here is a link to one Orthodox children’s prayer book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/childrens-orthodox-prayer-book/
Here is a (free!) printable Orthodox children’s prayer book: http://www.themccallums.org/michelle/2014/02/03/orthodox-prayer-book-for-children-2/
Find Orthodox bedtime prayers for all ages here: http://www.orthodoxcheyenne.org/daily-prayers-for-orthodox-christians/prayers-before-sleep
This printable booklet of prayers includes a section of evening prayers: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/family/for-families/family-activities/docs/tpg-dailyprayers.pdf
Families with older children (who have been praying Orthodox bedtime prayers and are well acquainted with them) may find it beneficial to occasionally read and talk about the prayers that other Christian children pray. It can be helpful to our children to know what some of their friends are praying at bedtime. Talking about these prayers offers parents the opportunity to strengthen our children’s faith as we share the prayer, then affirm similarities and help our children understand the differences. Here are some of them: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/10-popular-bedtime-prayers/
Want some help kickstarting an evening prayer routine? Check out this blog post: http://www.theorthodoxmama.com/evening-prayers-creating-a-routine-of-prayer-in-your-home/