Since its initial publication, the Publicans Prayer Book has been one of the best available for Byzantine Christians seeking a prayer book in modern English faithful to Church tradition and orthodoxy.
When it was first published in 2008 by Sophia Press and the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, the book was similar to other books for Orthodox and Greek Catholic Christians. Like others, it included morning and evening prayer, various prayers for specific needs, preparatory prayers for Holy Confession and Holy Communion, troparia and kontakia used in Byzantine services, and essential canons and akathists such as the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Paraklesis, and Akathist to the Sweetest Lord Jesus.
It surpassed others, however, with its collection of excerpts from the writings of Church Fathers on topics such as tradition and repentance; various practical instructions and guiding words on topics such as fasting; insight into the Christian home; glossary of terms; and short but useful bibliography of essential works for developing a full Christian life.
The second edition of the book, published in 2014, included all this material but added 144 pages, taking the book from 624 to 768 pages. Major changes included the addition of Vespers, Orthros, and Typica, along with sections on the Jesus Prayer, the Psalter, and prayers for the dying and departed.
While these earlier editions gave those who used it enough material for a rich Byzantine prayer life, the addition of the liturgical hours allowed them to pray the hours without having to use a complete Horologion. The inclusion of Typica, a traditional service used on days when Divine Liturgy is not celebrated, was especially welcome.
With the publication of the third edition of the book last year, the Publicans Prayer Book now bears the distinction of being the most comprehensive Byzantine book for personal prayer available.
In addition to containing everything of the earlier editions, the book now totals 938 pages and includes a complete Small Horologion for praying an abbreviated Divine Office; the Optina Prayer Rule of the Five Hundred, a rigorous way to practice the Jesus Prayer; and the Service for Praying the Twelve Psalms, an early monastic practice that in the past was usually included in Slavic psalters.
The inclusion of the Service for Praying the Twelve Psalms is one of the most notable aspects of the book. Few seem to have known of this service until 2009 and the publication of Archimandrite Lazarus Moore’s An Extraordinary Peace: St. Seraphim, Flame of Sarov (Anaphora Press), which includes an explanation of the practice in a section of the saint’s prayer rules. David Mitchell James later included the service in his A Psalter for Prayer (Holy Trinity Publications), published in 2011. The Publicans Prayer Book, which includes a modern English version of the service in A Psalter for Prayer, now makes this traditional service more readily available.
An added distinction of the Publicans Prayer Book is that it is published by a church in union with Rome. Roman Catholics, therefore, will find this book an excellent way to gain a deeper understanding of Byzantine prayer, spirituality, and theology. Protestants seeking a similar understanding also will find the book of great value, as will Orthodox not put off by the Melkite church’s union with Rome, or the book’s use of modern English.
All of these characteristics make the Publicans Prayer Book an excellent choice for the individual, family, and small group prayer. A family or small group might pray Orthos and Vespers together, while an individual might pray the Optina Rule in the morning, Typica in the afternoon, and the Twelve Psalms in the evening. Someone advanced in prayer might pray all of these services along with the others included in the Small Horologion. The book also gives each the ability to add to their daily prayer as their desire to pray increases.
Those who prefer to use pray the complete Divine Office will find the Morning Prayers, Optina Rule, and Twelve Psalms worth adding to their daily prayer, or may find the book useful for preparation for Holy Confession and Holy Communion and prayer on days when travel makes it difficult to pray.
The editor, the former Deacon Paul and now Father Theophan, humbly downplays his part in the publication of the Publicans Prayer Book. He deserves to be acknowledged, however, for his excellent work and great service to the Church. Through Fr. Theophan’s efforts, and the publication of this book by Sophia Press and the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, many now have the opportunity to pray more fully as, to use his term, “spiritual publicans.”