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A canon is a structured hymn used in a number of Orthodox services. It consists of nine odes, sometimes called canticles or songs based on compositions (also called odes) found in the Bible, most of which are take from the Old Testament.

The canon dates from the 7th century and was either devised or introduced into the Greek language by St. Andrew of Crete, whose penitential Great Canon is still used on certain occasions during Great Lent. It was further developed in the 8th century by Ss. John of Damascus and Cosmas the Hymnographer, and in the 9th century by Sts. Joseph the Hymnographer and Theophanes the Branded.

An ode of the canon is begun by singing the Biblical ode from its beginning. At some point this is interrupted by an introductory stanza called an irmos, "link", which poetically connects it to the subject of the canon. Following the irmos and sung alternately with the subsequent verses of the ode are a series hymns comprising a single stanza each, or troparia, set in the same melody and meter as the irmos, that expand on its theme. The ode is completed with a final stanza called katavasia, which might or might not be present depending on the service and occasion, and which also varies accordingly. It might be a repetition of the irmos, the irmos of the second canon when more than one canon is being sung together, the irmos of the canon for an upcoming major feast day, or some other verse prescribed by the service books. (Katavasia means "coming down" and the verse is so called because as originally performed the two choirs would descend from their places on the left and right sides of the church to sing it together in the middle.)

When a full canon is performed, between odes three and four a sedalen or "sitting hymn" is sung. Between odes six and seven a vestigal kontakion is sung with only its prooimion, or initial stanza, and the oikos or first strophe. This order is rearranged somewhat if the canon is accompanied by an akathist.

Canons are used most notably at Matins, at Great and Small Compline; and at special services such as the Paraclesis and those of similar structure such as the Panakhida or Molieben. In the latter cases it is often vestigal, consisting of no more than a selection of irmoi with refrains and doxology. Canons may also be used in private prayer either as a regular part of a rule or for special needs. One traditional prayerful preparation for reception of the Eucharist is to read three canons and an akathist the evening prior. When used privately there is generally no attempt at an elaborated musical or metrical performance.

The nine odes may be found in any complete Orthodox Psalter, and they are:

- The Ode of Moses in Exodus (Exodus 15:1-19)
- The Ode of Moses in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 32:1-43)
- The Prayer of Anna the mother of Samuel the Prophet (1 Kings 2:1-10)
- The Prayer of Habbakuk the Prophet (Habbakuk 3:2-19)
- The Prayer of Isaiah the Prophet (Isaiah 26:9-20)
- The Prayer of Jonah the Prophet (Jonah 2:3-10)
- The Prayer of the Three Holy Children (Daniel 3:26-56)
- The Song of the Three Holy Children (Daniel 3:57-88)
- The Song of the Theotokos (Luke 1:46-55) and the Prayer of Zacharias the father of the Forerunner (Luke 1:68-79)

Canon to the Sweetest Lord, Jesus Christ
Canon to the Most Holy Theotokos
Canon to the Guardian Angel
Canon of Repentance
Canon for Holy Communion (includes prayers to be said before and after the canon)
Canon to the Righteous Saint Walstan of Taverhem
Canon to Saint Nicholas, Tsar and Passionbearer

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OFFSITE: Canon - OrthodoxWiki article on canon.