Historians have also speculated that around the time of Jesus, in their search to find communion with God, the Essenes of the Judean wilderness reinstituted Davidic worship as part of their life of prayer and fasting.
Around 400 AD, he returned to Constantinople with 300–400 monks, where he established laus perennis to fulfill Paul’s exhortation to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Driven from Constantinople, the monks established the monastery at Gormon, at the mouth of the Black Sea. This became the founding monastery of the order of the Acoemetae (literally, the sleepless ones). Alexander died here in 430 AD, but the influence of the Acoemetae continued. The houses were divided into six choirs rotating throughout the day, each new choir relieving the one before, to create uninterrupted prayer and worship twenty-four hours a day.
John, the second abbot of the Acoemetae, founded another monastery on the eastern shore of the Bosphorus, referred to in many ancient documents as the “great monastery” and motherhouse of the Acoemetae. The library here was recognized for its greatness throughout the Byzantine Empire and indeed was consulted by several Popes. The third abbot established a monastery in the capital under the royal consul, Studius, who dedicated the new monastery to John the Baptist. Studion became a renowned center of learning and piety, the most important monastery in Constantinople. Studion continued until 1453 when the Turks captured Constantinople.
The lasting impact of the Acoematae has been their worship and their contribution to church liturgy. The monasteries, numbering into the hundreds and sometimes thousands, were organized into national groups of Latins, Greeks, Syrians and Egyptians, and then into choirs. In addition to laus perennis, which passed into the Western Church with St. Maurice of Agaune, they developed the divine office of the literal carrying out of Psalm 119:164, “Seven times a day I praise You, because of Your righteous judgments.” This became an integral part of the Benedictine rule of the seven hours of prayer—Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline.
Although the veracity of the story has been called into question, the legend of the martyrs at Agaunum spread far and wide. Between 515–521 AD, Sigismund, King of Burgundy, lavishly endowed the monastery established at the site of the martyrdom to ensure its success. In 522 AD, the abbot at St. Maurice’s instituted laus perennis after the tradition of the Acoemetae. Choirs of monks would sing in rotation, with one choir relieving the previous choir, continuing day and night. This practice went on until around 900 AD, impacting monasteries all over France and Switzerland.
In 433 AD, just as the Roman Empire was starting to crumble, St. Patrick returned to Ireland (having been enslaved on the island previously) with a view to preaching the Christian message to the Irish. He was followed by a number of other ascetics—Finnian, Brigid and Ciaran, all of whom established monastic centers throughout the island. While Christianity in much of the empire had been founded upon bishops overseeing cities and urban centers, Ireland had never been conquered and had no urban centers. The fall of the empire therefore had little impact on it, making it relatively easy for monasteries to become the center of influence in Irish society.
According to the 12th century Anglo-Norman Monk Jocelin, Patrick came to rest in a valley on the shores of the Belfast Lough on one of his many journeys. Here, he and his comrades beheld a vision of heaven. Jocelin states, “they held the valley filled with heavenly light, and with a multitude of heaven, they heard, as chanted forth from the voice of angels, the psalmody of the celestial choir.” The place became known as the Vallis Angelorum or the Vale of Angels. The famed Bangor Monastery would begin its life here approximately one hundred years later; from this spot, heaven’s song would reach into Europe.
Throughout the sixth century, Bangor became famous for its choral psalmody. “It was this music which was carried to the Continent by the Bangor Missionaries in the following century” (Hamilton, Rector of Bangor Abbey). Divine services of the seven hours of prayer were carried out throughout Bangor’s existence. However the monks went further and carried out the practice of laus perennis. In the twelfth century, Bernard of Clairvaux spoke of Comgall and Bangor, stating, “the solemnization of divine offices was kept up by companies, who relieved each other in succession, so that not for one moment day and night was there an intermission of their devotions.” This continuous singing was antiphonal in nature, based on the call and response reminiscent of Patrick’s vision, but also practiced by St. Martin’s houses in Gaul. Many of these psalms and hymns were later written down in the Antiphonary of Bangor which came to reside in Colombanus’ monastery at Bobbio, Italy.
In 580 AD, a Bangor monk named Mirin took Christianity to Paisley, where he died “full of miracles and holiness.” In 590, the fiery Colombanus, one of Comgall’s leaders, set out from Bangor with twelve other brothers, including Gall who planted monasteries throughout Switzerland. In Burgundy he established a severe monastic rule at Luxeil which mirrored that of Bangor. From there he went to Bobbio in Italy and established the house which became one of the largest and finest monasteries in Europe. Colombanus died in 615, but by 700 AD, one hundred additional monasteries had been planted throughout France, Germany and Switzerland. Other famed missionary monks who went out from Bangor include Molua, Findchua and Luanus.
In 910, William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine, founded the monastery at Cluny under the auspices of Abbot Berno, instituting a stricter form of the Benedictine rule. William endowed the abbey with resources from his entire domain, but more importantly gave the abbey freedom in two regards. Due to the financial endowment, the abbey was committed to increased prayer and perpetual praise, or laus perennis. Its autonomy from secular leadership was also important as the abbey was directly accountable to the church in Rome.
The second abbot, Odo, took over in 926. According to C.H. Lawrence, he was “a living embodiment of the Benedictine ideal.” His reforming zeal meant that the influence of the monastery at Cluny expanded widely during his leadership. Known for its independence, hospitality and alms giving, Cluny significantly departed from the Benedictine rule, removing manual labor from a monk’s day and replacing it with increased prayer. The number of monastic houses which looked to Cluny as their motherhouse increased greatly during this period, and the influence of the house spread all over Europe.
Cluny reached the zenith of its power and influence in the twelfth century; it commanded 314 monasteries all over Europe, second only to Rome in terms of importance in the Christian world. It became a seat of learning, training no less than four popes. The fast-growing community at Cluny necessitated a great need for buildings. In 1089, the abbey at Cluny began construction under Hugh, the sixth abbot. It was finished by 1132 and was considered to be one of the wonders of the Middle Ages. More than 555 feet in length, it was the largest building in Europe until St. Peter’s Basilica was built in Rome during the sixteenth century. Consisting of five naves, a narthex (or ante-church), several towers and the conventual buildings, it covered an area of twenty-five acres. However, even before these great building projects, it is interesting to note that the decline in spirituality led to the ultimate demise of Cluny’s influence.
Zinzendorf was born in 1700 to an aristocratic but pious family. His father died when he was only six weeks old. The young boy was therefore brought up by his grandmother, a well-known leader of the Pietist movement and friendly with the established leader of the Pietists and young Zinzendorf’s godfather, Phillipp Spener. Growing up in the midst of such passion for Jesus, Zinzendorf speaks of his early childhood as a time of great piety: “In my fourth year I began to seek God earnestly, and determined to become a true servant of Jesus Christ.”
From the age of ten, Zinzendorf was tutored at the Pietist school of Halle under the watchful eye of Augustus Francke, another leader of the Pietists. There he formed a school club which lasted all his life, The Honourable Order of the Mustard Seed. After several years at Halle, Zinzendorf’s uncle considered the young count too much of a Pietist and had him sent to Wittenberg to learn jurisprudence, so that he might be prepared for court life. Soon the young count was accepted in various circles of society in Europe. He kept these connections for the rest of his life, although his position in the Dresden Court and future plans for Saxon court life as Secretary of State would not be fulfilled.
The Hundred-Year Prayer Meeting and Subsequent Missions A new spirituality now characterized the community, with men and women being committed to bands or choruses to encourage one another in the life of God. August of 1727 is seen as the Moravian Pentecost. Zinzendorf said August 13th was “a day of the outpourings of the Holy Spirit upon the congregation; it was its Pentecost.” Within two weeks of the outpouring, twenty-four men and twenty-four women covenanted to pray “hourly intercessions,” thus praying every hour around the clock. They were committed to see that, “The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out” (Leviticus 6:13). The numbers committed to this endeavor soon increased to around seventy from the community. This prayer meeting would go non-stop for the next one hundred years and is seen by many as the spiritual power behind the impact the Moravians had on the world.
From the prayer room at Herrnhut came a missionary zeal which has hardly been surpassed in church history. The spark initially came from Zinzendorf’s encounter in Denmark with Eskimos who had been converted by Lutherans. The count returned to Herrnhut and conveyed his passion to see the gospel go to the nations. As a result, many of the community went out into the world to preach the gospel, some even selling themselves into slavery in order to fulfill the great commission. This commitment is shown by a simple statistic. Typically, when it comes to world missions the Protestant laity to missionary ratio has been 5000:1. The Moravians, however, saw a much increased ratio of 60:1. By 1776, some 226 missionaries had been sent out from the community at Herrnhut. It is clear through the teaching of the so-called father of modern missions, William Carey, that the Moravians had a profound impact on him in regard to their zeal for missionary activity. It is also through the missions-minded Moravians that John Wesley came to faith. The impact of this little community in Saxony, which committed to seek the face of the Lord day and night, has truly been immeasurable.
On September 19, 1999, the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri, started a prayer and worship meeting that has continued for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week ever since. With a similar vision to Zinzendorf, that the fire on the altar should never go out, there has never been a time when worship and prayer has not ascended to heaven since that date.
At the same time, in many other places around the world, God placed desires and plans for 24/7 prayer in the fabric of diverse ministries and in the hearts of leaders. This has resulted in 24/7 houses of prayer and prayer mountains being established in every continent of the earth.