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Vespers

In the Ortho­dox Church the litur­gi­cal day begins in the evening with the set­ting of the sun. This prac­tice fol­lows the Bib­li­cal account of cre­ation: “And there was evening and there was morn­ing, one day” (Gen 1:5).

The Ves­per ser­vice in the Church always begins with the chant­i­ng of the evening psalm: “…the sun knows it’s time for set­ting, Thou mak­est dark­ness and it is night….” (Psalm 104: 19–20) This psalm, which glo­ri­fies God’s cre­ation of the world, is man’s very first act of wor­ship, for man first of all meets God as Creator.

Bless the Lord, oh my soul, O Lord my God, Thou art very great…

O Lord, how man­i­fold are Thy works! In wis­dom hast Thou made them all. The earth is full of Thy crea­tures (Ps 104:24).

Fol­low­ing the psalm, the Great Litany, the open­ing peti­tion of all litur­gi­cal ser­vices of the Church is intoned. In it we pray to the Lord for every­one and everything.

Fol­low­ing this litany a num­ber of psalms are chant­ed, a dif­fer­ent group each evening. These psalms nor­mal­ly are omit­ted in parish church­es though they are done in monas­ter­ies. On the eve of Sun­day, how­ev­er, sec­tions of the first psalm and the oth­er psalms which are chant­ed to begin the week are usu­al­ly sung even in parish churches.

Psalm 141 is always sung at Ves­pers. Dur­ing this psalm the evening incense is offered:

Lord, I call upon Thee, hear me. Hear me, O Lord.

Let my prayer arise in Thy sight as incense.

And let the lift­ing up of my hands be an evening sac­ri­fice. Hear me, O Lord.

(Psalm 141:1–2).

At this point spe­cial hymns are sung for the par­tic­u­lar day. If it be a Church feast: songs in hon­or of the cel­e­bra­tion are sung. On Sat­ur­day evenings, the eve of the Lord’s Day, these hymns always praise Christ’s res­ur­rec­tion from the dead.

The spe­cial hymns nor­mal­ly end with a song called a Theotokion which hon­ors Mary, the Moth­er of Christ. Fol­low­ing this, the ves­per­al hymn is sung. If it be a spe­cial feast or the eve of Sun­day, the cel­e­brant will come to the cen­ter or the church build­ing with light­ed can­dles and incense. This hymn belongs to every Ves­per service.

O Glad­some Light of the holy glo­ry of the Immor­tal Father, heav­en­ly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ. Now we have come to the set­ting of the sun and behold the light of evening. We praise God: Father, Son, and Holy Spir­it. For it is right at all times to wor­ship Thee with voic­es of praise, O Son of God and Giv­er of Life, there­fore all the world glo­ri­fies Thee.

Christ is praised as the Light which illu­mines man’s dark­ness, the Light of the world and of the King­dom of God which shall have no evening (Isa 60:20, Rev 21:25).

A verse from the Psalms, the prokeimenon, follows—a dif­fer­ent one for each day, announc­ing the day’s spir­i­tu­al theme. If it be a spe­cial day, three read­ings from the Old Tes­ta­ment are includ­ed. Then more evening prayers and peti­tions fol­low with addi­tion­al hymns for the par­tic­u­lar day, all of which end with the chant­i­ng of the Song of St Sime­on:

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy ser­vant depart in peace accord­ing to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy sal­va­tion: which Thou hast pre­pared before the face of all peo­ple. A light for rev­e­la­tion to the Gen­tiles, and to be the glo­ry of Thy peo­ple Israel (Lk 1:29–32).

After pro­claim­ing our own vision of Christ, the Light and Sal­va­tion of the world, we say the prayers of the Thrice-Holy (tris­a­gion) through to the Our Father. We sing the main theme song of the day, called the Tropar­i­on, and we are dis­missed with the usu­al benediction.

The ser­vice of Ves­pers takes us through cre­ation, sin, and sal­va­tion in Christ. It leads us to the med­i­ta­tion of God’s word and the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of his love for men. It instructs us and allows us to praise God for the par­tic­u­lar events or per­sons whose mem­o­ry is cel­e­brat­ed and made present to us in the Church. It pre­pares us for the sleep of the night and the dawn of the new day to come. On the eves of the Divine Litur­gy, it begins our move­ment into the most per­fect com­mu­nion with God in the sacra­men­tal mysteries.