Responding to pious request from parishioners, and with the sense that St. John’s is beginning to grow as a liturgical community, we will begin this week with the regular celebration of Great Vespers in preparation for Divine Liturgy.
We will also begin the regular meeting of a class in Orthodoxy (specific content subject to need of attendees) after conclusion of Vespers every Saturday.
Vespers is the first service of the new liturgical day, and thus begins our preparation for the Resurrectional Divine Liturgy on Sunday. The roots of Vespers is in the oldest stratum of Judaic worship – antecedent to the establishment of the Temple and synagogues – when nomadic Hebrew families would light their lamps at the onset of evening, calling on the Lord to bless the beginning of the new day, which they reckoned from sunset.
Orthodox churches inherited the practice of evening liturgical worship directly from our Jewish ancestors in the faith. Central to our celebration is the entrance into the sanctuary with the singing of the Lucernarium hymn,
O joyous light of the holy glory of the immortal Father, heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ, now that we have to the setting of the sun, and behold the light of evening, we praise God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For meet it is at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise, O Son of God and giver of life; therefore all the world doth glorify Thee.
This hymn is one of the Orthodox Church’s most ancient, attested as early as the second century A.D.
Much of the liturgical poetry that describes the content of the feast at hand on a particular Sunday, Great or Lesser Feast is sung during the Vespers on the evening preceding the feast – like our Jewish ancestors in the faith, we reckon the liturgical day from sunset.
At the verses on the psalm “Lord I call upon Thee” (Ps. 141, LXX) and at the Apostikha (lines from Ps. 93, “The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty”) we sing liturgical poems (stikhera) intercalated between the verse of the psalms. Like loose leaves inserted into a book, these stikhera are changeable according to the need of the particular celebration at hand.
The entire service of Vespers, and all the services of the Orthodox daily cycle of prayer, with the exception of Divine Liturgy – which is in a class of its own – are elaborated from a psalmic basis. Thus the Orthodox Church makes continual use of the “Prayer-book of the Church” (and Temple/Synagogue) as a framework for nearly all its worship.
If we limit our worship to Sunday only, which is the piece de resistance as a sacramental communion service made up of many prayers unique to Holy Communion, we deprive ourselves of hearing many psalms which describe the norm of Orthodox worship. Thus we begin to celebrate Vespers as to move towards a fuller expression of Orthodoxy in our parish life.
May God bless our efforts by sending many pious worshippers and helpers!