Vespers

Created on: 12th January 2022

How magnified are Thy work, O Lord! In wisdom hast Thou made them all;
the earth is filled with Thy creation — Psalm 103

While a day on the secular calendar begins and ends at midnight, the Christian day (like the Jewish day) goes from sunset to sunset. We see this first in Genesis 1:15 — ‘there was evening and there was morning, one day’.

The liturgical day thus begins in the evening, and the first service of the liturgical day is therefore Vespers, which is held around sunset — the first service of Sunday, for example, is Vespers on Saturday evening. Vespers, like Matins, is predominantly a sung service (which is why it is also called Evensong) and much of the content is variable, depending on the day and tone of the week, the date, and the season.

Marking the beginning of the liturgical day, the Vesper service begins with the reading of Psalm 103 (104), which recalls the beginning of the world, and praises God as the creator and sustainer of all things. While the Psalm is being read, the priest silently reads 7 short evening prayers before the holy altar.

After the Litany of Peace, we read a káthisma from the book of Psalms (see the entry on the Psaltērion) — on Saturday evenings, we read the first káthisma, namely Psalms 1–8.

The choir then sing Psalms 140 (141), 141 (142), 129 (130), and 116 (117). As the choir sings the verse, ‘Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee, the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice’ (Psalm 140:2), the deacon (or priest) will process through the church, censing the altar, the icons, and all those present, while the choir continue to sing the rest of the Psalms. Hymns called stichērá (verse-hymns) are inserted after the verses of Psalms 129 and 116. These hymns relate to the saint or feast being celebrated on that particular day (e.g., the Birth of Christ on December 25th, or the Resurrection of Christ on a Sunday).

While the last hymn is being sung, the priest (holding the censer, and preceded by a lit candle) comes out of the sanctuary and walks around the front of the church, stopping in front of the altar doors, where he silently recites an evening prayer and then censes the icons on the templon and the people.[1] We call this the Small Entrance.

The choir then sing the Fōs Hilarón: ‘O Joyous Light of the holy glory of the immortal, heavenly, holy, blessed Father, O Jesus Christ: Having come to the setting of the sun, having beheld the evening light, we praise the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: God. Meet it is for Thee at all times to be hymned with reverent voices, O Son of God, Giver of life. Wherefore, the world doth glorify Thee’.

We then sing the evening prokeímenon — short verses from the Psalms —; each day of the week has its own prokeímenon. If it is the eve of a great feast, the prokeímenon is followed by three readings from the Old Testament related to the feast.

After another set of litanies, and a final evening prayer, the choir sing a set of hymns similar in content and style to the stichērá, but which are called apósticha (after-verses) since they are sung towards the end of the service.

After the apósticha, the priest recites the prayer of Symeon:

 ‘Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Master, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; a light of revelation for the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel’ (Luke 2:29–32).

The reader will then read the Trisagion prayers (the ‘Holy God’, the ‘All-holy Trinity, have mercy on us’, and the ‘Our Father’), after which the Choir sing the final Dismissal Hymns (apolytíkia). The dismissal hymn (apolytíkion) is the main hymn — the ‘theme tune’, if you will — of a particular feast. It is read or sung at all of the daily services, but gets its name because it is first sung immediately before the dismissal (apólysis) at the end of the Vesper service.

When is Vespers on at 318 Godbearing Fathers?

We have Vespers every Saturday evening, 6.00pm to 7.00pm. Please see our programme of services for details.

[1] This only takes place on Saturday evenings, and on the eve of an important feast.

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