Vespers: O Gladsome Light

H/T: Central Pennsylvania Orthodox

Because we reckon the days from sunset to sunset (And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. Genesis 1:5), Vespers is the first service of the liturgical day; hence, Sunday worship begins on Saturday evening with Sunday Vespers, after which the priest typically hears confessions. Sunday worship then continues on Sunday morning, first with Matins (Orthros), then Divine Liturgy.

Vespers begins our liturgical day, and our Sunday liturgical cycle. It is a central part of our worship, and its almost Spartan beauty stands in stark contrast to the elaborate beauty of the Divine Liturgy. The priest wears only the riassa and epitrachelion (cassock and stole).

O come, let us worship God, our King!
O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ, our King and our God!
O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and our God!
O come, let us worship and fall down before Him!

In silence, the church is censed to represent the Spirit of God moving over the waters before the first Words of Creation, and then Psalms 103 (104) is chanted to commemorate the Creation.

Bless the Lord, O my soul. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, blessed art Thou!
Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord, my God, Thou art very great. Thou art very great.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord. How glorious are Thy works, O Lord. In wisdom hast Thou made them all!
Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee, Who hast created all!

+Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
now and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen.

+Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, glory to Thee, O God!
+Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, glory to Thee, O God!
+Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, glory to Thee, O God!

Vespers traces the history of the relationship between God and man, beginning with the Creation. The open Royal Doors are closed at the Great Litany, representing the Fall, the closing of the gates of the Eden. The priest (or deacon, if there is one) stands outside the iconostasis before the closed Royal Doors, as Adam stood before the gates of Paradise, representing the misery of man cut off from God after the Fall, and leads us in the Great Litany, in which we petition God for salvation.


We then call upon God to save us by chanting Psalm 140 (141) while the priest or deacon censes the church, representing our prayers rising to heaven.

Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee.
Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.

Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties.

Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head:
for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities. When their judges are overthrown in stony places, they shall hear my words; for they are sweet.

Our bones are scattered at the grave’s mouth, as when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth.
But mine eyes are unto thee, O GOD the Lord: in thee is my trust; leave not my soul destitute.
Keep me from the snares which they have laid for me, and the gins of the workers of iniquity.
Let the wicked fall into their own nets, whilst that I withal escape.


I cried unto the LORD with my voice; with my voice unto the LORD did I make my supplication.
I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble.
When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path.
In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me.
I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.
I cried unto thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.
Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low: deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I.
Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me.

After a number of other Psalms are chanted comes the Lighting of the Lamps, when we look forward to the coming Christ, and chant one of the most ancient hymns of the church, even older than much of the New Testament, O Gladsome Light (Byzantine tone 5 mp3). The Light refers to the Uncreated Light, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

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.

Vespers ends with the Prayer of St Symeon (O Lord, lettest now Thy servant depart in peace …) also commemorating the Christ, and His redemption of man, followed by the Trisagion Prayers and the dismissal.

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,
Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
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 to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

St Luke 2:25-32

Vespers begins with the Creation, and ends with the Redemption. When we pray Vespers, we focus upon our sinful nature, and our reunification with God.

Saint Ignatius Orthodox Church has a description of Vespers. Vespers on Orthodoxwiki.

Mark/Clay (Mark is the name he received at his Chrismation), the blogger at CentralPensylvaniaOrthodox, fell asleep in the Lord earlier this year. He, like me, was a revert to the Orthodox faith and is the one who prompted me to start blogging.  His testimony can be read here.  The You Tube videos in this post were recorded by Mark from his home parish Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in State College, Pennsylvania. In your charity, please remember Mark in your prayers.


2 Responses to Vespers: O Gladsome Light

  1. Maximus says:

    Thank you very much for this! Your efforts are appreciated and you touch many. Please keep up the great work!

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