Ep.41: Intro to Vespers Part 2

by 1389 on November 15, 2014

in 1389 (blog admin), Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox hymnography

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Published on Nov 14, 2014 by Coffee with Sr. Vassa
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A weekly, 10-minute program on the Byzantine liturgical tradition, hosted by Dr. Sr. Vassa Larin of the University of Vienna, Austria.

I am moving on with the second part of Vespers, after the prayer “Vouchsafe, O Lord,“ – we mentioned that prayer last week – after this prayer we hear a series of hymns on the topic of the upcoming liturgical day, called the Aposticha (Stchiri na stichovne in Slavonic); this is followed by a Canticle, taken from the Gospel, of St. Simeon the Godbearer – the very old man who greeted Jesus when Jesus was brought as a baby into the Temple soon after His birth. This prayer begins with the words, “Now You dismiss…“ (Lk 2:29-32) – this is the “Nunc dimittis“ (for all you Latins out there). Thus, after the first parts of Vespers were dominated by elements from the Old Testament, like remembering God‘s creation of the world and many different Psalms, we now hear this prayer of St. Simeon, signalizing a transition from the Old Testament to the New. This also introduces another topic, – of death, actually, because, according to Tradition, St. Simeon said these words shortly before his repose. But we will talk more about this in future episodes. The final major element of Vespers is the final Troparion or Apolytikion. This is a brief hymn, usually of the feast or saint of the day. But at Sunday vespers it is the hymn to the Mother of God, “Rejoice, o Virgin, Mother of God,“ which also reminds us of the very beginnings of the New Testament, – more precisely, of the greeting of the Archangel Gabriel to the All-Holy Virgin at the Annunciation. Thus Vespers helps us to redirect our thoughts, in the evening, inspiring us for a new day tomorrow by reminding us of our beginnings: from God‘s creation of the world, as a gift to us, to the good news of Christ‘s entrance into our history. I have not yet mentioned that Vespers also contains several litanies, what the Russians call “Ektenii,“ a series of petitions read by the deacon or priest, followed by a response of the choir, usually “Lord have mercy,” (Kyrie eleison) or “Grant this, O Lord.” These litanies, in which we pray together for all of us, as a community, and for various people and groups of people who particularly need our prayers, like the poor and the sick, – these commemorations are a very ancient part of Christian evening services, as I already mentioned, because really it is the most natural thing in the world to pray for one another before we go to bed. It‘s as natural as kissing your children good-night. From ancient times, these litanies offer prayers for the church and civil authorities – for our bishop, our president, and so on. – And let‘s face it, we often do a better job criticizing those in positions of authority than we do praying for them.

But now let‘s go back to one of these parts of Vespers, and talk about the Prokeimenon. This is he short Psalm-verse that is repeated several times in the middle of Vespers. At Sunday Vespers, celebrated on Sa-turday evening, when we begin the weekly celebration of the Resurrection, the Prokeimenon is “The Lord is King, He is clothed in beauty (majesty).“ (Ps 92/93:1) This verse is taken from Psalm 92/93, and it is sung several times, with the deacon or priest proclaiming other verses from the same Psalm in between the repetition, by the choir, of the main verse, the Prokeimenon. The Greek word προκείμενος means that which precedes or lies before, because the Prokeimenon, you see, sometimes precedes – and in ancient times always preceded, readings from the Bible.

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Go to Vespers whenever you have the opportunity. It’s worth it.

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