Saturday, 19 July 2014
As the evening lights were beginning to fade and dusk was threatening to turn to dark, I called into the Romanian Orthodox Church in Leeson Park, Dublin this evening while the evening service of Vespers was continuing.
Christ Church, Leeson Park, was once a leading Church of Ireland parish church just beyond the Grand Canal and on the limits of the inner city. For some years it was shared with the congregation of Centenary Methodist Church.
Christ Church was grouped with Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Ballsbridge many years ago, and I am celebrating the Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s tomorrow morning [20 July 2014] and preaching.
Today, Christ Church is still used for mid-week celebrations of the Eucharist by Anglicans, and is occasionally used for Methodist celebrations, including this year’s installation of a new Methodist President.
But for most of the time it is used by the principal Romanian Orthodox parish in Dublin. In the Orthodox Church, the liturgical day follows Biblical practice and begins in the evening with the setting of the sun.
Orthodox Vespers always begin with the chanting of the evening psalm: “...the sun knows its time for setting. You make darkness, and it is night …” (Psalm 104: 19-20) This psalm, which glorifies God’s creation of the world, is humanity’ very first act of worship, for humanity first of all meets God as Creator.
On the eve of Sunday, however, sections of the first psalm and the other psalms that are chanted to begin the week are usually sung even in parish churches:
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honour and majesty,
2 wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind,
4 you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers.
5 You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken.
6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth,
15 and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests; the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night, when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
21 The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens.
23 People go out to their work and to their labour until the evening.
24 O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!
The sun knows its time for setting. You make darkness, and it is night. O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. Glory to you, O God (3).
Lord, you are our hope, glory to you.
Verspers on Saturday also include Phos Hilaron (Φῶς Ἱλαρόν), which is familiar to Anglicans in English as Hail Gladdening Light or O Gladsome/Joyous Light. This is the earliest known Christian hymn recorded outside the Bible that is still in use today:
Φῶς ἱλαρὸν ἁγίας δόξης ἀθανάτου Πατρός,
οὐρανίου, ἁγίου, μάκαρος, Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ,
ἐλθόντες ἐπὶ τὴν ἡλίου δύσιν, ἰδόντες φῶς ἑσπερινόν,
ὑμνοῦμεν Πατέρα, Υἱόν, καὶ ἅγιον Πνεῦμα, Θεόν.
Ἄξιόν σε ἐν πᾶσι καιροῖς ὑμνεῖσθαι φωναῖς αἰσίαις,
Υἱὲ Θεοῦ, ζωὴν ὁ διδούς• διὸ ὁ κόσμος σὲ δοξάζει.
John Keble’s tranlation prays:
Hail, gladdening Light, of His pure glory poured
Who is th’immortal Father, heavenly, blest,
Holiest of Holies – Jesus Christ our Lord!
Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest;
The lights of evening round us shine;
We hymn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit divine!
Worthiest art thou at all times to be sung
With undefiled tongue,
Son of our God, giver of life, alone:
Therefore in all the world thy glories, Lord, they own.
There was only a handful of people in the church this evening, but throughout the portion of Vespers I attended a constant prayer in Romanian was: “Lord have mercy.”
The bread and wine for tomorrow morning’s Liturgy were being prayed over and blessed, and at the end of the day I felt I was present for an appropriate preparation for my own celebration of the Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s in the morning.
Earlier in the evening, two of us were across the street in Aladdin’s Café in Upper Leeson Street for dinner that was a combination of Egyptian, Lebanese and Greek cuisine in generous portions and in an elegant ambiance.
We ended with coffee – it could be Greek, it could be Syrian, it could be Turkish or Palestinian or Lebanese coffee. And I ended thinking of the children in Gaza and praying for peace in this sadly violated region.