11 December 2018

‘Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest.
The lights of evening round us shine’

‘Hail gladdening light’ … sunset at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick, last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

After a few stormy days, with strong winds and heavy rains, the weather became much calmer here yesterday, with clear skies as the day continued, and a beautiful sunset that brought colour to the evening.

I spent today in Adare today [11 December 2018], taking part in a chaplaincy training day for priests in these dioceses. But as I returned to Askeaton this evening, the turned was pouring down again, and we seem to have returned to winter weather. But looking back at photographs of a winter sunset in Skerries two years ago [11 December 2016], I realised these colourful sunsets are not unusual at this time of the year.

As I watched yesterday’s sunset in the Rectory garden in Askeaton first, and then in the churchyard at Saint Mary’s Church, my mind turned again to the hymn Phos Hilaron (Φῶς Ἱλαρόν).

This is an ancient Christian hymn, originally written in Koine Greek. It is sometimes referred to by its Latin title, Lumen Hilare, and it has been translated into English as Hail, gladdening light and O Gladsome Light. This is the earliest known Christian hymn outside the Bible that is still in use to this day.

The hymn is part of vespers in the Byzantine Rite, and also included in some modern Anglican and Lutheran liturgies.

The hymn was first recorded in the late third or early fourth century by an unknown author in the Apostolic Constitutions. It is found in a collection of songs to be sung in the morning, in the evening, before meals, and at candle lighting.

It is divided into 12 verses, varying between five, six, eight, nine, 10 and 11 syllables a verse. The original Greek text is:

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.

A verbatim translation reads:

O gladsome light of the holy glory of the immortal Father,
the heavenly, the holy, the blessed, O Jesus Christ,
having come upon the setting of the sun, having seen the light of the evening,
we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God.
Worthy it is at all times to praise thee in joyful voices,
O Son of God, giver of life, for which the world glorifies thee

‘The lights of evening round us shine’ … sunset at the harbour in Skerries, Co Dublin, two years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Saint Basil of Caesarea (329-379 AD), also called Saint Basil the Great and one of the Cappadocian Fathers, spoke of the singing of the Phos Hilaron as a cherished tradition of the Church, and by then the hymn was considered to be an old one.

The hymn is a fixed part of the Orthodox Vespers, sung or recited daily, at the entrance when great vespers is celebrated and, in all cases, after the ‘lamp-lighting psalms’ in the evening, so that it is sometimes known as the ‘Lamp-lighting Hymn.’

Drawing on manuscripts from the 12th-14th centuries, James Ussher, Archbishop of Dublin, included a version of the hymn in his collection De Symbolis in 1647.

The hymn was first translated into English in 1834 by John Keble (1792-1866), a leading figure in the Oxford Movement. Keble’s version was set for eight voices as an anthem in 1912 by the Irish composer Charles Wood (1866-1926). Wood was born in Vicars’ Hill, Armagh, three months after Keble died, and he later became Professor of Music in Cambridge.

In the Anglican tradition, the hymn has become associated with Evening Prayer. It was revived in the Church of Ireland in 1933. Today, John Keble’s version is recommended as the First Canticle at Evening Prayer in the Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer (p 109):

Hail, gladdening Light, of his pure glory poured,
who is the 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 undefilèd tongue.
Son of our God, giver of life, alone:
therefore in all the world thy glories, Lord, they own

Another 19th century translation by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) in 1851 was set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame and the son of an Irish-born bandmaster and music teacher. The translation by the Poet Laureate, Robert Seymour Bridges (1844-1930), ‘O gladsome light, O grace,’ is included in many hymnals.

In all, there are three versions of this hymn in the Church Hymnal (5th ed) of the Church of Ireland:

699, ‘Hail, gladdening light,’ by John Keble.
702, ‘Light of the world, in grace and beauty,’ by the Canadian hymnwriter and priest Paul Saison Gibson.
707, ‘O gladsome light, O grace,’ by Robert Bridges.

The version of the hymn by Robert Bridges in the Church Hymnal (707) reads:

O gladsome light, O grace
of God the Father’s face,
the eternal splendour wearing;
celestial, holy, blessed,
our Saviour Jesus Christ,
joyful in your appearing.

As day fades into night,
we see the evening light,
our hymn of praise outpouring:
Father of might unknown,
Christ, his incarnate Son,
and Holy Spir’t adoring.

To you of right belongs
all praise of holy songs,
O Son of God, Lifegiver;
you, therefore, O Most High,
the world will glorify,
and shall exalt for ever

Of course, the ‘gladdening light’ who is being welcomed in these hymns is Christ, ‘the true light, which enlightens everyone’ (John 1: 9), which makes this not only an appropriate hymn at the closing of the day, but an appropriate hymn in this season of Advent.

‘Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest’ … sunset in Saint Mary’s churchyard, Askeaton, last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Praying in Advent with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(11): 11 December 2018

‘If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?’ (Matthew 18: 12) … Christ as the Good Shepherd in a mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout the season of Advent this year, I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 being used in Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

USPG is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current USPG prayer diary (7 October 2018 to 16 February 2019), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

The USPG Prayer Diary began this week with an article by Paulo Ueti, a Bible scholar and theologian in the Anglican Church of Brazil.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Tuesday 11 December 2018:

Give thanks for the efforts of the Anglican Episcopal Church in Brazil in reaching out to women and others who face discrimination.

Christ the Good Shepherd (see Matthew 18: 12-14) … a window in Christ Church, Leamonsley, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

Lichfield Cathedral’s Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 suggests you light your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray. It suggests setting aside five to 15 minutes each day.

Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar. Each week there is a suggestion to ‘eat simply’ – try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough. There is a suggestion to donate to a charity working with the homeless. There is encouragement to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

The calendar is for not only for those who use the Cathedral website and for the Cathedral community. It is also for anyone who wants to share in the daily devotional exercise. The calendar suggests lighting your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today’s suggested reading is Matthew 18: 12-14.

The reflection for today suggests:

Pray for those who have got lost in the world through poverty, addiction, debt. Ask to share in Christ’s work of gathering all people into his family.

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland):

Isaiah 40: 1-11; Psalm 96: 1, 10-13; Matthew 18: 12-14.

The Collect:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.