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The St. Luke Secret Service
By Mike Bauml

Join the Saint Luke "Secret" Service! I am not talking about the N.I.A. or the C.I.A. or British Intelligence (sorry about that, 007). There are no passwords or secret handshakes, and everyone is welcome. (One regular attendee is Methodist). What is this "Secret" Service? I am talking about Great Vespers, 40 short minutes of joy beginning at 5:30 PM every Saturday.

Anyone who is planning to receive Holy Communion should attend Vespers whenever possible. Vespers embodies forgiveness of sins as well as salvation. "O Lord, cleanse us from our sins! O Master, pardon our transgressions!" (Trisagion Prayers-referring to the Trinity). "If You, O Lord, should take note of our sins, O Lord, who would survive? But with you there is forgiveness" (Psalm 130). This is one of the many Vesperal psalms that help us develop the humble focus with which we should receive Christ's Body and Blood. (Some Orthodox Christians even begin their pre-Communion fast with Vespers).

Focusing on the words and hymns of Vespers reveals what a beautiful and moving service it is, rich in Scriptural readings and teachings. Vespers begins with the Priest chanting "Blessed is our God, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages." Then the service proceeds in the following prescribed order.

1. The Trisagion Prayers: "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us."

2. Psalm 104, which glorifies God's creation of the world: "How great are Your works, O Lord, in wisdom You have made them all…"

3. Psalm 141. The evening incense is offered with the singing of, "Lord, I call upon You, hear me. Hear me, O Lord. Let my prayer arise in Your ight as incense. And let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice. Hear me, O lord." Special hymns for the day are then sung ending with the Theotokion, a hymn that honors Mary, the Mother of God. All of these are sung in a different tone (melody) each week, rotating through Tones 1 to 8.

4. "O Gladsome Light" praises Christ as the Light of the world that illumines man's darkness. It also heralds the Kingdom of God, which shall have no evening. (Isaiah 60:20; Revelation 21:25).

"O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal Father, heavenly, holy, blessed, Jesus Christ. Now that we have come to the setting of the sun and see, the light of evening, we praise God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For right it is at all times to worship You with voices of praise, O Son of God and Giver of Life, therefore all the world glorifies You."

5. The Prokeimenon (usually the prelude to a Scriptural reading) comes next. This verse from the Psalms varies daily. The Saturday Prokeimenon ("The Lord is King. He is robed in majesty" -Psalm 93), with its haunting and powerful melody, is my favorite part of Vespers. Hearing this really moves me spiritually.

6. The song of Saint Simeon. This proclaims our own vision of Christ, the Light and Salvation of the world. "Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and to be the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-35).

7. The Troparion (a song of direction). This explains the main theme of the day. The words and music are part of a second set of eight rotating tones.

8. The hymn of rejoice to the Theotokos (Mother of God) often follows the Troparion.

9. Dismissal and Benediction (priest's blessing).

After Vespers, Fr. Andrew presents a sermonette on the life of the Saint(s) being remembered that day. The lives of the martyrs, especially, set an example for me. The martyrs refused to give up their faith in Christ and were killed, often brutally. I often wonder: If I were condemned for praying to Jesus Christ, or making the sign of the Cross, would I have the courage to stand up for my belief in Him?

The liturgical day actually begins in the evening with the setting of the sun, and Vespers marks this point in the day. This service takes us through creation, sin, and salvation in Christ. It guides us to the meditation of God's Word and the glorification of His Love for men, and it instructs us in the praise of God. It prepares us for the sleep of night and the dawn of the coming day.

Vespers should not be considered an optional service, but should be an important part of our worship as Orthodox Christians. I don't remember when or why my wife and I began to attend Vespers regularly. However, when I miss Vespers, I feel a void in my life. Many times I have come to this remarkable service carrying the aggravations of the day, only to be at peace when I leave church. If everyone would make Vespers a part of life, our handful of regulars would swell to a multitude. Then, happily, we could no longer call Vespers a "Secret" Service.

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