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
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
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.