At the Intersection of East and West:
Good Morning. This week we’re still in Chapter 3 of Alexander Schmemann’s book, For the Life of the World, and we will finish it, God willing, today.
So, we’ve taken it in three parts, and just by way of review, this is all about, sort of, the sanctification of time, and in the first three sections of this book we talked about the broad concept of the sanctification of time and we discussed the importance of time, Christian misunderstandings about time, and what a true Christian understanding of time might look like.
In the second part of the chapter, sections 4 and 5, we looked at the Christian year—this was last week—and the centrality of Pascha, or Easter, and how everything in the church revolves around that and how, indeed, every Sunday is a little Pascha.
This week we want to push it a little bit further and talk about the sanctification of time as it relates to the Christian day, and I want to start by telling you a story.
About 20 years ago, Gail and I had saved our airline miles and our pennies and our change and everything, and we decided we were going to go to Hawaii. We’d never been there. In fact, we’ve never been back, but we had an incredible experience. It was like the trip of a lifetime.
So we got there the first day, and as we’re checking into the hotel, the attendant there said, “You really should try snorkeling while you’re here, because the reef is just alive with all kinds of aquatic life, and you’ll love it.”
So we thought, that’s a pretty good idea.
“So how do we do that?”
And she said, “Well, we have lessons that start in our swimming pool, and there’s a class set up tomorrow morning.”
I think it was like 10 o’clock or something, and we thought, great, we’ll sleep in a little bit, and then go.
So, we go to this class, and they give us our equipment, and we have a mask, and a snorkel and the fins, and they tell us how to put them on, I mean, how hard can this be? But they tell us how to put them on, and we practice in the pool for a little bit, and you know, the importance of using your feet and how to breathe, and all this kind of stuff.
And so then the teacher said, “OK, great. Now we’re going to go out into the ocean on the reef and you guys are going to be amazed.”
And we said, “Great, great let’s go.”
And I don’t know, there may be 10 or 12 of us in the class; it was a pretty small class.
And so we go out on the reef, and it was everything they advertised it to be. It was unbelievable. I mean, the things that we saw—it was like the best aquarium you could imagine, except that it was real!
And they had told us the things you don’t touch, which was basically anything, including the reef, but you just swim around and watch.
It was such an unbelievable experience that that afternoon Gail and I said to one another, “We’ve got to do this some more. Let’s go buy some gear, and we can do this everyday while we’re on vacation.”
I mean, this is something we wanted to do. We’d never seen anything like this.
So we went to this little market (we were in Maui) and so we went to this village and bought this equipment. It was relatively cheap, as I recall.
The next morning, we went a little bit outside of our hotel, and it was like the blue lagoon. There wasn’t another soul on it. We were up really early in the morning, and it was just, it was a scene out of a movie. You know, it was everything but the soundtrack.
And so, we put our gear in, and we waded out into the water, and we put our faces down, and it was just like it had been the previous day: unbelievable marine life, all kinds of things that we saw. And I don’t know how long we were there.
We had a boogie board, so that if we found some shells, we could put those on the boogie board. It was a good thing we had it, as it turns out.
Because I don’t know, it was probably about 40 or 45 minutes, and all of a sudden we decide to look up, and I looked up first, and way far in the distance was the shore and the hotel. And I gasped! I could not believe we had drifted that far!
Now, I didn’t know what a riptide was, never heard of it, didn’t know how to get out of it. People get killed doing this, and I just didn’t know any better. So, I yelled at Gail. She looked up. She gasped.
You know, what are we going to do? And, I don’t know how far it was, but we swam hard for an hour to the shore, and fortunately we had this boogie board so we could kind of rest, but we were scared.
There was everything but a panic attack, but we swam and finally got to the shore and stumbled up on the beach. And that was the last time that week that we snorkeled. You know, that was kind of enough fun for anybody.
But the point is, that unless you look up occasionally, it’s real easy to drift. And this is why the Church in her wisdom gives us the sanctification of time, and particularly, the sanctification of the day, because if we don’t look up occasionally, we drift to a place we don’t intend.
And it never happens all at once, but it happens incrementally, and it comes by distraction, by a lot of good things that occupy our time and attention, but it’s none-the-less a distraction.
I read a paper just recently from a professor at Houston Baptist, and I don’t remember his name, and I’m sorry I don’t, but he had written this paper and it really had a lot to do with the Incarnation, and he said this marvelous thing that was so orthodox.
He said, you know, man is really in a unique place, because if you look at the angels, (as Fr. Stephen preached on last week), they’re incorporeal; they don’t have bodies. You know, they have some kind of form, I mean, compared to God, they have bodies, but they’re the bodiless powers. They’re the incorporeals. They don’t have a physical body.
On the other hand, animals don’t have a spirit. Now, some of you might argue that, but man alone is a true amphibian who is to be in the world but not ofthe world.
And so, yes, we have to go about our daily lives working, and doing all the things that we do in the course of a day, but we can’t forget that there is a spiritual dimension and we have to look up occasionally.
And this is why St. Paul says in Colossians 3:1, “Set your mind on things above.” It’s a mechanism for calibration. It’s a way to stay in alignment with what God has called us to be and to do. And the Church, in her wisdom, has given us these daily offices as a mechanism for that.
So, today we’re going to talk about the Christian day, and particularly focus on Vespers and Orthros. I think those two services, particularly Orthros for me, as I was becoming Orthodox, was a very confusing service.
It was very confusing to our entire clergy. In fact, for a number of years we did parts of it, but we didn’t do the whole thing because it seemed really long and really complex and we just didn’t understand kind of what the form was, or the structure, or where this was going.
And, I’m going to help you, I think, today, God willing, understand some of that.
Orthros is the Greek for daybreak or early dawn. The word that’s used in the Roman Church is Matins, and its just the Latin for, or comes from the Latin word which also means daybreak, or of the morning.
Vespers is the Latin for evening, but it also has a Greek root. In fact, if you were in Greece and you wanted to greet someone in the evening, it would be Kalispera. So you can see kind of that root in it.
But these are basically the services that punctuate waking up and going to sleep, or at least light and darkness. These are two big themes that are prevalent in both of these.
The practices of observing the hours came from the Jewish practice of praying at specific times during the day. So, sometimes you will read in the Book of Acts, for example, that Peter and Paul went up to the temple at about the ninth hour and they prayed. Well, that was customary. They weren’t doing something extraordinary. That was simply how the Jewish people looked at the day.
And, canonically, there are seven offices that we observe (if you exclude the midnight office). And I don’t know why there’s this insistence on saying seven, because there’s really eight, and I think you can explain that in terms of, sort of, the eighth day.
I know seven is the perfect number, and in fact, the psalmist says in Psalm 118:164, (and that’s the Septuagint numbering; if you try to look it up later in a non-Septuagint bible, it will be Psalm 119, and I don’t know the exact verse), but it says “I praise you seven times a day.”
And so the Church took that seriously, the Jewish people took it seriously; but we have the midnight office.
Let me just run these through for you, these eight canonical hours.
Vespers. The cool thing about this is, this is when the day begins. When God created the heavens and the earth, it says “and evening and morning were the first day.”
Now, you think it’s the end of the day, because that’s when you’re tired and exhausted, and I’ll come back to this in a minute, but it really begins the liturgical day, so that whatever the theme of the day is (and every day in the week has a theme), whatever the theme is for that day, it actually begins on the evening before.
So at Vespers last night we’re already singing (this was Saturday night), we’re already singing the hymns of the Resurrection. And whatever the tone is of the week, it changes at Vespers. And so it all begins at Vespers. It’s part of our preparation.
Then, after Vespers, and by the way, the theme is light, because as we experience physically this transition from light to darkness, we light the lamps. And there was an ancient practice in the Jewish faith, a ceremony around the lighting of the lamps, and the Church brought this over, and commemorates this in Vespers, and as you know if you’ve been to Vespers, the lighting of the lamps, as we sing O Gladsome Light is a very important moment in the Vespers service.
Then there’s Compline, and that’s the theme we say right before we go to bed. It’s the theme of falling asleep, and also meditation on our death. And you might think that’s a little bit morbid, or a little bit sad, or, why are we doing that?
Well, it’s a part of life in this fallen world and something that we need to take mind of or be mindful of. Nobody’s getting out alive, we’re all going to die, some sooner than later, and we need to keep that in focus.
It’s not a negative thing, but the intent is that it should make us alive to this moment, this time, and what God has given us to do. Because, we don’t have forever, you know.
“Today,” the Scriptures say, “is the day of salvation.” And you can put stuff off that you ought to be doing, but there’s no guarantee that you have any moment except this moment. So, Compline…the theme of falling asleep and the meditation on our death.
Then the Midnight Office. I don’t usually celebrate this one, but they do in monasteries, and when I was in Greece and stayed at Mt. Athos for a couple of weeks, we would be awoken about midnight to one o’clock in the morning, and called to prayer, and this was the office that we said.
But the theme here is wakefulness, and the need to stay alert, and you think about it symbolically, that in the midst of a dark, fallen world that we live, as Christians, we need to be alert. We’ll talk more about that in a minute from 1 Thessalonians.
And then Orthros, the theme is darkness and the appearance of light, so daybreak. We’ve come through this night, and the sun begins to rise, and the day is filled with hope and new possibilities. And so Orthros is the commemoration of that transition and the expectation of light.
Then there’s the First Hour, at 7:00 am. The theme is creation and Adam and Eve’s banishment from paradise, as well as Christ’s appearance before Caiaphas. If you look at the hymnology and the prayers, that’s the theme.
The Third Hour was 9:00 am, and the theme there is, if you remember, the most famous thing probably that you can think of that happened at the nine o’clock hour was the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And in fact, that’s why, those that weren’t Christians, were a little bit shocked when they heard these Christians, each proclaiming in their own tongue, the Gospel. They thought they were drunk. And St. Peter says, “You know, we’re not drunk. It’s only nine o’clock in the morning. We haven’t started drinking yet. This is the Holy Spirit.”
Then the Sixth Hour is 12:00 noon, and the theme here is the death of Christ, or, excuse me, the Crucifixion of Christ.
And then the Ninth Hour, 3:00 pm, the theme is the death of Christ.
So, Vespers, Compline, the Midnight Office, Orthros, First Hour, Third Hour, Sixth Hour, Ninth Hour, those are the eight canonical offices, or daily offices as we call them in the Eastern Church.
This is important enough that we have an entire book, I mean we’ve got books for everything in the Orthodox Church, but there is a book called The Horologion, The Book of Hours, and it’s just these services in that one book. So…it’s an important thing.
But here’s my premise this morning, and all of that was by way of introduction:
But to sanctify time fully, we must fill our days with the presence of Christ. We’ve got to have opportunities built into our days, times that we look up, get recalibrated, get reoriented, so that we can move in alignment with what God is doing in the world. And the Church provides very specific ways to do that.
So this morning, following Fr. Alexander’s book, I want to talk about the meaning of Vespers. I want to talk about the meaning of Matins, or Orthros, and then I want to talk about why these two are really significant, because in parish life we don’t often, don’t usually celebrate like they would in a monastery, all of the hours.
We just don’t, and in most parishes, frankly, we don’t celebrate even Orthros and Vespers every day, but some parish churches do, or made an attempt to do that.
By the way, this is just a little bit of a sidebar, this is one place where probably the automobile, for all of its wonderful things that it accomplished, made it possible for us to live a long ways away from where we work, and where we live, and where we worship.
You know, I have to travel 15 minutes from my home to church, and I travel about 40 minutes in the complete opposite direction from my home to work, and so there’s not this sort of natural, organic sense of proximity like they had anciently before automobiles.
I’ve often thought, “You know, the Amish are on to something!”
There’s some of these things, that have incredible implications for us when we bring technology into our lives, and sometimes we don’t see all of the implications until it’s too late.
So, it’s difficult for us to observe this daily cycle outside of our homes. But we ought to observe it inside of our homes, and I’ll talk about that toward the end.
So, let’s talk about the meaning of Vespers. As I said, the liturgical day begins with Vespers. Genesis 1:5 says, “…and the evening and the morning were the first day.”
Time is always growth, but it’s only at the end of the day that we can evaluate the direction of that growth, says Fr. Alexander.
We’re so caught up in the busy-ness of day that sometimes …I got in my car on Friday, and I just, I started it, and I kind of sat back as I was putting on my seatbelt, and I said, “Man, it just felt like I just got here. Where did this day go?”
And in particular in the winter months, I get there in the darkness, and leave in the darkness, and you just go, “What is this day? What was this day about?”
But Vespers give us an opportunity to evaluate the direction of our growth. It’s at the end of the day in the evening that God declares his creation good. And that is, or should be, a time for us to reflect and to evaluate.
Thus, it’s at the end of the day that the Church begins its sanctification of time.
Let me read this quote from page 60: He says,
“We come to church, we who are in the world having lived through many hours filled, as usual, with work and rest, suffering and joy, hatred and love. Men died and men were born. For some it was the happiest day of their life, a day to be remembered forever. And for some others it brought the end of all their hopes, the destruction of their very soul. And the whole day is now here—unique, irreversible, irreparable. It is gone, but its results, its fruits will shape the next day, for what we have done once remains forever.”
It’s a powerful paragraph, isn’t it?
Everything that we do, matters.
And it’s a time to reflect on that, because we can’t go back. Yes, we can ask forgiveness, we can make restitution where necessary, but the past is in the past. It really can’t be fixed. And so this is the time to reflect on what’s taken place so that we can move forward as better stewards.
Vespers consists of four themes.
First of all, there’s the theme of creation. Remember how Vespers starts, after the initial blessing? “Blessed is our God always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen,” the priest says. It’s not the Trinitarian doxology or benediction—that begins every sacramental service, like the Divine Liturgy, but not for Vespers and not for Matins; it’s “Blessed is our God…,” in the hours and so forth.
And then the chanter begins to chant (in the Septuagint numbering) Psalm 103, (in the Western numbering, Psalm 104), and, I just want to read a few verses. You know this well because you hear it, but, I wonder if we hear it in this way:
Bless the Lord, oh my soul.
O Lord, my God, you are magnified exceedingly.
You clothe Yourself with thanksgiving and majesty,
Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment,
Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain;
You are He who covers His upper chambers with waters,
Who makes the clouds His means of approach.
Who walks on the wings of the winds,
Who makes his angels spirits
And His ministers a flame of fire.
He established the earth on its stable foundation;
It shall not be moved unto ages of ages.
The deep like a garment is His covering;
The waters shall stand upon the mountains;
At Your rebuke they shall flee;
At the sound of Your thunder, they shall be afraid.
The mountains rise up, and the plains sink down
To the place You founded for them.
You set a boundary they shall not pass over;
Neither shall they return to cover the earth.
You are He who sends springs into the valley;
The waters shall pass between the mountains;
They shall give drink to all the wild animals of the field.
The wild asses shall quench their thirst;
The birds of heaven shall dwell beside them;
They shall sing from the midst of the rocks.
You are He who waters the mountains from His higher places;
The earth shall be satisfied with the fruit of your works.
You are He who causes grass to grow for the cattle,
And the green plant for the service of man,
To bring forth bread from the earth…
and on it goes. That’s about half of it.
This is a picture of Eucharistic man doing what he was intended to do from the very beginning, which is first to acknowledge God, and to put himself squarely in the position of the creature before the Creator, and to acknowledge that everything we’ve experienced, even in this difficult day that we may have had, ultimately comes from the hand of God, and is intended for our salvation.
That’s a hard concept to get, but if it’s not true, what’s the alternative? That there are these random things that happen, for which we really can’t give thanks, or does God have an intention and a purpose?
And God is not the author of evil. I understand there is a great mystery here, and I want to make sure I respect that, but to be able to give thanks in all things, as St. Paul tells us, and to be, as Fr. Alexander says in the very first part of the book, to be Eucharistic man, to reclaim this central priority of our lives, to give thanks.
That’s how Vespers starts. And it’s a beautiful picture. And so our first order of business for the new day is to see the world again as a gift of God, full of divine riches as the cup full of life and joy, as beauty and wisdom, Fr. Alexander writes.
That’s the right orientation.
You know, you can watch Fox News at night if you want, and there’s a certain outcome from that, and I do that occasionally, but to start here, and remember that this is what God intended, and that it is all to be received as a gift, is a great way to start the day.
Well, then we move from that, you know there’s some prayers of course, and then we move into the fall, because unfortunately that paradise in which Adam and Eve dwelt was forfeited by their sin and they were banished from it.
And so we move from Psalm 103, which we still get to see glimpses of even in this fallen world (daylight yesterday was magnificent, you know, it was glorious) but we move from that into this experience that we have now of the world as sometimes, to be honest, a nightmare.
It’s fallen. It’s broken. It’s dark. There are hard things. There’s sickness, and there is death. And as Orthodox Christians, we’re not just sort of this happy, big smile, it’s all going to work out optimism…there’s a place for that, by the way.
There’s a place for us to have true joy, as we talked about last week, that comes from the resurrection of Christ. But it’s not this kind of silly, vapid, shallow happiness that so often passes for joy.
But there’s also the acknowledgement on our part, the reality of the fall. And no amount of glossing over that or happy talk is going to make that go away this side of heaven.
And so, in the Vespers service we move from the light of Psalm 103, and the Royal Doors are closed, and man metaphorically saying they’re naked and suffering outside of paradise and laments what he has lost and we begin to sing, “Lord, I call unto Thee,” Psalm 140, again in the Septuagint numbering.
“O Lord, I have cried to You; hear me.
Give heed to the voice of my supplication when I cry to You.
Let my prayer be set forth before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”
And then it goes on to just talk about some of these difficult things in Psalm 140, Psalm 141, 129 and 116. Four Psalms. Again, that’s the Septuagint numbering, but all of them basically about the anxiety, the difficulty of the life that we have.
And it’s not just that the world has fallen, something out there, apart from us, but it’s something in here has fallen too. We all have experienced that. You know, there are broken places in our own hearts, and in our own lives that have to be healed.
And Christ does give us the promise when He promises to save us that this is not just, as maybe we thought, if you were a Western Christian before you came into the Orthodox Church, that it was somehow just a juridical thing, that this is just a positional truth, that somehow you’re transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light and you have a new legal standing before God.
It’s more than that. There’s something transfigurational, something sacramental that happens to us, so that little by little over time, according to St. Paul, we’re changed from glory to glory into the image of the Lord.
So that that stamp that was ours in the garden, the very image of Christ Himself impressed upon our being, is re-impressed through this process of redemption.
And so we’re not left in the fall, thankfully, you know, we don’t dismiss after all of these mournful psalms and say, “You know, bummer, good luck, see ya tomorrow.”
And I think, there’s a sense in which post-modern man doesn’t want to have any resolution to this. He is content with sort of acknowledging the angst of it all, and there’s no resolution. You know that somehow that cheapens, or lessons the acknowledgement of the suffering.
But I want to say, “Why is it either/or?” I think as Christians we have to acknowledge both of those things: the creation and the beauty of paradise and the reality of the fall. But we’re not left there in Christ.
And so what happens next is the theme of redemption, because the priest and the deacon and the acolytes, whoever is serving, they come out with the censer and we sing, what?
O Gladsome Light.
And the candles on the altar are lit, and the lights in the entire church come up, because even in the midst of darkness (by now the sun has set), even in the midst of darkness, Christ, who is the true light, stands there symbolically in the candles and proclaims to us that the darkness is not the only reality; that there is resolution.
And we even get, and this is the grace of God, we get to taste of it in this life.
These themes of light are really important. You think about Pascha, in the middle of a dark night, and we turn out, as you know, all the lights in the church. All the candles are extinguished. There’s only one candle that’s left lit on the altar, and those of us that are in the clergy are trying to read our parts in that light (now we’ve got most of it memorized), but then the priest lights the big Paschal candle, and then he begins to sing,
Come, Receive the Light.
This light which is inextinguishable. And this light, by the way, O Gladsome Light, it’s not a candle—it’s Christ Himself.
This is what the text makes clear when we read it in Vespers, let me just grab that quickly, this isn’t exactly as we sing it in our parish, but the text is the same and you get the idea:
O gladsome radiance, of the holy glory of the Father.
See, that’s what Jesus was. He was the gladsome radiance. You know, he was the image of God Himself, immortal, heavenly, holy, blessed, Jesus Christ. Just in case you’re wondering, is this “O gladsome light?” the candles on the altar? Is it light in general?
No, this is Jesus Christ, the true light.
“In that we are now coming to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening, we hymn thee, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God, for meet it is that in all times thou shouldest be magnified by voices propitious.” (I don’t think we say that word). “Oh Son of God, who bestowest life, for which cause all the world doth glorify thee.”
This light is personal, and it’s relational. It’s Christ Himself, who is the second Adam, who restores from the fall us in him to that place where Adam had, and yea, even above it!
He reveals the true nature of things and transforms everything, and as the Psalmist says in Psalm 35:10 (again that’s the Septuagint numbering):
For with You is the fountain of life,
In Your light we shall see light.
Apart from this light of Christ, we can’t see things as they truly are. We’ll stumble in the dark. We’ll trip. We’ll fall. We’ll be hurt.
But in the light of Christ, we see all things as they truly are. And Fr. Alexander writes on page 62, he says “Death is robbed of its finality, trampled down by Christ’s death. In a world where everything that seems to be present is immediately past, everything in Christ is able to participate in the eternal present of God. This very evening is the real time of our life.”
(Chuckle) I love that.
So the themes of creation, fall, redemption, and there’s a fourth theme and the theme is the end, and its announced with the singing of the song of Simeon.
You remember when Simeon beheld the Lord, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” The end for him had come, and all that he had anticipated and hoped for he was able to experience when he saw Christ.
Fr. Alexander makes the point that Simeon recognized the Lord because he expected him, and that expectation is something we have to cultivate in our own hearts, that when we go to prayer there should be an expectation that we really are in the presence of God.
It’s not us just going through a dead ritual. That’s, as I’ve pointed out before, religion in the worst sense of the word.
You know, this isn’t magic. This isn’t something where we repeat this incantation and it wards off the evil spirits and we’ll be OK ‘till morning. This is a relational connection with the very Lord of the universe.
Father Alexander says that death was no catastrophe for Simeon. It was simply a natural fulfillment of his waiting. And his death was not the end, but the beginning. Having seen Christ, he could step into eternity.
And that’s the confidence we have. You know, when I was a little boy, we used to pray that prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” and how does that go? “And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
We have the expectation, as Christians, that when we lay down, it may indeed be our last night. We don’t know. We don’t know if we are going to wake from our slumber.
When I was still a fairly young adult, I remember my mother calling with the passing of my first grandmother, my paternal grandmother. And I was in Los Angeles at the time on business.
It was a Sunday morning and she woke up and got ready for church and sat down to read her Bible as she always did, and my mom went in to get her for church, and shook her, and she didn’t wake up, because she was gone. And I’ve often thought, you know, that would be a great way to go.
And some of you probably know that Bishop Antoun collapsed in a liturgy last week and, thank God, it looks like he’s going to be OK, but that would be an OK way to go, too. I mean, I’d hate the disruption for the people; it would probably be a little chaotic in the service.
But the point is, there’s an expectation that even if we go to sleep, and if we die, it’s not the end. It’s only a new beginning. Because, it’s not that death is good, we’re not saying that, and it’s definitely not natural, but it’s just that Christ has trampled down death by death, and He’s transformed it from an end to a beginning.
So the end of the Vespers service is that theme of the end, that theme of the eschaton, that theme of looking forward with anticipation to what is to come. And so with confidence we can step back into the night knowing that whatever comes, with God’s help, we can face it. So that’s Vespers.
Let me go to Matins. Matins actually has three themes, and it’s a little bit more complex service, and it’s a little longer. In fact, if you go to a Matins service in a monastery its usually a couple of hours long because they read all the Psalms and sing in between them and they read the full canon which takes a long time, as well. It’s beautiful, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
The first theme of Matins is darkness. That’s our first sensation when we awake. You know, I pry one eye open, like you probably do, and I look at the clock and recognize it’s time to get up. And I usually get up in the darkness. I don’t have the privilege of getting up in the light, and even on my days off I get up in the darkness, usually just out of habit.
Yet it’s in this very helplessness and despair, there’s this hidden expectation, a thirst and a hunger, and that’s why when we begin in Matins, the theme is darkness.
We begin with these six Psalms. And these six psalms that we say, Psalm 3, 37, 62, 87, 102, and 142 (you can look those up later; there will be a test at the end of this!), but these all have to do with sort of more of a mournful crying out to God, you know, in the darkness, and an acknowledgement of that.
But then we transition from that to “God is the Lord,” and this is the second theme of Matins, which is light. And the church announces our expectation in singing “God is the Lord,” and it comes right before the Troparia for the day. “God is the Lord and has revealed Himself unto us, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
And then there are these verses that are sung after each one of those refrains, and the chanters sing those verses. And one of them, “Today is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” and we sing that at Pascha, and it’s a great way to begin the morning.
Today. That’s all we have.
This moment. That’s all we have.
And this is the day that the Lord has made.
It’s not an accident, it’s not ever going to be repeated, it’s this day that’s the day of the Lord.
And, what are we to do?
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
I mean, there’s days when I don’t feel like that, and I’m sure you do, too. I’ve got hard things to do that day and I know it. But by an act of my will, as a spiritual discipline, by the grace of God, I’m going to rejoice.
And then we move on from the theme of light to the theme of redemption. I said earlier that Vespers reminds us that we live in a world of evening. It’s night, and 1Thess 5:1-3, says “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.”
But Matins also reminds us that we live in a world of morning, and by morning, I mean like morning as opposed to night. While we’re reminded at Vespers that it’s a world of night, we go there with the light of Christ and illumine it, in Matins we realize that it’s also a world of morning.
1 Thess. 5:4-11 says
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that that Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore, comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.
The days are to be filled with the presence of Christ, and Matins reminds us of that, that this daylight is a privilege, and that’s why we conclude Matins with the praises and the Great Doxology.
The last thing, the last part of the Doxology, and if you have ever wondered when you walk into the services and you can never quite figure out when the Divine Liturgy begins and Matins ends, because it is really one continuous stream, as prayer will be in heaven, there’s not going to be a technical line of demarcation.
After the Great Doxology, which begins “Glory to Thee Who is shone us the light,” and again that celebration of light, that theme as we go into the day, as we finish that, and there’s a few hymns that follow.
When the priest says, “Blessed is the Kingdom,” (actually the Deacon says, “Father, bless,” and then the priest says “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”), that’s the beginning of the Divine Liturgy.
So, people I know, when they visit sometimes they feel like, “Oh, I’m late.”
No, you’re probably not late, and in fact people come in all during Matins and they’ll come in at the first part of the liturgy. But it’s better to be here than not, even if you’re late. So don’t let that stop you; nobody even notices.
I know when people come to an Orthodox Church they sometimes think, “Wow, here’s all this stuff, and I’m not sure I’m even crossing myself right. How do I do this, and how do I do that, and when do I sit and when do I stand?”
Nobody’s thinking about you, and if they are, then that’s their issue. You can just pick it up and go with it, including coming in late if that’s what it takes to get you here.
So the meaning of Vespers, the meaning of Matins, and then the meaning of both, this double experience of Vespers and Matins is applied to everything we do. We’re always somewhere between morning and evening, aren’t we?
And that’s just the real life. We’re always between Sunday and Sunday. We’re always between Easter and Easter, we’re always between the two comings of Christ.
We live in the world of now, but not yet. And Vespers and Matins remind us of that, and it should give meaning to everything we do.
And again, to quote Fr. Alexander, on page 64 he says, “The experience of time as end gives an absolute importance to whatever we do now, makes it final, decisive. The experience of time as beginning fills all our time with joy, for it adds to it the “coefficient” of eternity…”
So both are important, the beginning and the end, and we commemorate those in Vespers and in Matins.
Now, in a parish where we’re not celebrating these daily, it doesn’t mean that we can’t say our morning prayers and our evening prayers. You know, they don’t follow these exact same themes, but it’s a way for us to connect with our families and in our homes, and again, to recalibrate.
I just want to conclude with this one final thing that Fr. Alexander says on page 65, and personally I found this last section, I could have read the whole thing to you, it’s so quotable, but page 65 he, says:
For centuries we have preached to the hurrying people: your daily rush has no meaning, yet accept it—and you will be rewarded in another world by an eternal rest. But God revealed and offers us eternal Life and not eternal rest. And God revealed this eternal Life in the midst of time—and of its rush—as its secret meaning and goal. And thus he made time, and our work in it, into the sacrament of the world to come, the liturgy of fulfillment and ascension.