Vespers (Gk. hésperinos; Slav. večérnya) is the principal evening worship service of the Christian Church. As celebrated in the Byzantine Rite, it serves as the beginning of the liturgical day, and has as its principal theme a commemoration of Christ, the never-setting Light of the world.Depending on local tradition and circumstances, Vespers is normally celebrated between 4 PM and 8 PM; ideally, it is celebrated so that the lamps of the church are lit as darkness falls and the Hymn of the Evening ("O joyful Light") is sung.
Outline of the service
The following table shows the parts of the service for Great Vespers (celebrated on Saturday evening, as the first of the Sunday services, or on the eve of a feast), and daily Vespers.
|Great Vespers||Daily Vespers|
|Blessing by priest: "Blessed is our God..."|
|Psalm 103: "Bless the Lord, O my soul"|
|Litany of Peace|
from the Psalter
|Psalms 140, 141, 129 and 116, with stichera|
|The Hymn of the Evening: "O joyful light"|
Lessons from the Old Testament
|Litany of Fervent Supplication|
|Hymn of Glorification: "Make us worthy, O Lord"|
|Litany of Supplication|
|Litija procession, with
Litany of the Litija
of Simeon: "Now you may dismiss your servant, O Lord"
Trisagion, etc., and the Lord's Prayer
|Troparion||Troparion and Theotokion|
|Blessing of bread (if litija was held)||Litany of Fervent Supplication|
Combining Vespers with Other Services
Vespers may be combined with the Divine Liturgy on the eves of Nativity and Theophany, and on the feast of the Annunciation, according to the Typikon. The Old Testament readings of Vespers are followed by a Small Litany, and the Divine Liturgy continues with the singing of the Trisagion.
During the Great Fast, Vespers is combined with a solemn service of Holy Communion to form the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.
Texts and sources
The official Church Slavonic texts for Vespers can be found in the Ruthenian Služébnik (for the priest and deacon) and the Ruthenian Časoslóv (for the cantor, choir and people). Depending on the day, these texts must be supplemented from the Octoechos, the Triodion, the Pentecostarion, and the Menaion.
(Throughout much of the twentieth century, the most commonly used books for Vespers and Matins were the Velikij Sbornik, which contains Saturday evening Vespers, Sunday Matins, and Sunday evening Vespers for the Sundays and major feasts of the year; and the Basilian Vecernya i Utrenya, a two-volume set with more detailed materials for the same celebrations, to be used by clergy and cantors.)
Until recently, there was no official English text for Vespers; the Uniontown Office of Vespers was commonly used, along with Vespers booklets made up for various feasts and special occasions.
In 2005, the Intereparchial Liturgy Commission of the Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh prepared a translation of the common parts of the Office of Vespers. This translation has been used in the following publications of the Metropolitan Cantor Institute (see the Publications page for more information):
- The Order of Vespers for Sundays after Pentecost
- The Order of Vespers on Sunday Afternoons in the Great Fast
- The Order of Daily Vespers
The Metropolitan Cantor Institute also provides the proper parts of Vespers (with music) for all Sundays and feasts, through this website, and Father David Petras has prepared a booklet with the priest's and deacon's parts for Great Vespers with Litija.
Rubrics for the celebration of Vespers can be found in sections 29-73 of the Ordo Celebrationis. Separate rubrics are given for "Vespers with a Vigil" (i.e,, when Litija is celebrated) and "Vespers without a Vigil"; directions for the All-Night Vigil are also provided. The Typikon contains detailed instructions for the variable parts of Matins on any given day.
Vespers in the Parish and Home
In Europe in the last century, Vespers was celebrated in church on Saturday evenings, as well as on the vigils of feasts; in some places, it was celebrated on Sunday evenings as well. Even daily Vespers was sometimes held in village or city churches.
Unfortunately, in this country Saturday evening Vespers is seldom celebrated, being displaced by an evening Divine Liturgy, or omitted endirely. Parishes which desire to restore a richer liturgical cycle might fittingly begin with celebrating Great Vespers each Saturday evening. (In those parishes where eliminating a Divine Liturgy is not presently feasible, it might be desirable to hold a Vigil Divine Liturgy instead, beginning with Vespers as on the eves of Nativity and Theophany.)
Great Vespers takes about an hour to celebrate if the Psalter and Old Testament readings are used; perhaps 45 minutes if they are omitted, and a bit longer if Litija is held. The number of stichera sung as the Lamplighting Psalms can be reduced if necessary, but the wholesale elimination of the chanted verses of the Lamplighting Psalms (as is done in some places) should be discouraged.
Vespers can be celebrated in the home, or in parish or mission settings, even when a priest is not available to lead the service. For more information, see Reader Services.
- Uspensky, Nicholas. Evening
Worship in the Orthodox Church.
(Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985).
A thorough historical and liturgical study of Vespers and the
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.
Liturgy of the Hours in East and West.
(Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1993). An excellent
history and explanation of the Divine Praises in the
different liturgical traditions.
- Vespers: the evening liturgical prayers according to the Byzantine Rite tradition. Byzantine Leaflet Series, No. 29. (Pittsburgh: Byzantine Seminary Press, 1983)