Orthodox Vespers

We will be visiting St. Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church on June 15 for Vespers.  We will not be able to accurately describe everything that will happen because we are not knowledgeable enough about Orthodoxy.  Nonetheless, here are some things to watch for:

  • There are no instruments.  Everything is chanted.  The voice is considered to be the perfect instrument.  Each of the choir members is capable and confident chanting without being led by an organ or piano.  They are really impressive. The traditions of vespers in Orthodoxy and in Western Christianity have common origins, although they are very different.
  • Orthodox Vespers typically chant Psalms 104,140,141,129, and 116, although it is unclear which of these will be prayed at the shorter, Wednesday evening vespers.  Psalm 104 describes the creation with delight and awe.  My favorite line: "He looks at the earth and it trembles; the mountains send forth smoke at his touch."  In the Western Liturgy of the Hours, this psalm is prayed in the overnight or early morning hours.  It's more prominent in Orthodoxy because it is prayed at vespers.  The other psalms ask for God's protection in the evening hours and express gratitude.

  • The icons (holy images) are very important.  They help teach the faithful about God in much the same way that stained glass images or stations of the cross are used in Western churches.  Another purpose of icons is to aid the faithful in prayer and meditation on the person or the salvific significance of the event depicted. Icons keep the mind from wandering and help focus one's attention on prayer.  We will see the priest incense the icons.  

  • At one point, while incensing the icons, the priest leaves the room.  I'm not sure why.  We'll have to ask about that.

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