We all know that Sunday is the Lord’s Day, and that in the Divine Liturgy we participate in the Blessed Day beyond the seventh day, beyond the days of this world: the Day without evening, in which the Lord Himself is the sun and light and is “all in all.” Sunday is the the “day of Resurrection” in which we gloriously reign with Him in His Kingdom and commune in His love and life. All that and more is given to us at the Liturgy, of course, according to our desire and as we are spiritually able and prepared to receive it.
Yet how does one “jump” from the world of daily cares and responsibilities into such a magnificent reality breaking into our time and place? It’s not possible, usually, to make such a jump, and furthermore, there’s no need for it. Orthodoxy likes transition as we know, and one can say that the Saturday evening Vespers, which is unique among all other Vespers, transitions us into the celebration of the Lord’s Day. Vespers spiritually takes us through God’s plan of salvation—by means of hymns, psalms, the Gospel, dark and light: we hear about the creation, the Fall from Paradise, the prophecies and the preparation for the coming of the Messiah, His Incarnation, signs, teachings, warnings, His Passion, death and of course, His Resurrection from the dead and the glorious “robe of majesty,” the Ascension, the gift of Pentecost, the gift of Holy Baptism, and even the Second Coming, which we await, yet even now taste beforehand in the Church. All this is part of Saturday evening Vespers (The same holds for Matins on Sunday). All is all, Saturday evening Vespers is there to help us have an experience of the Resurrection of Christ and to look forward to our own.
Since the day that the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room, on the First Day of the week, Resurrection Day, the Church has joyfully and solemnly kept vigil before the Divine Liturgy, and has zealously protected and guarded this time. All this is well and good, but, somehow external and even unknown for most of our congregation. We have a conflict in our current way of life, because for very many of us, Saturday afternoon and evening is “protected time” for various activities. After a long work week, a person genuinely has to recharge, and if not that, do housework, chores and errands, or perhaps meet with family and friends. These things are good activities, but when time is not set aside for God at 5 PM on Saturday, the result is that only about one quarter of our parish membership ever experiences Vespers on Saturday evening, and thus are not properly—nor understand its holy mystery, and I dare say, many will be less than prepared—again, according to Holy Tradition—for receiving Holy Communion the next day. Forgive me, but this is my considered opinion.
Usually and very unfortunately, this means that there are only two or three children, maximum, at the Service. I mention children in this context because Orthodoxy is about teaching a way of life. If our children are not taught by example, and thus do not know, love and understand Vespers, we are ensuring that the next generation of adults will not attend Vespers either, and perhaps, having one less Orthodox “thing” to hang on to, eventually absent themselves from Liturgy as well. If Saturday evening is “protected time” for families, in the Church it is also “sacred protected time,” and more so than a national park or monument. For those that are not used to coming to Services on Saturday evening, perhaps a humble beginning can be made: start with attending once a month, see how it goes and increase that over the next few months. I hope you will discover for yourself how Vespers on Saturday evening is such a blessing, catechizing and cleansing us with the beauty of its hymnography. —Fr. Lawrence