O Gentle Light

St Jonah the Archbishop of Novgorod

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Glory to You, Our God, glory to You, Who always overlooks our sins. Glory to You, O Lord, Our God, Who enabled me to see this day. Glory to You, O Most-Holy Trinity, Our God. I venerate Your ineffable goodness. I praise Your inexplorable forbearance. I thank and glorify Your infinite mercy. For although I deserve every punishment and chastisement, You have mercy and do good to me with myriads of blessings. Glory to You, O Lord, my God, for everything.


On November 5th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, and Teachers of Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saints Galaktion and his wife Episteme, the holy Martyrs of Emesa; Saints Patrovos, Gaios, Hermas, Linos, and Philologos, Apostles of the 70.

OUR HOLY FATHER GALAKTION AND OUR HOLY MOTHER EPISTEME, MARTYRS. They were born in the city of Edessa in Phoenicia, both of pagan parents. St. Galaction's mother was barren until she was baptized. After her baptism, she brought her husband also to the True Faith and baptized her son Galaction, bringing he up as a Christian. When the time came for St. Galaktion to marry, his devout mother Leucippe died, and his father betrothed him to a maiden called Episteme. Saint Galaktion did not wish to enter into marriage at all, and he quickly urged Episteme to be baptized and then to become a nun at the same time as he became a monk. Both went away to the mountain of Publion, St. Galaktion to a men's Monastery and St. Episteme to a women's Monastery, and each of them became a true light in the Monastery. They were first in labors, in prayer, in humility, and obedience and in love. They did not leave their Monasteries, and neither saw the other until the time of their death. A fierce persecution arose, and they were both brought to trial. While they were mercilessly whipping St. Galaktion, St. Episteme was weeping, and they then whipped her also. They cut off their hands and feet, and finally their heads. One Eftolius, a man who had been a servant of St. Episteme's parents and then a monk together with St. Galaktion, took their holy bodies and buried them. He also wrote the Lives of these two wonderful holy Martyrs of Christ, who suffered and received their heavenly crowns in the year of Our Lord 253 AD.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy and Great Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


Holy Epistle Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 12:13-15; 22-31


"Repentance is the medicine which expunges our offences. Repentance is not that which is proclaimed with words, but that which is confirmed by the reality of things, by our very life. Repentance is that which washes away the filth of sin from the heart." [Saint John Chrysostomos]

by Bishop Athanasius Yevtich

"O Gentle Light of the holy glory of the immortal, heavenly, holy, blessed Father, O Jesus Christ! Having come to the setting of the sun, having beheld the evening light, we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit God. Meet it is for Thee at all times to be hymned with venerable voices, O Son of God, Giver of Life. Wherefore, the world doth glorify Thee."

This God-inspired hymn, "O Gentle Light" (Φώς Ίλαρόν, Svete Tikhiy), which we sing today at Vespers and which our Church sings at every evening service, is a sacred evening hymn of the early Christian Church of the East. Saint Basil the Great, the Archbishop of Caesarea and of this whole Cappadocian plateau (the central southeastern part of Asia Minor), calls this hymn the "early evening thanksgiving" (επιλύχνιος ευχαριστία). He also cites this hymn of the early Christians in his renowned work 'On the Holy Spirit', where he wrote about the Holy Tradition of the early Christian Church of the East, which clearly testifies to a God-given faith in the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. Saint Basil mentions that this same hymn was sung by one of the early Martyrs for Christ Who was from these regions of Cappadocia and Syria. According to an ancient tradition, which is mentioned by Saint Basil, this hymn is attributed to the holy Hieromartyr Athenogenes, who, with his disciples, was martyred for Christ during the reign of pagan Roman emperor Diocletian (at the beginning of the 4th century) on July 16th, in the Armenian city of Sevaste not far from Cappadocia. Saint Athenogenes was held in high esteem in Cappadocia churches and carved in stone, as we have observed. The traces of martyrdom for Christ, which continues to this day, are evident from these churches, too.

I shall continue to cite Saint Basil, who came from this region and later became the archbishop of the living Church of Christ here. In one place he declares that he himself does not know who is "the father of these words of evening thankfulness" to God. He goes on to mention a hymn of the well-known martyr, Saint Athenogenes. This hymn was an evening hymn as well, which Saint Athenogenes had sung to God in the presence of his disciples as a departure (εξιτήριον) from this life and world---"rushing through fire toward the end (τελείωσιν)," namely, going voluntarily to fiery martyrdom for Christ, to perfection (τελείωσιν) in Christ.

In any case, whoever the author of the hymn "O Gentle Light" may be, it is quite certain that it is an early Christian hymn from the second--or, at the latest. third--century in the life of the Eastern Orthodox Church . Saint Basil himself says that this hymn was passed on to the early Christians "from the Fathers," and it is well known that their fathers and forefathers were the Christian martyrs in the greatly persecuted Cappadocia and Pontus. Regarding the same subject, the holy Cappadocian Father adds the following: "Our Fathers considered it wise not to await the gentle evening light in silence (τήν χάριν τού εσπερινού φωτός)--the agreeable nature and the beauty of the sunset--but, as soon as it appeared, they started giving thanks to God" for the peaceful and gentle light of the sunset. During Saint Basil's time the Christian people of Cappadocia and all over the East chanted this hymns every evening. "All the people sang out the ancient tone," that is, they all sang this early evening hymn together to the glory of the "gentle light", or, more exactly, to the glory of the Creator of the light: God the Father, Christ the Son of God and God the Holy Spirit, as our hymn declares and as we shall see further.

In its content and inspiration, the evening hymn "O Gentle Light" is an explicit poetic expression of the spirit of early Eastern Orthodox Christendom. It was sung to glorify God in the evening, at the setting of the sun, at the hour when a pleasant and gentle light spreads over our mother earth as the day comes to an end and the nightfall is announced, and, following the night, a new day dawns. A quiet joy, a melancholy but equally optimistic early Christian experience of light, and of the visible world and life in general as a great gift of God to us in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is characteristic of this hymn. In this hymn, the world is experienced as a magnificent creation of God, full of light, through which the presence and action of God is tangibly felt.  One should emphasize here that the first Christians, and we, too, following in their footsteps and together with them, experience the whole world--and it's visible light in particular--in a directly physical way, with our senses, which pertain to the soul as well as the body. At the same time we experience this light anagogically--or, to be more exact, mystagogically--as a means of raising and leading man from this world to the Trinitarian God, from the visible universe to the invisible, spiritual Kingdom of Heaven.

Hence, the beginning of the hymn proceeds from nature, from the physical light of the early evening, which showed that the first Christians were observant, and that they beheld the beauty of the visible nature around them--for nature, like mankind, is the work of God the Creator. Such a view was shared by the Hebrews in the Holy Bible and was also shared by the ancient Greeks. [It is certain that the Old Testament Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans, and other nations of the East had a religious tradition to pray and chant thanksgiving to God for the evening and morning light, which is given by God].

Christians rejected every form of "physiolatry" and idolatry, i.e., the worship of nature, for they confessed, recognized, and liturgically revered the Holy only begotten Son of God--the God-man Jesus Christ (cf. St. John 1:14,18). This radical, early Christian rejection of every other cult except the worship of the Living and True God frequently led to one's own martyrdom. This, however, did not prevent the Christians from holding nature in high regard as the work of God, and observing and revering everything in nature, and light in particular, as the breadth of God's Providence, as the place of the presence and work of the Living God, the Omnipresent One. After all, these Christians considered the world to be their home--the "House of God"--and as such they did not want to renounce it, or to leave the world in the hands of the devil, or of any pseudo-gods on this earth or under the heavens. Hence, instead of the "cosmolatry" of the classical Greek and Roman periods or of more recent times--i.e., the cosmic or pantheistic mystique of pseudo-religions--the first Christians possessed a healthy, Orthodox cosmology, a correct cosmology because they considered the world and the entire universe as the work of God in Christ--the Logos and Savior of the whole cosmos.

According to this early Christian poet, this natural, gentle, evening light merely reminds us Christians of Christ, the Son of God and Savior, as the True, Eternal, and Uncreated Gentle Light of the holy heavenly glory of the Immortal God the Father (and not just simply of this visible and fragile sun). Our poet then characterizes God the Father with other attributes (which may not necessarily stem from the sight of the sunset): Heavenly, Holy, and Blessed. With these epithets, clearly derived from the Holy Bible, our poet--together with the first Christians and with us, the unworthy contemporary Christians--demonstrates love, or infinite reverence, and gratitude to the Father of lights (ο Πατήρ τών ΦΩΤΩΝ--in plural, from the Epistle of Saint James 1:17), for all that He is and for all that He has given to us: for light and holiness, love and blessedness, our being and life; for His act of creating and His providence; for all the other natural and supernatural gifts and good things; and above all for the blessed Kingdom of Heaven. We give even greater thanks to the Heavenly Father for an incomparably greater and much more significant gift to the created world and mankind: His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the giver of life and the Savior, who is the "Light", that is, the "Splendor" and the "Radiance" of the Eternal Glory, sanctity and blessedness of the Father (cf. Heb. 1:3, 5:1; I Tim. 6:16; St. John 12:46). We may freely declare that, for our early Christian poet, beginning with the very first stanza of his poem, theology determines cosmology and not vice versa.

The beautiful hymn "O Gentle Light," sung as the first Christian evening thanksgiving to Christ, is truly a perfect liturgical song, which contains the seeds of all the basic elements of the unique, new, Christian, and universal vision of the world and man, of time and life. We are sure that its author, who was most likely one of the proto-martyrs who suffered for Christ the Lord, did not premeditate its content, but rather "SANG" this song spontaneously, employing with inspiration all the cosmological, soteriological, and theological elements that we have written about. He simply "let his heart" praise and glorify the Living God in the way in which he, together with his Church, "experienced and knew" Him. The words of the Holy Apostle are especially appropriate here: "For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of god spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:21).

This short but all-encompassing song about the Gentle Light is a poem full of light--exalting and glorifying light--which begin with glorification of the Heavenly Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit, and ends with the same glorification of God the Father in the Life-Giving Son and the Life-bearing Holy Spirit, encompassing the whole world and everything that is given by God--including, most importantly, light.

In the centre of our song are man and the human race, since Christ came into the world "for us men and our salvation", revealing the Light-bearing Father and giving us the Holy Spirit (and Light); and through His Incarnation HE became our "life and light"--unwaning and unsetting.

In Him and with Him "your life is hidden with Christ in God"I (Col. 3:3); and with Him and in Him we become "children of light" (I Thes. 5:5).

For, Φώς Χριστού φαίνει πάσι!--The Light of Christ enlightens all!

[source: CHRIST: THE Alpha and Omega]

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George