The Conclusion of Great Vespers

The conclusion of Vespers in the Byzantine Rite is fairly elaborate, beginning with the aposticha or dismissal stichera and ending with the priest's dismissal;. This article describes the various parts of the conclusion of Great Vespers. For musical details, see Singing Vespers: The Conclusion.

The Prayer of the Prophet Simeon

After the procession of Vespers (or if there is no actual procession, after the singing of the aposticha) comes the Prayer of the Holy Prophet Simeon, taken from the account in the Gospel of Luke of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, on the 40th day after his birth:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: "Now you may dismiss your servant, O Lord, in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared before the face of all people: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel." {Luke 2:23-32)

At this point in Vespers, this text serves to announce that, with the entry of Christ into the world, and the spread of faith in Him to all the nations, we are in a new age of history, and can safely trust Christ to arrange for us all that we need, this night and in the future. Once more, the theme of light and revelation is stressed in the liturgical service.

Note: In some traditions, this prayer is intoned by the "eldest" (the senior bishop or priest, or the monastic superior in a monastery) or by a reader. In our church, it is sung by all those present.

The Trisagion prayers

The prayer of Simeon is followed by the singing of the Trisagion prayers, the portion of the "usual beginning prayers" beginning with the Trisagion ("Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us") and ending with the Lord's Prayer:

Holy God... (three times)
Glory... now and ever
Most Holy Trinity have mercy on us...
Lord, have mercy (three times)
Glory... now and ever
Our Father...

In liturgical books (particularly in Slavonic), you will sometimes find this abbreviated as "Trisagion (Trisvjatoje) through Our Father." These prayers give us a breathing space to accept all that we have heard and sung, before proceeding to the dismissal.

The dismissal troparia

Each liturgical day begins with Vespers, and at this point in the service we sing one or more troparia which announce the theme of the day. They are sometimes called by the Greek name apolytikia ("dismissal hymns"). This troparion of the day is sung at the end of Vespers, then repeated at each service in the daily cycle.

For more complicated situations (e.g., during pre- and post-festive periods, or when a feast falls on Sunday), consult the Annual Typikon and the Common Typikon for the order to be followed.

The blessing of bread

In the Byzantine Rite, certain feast days are marked with a vigil at which the faithful may gather, sing, and keep watch during the night in order to better celebrate the feast. During the Middle Ages, this vigil began with Vespers and a litija procession, after which the faithful would take part in a simple meal of bread and wine that had been blessed by the priest, to allow them to stay in prayer late into the night. During the meal, the Acts of the Apostles would be read, and after the meal, the Psalms would be chanted, followed by Matins for the feast.

This All-Night Vigil is not normally celebrated in our church outside of monasteries; but on vigil feasts and great feasts, we bless wheat, bread, wine, and oil at Vespers, after the singing of the troparia:

In the blessing (which takes place at the tetrapod), the priest prays:

Lord Jesus Christ, our God, you blessed the five loaves in the wilderness and fed the five thousand.  Likewise bless these loaves, wheat, wine, and oil, and multiply them in this city [or:  in this holy monastery] and throughout your whole world.  Sanctify your faithful who will partake of them.  For you, yourself, bless and sanctify all things, O Christ our God, and we give glory to you, with your eternal Father, and your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and forever.

Then the faithful respond, "Amen", and sing three times:

Blessed be the name of the Lord, now and forever!

then chant Psalm 33, which describes God's providential care for us, and contains the words: "Taste and see that the Lord is good; they lack nothing, those who revere him." (The bread and wine are distributed after the dismissal of Vespers, and the blessed oil is used to anoint the faithful during the singing of the canon at Matins.)

Note: Because the blessing and distribution of bread, wheat, wine, and oil came to be seen as the mark of a major feast, this ceremony is often performed in church even when Vespers and Matins are not celebrated. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, immediately before "Blessed be the name of the Lord", the priest blesses bread and oil at the tetrapod; after the Liturgy is concluded, the bread is distributed to the faithful,who are anointed on the forehead with the blessed oil as they come forward. This custom is called mirovanije ("anointing").

For a good discussion of this part of Vespers, see Mirovanije on the website of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.

The final dismissal

After the singing of the troparia (and blessing of bread, if it takes place), the deacon comes before the icon of Christ, and begins the dismissal. First, the priest blesses God, using his solemn name ("He who is" - in Hebrew, "Yahweh"); this is the only time in our liturgical services where this Name is used.

Deacon: Wisdom!

People: Give the blessing!

Priest: Blessed is Christ our God, the One-Who-Is, always, now and ever and forever.

People: Amen.

Then the people ask God to "uphold the holy and true faith, forever and ever," and the priest calls us to praise the Mother of God:

Priest: Most holy Theotokos, save us:

People: More honorable than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim; who, a virgin, gave birth to God the Word, you, truly the Theotokos, we magnify.

The priest praises God once more, inviting us to do the same:

Priest: Glory to you, O Christ God, our hope, glory to you.

People: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever. Amen.

Finally, the people ask for God's mercy, and the priest's blessing.

People: Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.  Give the blessing.

Priest: May Christ our true God have mercy on us and save us through the prayers of (list of heavenly intercessors); for Christ is good and loves us all.

The exact words of this prayer of blessing vary from one celebration to the next:

With the final blessing, Vespers comes to and end. If bread was blessed, the people may come forward to receive it, and to kiss the cross which the priest holds, as well as the icon(s) on the tetrapod."

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