Below the reader will find a sermon by one of the few American-born Orthodox saints, Sebastian Dabovich (1863-1940). The sermon was originally printed in the 1966 September – October issue of the Orthodox Word, pp. 129-132. All end notes are from the original article.
May we, through the prayers of St. Sebastian, be illumined with the Sun of Righteousness.
A Sermon by St. Sebastian Dobovich, San Francisco, 1899.
Joyful Light of the Holy Glory of the Immortal Heavenly Father, Holy and Blessed, Jesus Christ. Having come to the setting of the sun and beheld the evening light, we hymn God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Worthy art Thou at all times to be hymned with reverent voices, Son of God, Giver of Life: Wherefore the world glorifies Thee. VESPERS HYMN
Beautiful words! What a fullness of expression this soft light, that has come even unto the setting of the sun, conveys to us, inhabitants of the extreme West, Christians who live just where the sun goes down after shining over the last continent of earth. I wish all of you could enjoy the sweetness of harmonious phraseology which glides all through this sublime hymn as we have it in the Greek or in the Slavonic translation. The poetry suffers in order to preserve the sense of the original words when translated into the English. But the thought itself is so elaborate that you catch a faint echo of the sacred music.
The reason why this hymn is appropriated to evening devotion is plainly expressed in the hymn itself. The thought of Christ, the soft Light, is naturally called forth at the sight of the sunset and the mellow light of the lamps. Christ, by the Godhead, is an ever-existing Light, as He is the eternal Brightness of the Father, and the express Image of His Being (Heb. 1:3). But for the salvation of humankind, He concealed His Divine Glory beneath the form of a man, and in this way He became the soft light of the evening. A comparison very striking! The haze that generally fills the evening air lessens the brightness of the sunlight. In the daytime the light of the sun is unbearable, so that one cannot look at it with an unarmed eye. But at the same sun in the evening, and see how softly it shines, everyone may look on it plainly, admire its beauty, and the beauty of those gorgeous pictures that it forms in the clouds by the reflection of its light. And thus it is that the Son of God, unapproachable according to His Divinity, has made Himself accessible to us by His humanity, through which the Light of the Godhead had lessened so that we could see the Word of Life with plain eyes, hear and feel Him (John 1:1); and having made Himself accessible to all, He made the way approachable for all, through Himself, to the Heavenly Father, the Holy, the Blessed, so that they who have seen the Son have seen the Father Himself (John 15:9).
The Eastern light has come to the West – to the uttermost Western end. And blessed be they who, with a clear vision, perceive this light just as it shines in the East. This light, although it came from the East, did not change, but while it shines in the West, it continues to be the light of the East; it is the Eternal Light. Christ, Who is the East Himself, laid down Himself as the chief cornerstone of His Church, which He established in the East, and they in the West who receive this Light of the East, must so shine as the Light of the East would have them be enlightened; but not allow themselves to be dazzled with the glare of a false fire; I say fire, but not light, as no light comes from the West! Praise and glorify the Good God! See, He comes to the West from the East, that all may see by that One Light, and be saved in the bond of union, which is love!
For many centuries this evening hymn has been heard in Christian temples; nor has it through all these ages, not in the temples, lost its freshness and tenderness. It seems, rather, that with every going down of the sun it becomes new again; at every eventide to which it pleases God to prolong our life it may stimulate our souls with new vigor, with holy thoughts, with heavenly aspiring emotion. Do we sing this praise ourselves, or do we hear others hymn, we always feel a hallowed sweetness of heart, an elevated feeling inspires the soul. But where does this evening sun go? It does not fade away but, hidden from us, it lights up with the same brightness the other side of the earth. And so without a doubt, our spiritual sun, which is hidden from our eyes, always and in like manner shines and is seen in all His Glory in another world, whereas here the eye of faith may see only the reflection of His never-setting Light.
The historic tradition which tells how this hymn was composed is most interesting: On one of the hills of Jerusalem – very likely on the same mount from which the Saviour of the world looked down upon Jerusalem in the mellow twilight, and sorrowfully conversed with His disciples of the approaching fall of the city of God – there sat, all alone, an old man, the wise Sophronios; he was Bishop of Jerusalem, Patriarch of the earliest Eastern Church: he sat, and his meditative gaze was fixed on the setting sun of Palestine. The profound stillness, the fading light of the evening, the cool and invigorating air, and other impressive pictures of nature at eventide, with which the wise Sophronios loved to enjoy himself, so fixed the attention of the servant of God that he fell into a deep meditation. Before him lay Jerusalem, with which great memories of so much are connected; the rays of the sun now, as oft before, fell on the glorious city, but they never more shone down in it to light up the temple of Solomon, nor the palace of Herod, nor the strong walls and high towers of Zion. It looked dreary and desolate – as desolate as it is in a house when the host, dead a long time, leaves no one to keep house after him. The wise Sophronios did not grieve for the ruins of the walls and Temple of Jerusalem. He knew that from the fragments of the old the new Jerusalem arose, which shone out in all the world, and over which shineth the Glory of God; for he had once, before becoming Patriarch, wended his way with a pilgrim’s staff through Greece, Palestine, Syria, Egypt; seeing everywhere Christian cities, and everywhere finding temples consecrated in the Name of the Saviour.
And so the evening light, softly falling over the remains of the ancient Jerusalem, directs the thoughts of the wise, grand old man and prelate to objects of more importance than the ruin of the city. As Elias (Elijah) of old in the still small voice (1 Kings 19:12) recognized the presence of Jehovah, so does old Sophronios, philosopher, historian, orator and poet, patriarch and saint all at the same time, in the soft light of the evening twilight mentally feel the touch of another, higher Light. The material sun, declining in West, inclines the mind of the Bishop to conceive the immaterial sun, and the image of the Holy, Life-conceiving Trinity was borne before his spiritual eyes. The Western destination of the sun brought to his memory the gloomy West of the fallen nature of mankind; the soft light of the setting sun, softly bathing in its rays tired nature at eventide, lively represents to him the descent of the Son of God into dark humanity, that He may enlighten and resurrect it, and with it all nature. In the cool breath of the evening air he perceives the type of that grace by which the Holy Spirit, in consequence of the Redemption accomplished on the Cross by Jesus Christ, quickens and spiritualizes man and the universe. The soul of the wise old man abounds in pious emotion, and with trembling voice, a saintly voice, he sings an evening hymn to the Creator of the universe: O Thou soft1 Light of the Holy Glory, O Christ my Saviour! Thou that revealed unto us the Glory of the Father! O soft Light of the Holy Glory upon which the spiritual eye loves to gaze, as the eyes of the body upon the mellow twilight! Thou wouldst save the world, and Thou camest once upon a time into the dark West – yea, even down unto our nature; therefore, each time when we reach the going down of the sun, day by day, when we behold the light of evening, we praise Thy Father, Thee the Son we praise, praise we the Holy Spirit, glorifying the Triune God. O Son of God, Who gavest life unto us and all creatures! We should sing to Thee with reverential voices, we should fall down before Thee not only at the setting of the sun, nor only when we see the twilight, but at all times of the day and the year. Thou art the Life of the world, and Thee therefore the whole world glorifies. Amen.
1The Slavonic version of this hymn has “soft” or “quiet Light” in place of the Greek “joyful Light” (ed. note)