Phos Hilaron, Gladsome Light

Phos Hilaron is probably the oldest Christian hymn still in use. The song accompanied the lighting of the lamps in the evening. In the 4th century, Basil the Great wrote that he loved the hymn and spoke of it as if it had been long in use. It is still use during vesper services in Byzantine Rite of the Orthodox church, and English translation appear in the Evening Prayers of Lutheran and Anglican liturgies.

***

Joyous light of glory of the immortal Father,
Heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ,
We have come to the setting of the Sun
And we look to the evening light.
We sing to God, the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy of being praised with pure voices forever.
O Son of God, O Giver of Light,
The universe proclaims your glory.

— Evening Prayer, Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978

***

O gracious Light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.

— Evening Prayer, Book of Common Prayer, 1979

O gladsome light,
pure brightness of the ever-living Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing praises to God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of Life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.

— Evening Prayer, Anglican Church in North America, 2013

In the modern era we are surrounded  by light, even at night.  We forget how dark and dangerous the night seemed in the age before electricity. For Christians, the lighting of the lamps not only marked a significant moment in the rhythm of their daily lives, it also pointed them to the one who declared himself to be the light of the world.

Of the two English translations, I think “hilaron” is probably closer to “joyous” than to “gracious”. It’s from the same root as the English word “hilarious” and generally means “cheerful” or “merry”. In this instance, I think, “phos hilaron” means something like “the light that brings a smile to your face” or “the light that warms your heart”.

Here is the Greek text.

Φῶς ἱλαρὸν ἁγίας δόξης, ἀθανάτου Πατρός, οὐρανίου, ἁγίου, μάκαρος, Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, ἐλθόντες ἐπὶ τὴν ἡλίου δύσιν, ἰδόντες φῶς ἑσπερινόν, ὑμνοῦμεν Πατέρα, Υἱόν, καὶ ἅγιον Πνεῦμα Θεόν. Ἄξιόν σε ἐν πᾶσι καιροῖς, ὑμνεῖσθαι φωναῖς αἰσίαις, Υἱὲ Θεοῦ, ζωὴν ὁ διδούς, Διὸ ὁ κόσμος σὲ δοξάζει.

And then there’s the Marty Haugen version in the Holden Evening Prayer. Love the tune. Prefer the ancient words.

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