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Actually a hymn – in fact said to be the earliest known hymn recorded outside the Bible still in use, the Phos Hilaron is at its essence a powerful daily prayer of thanks to God. DAVID ADAMS takes a look…


Sunset. PICTURE: Nick Scheerbart/Unsplash

O Light gladsome of the holy glory of the Immortal Father,
the Heavenly, the Holy, the Blessed, O Jesus Christ,
having come upon the setting of the sun, having seen the light of the evening,
we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: God.
Worthy it is at all times to praise Thee in joyful voices,
O Son of God, Giver of Life, for which the world glorifies Thee.

Phos Hilaron, generally translated as O Gladsome Light or Hail Gladdening Light, is the earliest known hymn recorded outside of the Bible that is still in use today by churches in particularly the Eastern but also some Western traditions. It is traditionally sung as part of the vespers – or evening – service.

Originally written in New Testament Greek, it was first recorded in the Apostolic Constitutions, written in the late third or early fourth century, as part of a collection of songs to be sung at various times of day including when candles are lit which is when Phos Hilaron was sung (hence why it is sometimes also known as the Lamp-Lighting Hymn) as a prayer of thanks to God.

While it remains a matter of speculation, some have credited St Athenogenes as the author. Tradition records him as a theologian who was burnt to death for his faith. It has been suggested he was a bishop who was martyred along with 10 disciples in Sebaste, Armenia, on 16th July, in about 305 AD during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. The hymn was apparently later revised by St Sophronius of Jerusalem, who lived in the 6th century, and who is thus also often credited as its author.

The hymn, of which there are several versions, gives thanks to the “Giver of Life” and references Jesus Christ who is referred to in the Gospels of John and Matthew as the “Light of the World”. It’s essentially a beautiful prayer of thanks to God for our lives and the day that has past but it also speaks of the importance of praising the Lord at all times.

The David Crowder Band is among those which have recorded a version of the hymn, Phos Hilaron (Hail Gladdening Light).


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