Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Phos Hilaron

Recently, we bought "Hymns: Ancient & Modern," a Passion-series collection of hymns rewritten in contemporary format. It is a really good album, especially in a day when the modern church seems obsessed only with what's new and contemporary. Hearing the rich, deep teaching of the old hymns in a new light was a treat.

On that album was a song called "Phos Hilaron." I had never heard this before. It is an ancient creed dating from before the third century. According to the album jacket cover, it used to be part of a tradition held in Jerusalem called the "lighting of the lamps." At nightfall, a single candle was carried out of the empty tomb of Christ to represent His light to the world, and this hymn would be sung or recited.

I did a little digging on the Internet, because this old, old piece of church history intrigued me. Phos Hilaron, named after the first two Greek words of the song, means "Gladdening Light" or "Joyous Light." It has been attributed to Athenogenes, who was martyred in 305 AD, but it was mentioned earlier, by Basil (who described it as already centuries old) and by Justin Martyr, around 150 AD. Tradition has it that it was sung in the catacombs during the Roman persecutions. If you want to look at it in the original Greek, with a transliteration and a different translation, click here.

Here are the words, as translated by John Keble in 1834. Read this ancient hymn, thinking of our rich and ancient history as a Church, and just think of this: those who sang this hymn in the catacombs were saved by the same glorious God as we, worshiped the same Saviour as we, were indwelt by the same eternal, unchanging Holy Spirit, and will worship Him forever, together with us, in the same assured, everlasting future.

Hail, gladdening Light, of his pure glory poured,
Who is the immortal Father, heavenly, blest,
Holiest of holies, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Now we are come to the sun's hour of rest,
The lights of evening round us shine,
We hymn the Father, Son and Holy Spirit divine.

Worthiest art thou at all times to be sung
With undefiled tongue, Son of our God, giver of life, alone:
Therefore in all the world thy glories, Lord, thine own.


Anonymous Bethany said...

We read some of Justin Martyr in Christian Philosophy, it was really interesting.

But yes, it sounds like it is a beautiful hymn.

I love hymns :)

3:05 PM  

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