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Choral Corner #22: Why don't we sing "O heavenly King" from Pascha until Pentecost?

Although the prayer “O heavenly King” appears near the beginning of almost every service and personal prayer rule throughout the liturgical year, it is part of the propers* of Pentecost, appearing for the first time near the end of Great Vespers. Similarly, we first sing “We have seen the True Light” earlier in the same service. During the rest of the year, we also sing this hymn after Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy.

The reason we don’t sing “O heavenly King” and “We have seen the True Light” during the Paschal season is because, in the earthly chronology of biblical events, the disciples did not receive the Holy Spirit until the day of Pentecost, 50 days after the Resurrection. Of course, the Holy Spirit does not absent Himself from the Church during Paschaltide; every Orthodox Christian has received the “seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” in the sacrament of Chrismation. However, we omit these hymns from Pascha to Pentecost as we step outside chronos-time to anticipate, with the disciples, the descent of the Holy Spirit, the final divine self-revelation to humankind and the founding of the Orthodox Church, thereby reaffirming the indwelling of the Holy Spiriting our own souls. This is also why we decorate our temples with greenery and blossoms on Pentecost: to signify that the Holy Spirit, the life-giving Breath of God, refreshes and renews the whole creation.

* — Propers are texts specific to a given feast, commemoration or calendar date. By contrast, ordinaries are texts intrinsic to a given service, regardless of what the propers are. For example, the Six Psalms of Matins are ordinaries; they are always chanted.

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