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Choral Corner #26: What is the Kneeling Vespers Service?

The Kneeling Vespers of Pentecost is a unique form of Vespers served directly after the Divine Liturgy on Holy Pentecost. As Vespers is the first service of the liturgical day, this service properly belongs to Monday, the second day of the Feast of Pentecost, called the Day of the Holy Spirit. The most distinctive feature of the Kneeling Vespers

is the inclusion of three long prayers said by the priest while he and all the faithful kneel — hence the term “Kneeling Vespers”. Kneeling is not a common Orthodox posture for prayer, and we do not kneel at all during the 50 days between Pascha and Pentecost.

In the words of Fr. Alexander Schmemann: "We are invited to kneel. This is our first kneeling since Easter. It signifies that after these 50 days of Paschal joy and fulness, of experiencing the Kingdom of God, the Church now is about to begin her pilgrimage through time and history. It is evening again, and the night approaches, during which temptations and failures await us, when, more than anything else, we need Divine help, that presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who has already revealed to us the joyful End, who will now help us in our effort toward fulfillment and salvation." (Schmemann, “Holy Pentecost”, 1974)

We also decorate our churches and homes with greenery and flowers, which is an offering to God of the first-fruits of summer, and a reminder (to us) that all renovation and rejuvenation, both of the earth and of our souls, is a gift from God through the action of His Holy Spirit. Due to the magnitude of this feast, there is a general dispensation from the typical Wednesday/Friday fasting discipline.

The first Kneeling Prayer is addressed to God the Father: the Source of all life, to whomalone belongs the generative principle of the Holy Trinity. In this prayer, we also thank God for His goodness and for our salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. The second Kneeling Prayer is addressed to Christ, with many references to the role of the Holy Spirit in our communion with Christ. This prayer emphasizes that all true wisdom and understanding

comes from the Spirit. The third Kneeling Prayer is a treasury of theological statements about Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, salvation history, bodily death and eternal salvation.

Interestingly, none of the Kneeling Prayers directly addresses the Holy Spirit. However, the most widely known hymn of Pentecost does, and we pray it daily until the following Pascha:

O heavenly King, O Comforter, O Spirit of Truth: Thou art everywhere present, filling all things. O Treasury of blessings and Giver of life, come and abide in us,

and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

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