Source: St. Lawrence Orthodox Church
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, and God saw that it was good. Then He rested, and it was the seventh day: “And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had done, and rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Gen. 2:2).
This is why, as commanded by God, we “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8–11). Technically we are not called to “rest” but to “Sabbathkeeping.” As St. John Chrysostom explains, we are not called to some sort of spiritual lethargy, but to “abstaining from all evil things; and doing those things only which relate to the service of God.” Sabbath rest is ideal rest and a taste of eternal rest. On the Sabbath we rest in the spiritual state we have achieved by persevering faithfully through each week-long journey in the world and having returned successfully to the celebration of the Resurrection.
In the Orthodox Church, the liturgical day begins in the evening with the setting of the sun. This practice follows the biblical account of creation: “And there was evening and there was morning, one day” (Genesis 1:5). At Vespers we chant the evening psalm, “The sun knows its time for setting, / You make darkness and it is night” (Psalm 104:19–20), and Psalm 141, “Lord, I call upon You, hear me, / Hear me, O Lord. / Let my prayer arise in Your sight as incense, / And let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.” At Great Vespers on Saturday night, the eve of the Lord’s Day, the variable hymns always praise Christ’s resurrection from the dead, for the evening has come in which we are entering mystically into the Eighth Day that will culminate in Sunday’s Divine Liturgy. The ancient hymn, “O Gladsome Light,” and the concluding hymn, “Now let Your servant depart in peace” (the prayer of St. Simeon the God-Receiver), are essential elements for the people of God on Saturday night by which they prepare themselves for the Sabbath rest.
In our culture, incredible faith is placed in weekend evenings filled with bodily pleasures and indulgences as a cure for the anxiety, insecurity, busyness, restlessness, emptiness, and fatigue that assaulted us during the work-week. Yet this is only a distraction, a desperate lunge away from the grind which usually results only in increasing our spiritual emptiness and leaving our bodies exhausted and abused. Genuine escape (to “break free” or “avoid danger”) of body and soul is found only in the freedom and stillness of Christ. Unchristian or simply foolish and empty weekend activities, especially on Saturday night, rob our heart and soul of preparation for worship on the Lord’s Day, wherein real escape is found. All who have experienced faithful attendance at Vespers know how it helps to fill the heart with calm and peace as we enter the darkness that will be transformed by the light of the Resurrection of Christ.
As singles, whole families, or parents/grandparents/godparents taking turns watching the children, and as an entire community working together to sustain the culture of Christ in the world, in our hearts, in our minds, let us faithfully continue to attend Vespers services, especially Saturday night, with the love of God that is manifested in the keeping of His commandments. Keeping the Lord’s Day holy begins Saturday evening. The grace-filled, heart-warming, and soul-illuminating reception of Holy Communion begins Saturday evening. Come, relax in the calm, chant a hymn, light a candle, use your prayer rope, and commune with God and neighbor. It’s a party for the soul.