This evening a dear friend and I reunited in Toronto and spontaneously decided to attend Vespers at St. Moses & St. Katherine Coptic Orthodox Church.
The evening prayer and raising of incense was set to begin at 7:00 p.m.
Aside from the priest, two young men chanting liturgical responses, and one woman from the community, my friend and I were the only ones there.
Before beginning vespers, Fr. John Boutros came over to give us a brief explanation of the prayer.
“The purpose of vespers is start wondering now: where has my life gone? It’s a journey toward reconciliation in preparation for the liturgy the following day. Accordingly, people will usually go to confession after Vespers and during the Midnight Praises on the vigil of the Divine Liturgy. As the sun sets, you are invited to ponder: What am I doing? Where did the light go? Where did my life go?”
Fr. John also gave the analogy of working on a paper or a project into the late hours of the night saying, “When you’re working late at night, you can lose sense of the time. The purpose of these evening liturgies is partly to enter into the timelessness of eternity.”
This is the structure of Vespers in the Coptic Orthodox Church:
The Thanksgiving Prayer – As with all Coptic Orthodox services, Vespers first thanks God “for everything, concerning everything, and in everything”
Minor Circuit of Incense and Three Inaudible Litanies
The Verses of the Cymbals
The Litany for the Departed
Major Circuit of Incense
Graciously Accord O Lord…
The Doxologies – commemorating the saints of the church and the liturgical season of the church
The Prayer of Ⲫⲛⲟⲩϯ ⲛⲁⲓ ⲛⲁⲛ (O God have mercy upon us…)
The Prayer for the Gospel
The Reading of the Psalm and Gospel
The Absolution, Conclusion, and Blessing
My friend and I listened to the chanted prayers and took in the scent of the incense as we heard such words as, “For there is no death for Your servants, but a departure.”
How great a difference a half hour spent that way could make.