Kneeling Prayers at Pentecost Vespers (3)
Orthodox Christians do not kneel for prayers from Pascha until Pentecost. Following the canon of the first Nicene council, we don’t kneel on Sundays, either. So Vespers on the evening of Pentecost is the first time since Pascha that we kneel; and three marvelous prayers are contained in these “Kneeling Vespers.” Here is the third:
Christ our God, ever-flowing Spring, source of life and illumination, co-eternal creative power of the Father, for the salvation of mortals, who fulfilled the whole dispensation with surpassing goodness; tore apart the indissoluble bonds of Death and the bars of Hell, trampling down multitudes of evil spirits; offered yourself as an unblemished oblation for our sake, giving your most pure body, intangible and inaccessible to every sin, as a sacrifice, and through this dread and inexpressible offering you granting us the grace of everlasting life. You descended into Hell, smashed the everlasting bars and showed the way up to those who sat below. With a bait of divine wisdom you hooked the author of evil, the dragon of the deep, bound him with cords of darkness in Tartarus and secured him with the unquenchable fire and the exterior darkness through your infinitely powerful strength. Glorious wisdom of the Father, who appeared to those in distress as a mighty helper and enlightened those who sat in darkness and the shadow of death, Lord of unending glory, beloved Son of the most high Father, eternal light from eternal light, Sun of justice, hear us who entreat you and give rest to the souls of your servants who have fallen asleep before us, our fathers, mothers and brethren and the rest of our relatives according to the flesh and all our kinsfolk of the household of the faith, whose memory we too now keep, because in you is the might of all things and in your hand you hold all the ends of the earth.
Master almighty, God of our fathers and Lord of mercy, Creator of the mortal and immortal race and of every human nature that is brought together and again dissolved, of life and death, of our sojourn here and our translation there, you apportion times to the living and establish the moments of death. You lead down to Hell and you lead up. You bind with weakness and release with power. You dispose all things for our use and direct what is to come for our advantage. You give life by hope of resurrection to those wounded by the sting of Death. Master of all things, our God and Saviour, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of those far off upon the sea, who on this final, great and saving day of Pentecost revealed to us the mystery of the holy, consubstantial, co-eternal, undivided and uncompounded Trinity and the coming and presence of your holy and life-giving Spirit poured out in the form of tongues of fire on your holy Apostles, setting them as Evangelists of our true faith, revealing them as confessors and heralds of true theology; who have also been pleased on this most perfect and saving Feast to receive suppliant prayers of atonement for those who are immured in Hell, granting us great hopes that repose and comfort will be sent down from you to the departed from the pains which hold them, hear us, lowly and wretched, who entreat you, and give rest to the souls of your servants who have fallen asleep before us in a place of light, a place of green pasture, a place of refreshment, from which all grief, sorrow and sighing have fled away, and establish their spirits in the tents of the Just and count them worthy of peace and repose. Because the dead will not praise you, O Lord, nor do those in Hell have the freedom to offer you thanksgiving, but we the living bless you and implore you and bring before you atoning prayers and sacrifices on behalf of their souls.
God, great and eternal, holy and lover of humankind, who have counted us worthy to stand at this hour before your unapproachable glory to hymn and praise your wonders, be gracious to us, your unworthy servants. Grant us grace to offer you without conceit and with a broken heart the thrice-holy hymn of glory and thanksgiving for your great gifts, which you have made us and always do so.
Remember, Lord, our weakness and do not destroy us with our iniquities, but in our humiliation show us your great mercy, so that fleeing the darkness of sin we may walk in the daylight of justice; and having put on the weapons of light we may persevere unassailed by any assault of the evil one, and that with boldness we may glorify you for all things, the only true God and lover of humankind. For indeed, Master and Maker of all things, truly great is your mystery: the temporary dissolution of your creatures and after this their restoration and repose to the ages. We give thanks to you for all things, for our entrances into this world and for our departures, which through your unfailing promise betoken for us beforehand our hopes of resurrection and unending life. Would that we may enjoy it at your future second Coming, for you are the author of our resurrection and the impartial judge who loves humankind of what we have done in life, the Master and Lord of our reward.
Through your supreme condescension you became a partaker with us in the same flesh and blood and in those passions of ours that are blameless by willingly submitting to temptation, and, possessing compassionate pity, having yourself suffered by being tempted, and, as you promised, have yourself become a helper for us who are tempted, and so you have also led us to dispassion. Accept therefore, Master, our supplications and entreaties, and give rest to all the fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and children of each, and to every other kinsman and relative, and to all the souls who have gone to their rest before us in the hope of resurrection to eternal life, and establish their spirits and their names in the book of life and in the bosoms of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and in the land of the living, for the kingdom of heaven, in the Paradise of pleasure, through your shining Angels introducing them into your holy mansions. With them raise our bodies also on the day which you have appointed in accordance with your holy and unfailing promises. There is therefore no death for your servants, Lord, when we go out from the body and come to you, O God, but a translation from sorrowful things to better and more desirable, and rest and joy. But if we have in anything sinned against you, be gracious to us and them, because no one is clean of defilement before you, though they last but a day, except you alone, who appeared sinless upon earth, our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we all hope to obtain mercy and forgiveness of sins. Therefore, as you are good and love humankind, remit, forgive, pardon us our faults, voluntary and involuntary, in knowledge and in ignorance, manifest and unnoticed, in deed, in thought, in word, of all our actions and movements. Give freedom and respite to those who have gone before us and bless all of us here present, granting a good and peaceful end to us and to all your people, and opening to us the compassion of your mercy and love for humankind at your dread and fearful Second Coming, and make us all worthy of your kingdom.
Great and most high God, who alone possess immortality and dwell in unapproachable light, who made all creation with wisdom, who made a separation between the light and the darkness and placed the sun to rule the day and the moon and the stars to rule the night, who have counted us sinners worthy on this present day to come before your face with thanksgiving and to offer you our evening worship. Direct our prayer, Lord, like incense before you and accept it as a sweet fragrance. Grant us also that the present evening and the coming night may be peaceful; clothe us with the weapons of light; deliver us from every terror of the night and from every deed that operates in darkness, and give us sleep, which you have given for the repose of our weakness, free from every diabolical vision. Yes, Master of all things, giver of blessings, may we, being moved to compunction on our beds, call to mind your all-holy Name in the night, and made radiant by the meditation of your commandments may we rise up with joy of soul to give glory to your loving-kindness, offering supplications and entreaties to your compassion for our sins and those of all your people. Visit them in your mercy at the prayers of the holy Mother of God.