Phos Hilaron

The Phos Hilaron is attributed by some to St. Athenogenes (died c. 305), Bishop and martyr. A theologian, Athenogenes died as a martyr in the reign of Emperor Diocletian by burning with ten disciples at Sebaste. Traditionally, it is believed that Athenogenes sang the Phos Hilaron in joy as he entered the flames.

One of the earliest surviving Christian hymns, the “Lamp-lighting hymn” was described by St. Basil about 365 A.D. as a hymn used centuries before him. In the Second Century it was apparently in use in the catacombs by early Christians.Historically, the hymn was used in the Byzantine vespers liturgy. St. Justin the Martyr cites the text of the hymn about 150 A.D. in his dialogue with Trypho. Although it pre-dated the Byzantium, it is referred to as "Byzantine." It is clearly Greek in its musical form and composition, while it possesses a text that is clearly Jewish in origin and conforms to the Jewish calendar in which the day ends and begins at sunset.

Phos Hilaron, literally , “hilarous light” (no connection with St. "HILARY"), has continued in use in churches of the Greek Orthodox tradition to the present day. It did not become part of the Western tradition and indeed was probably unknown in the West before around 1700 and is now included in the Anglican, Book of Common Prayer. The earliest English translation was made in 1675. The earliest translation following the line-scheme of the original Greek was made by John Keble in 1834. Another version was made by Robert Bridges, poet laureate of England, around 1890.

See this excellent article: “Phos Hilaron: The Metamorphoses of a Greek Hymn” (The Hymn, April 1989, pp. 7-12)

O Gracious Light
pure brightness of the everlasting Father in heaven.
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!

Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing praises, O God:
Father Son and Holy Spirit.

You are worthy at all times
to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.

- Book of Common Prayer
[Oxford University Press, New York. Permission requested.]

O gladsome Light, O Grace
Of God the Father's Face,
The eternal splendor wearing;
Celestial, holy, blest,
Our Savior Jesus Christ,
Joyful in Thine appearing.

Now, ere day fadeth quite,
We see the evening light,
Our wonted hymn outpouring,
Father of might unknown,
Thee, His incarnate Son,
And Holy Ghost adoring.

To Thee of right belongs
All praise of holy songs,
O Son of God, Life-giver;
Thee, therefore, O Most High,
The world doth glorify
And shall exalt forever.

- Robert Bridges, 1899

Check out the 100 Hymn Tunes You Should Know

© 2001 Smith Creek Music
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email us.

Site last updated: January 17, 2004