Christians sing for several reasons, including:
- Worship and adoration: Christians believe that singing is a form of worship and a way to express their love and adoration for God.
- Proclamation of truth: Christians sing to proclaim the truth of the gospel and share the good news with others.
- Unity: Singing together can create a sense of unity and community among believers.
- Encouragement and comfort: Singing can be a source of encouragement and comfort in difficult times, reminding believers of God’s love and faithfulness.
- Instruction: Hymns and worship songs often contain biblical teachings and can serve as a way to teach and reinforce important theological concepts.
- Response: Singing can be a response to God’s goodness and grace, as well as a way to express repentance and seek forgiveness.
The oldest song that Christians still sing today is believed to be the “Phos Hilaron” or “Hail Gladdening Light,” a hymn of evening light that is traditionally sung at sunset. This song dates back to at least the 3rd century AD and is still sung by many Christians, especially in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Other early Christian hymns and songs include the “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” and the “Te Deum Laudamus,” both of which date back to the 4th century AD.
This ancient hymn actually uses “hymn” in verb form. The noun is ὕμνος (humnos), and the verb is ὑμνέω (humneo). In Φῶς ἱλαρὸν (Phos Hilaron). the verb takes the form ὑμνεῖσθαι (humneisthai). The ending indicates the infinitive verb is middle voice aorist whatever that means.
Φῶς ἱλαρὸν ἁγίας δόξης, ἀθανάτου Πατρός, οὐρανίου, ἁγίου, μάκαρος, Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, ἐλθόντες ἐπὶ τὴν ἡλίου δύσιν, ἰδόντες φῶς ἑσπερινόν, ὑμνοῦμεν Πατέρα, Υἱόν, καὶ ἅγιον Πνεῦμα Θεόν. Ἄξιόν σε ἐν πᾶσι καιροῖς, ὑμνεῖσθαι φωναῖς αἰσίαις, Υἱὲ Θεοῦ, ζωὴν ὁ διδούς, Διὸ ὁ κόσμος σὲ δοξάζει.
Hail, gladdening Light, of His pure glory poured
Who is the immortal Father, heavenly, blest,
Holiest of holies, Jesus Christ our Lord!
Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest;
The lights of evening round us shine;
We hymn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit divine!
Worthiest art thou at all times to be sung
With undefiled tongue, Son of our God, giver of life, alone;
Therefore in all the world thy glories, Lord, they own.
Basil of Caesarea
Phos Hilaron (Φῶς ἱλαρὸν) is an ancient Christian hymn originally written in Koine Greek. The hymn is known in English as ‘Hail Gladdening Light,’ or ‘O Gladsome Light.’ It is the earliest known Christian hymn, recorded outside of the Bible, that is still being used today. The hymn is featured in the Vespers of the Orthodox Church.
The song is first recorded by an unknown author in the Constitutiones Apostolicae which was written in the late 3rd or early 4th century A.D. It is found in a collection of songs to be sung in the morning, in the evening, before meals, and at candle lighting. Phos Hilaron is to be sung at the lighting of candles in the evening and so is sometimes known as the ‘Candle-light Hymn’. Despite some of the words to the other three songs being from Scripture or in one case dated to around 150 AD, Phos Hilaron is the first to be considered an actual hymn in the modern sense. It is certainly the first complete example. It is far more rhythmic than the others and is divided into twelve verses varying between five, six, eight, nine, ten and eleven syllables a verse. Basil the Great (ca. 330 – January 1, 379) spoke of the singing of the Phos Hilaron as a cherished tradition of the church, the hymn being already considered old in his day (though some attribute the composition of the song to St Basil himself).
At that time in Jerusalem a candle was kept perpetually burning in the empty tomb of Christ, its glow a symbol of the living light of Jesus. As Christians gathered to worship the hymn was sung and, in a tradition known as the lighting of the lamps, the candle was brought forth from the tomb, its bright, solitary flame calling the church to celebrate the risen Lord.
Athenogenes, a saint of unknown date but is commemorated 16th July, is believed by some to have composed this hymn on the way to being martyred. He is often depicted as an elderly bishop with the executioner’s arm paralyzed until the saint has completed his song. The Roman Martyrology states: “In Pontus, the birthday of Saint Athenogenes, [is celebrated, he was] an aged theologian, who, when about to consummate his martyrdom by fire, sang a hymn of joy, which he left in writing to his disciples.” He is probably identical to the bishop who suffered at Sebaste, Armenia, with ten disciples under Diocletian on July 16; therefore estimating his death as around 305 A.D. However, Basil the Great notes the “ancient form” of this hymn, states it comes from antiquity, and states that it is of unknown origin immediately prior to mentioning the story of “the Hymn of Athenogenes, which, as he was hurrying on to his perfecting by fire, he left as a kind of farewell gift to his friends.” Basil the Great is clearly stating that Athenogenes wrote a different hymn, which scholars believe to be “Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις” (Glory to God in the highest), a.k.a. the Great Doxology. [a]https://orthodoxwiki.org/Phos_Hilaron
I will now adduce another piece of evidence which might perhaps seem insignificant, but because of its antiquity must in nowise be omitted by a defendant who is indicted on a charge of innovation. It seemed fitting to our fathers not to receive the gift of the light at eventide in silence, but, on its appearing, immediately to give thanks. Who was the author of these words of thanksgiving at the lighting of the lamps, we are not able to say. The people, however, utter the ancient form, and no one has ever reckoned guilty of impiety those who say “We praise Father, Son, and God’s Holy Spirit.”
(Ps. 141. was called ὁ ἐπιλύχνιος ψαλμός (Ap. Const. viii. 35). In the Vespers of the Eastern Church an evening hymn is sung, translated in D.C.A. i. 634, “Joyful Light of the holy glory of the immortal Father, the heavenly, the holy, the blessed Jesus Christ, we having come to the setting of the sun and beholding the evening light, praise God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It is meet at all times that thou shouldest be hymned with auspicious voices, Son of God, Giver of Life: wherefore the world glorifieth thee.”)
And if any one knows the Hymn of Athenogenes, (identified by some with two early hymns, Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις, and φῶς ἱλαρόν) which, as he was hurrying on to his perfecting by fire, he left as a kind of farewell gift (The MSS. vary between ἐξιτήριον and ἀλεξιτήριον, farewell gift and amulet or charm. In Ep. cciii. 229 Basil says that our Lord gave His disciples peace as an ἐξιτήριον δῶρον, using the word, but in conjunction with δῶρον. Greg. Naz., Orat. xiv. 223 speaks of our Lord leaving peace “ὥσπερ ἄλλο τι ἐξιτήριον.”) to his friends, he knows the mind of the martyrs as to the Spirit. On this head I shall say no more. [b]Basil of Caesarea, “The Book of Saint Basil on the Spirit,” in St. Basil: Letters and Select Works, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Blomfield Jackson, vol. 8, A Select Library of the … Continue reading
[c]This article includes some content created using OpenAI’s ChatGPT
|↑b||Basil of Caesarea, “The Book of Saint Basil on the Spirit,” in St. Basil: Letters and Select Works, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Blomfield Jackson, vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1895), 46.|
|↑c||This article includes some content created using OpenAI’s ChatGPT|