This weekend I got a chance to listen to a CD that was given to me some time ago. I had never had the chance to listen to it until now. It contained what scholars believe to be the oldest hymn on record (150 A.D.) in the Christian church that has survived complete, “Hail, Gladdening Light”. This Greek hymn was not sung in congregations, but rather by Christians at home when they would light their oil lamps at sunset. It is a hymn of praise to the Trinity, but emphasizes Christ, the Light of the World. The English translation, like the original, is not written metrically so it could not be put to an ordinary hymn tune, but instead uses a chant setting. (This means that because certain lines are longer than others, the extra words are sung on the same note until the line is complete.)
I told my son that whenever we turn our lamps on at night, we can remember these early Christians who lit their lamps to light their homes and sang this hymn to the Light of the World. These words of praise can be learned today.
Hail, gladdening Light, of his pure glory poured,
who is immortal Father, heavenly blest;
Holiest of Holies, Jesus Christ our Lord!
Now are we 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 undefilèd tongue,
Son of our God, Giver of life, alone!
Therefore in all the world thy glories, Lord, they own.
If you would like to hear how this sounds to the hymn tune written by John Stainer in the 19th century, click here where it is on CD. There is an audio sample of the first minute of this hymn–cut number 4. This entire CD is superb, by the way, if you’re looking for a great hymn collection.