Weekend Fisher at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength has in the last week been running a series on spiritual resources for the terminally ill and their caregivers. Now, where I’m placed in my life’s journey has not found me interacting closely with the terminally ill. However, it so happens that this Sunday afternoon our choir visited a terminally ill member of our congregation who is (had been) a member of the choir. I hadn’t gotten to know at all over the past year so we haven’t been visiting until now. But … to the point.
As our final song, our choir sang St. Simeon’s prayer (in the west the Nunc Dimittis) :
- Νυν απολύεις τον δούλον σου, Δέσποτα, κατά το ρήμα σου εν ειρήνη,
- ότι είδον οι οφθαλμοί μου το σωτήριόν σου,
- ο ητοίμασας κατά πρόσωπον πάντων των λαών,
- φως εις αποκάλυψιν εθνών και δόξαν λαού σου Ισραήλ.
or more usefully
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
This is a song well known in Orthodox liturgy as it is part of the Great Vespers service, which in the States is sung every Saturday night.
On the drive home, we were discussing in our family whether this was appropriate to sing in the presence of the dying. I think it is, for that is the precise context of St. Simeon’s urge to speak these words. He has now seen the Christ child and is, as an elderly and likely infirm man … ready to depart … life. The common usage of this song is at the end of a service, and often “now let thy servant depart” is taken as to depart from this place of worship and return to secular life. However, that is now what was meant in the original context. So in that regard, as a song for the dying … it both is appropriate and may provide some comfort.