Standing in the darkened church faintly illumined in flickering candlelight, with the aroma of incense hanging in the warm air, together we recited these words...
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And the third day He arose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; Whose Kingdom shall have no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spoke by the prophets. In one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Such a simple act brought a tremendous flood of emotion. I felt caught up in the sweep of the past wondering how many times over the better part of the last 17 centuries, in dank caves and in gloriously illuminated naves, the same words were chanted? Not just language, not just print on paper, but ancient words that reflect the deep truths that define us collectively and individually. Sentences pared down to the necessary, nothing extraneous, everything essential.
In darkness and in light, in time of toil and in time of trouble, through feast and famine, through plenty and through depravation, through every possible trial, under every conceivable circumstance, day after day, in tongues foreign and domestic all those who have gone before us kept the flame of faith burning brightly. We are merely the next link in the chain that ties us to the past and offers a hand to the future, neither the first nor the last to hold firm to the faith handed down by the Fathers. I am reminded that we are called to be a light on a hill, a flicker of brilliant grace in a gray world.
Together we stood, tired and hungry, reciting the small Compline with the voice of the reader ringing clear in the near-darkness. Just visible outside the circle the icons glow, Pantocrator, Theotokos, St. John the Forerunner, St. Justin, Gabriel and Raphael seeming to embrace us, reminders that we are in good company as we pursue the path to Godliness.
Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.