The seasons change today, from summer to fall. In the northern hemisphere nights begin to grow longer and longer, until, on December 21, we reach the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.
Christians believe that Jesus Christ, in the words of the ancient hymn, “Phos Hilaron”, or “O Radiant Light,” is “the light of the world, a light no darkness can extinguish.” This is perhaps our oldest extra-scriptural Christian hymn. St. Basil the Great writes of it in the fourth century, but scholars believe it was in use long before Basil’s time. The original text is in New Testament Greek.
This is an evening hymn, a hymn for that time of day when candles are lit against the growing dark. Christians face darkness many times in their lives: physical as well as spiritual darkness. Yet we are called always and everywhere to proclaim Christ’s triumph over darkness, Christ’s undimmed and undefeated light.
This is a hymn every Catholic should know. Below is a translation done by William Storey. This text can be sung to a familiar tune, the Tallis’ Canon, which is written in Long Meter. You may know it as the tune to “All Praise to Thee, My God This Night,” but these words can be sung to any tune marked L.M. If you are singing in a group and want to create a lovely harmony, sing this hymn (Tallis’ Canon setting) in a round.
O radiant light, O Sun divine,
Of God the Father’s deathless face,
O Image of the light sublime
That fills the heav’nly dwelling place:
O Son of God, the Source of life,
Praise is your due by night and day.
Our happy lips must raise the strain
Of your esteemed and splendid name.
Learn the tune here: