On this Feast of the Meeting of Our Lord (the second of February on the Julian calendar), let us remember Simeon the Elder and Anna the Prophetess. Like the Theotokos and John the Baptist, they are human ties that bind the old and new covenants together. Some Orthodox theologians like to call them the last saints of the Old Covenant.
The Prayer or Canticle of Saint Simeon the Elder is one of many memorable supplications in Holy Writ. Simeon the Elder and Anna the Prophetess awaited the Messiah, and they lived to see the infant Jesus dedicated in the Temple:
And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
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.
The Gospel of Luke, 2:25-32
The prayer is a much beloved part of the Orthodox vespers service, and it has also played an important part in Western worship known as “Nunc dimittis”—Latin for “Now let depart.”
When Sergei Rachmaninov composed his setting for vespers, he transformed the words of the righteous Simeon into one of the world’s most beautiful songs. Rachmaninov’s settings for the divine liturgy and vespers are both lovely, but his “Nyne otpushchayeshi” from vespers alone should place him among the greatest composers.
I generally do not care for modern musical compositions in the services, but I was fortunate enough to attend a vespers service in Saint Petersburg that used Rachmaninov’s settings. It was amazing. Sergei Rachmaninov, memory eternal!