Advent is not as solemn a season as Lent, but we approach the liturgy with a bit more austerity throughout these four weeks, allowing us fully to experience the joy of Christmas. The simplicity with which the service begins, omitting the usual Kyrie and Gloria, exemplifies the theme of preparation which encompasses the Advent season.
This text was written by the Scottish hymnologist John Brownlie (1859-1925), a scholar and expert in ancient Greek hymnody. Brownlie translated many hymns from the ancient Greek, publishing them in such volumes as Hymns of the Early Church (1896) and Hymns from East and West (1898). “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” is found in his Hymns from the East (1907), although, since no original Greek source has ever been found, it is supposed that Brownlie composed this text himself. We note one prominent characteristic of this text which is shared with original Greek hymns—there is a strong use and contrast of light and dark. The first stanza almost could be an Easter text, as it paints a picture of light “breaking triumphantly,” awaking the “eastern hills.” This is followed by a reference to crowning the “little child” with “glory like the sun that lights the morning sky,” continuing still with noting, “Oh, brighter than the rising morn when Christ, victorious, rose.” In the fourth stanza we sing of that “bright, glorious morn.” Brownlie’s intimate connection with Greek hymnody formed the framework through which he himself composed hymn texts, and one of the Church Fathers might have found its themes familiar and its message contemporary.
We find this metaphorical “light” motif found throughout scripture, but most notably in the Gospel of John which, like all the New Testament, was written in Greek, but, unlike much of the New Testament, was aimed particularly at those who considered themselves ethnically, socially, and philosophically Greek. Instead of relating the historical particulars of the Nativity, John starts his gospel with an abstruse prologue in which he writes, “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1: 4-5) In this same gospel Jesus will go on to state, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8: 12)
Every Eastern Orthodox church (Greek or otherwise) will have a small, elevated “sand candelabra” in its narthex, in which every worshipper lights and places a candle before entering the nave, a remnant of which is found in our Easter Vigil liturgy. It was incumbent upon every worshipper to remember Christ the Light of the World and that each worshipper likewise becomes a light to others. The daylight will continue to wane until around Christmas, at which time (roundabout) we may begin to celebrate the increasing light in the sky and the growth of Christ and of our knowledge of Him.