The Trisagion Prayers - Part 4
April 29, 2013 Length: 47:06
Fr. Tom continues to talk about the Little Entrance and how it is done when a priest is presiding as opposed to a bishop.
I had hoped, in my last podcast, that I would be able to finish my reflections and commentaries about what is prayed and sung and said and done at the time of the singing of the Trisagion, the Thrice-holy Hymn, at the Divine Liturgy when the celebrant is a presbyter (or a priest). I thought that I would finish, and so I said, “Next time we’ll speak about when the celebrant is a bishop.” However, there are just a couple more things that I would like to say and I believe I have to say [about] when the celebrant is a priest. So I will continue with that today. Then I think I can keep my promise, that next time we’ll speak about when the celebrant is a bishop.
At the time of the Thrice-holy, the celebrating priest… He may be celebrating with other priests, he may be celebrating with a deacon, he may be celebrating completely alone, but when it comes time for the Thrice-holy and the celebrant is a priest, if there is a deacon, the deacon will come to him after he finishes reading the prayer of the Thrice-holy that we commented on last time, and the deacon will say to the celebrant, “Bless, Master,” or “Bless, Father, the time of the Thrice-holy.” So we have reached the time of the Thrice-holy.
Then the celebrant… And it’s very important that it be the celebrant; if there are concelebrating priests. There are certain things in the Liturgy that must be done by the celebrant, and the call, the “intro,” so to speak, which is the end of the prayer and the call to sing the Trisagion, is always done by the celebrant. So the chief priest, the celebrant who’s serving, will say:
For holy art thou, O God, and unto thee we send up glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever.
And if he’s alone, he will continue:
And unto ages of ages.
If a deacon is serving, when he reaches the point, “Now and ever,” then the deacon will say, “And unto ages of ages,” as he faces the people through the door and does a gesture with his orarion, kind of drawing all people into the service at that time.
In the Greek Orthodox tradition—I’ve never seen this printed in a book, but I’ve seen it’s done by priest, and I think it’s kind of nice; bishops do it, too, I think, in the Greek Orthodox Church, where in this exclamation of the prayer which is the call to begin the actual singing of the Thrice-holy Hymn—instead of saying, “For holy art thou, O God, and unto thee we send up glory,” what is said is:
For holy art thou, O our God, and unto thee we send up the Thrice-holy Hymn (not send up glory or give glory, but give the Thrice-holy Hymn), to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
So that’s a nice touch. I always feel sometimes like I’d like to do that, but I don’t serve in a church of the Greek tradition, so I don’t do it, but we say, “Let us send up glory” or “Let us send up the Thrice-holy Hymn, to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.” Then, when that is finished, the congregation or the chanters, the choir, sings, “Amen,” and then proceeds to sing: “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” to sing it three times, then to sing, “Glory to the Father, to the Son, to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, to ages and ages. Amen,” and then to say, “Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” and then one last time to sing, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.”
Having done that, and when the congregation starts singing the Thrice-holy Hymn, in the way just described, when the “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us” is done three times, and you come to the “Glory…” the deacon will say (if there is a deacon) to the presiding presbyter, “Command, Master!” or “Give the command, Master!” That expression, “Command,” in English… We usually say, “Command”; that is what is translated in the book of the Orthodox Church in America; it’s also included in the Liturgy book translated in Great Britain for the Ecumenical Patriarchate; “Master, command!” is what it says. And you find it also in the Liturgikon of the Antiochian Church: “Command, Master,” in that order. So it’s always there.
We’re going to take a second now to comment on what that means. Why is the deacon, if there is a deacon, saying to the celebrant—and in this case whether a presbyter or a bishop—why is he saying, “Command” or “Give the command”? I believe that what this is [is] a liturgical practice probably taken from the Byzantine court, that when something was happening and they had to proceed to the next point of whatever was happening, the next part of the program, in order to continue, the deacon who [does] the service says to the one in charge, the one who’s leading the service, “Command,” and that means, “Give the order to continue.” That’s what it means; I’m virtually certain that’s what it means.
You know how you sometimes see in English movies how the butler will say, “Carry on, sir!” Carry on, let’s continue, and then they give the command to continue, and then they continue doing the next thing that they are supposed to do. So I think that what it is, it’s where the servant says to the master, “Tell us to carry on. Give us the order to carry on. Command.”
Here I would just remark that that expression is used in different places in Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine rite Liturgy. For example, it’s used at an ordination service, where, if a man is being ordained a deacon or a priest and he’s standing in the middle of the church and he has to begin to enter into the altar area to be ordained to the diaconate or to the priesthood, the servers—subdeacons, or, in the case of a priest, the deacons—address that candidate by saying, “Command!” That means, “Do you give the order to carry on? Are you willing to be ordained?”
Actually, it’s very interesting, because, if it’s done according to the book, the first “Command” is said to the candidate for ordination. Then they turn the candidate around, facing the people, and he bows down on his knees before the people, and then the servers say to the people, “Command!” It’s interesting that to the person, it’s in the singular, kelevson, but to the people it’s plural, kelevsate, and then they go through the royal doors, and then the deacon will say to the bishop who’s going to do the ordination, “Give the command, most reverend Master” or “most-holy Master” or whatever the title there would be, and then the bishop has to bless it so that the ordination could take place. But each time the words “Command” are used…
Also in the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, when the priest brings out the candle to bless the people between the two readings from the holy Scripture, the deacon offering the incenser and the candle to the priest will say to him, “Command, Father; command, Master,” and that means, “Now it’s time for you to turn around and stand in the royal doors and bless the people with the lighted candle, saying, ‘The light of Christ illumines all.’ ” So this expression, “Command,” it means, “Carry on; we continue.” You have that “Command, Master,” being said to the celebrant.
Now here comes a point of difference, a point of difference in understanding and in practice. After this command is given, then I believe what should be done, the proper procedure, which is in the translation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Western Europe, in England, and also in the service book of the Orthodox Church in America, is that, when the deacon says, “Command,” the celebrant will say, “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord,” and while he is saying this, he walks to the right side of the altar, goes behind the altar, and stands on what is called the High Place or the Throne, in the center of which is the throne of the bishop. With that throne there is the so-called synthronon, the other thrones, where other bishops, if they’re serving, would sit, or the presbyters would sit. In other words, there’s a High Place behind the altar, in the center of which is the bishop’s throne, and on either side are benches, seats, or thrones for the concelebrating clergy.
In this particular practice and movement, the celebrant and those serving with him go to the High Place behind the altar, saying, “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.” Then the deacon, if there is one, will say, “Bless, Master,” or if it’s a bishop, “Bless, Father, the High Place.” That’s what it’s called: the High Place. Sometimes, by the way, in hymnology, the upper room where the holy Eucharist was being celebrated by Christ—I shouldn’t say the holy Eucharist celebrated, but where the Mystical Supper, the Last Supper, of Jesus Christ with his disciples, in the upper room; it’s often called the High Place. You have to go up to it.
Then, when the celebrant gets to that High Place and he looks at the throne that is set there, the fancy chair that’s behind the altar, he will say:
Blessed art thou on the throne of thy glory, the throne of thy kingdom, who sittest upon the cherubim, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
That’s the OCA translation. In the Ecumenical Patriarchate translation, the deacon says, “Command!” Then the celebrant says, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” while going to the back of the altar to the High Place. Then the deacon will say, “Bless, Master, the throne on high, the high throne,” and the celebrant will say:
Blessed are you on the throne of glory, the throne of your kingdom, who is seated upon the cherubim, always, now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
So the words and the movements, the rubrics, are identically the same in the Ecumenical Patriarchate translation and in the Orthodox Church in America translation. In the translation done at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America, this is what is said; this is what has to be done. There is no “Command” by the deacon or anybody else. There is no movement of the priest or the bishop, even, to go behind the altar to the throne and the synthronon and for the bishop to take his place before his throne on which he will sit when he listens to the epistle, before which he will stand when he listens to the Gospel. And in the olden days, it used to be the place from where he would give the sermon to the people, sitting on his throne, a high throne behind the altar table. That’s pretty much, I think, agreed upon; that’s what was historically done.
But that, for some reason, was lost, probably during the time of the Turkish yoke. But you still had the words, you still had the book, but you didn’t quite know what to do. So in the practice of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, in the translation done at Holy Cross, at that moment in the Liturgy, this is what it says: The priest, turning toward the prothesis, meaning the table of oblation, where the bread and the wine to be offered at the Liturgy are sitting, covered with the altar covers…
The priest (it says here) in a low voice: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed are you on the throne of glory of your kingdom, seated upon the cherubim, now and ever and to ages of ages. Amen.
So what’s the difference? The difference is there is no procession to the High Place, the celebrant does not even leave the front of the altar, and when he says these words, which actually have to do with the procession to the High Place and sitting on the throne behind the altar or standing behind the altar, it’s simply not there. It’s just not in the book. It disappeared. But what is said is that you say these words when you approach, looking at the table of oblation which is on the side of the altar area, where the bread and wine has been prepared for the Great Entrance and the offertory at the Liturgy of the Faithful for the holy Eucharist.
In the Antiochian Liturgikon, it’s very interesting that there it says that, after the deacon says, “Command,” so the command is there in the Antiochian book, then the priest goes to the oblation table, the prothesis, and spreads out his hands and says, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” So that’s done toward the table of oblation. Then the celebrant turns and looks behind the altar, and the deacon says, “Bless, Master, the throne on high,” and then the priest says:
Blessed art thou on the throne of the glory of thy kingdom, who art enthroned upon the cherubim, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
And then the deacon says, “Amen.” However, he doesn’t go behind the altar. He just continues to stand in front of the altar.
To say this over again, the Greek Orthodox American translation does not have the clergy going to the High Place, and the words, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who sits upon the throne of your glory, the throne of your kingdom, who sits upon the cherubim, always, now and forever,” that is said directed to the table of oblation. In other words, there’s no indication that this has to do with the throne behind the altar. And, of course, in many Greek Orthodox churches, there is a throne behind the altar for the bishop to sit on, but the clergy don’t go there at the Divine Liturgy according to these rubrics; they just stay in front of the altar.
In the Antiochian book, it’s split. The first sentence, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” is said facing the table of oblation, the prothesis table, and then, looking at the High Place, the priest continues, “Blessed art thou, O Lord, who sits upon the throne of your glory, the throne of your kingdom, who is entrhoned upon the cherubim, always, now and forever, and unto ages of ages.” But then he goes back in front of the altar. He doesn’t actually go behind the altar and stand in that place. I believe that even when a bishop is serving in the Antiochian Church and in the Greek churches in America, even the bishop does not go to that High Place; he just continues to stand or stand around the front of the altar table.
Well, I have to just say my opinion, since I’m being asked to by Ancient Faith Radio. My opinion is that the Ecumenical Patriarchate translation and rubrics, movement, and the OCA is the accurate one. The other two are not correct. They’re simply not correct. This time in the Liturgy and these words have absolutely nothing to do with the table of oblation. The table of oblation is not the throne upon which the Lord is sitting in the heavens, because the Lord is enthroned on the throne of God the Father in the heavens. That’s the teaching of the New Testament.
So the throne is behind the altar table. It’s a High Place. It’s interesting: I was in an Antiochian church in the old country—50 years ago, when I was a young fellow, wandering around Europe—and I’ll never forget how high that High Place was in the cathedral. I believe it was in Damascus, or perhaps it was in Beirut; I don’t remember, but I remember how high it was. You almost have to climb up a ladder for the bishop to get there and to sit down. It was four or five feet higher than the floor, and you could actually see him over the altar, if you’re standing in the church, sitting on his throne or standing up before his throne. So that throne is behind the altar, and that is what is spoken about in these words:
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed are you who sits upon the throne of your glory, the throne of your kingdom, who sits upon the cherubim, always, now and forever and to ages of ages. Amen.
Now, when a bishop is serving, he actually stands right in front of the throne, and he sits on it during the reading of the Epistle. If a priest is serving alone, he stands a little bit to the side of the throne; he never sits on it, but he goes back there. That is the proper movement. To say it most starkly: I think that it is not correct at all for the celebrant of the Divine Liturgy, during the Trisagion, would go to the oblation table and bow down in front of it and say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” as if he’s talking to the bread and wine which is coming in or something. I don’t know what it could possibly mean. It doesn’t make much sense.
Not only does it not make much sense, it doesn’t make any sense. You can’t make sense of it. What would that be all about? But then, we might say, can we make a guess? How did that happen? Where did that movement come from, that the first part or all of these words would be said by the celebrant facing the table of oblation, or the prothesis table, where the bread and wine is sitting, waiting to be carried in at the Liturgy of the Faithful during the Great Entrance? I think that the most plausible explanation is the following.
Under the Turks, under the Turkish yoke, a whole lot of things came in because people just didn’t know what they were doing. You realize that there were no schools. Most of the parish priests were completely uneducated, only having had tutoring by someone to learn how to do the Liturgy. That was about all they had. They couldn’t preach, they couldn’t hear confessions; there were special priests and monks who did that. And I think that what happened during that time [was that] the meaning of that particular movement, from the front of the altar to the back of the altar to the throne that is behind the altar, was just lost. It was just done away with. It just wasn’t there.
And then you had the smaller churches that didn’t even have a throne behind the altar. They didn’t even have a chair behind the altar. Where I serve in the monastery now, there is no throne behind the altar, because there’s just no room for one. But what is nice about the monastery here, where I serve, Transfiguration Monastery for women in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania—you’re welcome to visit—what is really nice about it, though, is that on the wall, right behind the altar, is a fresco of Jesus Christ, our Lord, sitting on his throne. It shows Jesus sitting on his throne behind the altar table, which, of course, is what the celebrant is copying by going to that position during the Divine Liturgy, as the one who makes present the Lord in the community. Up at the monastery, there’s no throne, but there is a fresco with Jesus on the throne, and that would be at what is called the High Place.
The best conclusion of all of this would be simply to follow the Ecumenical Patriarchate translation and the Orthodox Church in America translation. Leave the table of oblation alone. It has nothing to do with this. Nothing. Do it by saying as you walk to the back of the altar, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Of course, that line is used for the coming of Christ into the world. It is the entrance psalm on Epiphany. It’s the entrance psalm on Palm Sunday, where they shouted to Jesus, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” from Psalm 118. It’s always connected with the coming of Christ. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” At the Trisagion of the Liturgy of the Faithful, at the part of the service where you have holy Communion, consecration of the bread and wine, the hymn sung there, the cherubic hymn, which is sung at that point, also speaks about the one who is enthroned, the one who is coming.
So what we have to see is that singing the “Holy, holy, holy” at the Liturgy of the Faithful also has the words “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” We will comment on that point when we get to it, in the Liturgy of the Faithful. Perhaps some of you are thinking, “When are we going to get to it? We’re still at the Trisagion.“That’s okay. We’re not going anywhere, and if the Lord comes, fine. Then you don’t need all of this. I don’t need it, you don’t need it; everything will be clear. We will see the Christ sitting on his throne in the kingdom, co-enthroned with God, the Apostles and the Prophets, like the vision given to us in the book of Revelation, because that’s obviously where this is taken from in the Bible. The book of Revelation has this vision which we talked about already.
In any case, it has nothing to do with the oblation table, but I raise the question: Why would that movement toward the oblation table be done? My answer was: because the celebrants didn’t know what they were doing. However, another sentence could be added here. I think it must be. I believe that that incorrect movement came from what is called the mysteriological or the symbolical interpretation of the Divine Liturgy, which was very popular in Orthodoxy even when I was a child.
Basically, the people didn’t feel they were doing anything when they came to church in the Liturgy. It wasn’t a common act that they were included in, except to sing and to say, “Amen,” but what the Liturgy was understood to be was a kind of audio-visual aid to the life of Christ. It was kind of like a drama, like a holy drama, a holy theater. So everything was symbolic. The oblation table came to be symbolic of the first thing if you’re going to have a symbolic representation of the life of Christ on earth, you’ve got to begin with his birthday.
In that particular tradition, the preparing of the bread and wine on the oblation table was connected to Christ’s nativity, and in many churches following that particular way of dealing with the Liturgy, they even have an icon of the nativity of Christ over the oblation table, because in the symbolical interpretation, even in the placing of the cloths… When you put the star over the diskos when you’re preparing the bread and wine, you say, “And the star came and stood over the place where the young Child was,” which is a line from the infancy narratives in the gospels about the star coming over the cave where Jesus was born, so then a star is put over the bread on the diskos. Practically, it’s so the cloth won’t fall down on the bread, to hold it up, but then it got this symbolical meaning. And then everything was understood symbolically. He’s born on the oblation table, then when you get to the Little Entrance, he makes his public ministry; he comes out to preach the Gospel. The boy or girl or nun or whoever carrying the candle in the procession symbolizes John the Baptist or the angels that accompanied him.
Everything becomes symbolic. The chanting of the Apostle reading and the Gospel reading becomes a kind of [symbol] that the Lord Jesus preached when he was on earth. We’ll get to that in a minute. Not in a minute, but maybe in a few weeks, but we’ll get to that. And then the Great Entrance symbolized Christ going to his Passion and death. It was almost like Palm Sunday, or being arrested. Then the Eucharistic prayer symbolizes his death, and then also his resurrection, when the Holy Spirit comes upon him and the Gifts are transformed. Then, at the end of the Liturgy, when the gifts are taken back to the oblation table, that symbolizes Christ’s ascension back up into heaven after he completed all of these things.
Well, that kind of explanation of the Liturgy is one that exists, but it is not the one that we’re doing here. It is absolutely not the one that we are doing here. Here we are seeing what this liturgical prayer, singing, psalmody, hymnody, and rubrical movements—processions, where you stand, where you go, where you sit, when you sit, when you stand—all this is things that we are doing in worship in spirit and in truth. We are worshiping here; we’re not going to a theater.
God forgive me for saying this, but I have some rather irreverent friends who used to say: Sunday morning in an Orthodox church is like going to a theater in most of them. You come in to see the show. Ushers will greet you and take you to your place, which is nicely padded with a cushion. You will sit down there. The only thing missing, this same guy said, is the popcorn. You can’t eat there, but people still, I notice, chew gum. In any case, you sit there, and you watch the Liturgy that’s performed by the clergy as a kind of passion play of some sort, a kind of play depicting Christ’s life when he was on earth.
I really think that that’s not acceptable. I don’t think that that’s a possible way of interpreting it at all. I think that it is very misleading. It’s just simply inaccurate. It’s just not what it is. Liturgy is a common action of worship. The church building is not a theater. The clergy are not the actors, and they’re not putting on a show. But when that was a kind of a common way of understanding things, from whatever sources that came, then the oblation table became the place where Christ was born, so during the Trisagion, the celebrant would go and bow to him who’s still sitting somehow in his nativity cradle, which then even can’t be made sense of symbolically because the Little Entrance has taken place, they’ve entered into the church, and that symbolizes the public ministry of Jesus. Well then, why is he still on the oblation table after he has already come out to preach according to this type of dramatic interpretation of the Liturgy as a kind of a holy theater or a holy play symbolizing the life of Christ that we come and watch? And the laypeople don’t do it at all; they just watch; they just respond.
Well, of course, all of that is just impossible to explain, because there is no explanation for it. There’s no explanation for it at all. So there’s no need to make any gesture to the oblation table at the Divine Liturgy at this point, whether the celebrant is a priest or even, later, we’ll talk about when it’s a bishop. This part of the Liturgy has absolutely nothing to do with the oblation table. It has to do with the High Place behind the altar where there is a throne sitting [behind the altar table], when the church is built as a church should be built: with a throne and a synthronon, a co-throning, for the con-celebrating clergy, during the Divine Liturgy.
And for the first time in the Liturgy, the bishop goes there, or the celebrating priest goes there. Those celebrating with him also go there, and when they go, the deacon says, “Command!” and the celebrant says, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Then the deacon say, “Bless, Master, the High Place,” and then the celebrant says, “Blessed art thou who sits upon the throne of your kingdom, the throne of your glory, who sits upon the cherubim, always, now and ever and to ages of ages. Amen.” And he blesses that throne, and he takes is place. If it’s a priest, he takes his place next to it, because he’s not the bishop; if the bishop is present and the bishop is serving, he goes right in front of that throne and stand in front of it. That’s the correct, it seems to me, way for this to be done, and the only one that makes any sense.
During the “Glory… Now and ever…” and then the “Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” and then the last singing, when a priest is serving, of “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” there’s another practice that has to be mentioned here. That practice is that, in the churches of Byzantine tradition, during the Trisagion, when you’re going to do it for the very last time, the priest, if he is serving alone, or the deacon if he’s there, whether it’s a priest or a bishop, the head deacon who is there, before they sing the Trisagion for the very last time, after this movement behind the altar is made, the protodeacon (the deacon, or the main deacon, if there are many) goes into the center of the royal doors, again looks at the people, and with his orarion extended, he says, “Dynamis!” which means “strength” or “power.” That’s where we get the word “dynamite.” He says, “Dynamis!” Then sometimes even, I heard it done in the Greek church, the cantors will sing back, “Ne, dynamis!” (”Ne” means “yes.”) “Yes, dynamis! Yes, strength!”
Sometimes in America, like in the churches, it’ll just stay in Greek. It won’t be translated into English. They will just say, “Dynamis!” And sometimes no one even knows why they’re doing it. They just say, “You’re supposed go out there and say, ‘Dynamis,’ so go say, ‘Dynamis!’ ” In the Holy Cross translation, where in Greek it says “Dynamis,” they make an English translation, and it is: “Again, fervently!” In other words, the last time you sing it, you’ve got to sing it fervently. That’s the word that they use. In the Liturgikon of the Antiochian Church, it says, “With strength!” It’s translated into English: “With strength,” the dynamis.
It does not exist in the Russian Church at all; it’s simply not there. My guess is that it came in to be practiced sometime or other in the Greek Church, maybe even after the Russian Church reformed its liturgy to pattern the Greek in the 16th [or] 17th century. I really don’t know where it came from. I’m not sure anybody knows too much about it. I know I’m not at all. But it’s not there… There’s no “Dynamis” or “With strength” or “Fervently” or let’s see what the Ecumenical Patriarchate Liturgy has to say. Actually, it just has the deacon saying “Dynamis” in the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As I said, the Russian and Slavic churches, [and] I believe the Romanian Church, [do] not have a Dynamis chanted before the final singing, the last time you sing, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.”
It’s not there among the Russians, I don’t think among the Romanians, Ukrainians. I never heard it until I went to a Greek church, actually, in my life. I was already a seminarian when that first happened. I’d never been at a Greek Orthodox Liturgy my entire youth until I went to the seminary. However, I think that the explanation that is given in the book which is in Russian written by Valentine Pechatnov… I mentioned him earlier. This is his master’s thesis, which was published. It’s called the Divine Liturgy in Russia and Greece—Bozhestvennaya Liturgiya v Rossii i Gretsii. And he’s comparing these texts in his book.
If I understood it correctly… And I know Russian a little bit, but not really great, not really good at all, but compared to a person who knows it, I don’t know it. I can say, “Pass the butter,” or whatever, and I can read a little bit. So if I understood this properly, I believe Valentine’s conclusion, because it is in the Greek rite but not in the Russian ritual, he seems to have found where it came from, and this is his theory, which I find very plausible.
The theory is that the word, “dynamis,” was in the service book before the final singing of the Trisagion, the Thrice-holy Hymn. It was printed as a rubric for the singers in a service book before that final singing. So if you were following a service book, and you were singing in church, when you got to that point of “Glory to the Father… Now and forever… Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” and then the deacon or the priest would come and say, “Dy-na-mis!” That wasn’t done; it was just printed in the book, telling the singers that they have to sing more loudly, more fervently, and more majestically. In other words: Ratchet it up a few notches! Give this time a real singing! Belt it out! I think that’s what it was a rubric for. I think Valentine’s theory is that it was actually a rubric in the books for the singers. The singers had a book to follow the Liturgy, and at that point there was a rubric—in other words, an instruction—that they were to do it fervently, [as] loudly as they could, as majestically and solemnly as they could.
But then, according to this theory, the rubric wasn’t understood as a rubric. It came to be something that had to be sung aloud, or maybe everybody didn’t have a book, so the chief psaltis, the chief singer, the leader of the singing, would say to his choir or to his people who were leading the singing at the holy Liturgy, “Dynamis!” It became an oral command, so to speak. This is how we’re supposed to sing it. It wasn’t sung by the choir. It may have been chanted by the leader to his people, or said, so they would sing it more fervently.
But then what happened, somehow or other, that rubric, that injunction to sing the last time most fervently, was transferred to the clergy at the altar, so the chief deacon was sent out to stand in the royal doors and, addressing the singers and all the congregation, to say, “Dynamis!” He was giving the instruction at that point. And then, when you got a priest all by himself with no deacon, the priest just did it himself. At that point, the priest—and perhaps that’s why he stayed in front of the altar, because he wanted to come into the royal doors and address the congregation with the words—with the word: in Greek, one word—Dynamis, which in English would be “with strength” or “strongly” or “fervently.” That would be given.
But that’s completely unknown in the Russian Liturgy. Now, we know that at the time of Nikon in the 1600s, 1700s, in Russian, he adopted the Greek practices, but the Russian church doesn’t have this, so that may indicate that it wasn’t even done by the Greeks traditionally; it was something that came about later in history. As I said, I don’t know, but one thing is for sure: the Russian, Slavic churches and Romanian churches don’t have this. The Greek-speaking and those who use the Greek practices, like the Antiochians, do have it. Nowadays, it’s done by the deacon; if there’s no deacon, it’s done by the priest, but originally, it seems to have been simply a rubric printed in the books for the singers or for the chief psaltis, giving the choir and the singers an instruction to sing this last time, as I said, most fervently, with great power, with real solemnity, at this very, very last time.
I can’t resist telling a little story here. Maybe it’s out of place, but we’re just talking on the radio about things together. I heard this story—a true story—that in the United States of America, in the ‘50s, the Orthodox in various locations began to have common services with each other, recognizing that they were all Orthodox. And they did this on the Orthodoxy Sunday, the first Sunday of Great Lent. They would gather and have a service of some sort—sometime Divine Liturgy together, like we do sometimes in America; sometimes a vespers service or something. But in any case the story goes like this, that they were doing this in California somewhere, I think near Los Angeles, and bishops were there and it was a solemn occasion.
The choir [was] of the Russian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church, which is now the OCA, the Orthodox Church in America. The priest there was Fr. Sergei Glagoyev. He’s now, I believe, near 90 years old, probably. He was a musician, and his father was a choirmaster, and he was himself before becoming a priest. He put together a little choir following Russian traditions of a very simply Liturgy to be sung in English, because English was coming in for the first time only. And this was going to be like a historic event, that all Orthodox were going to gather together in one place. They were going to celebrate the Divine Liturgy primarily in English, but using a few other languages. Bishops were going to be there. It was going to be a huge celebration, a very, very nice thing to do.
Well, when they came to the Trisagion, the singing was being done in the simplest great Russian fashion—not Ukrainian or Capathian, which is much more melodic, but like the Moscow Obikhod type of singing. So the choir just started singing, just very simply. Forgive me: [intoning] “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. Glory to the Father…” Just simple, like that.
Apparently, Metropolitan Anthony (Bashir) was there. I don’t know if he was actually celebrating. Maybe the bishops were sitting by their thrones and they had a priest to serve the Liturgy; I don’t know. In any case, the story goes that when Metropolitan Anthony—God rest his soul: Archbishop Anthony (Bashir)—heard those Slavs singing the Trisagion in such a quiet, straightforward, unmelodic way, he kind of looked at them and said, “My God! What is that?” You know: How can you sing the Trisagion Hymn like that?
And then he began singing, and he sang with the Greek melody in Greek, I believe; maybe in Arabic, Kadosha, you know. I think it was in Greek, the story goes. And he began singing [loudly]: “A-a-gi-i-os, O The-e-os!” Very solemn. Everybody joined in; all the Byzantines joined in, and they said, “Come on, you Russians, you’ve got to sing the Thrice-holy Hymn with some kind of excitement, some kind of power, some kind of majesty. You can’t just sing [in a monotone]: ‘Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal…’ like that.” Whenever I heard that story and I remember that story, I remember: he was really giving a “Dynamis,” at that point, after he heard these Russians singing so quietly and so simply and without much melody, without much power. He just said, “That’s not the way you sing the Thrice-holy Hymn. You’ve got to sing it better.”
Of course, Russians have much, much, very many powerful singings of the Trisagion, the Thrice-holy Hymn, but on that day in California it was something new. They were just learning how to do it. There wasn’t much real fancy or powerful music in English at that time, but it’s the kind of a story that illustrates Dynamis as maybe sometimes you really need to say it: Come on! Get with it, folks! This is the Trisagion we’re singing: Holy, holy, holy! to God Almighty! in front of his holy altar, and we’re going to hear his words, of the Apostles and the Gospel, and we’re going to have a Eucharistic celebration. This “Holy, holy, holy!” at the Liturgy of the Word, it has to be melodious and powerful and loud and celebrative and solemn and serious. That’s how it has to be done.
So it seems to me that that Dynamis, [the] history is it began as a rubric in a book. Then it began to be done out loud by the choirmaster, telling the people, “Okay, sing it louder,” and the catchword was “Dynamis.” Then at some point, it turned to the deacon to say it, and it even came to the point where, if there was no deacon, the priest would say, “Dynamis.” But it seems to be that that’s where the “Dynamis” comes from. I would hope that whether or not you would need to rev up the congregation and the singers to sing more fervently concluding the “Holy God,” whether or not that instruction is chanted out to the people, it still should be there even if it’s not said. The Thrice-holy Hymn is the hymn of the angels, the cherubim. It’s said during a procession.
This would be the last point for today. I believe that when the Liturgy is done the way it’s supposed to be, and the celebrants go to the High Place during the “Holy God,” and then the final one is sung with great power by all the congregation, and the bishop is on his throne or the priest is by his throne, that is the end of the Little Entrance. It begins in the middle of the church, and it ends behind the altar table with the celebrant on the High Place. If it’s the bishop, on the throne or before the throne; if it’s a presbyter, near the throne but on the synthronon, on the High Place for the readings of the Epistle [or] Apostle reading and the Gospel reading.
Next time—I promise you—we will take up and go over all this ground again to see how it’s done differently when a bishop is the celebrant of the Liturgy.
"It has meant the world to me. I have the computer on upstairs and AFR blaring, so as I’m doing household chores there is all this wonderful Orthodox music drifting downstairs and filling all my senses! What a wonderful environment to be in! Glory to God!"