The Trisagion Prayers - Part 6
Fr. Thomas Hopko · June 21, 2013
Fr. Tom concludes his comments on the Little Entrance and the singing of the Trisagion Hymn when a bishop is present.
We are commenting now on the Divine Liturgy of the Byzantine Church, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom [and that of] St. Basil as it’s done today in our churches all around the world and particularly here in North America. We last time began our commentary on the entrance into the holy place with the holy Gospel and the incensing of the altar and the altar area and all the people by the bishop, the singing of the “Eis Polla Eti, Despota” to the bishop as he enters the altar area following the gospel book.
We spoke about all of this last time, and then we also mentioned that, at the conclusion of the prayer that the bishop says, when a bishop is serving, then the deacon kind of interrupts before he says, “unto ages of ages,” to conclude the prayer, by saying, “O Lord, save the God-fearing” or “save the pious, and hear us.”
And then, if a primate of [an] autocephalous church is serving, the bishop will solemnly name all the bishops of the other self-governing churches—15 or 16 of them on the earth right now—to show which bishops are in communion with each other in the Orthodox faith and in the Orthodox Church. Then, once doing that, the deacon will then finally say, “unto ages of ages,” and then the singers will say, “Amen,” and the actual singing of the Trisagion Hymn, the Thrice-holy Hymn, will begin.
When that Trisagion Hymn is sung when the celebrant is a bishop, when the prayer is said, when the activity of asking God to save the God-fearing and to hear us, which, as I mentioned last time, I believe virtually certainly was the welcoming into the assembly of the civil ruler, the emperor or the local governor or whoever it was, then you have “unto ages of ages,” and you actually have the beginning of singing the Thrice-holy Hymn.
The way it’s done is that the people all sing it, and then, at least in some churches, the clergy then sing it—“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.”—then the people sing it again. Sometimes in the Russian Church it’s sung rather quickly again by a group of singers. So you have “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal” sung by the gathered assembly and by the clergy and by the assembly again, and then there is an interruption, so to speak. It’s not really an interruption; it’s part of the flow when the bishop serves, a flow of the Liturgy, but this is not done when a presbyter is serving.
Now, what is actually done at this point? What happens is that the bishop takes the dikirion, the candlestick with the two, which stands for Christ (God and man), in his right hand. Then he takes the altar cross, the blessing cross, in his left hand. Very often, he’s handed this cross by the chief presbyter on that side of the altar. He will give the cross to the bishop and kiss his hand. The deacon gives him the dikirion. So here you have the bishop now, holding the dikirion in his right hand and the cross in his left.
Then he turns around, goes through the royal doors, and stands on the ambo, on the solea, the elevated part in front of the royal doors of the icon screen. And, facing the people, after the third singing of “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” he solemnly proclaims a verse from the psalter. This verse from the psalter in the Septuagint translation will be Psalm 79, and it will be the verses 15 and 16. In the Hebrew Bible, for example the King James version or the Revised Standard Version, it will be Psalm 80, and there it will be verses 14 and 15.
What is it that the bishop is saying? Well, normally when it’s translated in a Liturgy book, you just have the translators translating it. They don’t normally go to the Bible and find it and use the same words. Of course, different Bibles are used, different translations are used, but I would say, like in my own mind, what I would hear at that point in my mind would be the bishop, facing the people and saying:
Lord, Lord, look down from heaven and see (and behold) and visit this vineyard (or this vine) that your own right hand has planted, and establish it.
And while he says that, he will be blessing the people with the candles, the two-candle candelabra which stands for Christ, and the blessing cross on which Christ is depicted crucified.
Now, in the Russian tradition, the bishop just does that once. He says that once, and then he blesses the people in front of him, straight on, which would be looking west, if the altar’s in the east. Then he blesses the people again, then on the south—that’s to his left. Then he blesses the people again, on the north—that would be to his right.
And the way it’s done in the Russian Church, when the bishop says, “Lord, Lord, look down from heaven and see (and behold), and visit this vine which your own right hand has planted, and establish it,” then he would say quietly, “Holy God.” The singers would just sing, “Holy God,” and he’d bless them. Then he faces to his left, which would be toward the south if your church has the altar in the east, and then he would say, “Holy Mighty,” and then they would sing, “Holy Mighty.” Then he would face the other way, north, and he would say, “Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” and then the people would sing that, and the bishop would return to his place in front of the altar table.
In the Byzantine tradition and in other traditions, like Carpathian, I believe, this is done, but it’s certainly done in the Antiochian and the Greek traditions, this line from the psalm, “Lord, Lord, look down from heaven and behold, and visit this vine that your right hand has planted, and establish it,” is done three times by the bishop. In the Russian Church, it’s done once. But the bishop will do it first straight ahead, which would be west. Then he will do it to his left, and he would say again, “Lord, Lord, look down from heaven…” Then he would do it to his right, and do it again.
Very often, I know in America, the bishops who do it three times will do it in three different languages. They’ll do it in English, they will do it in Greek—”Kyrie, Kyrie…”—and then they will do it of the particular [language of the] nationality of the church that they’re in, so they may do it in Arabic, or they may say it in Church Slavonic: “Gospodi, Gospodi, prizri s nebese, i vizhd’, i [poseti] vinograd sey, [i utverdi] i, yegozhe nasadi…” So sometimes they do it three times, and then they do it in three different languages. Sometimes that’s done in the OCA, too. I know the late Archbishop Peter of New York, who was liking very much the Byzantine traditions, he always did it three times, but most of the Russian bishops just do it once.
What we’d like to do now is to take a closer look at what that says and what that possibly means, what we should take it as meaning. Here we will follow our usual practice. We will find where this is in the Bible, and then we’ll see where it’s situated in the Bible and what is surrounding it, because if you have the 14th or the 15th or the 16th verses of a psalm, which is Psalm 79 in Septuagint and 80 in the Hebrew, and that psalm is a pretty long psalm… In the Hebrew, it’s a total of 19 verses; in the English RSV, in the Septuagint translation of the Orthodox Study Bible, where it is Psalm 79, it’s actually 20 verses long.
So what is said in front of it, what is said after it, what’s its location in the psalm, and what’s the point of doing this? Because we have to repeat, and I really do believe this is very important: if you have a line taken out of a psalm and used liturgically, or if you have a line taken from, I don’t know, the Canticle of Isaiah or whatever, and it’s used liturgically, you’re expected to know where it comes from and what its setting is and what its purpose is, and therefore you are being told to consider, when you hear that being said, and especially if you’re being blessed by a bishop with those particular verses, it’s important to see the context and the content of where that comes from, what it means, so we can understand much, much better what it is that’s being pointed out. It’s not just ripped out of the psalm just because it sounds nice. We have to know what it means, too.
What I will do to help us to understand that is I will read this psalm first in the Septuagint. That’s the translation done by the Jews, before Christ, of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Psalter into [the] Greek language. And this is sometimes called the Hebrew Scriptures that are used in the New Testament, written in Greek. And certainly this is the psalms that are used in the Orthodox Church tradition; the Septuagint is used liturgically. So virtually all the quotations of the Scriptures in the Orthodox Church are taken from this particular translation, done by Jews before Jesus into Greek, and then used through the centuries in the Divine Liturgy just up to this present day.
Now, remember, first of all, that this bishop is blessing the people with the candlestick that stands for Christ, the candlestick with the two candles—two candles: di-kirion—and a cross that shows the crucified Christ on it. So he’s blessing us with the cross of Christ and with the candlestand that proclaims that the Christ is both divine and human: he is really God and he is really man.
So let’s see what the translation into English of the Greek Scripture is in the Orthodox Study Bible. It begins:
Give heed, O you who shepherd Israel.
Reveal yourself, O you who lead Joseph like a flock,
Who sit upon the cherubim.
Raise up your power
Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,
And come for our salvation.
So it’s a psalm where God is addressed as the shepherd of Israel. It’s a verb, actually: You who shepherd Israel, you who pastor Israel. So that makes a lot of sense right there, because the celebrant of the Liturgy is the archpastor of the local church. He is the bishop. He’s the one who appoints the presbyters and the deacons and ordains them and is responsible for the faith of the church, and not only its faith, [but also] its life, its integrity, its continuity, everything that belongs to the church. The bishop is the one formally responsible for the unity, identity, continuity, integrity, sanctity of the very church itself. He is the living icon of Jesus Christ who is the Good Shepherd, so he is the shepherd.
So here the prayer is to God, in the Hebrew Scriptures now translated into Greek:
Reveal yourself, you who lead Joseph like a flock,
Who sit upon the cherubim.
We’re going to see that, when the bishop’s going to go behind the altar to take his place on the throne, he’s going to say, “Who sits upon the cherubim.” He’s going to use the same words. We’ll see that later. But “You have come for our salvation.”
Then the Septuagint says, “O God, convert us.” Convert us. We’re going to notice that the Hebrew’s different at this point. The Hebrew’s going to say, “O God, turn again.” It’s going to be “O God, restore us” or “turn to us” or “show your face to us.” So it isn’t going to be, “Lord, convert us,” but “You turn yourself and look upon us…
And reveal your face to us, and we shall be saved.
O Lord God of hosts (it continues),
How long will you be angry with the prayer of your servant,
How long will you feed us the bread of tears,
How long will you give us drink, have us drink tears in measure?
You made us a scandal to our neighbors,
And our enemies sneered at us.
O Lord, convert us,
And reveal your face, and we shall be saved.
So what we see here is that not-nice things are being said about that assembly. If you read that psalm, you know that these words are coming from a psalm where it begins by pointing out that God is angry with his people, that the people have made themselves a scandal to their neighbors, that enemies are sneering at them, that God is somehow hiding his face from them.
So God is being begged, the shepherd of Israel is being begged: Reveal yourself, who sit upon cherubim. Raise up your power. Come to us; reveal your face to us. Don’t be angry with us any more, or with our prayers. Don’t feed us any more the bread of tears. Don’t just give us to drink tears of our own. You have made us an offense, a skandalon, a stumbling block to our neighbors.
In other words, people see us and they don’t know that we’re the people of God; they don’t know that we belong to you by how we act. And our enemies sneer at us. Then it says again, “O Lord God,” and that would be “Adonai Eloheinu.” That would be “Yahweh, the God,” both Elohim and Yahweh together. “Lord” would be “Yahweh,” and “God” would be “Elohim.” “Gospod Boh” or “Theos Kyrios, Kyrios Theos.”
Then it says:
You removed a vineyard from Egypt;
You cast out the nations, and you planted it;
In other words, as Isaiah said, God has brought his people out of Egypt like a vine, and he has taken that vine, and he has planted it in the place where he has cast out the nations, namely, Canaan. God cast out all those people from Canaan and gave that place to his people, Israel and Judah, the holy places, the holy land, so to speak.
You prepared the way before it;
You planted its roots and the earth was filled.
So this vine is flourishing there.
Its shade covered the mountains,
Its vines the cedars of God;
Its branches reached to the sea,
Its shoots as far as the river.
Why did you pull down its hedge,
And all who pass on by the road gather its grapes?
A wild swine from the forest laid it waste,
A solitary wild beast devoured it.
O God of hosts (again), convert us now…
And this is where the prayer is, that things were marvelous. God brought the people out of Egypt to put them in the promised land. He gave them Israel, Judah, Zion, the place where the temple was, and all those things, and that vine grew and grew and grew and covered all over, but now it’s pulled down. Now it’s laid waste. Swine have trampled it. The wild beasts have devoured it. It’s in very, very bad shape, if you read the psalter.
So then we finally make it to the verse that’s used at the Liturgy: “O God of hosts, convert us now.” Then you have:
Look down from heaven and behold…
In the Liturgy, it says, “Lord, Lord.” You have two Kyries there. “Lord, Lord, look down from heaven and behold. Here in the Septuagint, it simply says, “Look down from heaven and see” or “behold,”
And visit this vineyard
Which your right hand has planted, (and then it says) and perfect it.
Very often in English translation it says, “and establish it,” but in the original it says, “and perfect it”: make it full, make it complete, make it perfect, make it be how it’s supposed to be. Then it says: Your right hand has planted it, which your right hand has planted and perfected. Then it says:
And visit the son of man, whom you strengthened for yourself.
So all of a sudden, a son of man is mentioned, whom the Lord God has strengthened for himself. “And visit the son of man” in singular “whom you have strengthened for yourself.” Now, I believe that, traditionally, the Orthodox saw there a reference to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, Gregory the Theologian said, is the very right hand of God, and he sits at the right hand of God, and he is the Son of man whom the Lord God has strengthened for his very own self, and he is the Son of man who is sent unto the world. And we know that Jesus, in the four gospels, always referred to himself as “the Son of man,” and that was a Messianic title. Not a son of man or a son of God, but the Son of God and the Son of man.
Then it says—I’ll go back again to the beginning:
Look from heaven and behold,
And visit this vineyard
Which your right hand planted, and perfect it.
And visit the son of man, whom you have strengthened for yourself.
Then he continues:
It (meaning the vineyard) was set on fire (it was burned), it was uprooted,
But they shall perish at the rebuke of your face.
In other words, those who ruined the vineyard, they will perish when God’s face is revealed, and of course Jesus Christ is the one who reveals the face of God to us. He says in John’s gospel, when Philip says, “Show us the Father,” Jesus gets upset a bit and he says to him, “Have I been with you so long, Philip, [and] you still don’t understand? He who sees me sees the Father.” And St. Paul says that Jesus is the ikon, the image, the icon of the invisible God. God’s glory shines from the face of Christ, like on the Transfiguration mountain, and when he’s risen from the dead.
So it says this vineyard was burning, it was uprooted, and they shall perish at the rebuke of your face. Then it continues:
Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand.
Now, even the Jewish Study Bible says that that’s a reference to Psalm 110:1. Even the Jews who don’t believe in Jesus say that the son of man whom God has strengthened, who places his hand upon him, at the right hand, is the one that the psalm speaks about when it says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies beneath your feet.’ ” So again it’s considered to be a reference to Jesus Christ, who is the Son of man and who sits at the right hand of the Father, enthroned, when he is raised from the dead and glorified after the vile and absolutely outrageous crucifixion.
And then it continues:
Then we will not turn away from you;
You will give us life, and we will call upon your name.
O Lord God of hosts, convert us,
And reveal your face, and we shall be saved.
When we hear that line at the Divine Liturgy—“Lord, Lord, look from heaven, behold, visit the vineyard,” we should hear this whole psalm. Sometimes I think it wouldn’t hurt… Suppose the bishop got up there with the cross in one hand and the candlestick in the other, Christ crucified and Christ as God and man, and suppose he kept on reading. Suppose he said: “Lord, Lord, look down from heaven and behold. Visit this vine which your own right hand has planted, and establish it, because it has been burned, it has been trampled upon. Swine have destroyed it. The people have neglected it. It’s all in shambles. You’ve got to do something.”
And then there is this son of man who’s going to sit at your right hand, and he’s going to come and he’s going to save us and he’s going to show us your face, and that man is going to come—and of course Christians believe that’s Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son, Word, Image, and Icon of God; that’s who it is, and that’s what this psalm is all about. It’s all about the vineyard where the one who shepherds Israel is God himself, Yahweh, because it says when the Christ comes, Yahweh himself will shepherd Israel, but that shepherd will be the Good Shepherd of John 10. It will be Jesus Christ himself, who said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” And then he even says at his Passion, “Whom you will see sitting at the right hand of God, and who will come with his angels, who will come to judge the living and the dead at the end of the ages, who was crucified and raised up in glory for the salvation of the whole universe.
So that’s what that psalm is telling us, and that’s where those lines come from. We have to hear this. When we hear those lines, we have to hear [the whole psalm]. It would be amazing if the bishop actually did really say, “Look from heaven and visit the vineyard because it’s completely trampled, burned, and destroyed.” Whoa, that would not be very nice, if we think of ourselves that way at the Divine Liturgy—but perhaps we ought to. Perhaps we ought to see that Christ has to come as the Son of man to sit at the right of the Father, to reestablish the vineyard that God himself has planted, because it’s in such terrible condition.
That would be good, and I think sometimes it would be nice if, at a hierarchical Divine Liturgy, an archpastoral Liturgy when a bishop is celebrating, that someone would give a sermon to the people about these words that are said over them when the bishop blesses them at the time of the Trisagion with the cross of Christ and the candles that stand for Jesus Christ himself as God and man.
What’s interesting, however, in the English translation of this psalm from Hebrew [is that] you have little differences there that are interesting just to point out. What I am going to do now is to read to you the Revised Standard Version of this same psalm. It would be number 80 in the Hebrew text. We’ll notice a few differences. This is how it starts.
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel!
So you have a noun instead of a verb. In the one it says, “who shepherds Israel”; here it says, “O Shepherd of Israel.”
Thou who leadest Joseph like a flock!
Now, Joseph is, of course, the son of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, who saved his brothers in Egypt, and we know all that story about Joseph in Egypt. On Ancient Faith Radio we just talked about it, because it’s read during Holy Week in the Orthodox Church. You could go on the podcasts if you’d like to, and you could hear what my commentary was about Joseph and how important Joseph is. Well, it’s Joseph who’s mentioned here.
Then it says:
Thou who art enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh!
Well, Benjamin is the youngest of the children of Jacob, and Ephraim and Manassah are the children of Joseph, so it means the people of Israel, the sons of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel in the holy Scripture. Then it says:
Stir up thy might, and come to save us!
By the way, that’s used in the Church in Resurrectional Matins on a rotating basis, applying to the Resurrection of Christ: “Stir up thy power and come to save us!” And then it doesn’t say, “Convert us, O God.” It says:
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!
So we’re praying to God to show us his face, to reveal himself. We might even say in the Liturgy, through the face of the bishop himself. “Let us see you in this gathering. May your divine, uncreated energies and light fill us as we gather together as the body and bride of Christ.” Then it continues:
O Lord God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry with thy people’s prayers?
You know we’re making all these prayers, and very solemnly, and singing all these psalms and singing, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal,” innumerable times, because even after this particular “Lord, Lord, look from heaven” is done, the Trisagion is sung again, many, many times before finally you have the transition into the reading of the Scripture. We’ll, of course, comment on that in due time. But here we say, “How long will thou be angry with the people’s prayers?
Thou hast fed them with the bread of tears,
We’re going to be fed with the bread of life, the bread that comes from heaven, but now we are fed with the bread of tears.
You have given them tears to drink in full measure.
You have made us the scorn of our neighbors;
And our enemies laugh among us.
Then it continues:
Restore us, O God of hosts;
Let your face shine, that we may be saved!
That’s like a repeated antiphon in this psalm. Then it continues:
Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt;
Thou didst drive out the nations and you planted it.
Thou didst clear the ground for it (meaning in Canaan);
It took deep root and filled the whole land.
The mountains were covered with its shade,
The mighty cedars with its branches;
it sent out its branches to the sea,
Its shoots to the river.
Why then hast thou broken down its walls,
So that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
The boar (or the swine, the wild pig) from the forest ravishes it,
And all that move in the field feed on it.
Again you have this terrible vision of what has happened to the vineyard that was planted in Canaan, that was brought out of Egypt. Isaiah speaks about the vine that was brought out of Egypt and planted in the new holy place of God. Then it doesn’t say, “Convert us,” as the Greek says, but it says,
Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven, and see;
Have regard for this vine,
The stock which thy right hand planted.
It’s interesting that in Hebrew it actually says literally “planted,” and then it continues: “And upon the son whom thou hast reared for thyself.” So even the Hebrew, some texts have: “Upon the son that you have raised up for yourself,” and for us that’s Jesus Christ, of course. That’s the Lord Jesus: “The stock which thy right hand has planted, the son whom you have reared for yourself.” Then it continues:
For they have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
May they perish at the rebuke of your face (your countenance)!
But let thy hand be upon the man of your right hand,
The son of man whom thou hast made strong for thyself.
And that means Jesus; we understand that as referring to Jesus.
Then we will never turn back from thee;
Give us life, and we will call on thy name!
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts!
Let thy face shine upon us, that we may be saved!
So it’s a proclamation of the Gospel. It’s a proclamation of salvation. It’s so beautiful! It’s so amazing, and at the Divine Liturgy they take that line from this particular psalm, and they show what God’s intention was, how it’s all been ravaged and destroyed and trampled, and then how God will have his son of man, his son that he made for himself to come, and then he will show his face upon us again, and we will be saved. And we pray for that.
Here I just want to make one more comment about this, relative to biblical translations. There is a new Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which, frankly, I really do not like. They want to get rid of all the so-called masculine names, and they want to kind of neuter the Bible. So they won’t say, “the man at the right hand” or “the son of man.” Listen how it’s translated in the New Revised Standard Version:
Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven, and see;
Have regard for this vine,
The stock that your right hand planted.
Then you have a footnote that says, “Upon the one whom you made strong for yourself.” Very interestingly, the original text in Hebrew and in Greek does not say, “the one.” It says, “the son, hios, the son.” That means a male person: the son of man, that’s a technical, biblical term. It doesn’t simply mean “the one.” Then it says:
Turn again, O Lord,
Look down from heaven, and see;
Have regard for this vine,
The stock that your right hand planted.
They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
May they perish at the rebuke of your countenance (your [face])!
Then it says, in the New RSV:
But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand…
And again they say, “the one.” Well, it doesn’t say, “the one”; it says, “the son of man.” The son, “that you have reared for yourself.” It means Jesus, the son of God, who is also the son of man, divine and human. Jesus always refers to himself as the Son of man. That’s a Messianic title. He even says at the end of the ages, you’ll see the Son of man riding on the clouds with all God’s angels. “Son of man” is a very important Messianic term in the Old Testament. You can’t just translate it as “the one.” So it says, in this translation:
But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
The one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you;
Give us life, and we will call on your name!
Restore us, Lord God of hosts!
Let your face shine, that we may be saved!
Both times it says “the one,” where it should say, “the [man],” or where it should say, “the son of man.” Therefore that can make that text not say any more what it was meant to say originally, because if we would go to church and we would know “Lord, Lord, look down from heaven and behold, and visit the vineyard that thy right hand has planted, and establish it,” we have to know that it continues, that the establishing and the salvation and the re-creation of the vineyard that it would then bear fruit is all because of the stock that his right hand has planted, “who is the hand of God upon the man of thy right hand, the son of man, whom thou has made strong for thyself.” That’s the literal Hebrew translation, and we had, as you already heard, the same thing in the Greek translation.
This particular act at the Liturgy of the Word [is] right in the middle of the singing of the Trisagion. There’s a solemn singing of the Trisagion, and then the bishop blesses the people, facing them, with the candle that stands for Christ, the double-candle, the dikirion, and the cross of the crucified Christ, and he blesses the people with that, and he does it in the three directions, facing first west, then south, then north, or: straight, then to his left, then to his right. As I mentioned, in the Byzantine tradition, this verse from the Psalm 79 (80) is actually done three times. In the Russian tradition it’s done once, with the solemn singing of “Holy God” to the straight [ahead], to the west, “Holy Mighty” to the south, “Holy Immortal” to the north, and then, as he turns and returns to the altar, “have mercy on us.”
Once he goes back into the altar, he venerates the altar table, and then he goes around the altar table to the right, just like the presbyter does when he’s alone, and he proceeds to the High Place, which I really believe is the conclusion of the Little Entrance. It’s the movement from his throne at the middle of the church or at the side of the church to the altar table, and then behind the altar table to the High Place. And all the co-celebrating bishops, if there are any, all the priests, they kiss the altar table and they follow the bishop to the High Place, and they align themselves there according to their rank—the eldest, the bishops, first, and then the presbyters, the deacons. The bishop then takes his place on the throne behind the altar, and he blesses the High Place with the dikirion, and he says exactly the words that the presbyter says. Of course, it would be better to say that the presbyter says exactly the words that the bishop says, because the bishop is first here. And he blesses the throne with the dikirion that stands for Christ, and he says, “Blessed are you, O God, who sits upon the throne of thy glory, who sits upon the cherubim. Blessed be God.”
First of all you have “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and then you have “Blessed be God who sits upon the throne of his glory, who sits upon the throne of his kingdom, who sits upon the throne of the cherubim.” That blessing is made, and then the bishop turns around and faces the people. The deacon then gives the trikirion to the bishop, and then he blesses from the High Place the whole church: in front of him, to the left of him, to the right of him—to the west, to the south, to the north, and that’s the first time that the bishop blesses the entire congregation. It is not when he enters through the royal doors; that’s just for the servers. It’s not when they ask the pious emperor [to enter]; it’s not there. That’s when he gets blessed. And then that blessing takes on the whole assembly when the civil ruler, if there is one, entered the church at that time and took his place.
Then the “Holy God” is sung again, and it’s sung more solemnly, differently. In the Russian it is sung like a recitative; it’s done quickly, and then it’s done more solemnly again. Then the clergy sing it again, and then the trikirion and the dikirion are taken from the bishop, they’re put on their place, on an appropriate pedestal near the altar, and then we’re going to enter into the reading of the Apostolic Scripture and the reading of the Gospel, that the bishop is going to listen to from the High Place. And it’s exactly at that point that they remove from his shoulders the great omophorion that was put on him at the beginning of the Liturgy, and he will listen to the Gospel without it. Then the small omophorion will be put upon him and be used for the rest of the Liturgy.
We’ll speak about the great omophorion and the small omophorion next time. We will also repeat how, after blessing the people with the line from the psalm, “Lord, Lord, look down from heaven and behold, and visit the vineyard that thy right hand has planted, and establish it (or perfect it),” how he turns around, kisses the altar table, goes to the High Place, and takes his place on the throne, blessing the throne with the candlestick that stands for Christ, and taking his place on the throne, while saying, “Blessed are you, Lord, who sits upon the throne of your glory, the throne of your kingdom, who sits upon the cherubim,” which is a line from that same psalm, “always, now and forever, and [unto] ages of ages. Amen.”
That shows how Christ himself is glorified and enthroned at the right hand of the Father, as the psalm says: “The son of your right hand, the son who sits at your right hand.” All of this is coming, of course, from the holy Scripture, and it’s to lead us to understand who Christ is as the Son of God who saves the world, who restores the vineyard, who is the Vine-keeper, who is the Good Shepherd, who is the Teacher who teaches us from God, who is the great High Priest. That’s Christ himself, and the bishop is his image, and the bishop is showing forth his presence in the community through these particular actions.
So we’ll go over them again. I’m sure next time we’ll repeat. We like to repeat. As the Latin saying is, “Repetitio mater studiorum. Repetition is the mother of learning.” The Russians say that, too: “Povtoreniye mat’ ucheniya. Repetition is the mother of learning.”
But what we want to do is we’re going to take a look at this again next time, but we’re going to speak about the intro to the reading of the holy Scriptures at the Liturgy of the Word.
But now we have completed the Entrance. We have completed the singing of the Thrice-holy. The bishop has taken his place on his throne, behind the altar, surrounded by his fellow bishops if there are any there, and his presbyters and his deacons and his servers. And with the dikirion and trikirion, he blesses the entire congregation, three times, from the throne. And then we’re ready to hear the word of God, in the Apostolic writings of the New Testament—Paul, John, James, Jude, sometimes the book of Acts—and then, of course, from the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And that’s what will be read there. So we will take this up next time.