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Trisagion

The Trisagion ('Thrice Holy') is a standard hymn of the Divine Liturgy in most of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodox Churches and Eastern Catholic Churches.

In those Churches which use the Byzantine Rite, the Trisagion is chanted immediately before the Prokeimenon and the Epistle Reading.

In the Orthodox Church it is also included in a set of prayers named for it, called the Trisagion Prayers, which forms part of numerous services (the Hours, Vespers, Matins, and as part of the opening prayers for most services).

Form of the prayer

The Trisagion prayer is considered one of the oldest prayers in Christianity. It may be that the prayer was originally an expansion of the angelic cry recorded in Revelation 4:8 (sometimes called the Sanctus).

In Greek the Trisagion prayer is:

Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός, Ἅγιος ἰσχυρός, Ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.
Agios o Theos, agios ischyros, agios athanatos, eleison imas.

In English this is:

Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, have mercy on us.

In Latin this is:

Sanctus/Sancte Deus, Sanctus/Sancte Fortis, Sanctus/Sancte Immortalis, miserere nobis.

In Church Slavonic this is:

Свѧтый Боже, Свѧтый Крѣпкїй, Свѧтый Бесмертный, помилѹй насъ.
Sviatyi Bozhe, Sviatyi Krepkii, Sviatyi Besmertnyi, pomilui nas.

In Amharic this is:

Qidus Igziabhér, Qidus Hayal, Qidus Hiyaw, Yemaymot, Abétu Yiqir Belen.

In Ge'ez(Ethiopic) this is:

Qidus Igziabhér, Qidus Hayal, Qidus Hiyaw, Ze'iyimewut, Tesehalene Egzi'o.

And in Arabic:

قدوس الله، قدوس القوي، قدوس الذي لا يموت ارحمنا
Quddusun Allah! Quddusun al-qawi! Quddusun al-adhi, la yamutu rhamna.

In Aramaic:

ܩܕܝܫܐ ܐܠܗܐ، ܩܕܝܫܐ ܚܝܠܬܢܐ، ܩܕܝܫܐ ܠܐ ܡܝܘܬܐ، ܐܬܪܚܡܥܠܝܢ
Qadisha Alaha, Qadisha Ħilthana, Qadisha Lamayotha, 'Ithraħim 'aleyn.

In Classical Armenian this is:

Սուրբ Աստուած, սուրբ եւ հզօր, սուրբ եւ անմահ, որ հարյար ի մեռելոց, ողորմեա մեզ
Sourp Asdvadz, sourp yev h'zor, sourp yev anmah, vor haryar i merelotz, voghormia mez.

In Polish this is:

Święty Boże, Święty Mocny, Święty Nieśmiertelny, zmiłuj się nad nami.

In Romanian this is:

Sfinte Dumnezeule, Sfinte Tare, Sfinte Fără de Moarte, miluieşte-ne pre noi.

In Finnish this is:

Pyhä Jumala, Pyhä Väkevä, Pyhä Kuolematon, armahda meitä.

In Georgian this is:

წმიდაო ღმერთო, წმიდაო ძლიერო, წმიდაო უკვდავო, შეგვიწყალენ ჩვენ.
Tsmidao Ghmerto, Tsmidao Dzliero, Tsmidao Ukvdavo, shegvitsqalen chven.

In Low mari (ethnos in Russian Federation) this is:

Святой Юмо, Святой Куатле, Святой Колыдымо, мемнам серлаге.
Svyatoy Yumo, Svyatoy Kolydymo, Svyatoy Kooatle, memnam serlage.

In Chinese (simplified) this is:

圣哉上帝,圣哉大能者,圣哉不朽者,怜悯我们。

Usage

In the Divine Liturgy

When the Trisagion is sung during the Divine Liturgy of the Byzantine Rite, before the Prokeimenon of the Gospel that precedes the Epistle reading, it is normally sung three times to one of many melodies composed for it. This is followed by singing Glory... Now..., the second half of the Trisagion once, and finally the whole Trisagion a fourth time:

Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, Have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, Have mercy on us.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, Have mercy on us.

On the other hand, in the usage of the other, non-Byzantine Eastern Churches, the Trisagion is simply sung thrice, with no Glory... Now....

In the West Syrian Rite, used by the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, and in a hybrid form, the Maronite Church and other derived rites of Syriac Christianity, the Trisagion is sung towards the beginning of the Holy Qurbana (Divine Liturgy), after the Old Testament Readings and the Introductory Hymn.

In the Armenian Rite, used by the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Catholic Church, the Trisagion occurs early in the Divine Liturgy, coming after the Monogenes Hymn and the Midday Hymn & Psalm.

The Trisagion also has a similar place in the liturgies of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Eritrean Orthodox Church, as well as the Coptic Catholic Church and Ethiopic Catholic Church.

As part of the 'Trisagion Prayers'

During most services of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Trisagion is combined with several other prayers to form a unit, often called simply The Trisagion Prayers. This set of prayers forms part of the opening prayers of most services, and is also located within many of the Hours and daily cycle of services.

The full unit known as the Trisagion Prayers normally looks like this:

Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, have mercy on us. (three times)
Glory... Both now...
All Holy Trinity, have mercy on us...
Lord, have mercy. (three times)
Glory... Both now...
Our Father...

While it is possible that the Trisagion has origins in the Biblical 'thrice holy' of Isaiah 6:3 (the Sanctus: Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are full of your glory', etc.), they are today separate prayers. The latter is used at a different point in the Liturgy (in the Divine Liturgy, during the anaphora).

The trisagion is also sung at the entry of the coffin into the church at a funeral and when the coffin is carried to the grave. It is also sung at the conclusion of the Great Doxology.

In the Latin Liturgy

In the Latin Church, the main regular use of the Trisagion is on Good Friday, when it is sung throughout the ceremony of the Adoration of the Cross. In the Sistine Chapel, the traditional setting was the polyphonic musical setting of Palestrina. During this service, the hymn is sung by two choirs, alternately in Greek and Latin, originally two antiphonal Greek and Latin choirs, as follows:

Greek (First) Choir: Agios o Theos. (Holy God)
Latin (Second) Choir: Sanctus Deus.
Greek (First) Choir: Agios ischyros. (Holy Strong One)
Latin (Second) Choir: Sanctus fortis.
Greek (First) Choir: Agios athanatos, eleison imas. (Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us)
Latin (Second) Choir: Sanctus immortalis, miserere nobis.

The hymn is sung in this manner thrice, responding to the first three of twelve reproaches.

In the Latin Church, the Trisagion is also employed in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. There is also a Chaplet to the Holy Trinity used by the Order of the Most Holy Trinity called 'The Trisagion' or the 'Angelic Trisagion', which makes use of both forms of the Trisagion. It is also used in the hour of Prime, in the ferial Preces, on ferias of Advent and Lent and on common Vigils.

In the American Book of Common Prayer

The Episcopal Church's 1979 Book of Common Prayer introduced the Trisagion into the Holy Eucharist in both Rite One and Rite Two as part of the Word of God. In Rite One it follows the Summary of the Law. In Rite Two it can be used as an alternative to the Kyrie eleison, which follows the Collect for Purity and precedes the Collect of the Day.

History of the Trisagion

Traditional Origins

The Greek phrase Trisagion translates as "Thrice Holy" - as in this hymn God is described Holy in three different qualities; Agios o Theos, means 'Holy God'.

The hymn is of great antiquity, and perhaps much older than the event assigned by the Greek Menology as connected to its origin. The tradition recounts that during the reign of Theodosius II (408-450), Constantinople was shaken by a violent earthquake, 24 September, and that whilst the people, the emperor and the Patriarch Proclus of Constantinople (434-446) were praying for heavenly assistance, a child was suddenly lifted into mid­air, to whom all cried out Kyrie eleison ('Lord, have mercy'). The child was then seen to descend again to the earth, and in a loud voice he exhorted the people to pray : 'Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal'. After giving this exhortation, the child died.

The fact that the hymn was one of the exclamations of the fathers at the Council of Chalcedon (451), and that it is common not only to all the Greek Oriental liturgies, but was used also in the Gallican Liturgy (see Saint Germain of Paris, d. 576), suggests that the hymn is extremely ancient, perhaps of apostolic-era origin.

The Coptic Orthodox Church believes that the Trisagion originated from Nicodemus. While taking the body of Christ off the cross with Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus saw Jesus Christ's eyes open and then shouted "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal". Traditionally, it is also considered proof that his Divinty did not part from his humanity.

Greek and Latin

Interestingly, the Gallican Liturgy refers to it as being sung both in Greek and in Latin: Incipiente præsule ecclesia Ajus [that is, Agios] psallit, dicens latinum cum græco, as also previously in Greek alone, before the Prophetia. Benedict XIV thought that the Greek formula was joined with the Latin in allusion to the divine voice heard at Constantinople. But the explanation seems hardly necessary, in view of the retention of Kyrie eleison in the Roman Liturgy, as well as such Hebrew words as Amen, Alleluia, Hosanna, Sabaoth. It is true that the Kyrie eleison is not joined to a Latin version; on the other hand, it is so simple and occurs so frequently, that its meaning could easily be learned and remembered - whereas the entire Trisagion might well receive a parallel version into Latin.

Modifications in history

Various additions or modifications made to the Trisagion at certain points in history have been the subject of considerable controversy. The phrase 'who wast crucified for us' was added to it by Peter the Fuller, in order to advance the teaching of the Theopaschites (who asserted that the divine nature suffered upon the cross). While susceptible of an orthodox interpretation, and for this reason used in some regions, this is still considered a controversial insertion.

Traditionally, the Trisagion has always been understood as addressed to the Holy Trinity (cf. Isaiah 6:3). But in light of widespread adoption of the hymn with the above addition ('who wast crucified for us'), Calandion, Bishop of Antioch, sought to allay the controversy surrounding it by prefixing the words 'Christ, King'. This had the effect of making the hymn refer directly to the incarnate Word: Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, Christ, King, who was crucified for us, have mercy on us. Though perhaps well intended, this effort at emendation was ultimately rejected.

Later Severus, Patriarch of Antioch (deemed heterodox by those who recognise the Council of Chalcedon), wrote to prove the correct ascription of the hymn to the Son of God, and made the use of the emended version standard in his diocese. It is this form Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, crucified for us, have mercy on us that is in use in the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

In the eleventh century, Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) wrote to the Armenians, who still used the emended formula, instructing them to avoid all occasion for scandal by removing the additions, which Pope Gregory argues (incorrectly) that neither the Roman nor any Eastern Church (save the Armenians themselves) had adopted. The injunction appears to have been ignored. When, centuries later, Roman Catholic union with the Armenians was again discussed, a question was addressed (30 January, 1635) to the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, as to whether the Armenian Catholics might still use the formula 'who suffered for us'. The request was answered in the negative. Nevertheless, Armenian Catholic continue to use the traditional formula.

Variations of the traditional formula and Trinitarian ascription are found also in the Armenian Orthodox Liturgy. In these the hymn is addressed to the Redeemer, and versions vary with the feast or office. Thus, the formula of Peter the Fuller (above) is used on all Fridays; on all Sundays: 'risen from the dead'; on Holy Thursday: 'betrayed for us'; on Holy Saturday: 'buried for us'; on the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos: 'who came to the death of the Holy Mother and Virgin', etc.

The Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and their daughter Churches also use the formula 'crucified for us', with minor seasonal variations from the Armenian use.

References

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