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Volume 1, No. 1. (Fall-Winter 2008)

Singing with the Angelic Choir: Anagogy, the Prototype of Orthodox Worship and the Psaltic Art


The first in a series of papers introducing various aspects regarding the depth, history, development, evolution and circumstance of the treasured heritage of the Psaltic Art, Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Chant and Hymnography, the present paper introduces the general ethos of Orthodox worship and the place the Psaltic Art holds within that larger whole. Early hymns used especially in the Divine Liturgy, such as the Angelic, Triumphal Hymn, Trisagion and Cherubic Hymn, together with the Mystagogical interpretations of the Divine Service are used to illustrate the depth of the chant heritage and tradition, while at the same time illustrating how the Church raises us to participate in the eternal, constant worship and glorification that takes place “at all times and at every hour” at the presence of God (Isaiah 6,1-7 and Revelation 4,5-8). This understanding of Orthodox worship as anagogy provides for us a foundation from which to advance toward a deeper understanding of the treasures of the Psaltic Art and Sacred Orthodox Christian Hymnography.


Recently, a significant refinement in attitude toward our traditional Psaltic Art has been observed in America—Psaltic Art being the name used by the Byzantines themselves for what we today call Byzantine Chant. This change in attitude can be detected not only in the clergy, but most especially in a growing number of musically-inclined (and even not so musically-inclined) faithful. I would like to interpret this move toward our traditional Orthodox spiritual heritage and life as a sign of spiritual development.

A number of printed and electronic publications on different aspects of the chant, its history and correct usage (referred to as ‘Typikon’) have appeared within just the last several years. Recordings of translated and transcribed services or select hymns from our Orthodox hymnographical tradition have also emerged. Byzantine choirs of chanters have sprung up, offering recitals and recordings of Byzantine and post-Byzantine chant where they did not exist before. In turn, this blossoming has sparked a growing interest and desire for exploration of this art form that was previously either taken for granted, purposely de-emphasized or simply ignored. On an official ecclesiastical level no real provision has been made for its continuation and the obvious message has been, at best, that the traditional Psaltic Art is simply “not a priority.” Despite the present state of affairs, the quest for more knowledge and practical help continues to grow. Evidence for this are the thousands of discussion threads on the various Byzantine chant- and typikon-related online forums. Conferences on Byzantine musicology and hymnology have recently occurred under the complete initiative of US-based organizations dedicated to the art form, such as the American Society for Byzantine Music and Hymnology, Axion Estin and Cappela Romana. Ease of travel and pilgrimage to traditionally Eastern Orthodox countries have greatly contributed to a wider audience having been exposed to the chant in its natural, vibrant environment as it can be experienced throughout Greece, the monasteries of Holy Mount Athos, the Holy Land and elsewhere.

In light of these positive developments it seems that the time is favorable to offer some thoughtful, informative words introducing various aspects regarding the wide breadth, history, development, evolution and circumstance of this treasured chant heritage for those interested in a general way, but most especially for those select individuals looking to enter into the tradition in a more substantial way, offering some key foundations upon which they can build.

This paper, based on my original entry for the PsalticNotes Webpage a good many years ago, is planned as the first in a series of such entires that will offer knowledge in a simple, yet informative style regarding many aspects of the Psaltic Art that will be useful to the student in understanding the chant’s place in the history and liturgical life of the Church. Along the way I also plan to address the various historical stages of the Church’s liturgical poetry, what we call hymnography, as well as the development and history of the treasure of our Byzantine chant notation, the melodists who composed its masterpieces and the chanters and didaskaloi (teachers) who passed it down to us, always with an eye toward cultivating an informed appreciation of the psaltic tradition.

Although these entries are intended mostly for those taking their first steps into this venerable psaltic tradition, it is hoped that the facts referred to and developed here will be of use to the seasoned servants of the chanter’s stand so they may also impart them to a younger generation that can continue and build upon our inherited foundations.

A most general understanding of the ethos and ekphrasis of our Orthodox worship and the Psaltic Art’s place in that worship program seems the best place to start. Allow me to embark on our journey from the same point I began a number of years ago, the point of Anagogy, the prototype for our Orthodox worship and the place of the Psaltic Art. The brief survey of some important hymns used in the Divine Liturgy from very early on will be our mode of transportation.

Parallels between the earthly and spiritual levels of experience in Orthodox worship

Hymns reflecting the Church’s earthly worship as an extension of the heavenly, liturgy of the Angels

1. The Angelic, Triumphal Hymn

Before dealing directly with the specifics regarding our psaltic chant heritage I would like to first take a step back and review the Psaltic Art in its context within the entire scope of Orthodox worship as it has come down to us through history, for it is part of a larger whole: that of liturgy, the church building (naos), all that takes place there and the symbolic significance attributed to it and the sacred actions of Orthodox liturgy (Ouspensky; 1978, chapter one). Our Orthodox liturgical heritage is a uniquely rich one. It is a timeless one, full of metaphysical references, bringing us into direct communion with God, raising us up, transporting us, constantly transforming us and presenting us to His presence, sanctifying us, cleansing us, deifying us. Our Orthodox liturgical life has as its objective the uniting of our soul and mind to God. The primary way in which this occurs is by the Church’s integrating the faithful into the eternal, continuous worship of the Triune God.

The Church is an eternal body because its God is eternal and is itself His body. As such, the Church addresses itself to our thirst for eternity. It does not live only in this world, but raises us to the next. This concept is referred to as anagogy. The word comes from the Greek. The verb is ἀνάγω, meaning to lead up from a lower place to a higher, as defined in the Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (1871, 48). The Church’s earthly worship and everything connected with it, the Church building—naos—its interior, iconography, vestments, vessels, architecture and, yes, the Psaltic Art are all clearly laid out to raise the worshiper to the presence of God. They are points of contact with eternity, metaphysical references, if you will.

While the working out of anagogy in our Orthodox worship services is the result of venerable, ancient tradition guided through the divine Spirit, which cannot be summarized in a few pages, we can hope to attain to a glimpse of this experience by reviewing some select liturgical, scriptural and patristic texts. Consider, for instance, the Anaphora prayer of Saint Basil the Great:

Let us lift up our hearts.
Let us give thanks to the Lord.
O Thou Who Art, O Master and Lord, God the Father, Almighty and proper to be worshipped: It is very meet, right and befitting the majesty of thy holiness that we should praise thee, and sing unto thee, bless and adore thee, give thanks and glorify thee, of certainty the one true God; that we should bring unto thee this our service of word (logike) from a contrite heart and an humble spirit. For it is thou who hast vouchsafed unto us the knowledge of thy truth. And who can utter thy mighty acts? Who can shew forth all thy praise, or tell of all thy wondrous works at all times? O sovereign Lord of heaven and earth and of all creation, visible and invisible; Thou that sittest in the throne of glory and dost behold the depths… the fountain of holiness that enableth every creature having reason and having understanding to serve thee and pour forth an unceasing hymn of glory, for all are thy servants: angels and archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers and virtues, and the many-eyed cherubim praise thee; about thee stand the seraphim, six wings hath the one and six wings hath the other: with twain they cover their faces, and with twain they cover their feet, and with twain they do fly, crying one unto another, with continuing voice unstilled songs of praise,
Singing the triumphal hymn, exclaiming, crying aloud and saying:
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Sabaoth: heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.
And with these blessed Powers, O sovereign Lord and friend of man, we sinners also cry aloud and say: Holy indeed and most holy art thou…

—St. Basil the Great (4th c.), prayer of the Anaphora.

In the above prayer of the Anaphora (offering), the prayer leading to the point in the Divine Liturgy where the liturgist offers (anapherei) the gifts to be sanctified (the bread and wine), Saint Basil alludes to the eternal worship that takes place in God’s presence. Allow me to refer now directly to the source of this image.

In the year of King Uzzaiah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.
Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings, with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”
And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, with a burning coal in his hand which he had taken from the altar with tongs.

Isaiah 6,1-7.

This vision of the Loud-voiced Prophet Isaiah is a vision into the heavenly throne-room of God, a vision shared by Daniel and Ezekiel (Dan. 10,16; Ezek. 10,5). In it is revealed the eternal worship and adoration of God which takes place “at all times and in every hour.” Saint Symeon of Thessalonike begins his Treatise On Prayer with a chapter “On Prayer and the Angels” where he states that this is the primary task of these first ranks of the holy Angels, to continuously “announce God to us as the cause of our being and exhort us to praise him alone,” that our hearts may burn within us for him (Lk. 24,32), that our eyes may be totally fixed upon him (Ps. 24,15), that we may keep the Lord always before us (Ps. 15,8), and that he may pour out his mercy on us (Ps. 118,77) so he might dwell within us (Ps. 131,8; 44,7; 2 Cor. 6,16; Jn. 14,23 and Rom. 6,16).

The New Testament Church also lives this divine revelation. Saint John the Evengelist and Theologian received the same vision (Rev. 4,1ff.) and witnessed the eternal worship as he was filled with the Holy Spirit at the revelation he received on the Island of Patmos:

From the throne issue flashes of lightning, and voices and peals of thunder, and before the throne burn seven torches of fire, wich are the seven spirits of God; and before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing,
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!

Revelation 4,5-8.

Here is the full text of the hymn as it is used liturgically, in both Greek and Latin:

Ἅγιος, ἅγιος, ἅγιος Κύριος Σαββαώθ,
πλήρης ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ τῆς δόξης σου.
Ὡσαννὰ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις·
εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι Κυρίου. Ὡσαννὰ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις.
Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus Dominus Deus sabbaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini. Hosanna in excelsis.

The second part of the hymn is lifted from the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, celebrated on the Sunday of Palms each year:

And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, and brought the ass and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strewed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hossanna in the highest.

Matthew 21,6-9.

Before the hymn took its present form with the Matthean addition, it is witnessed to in early Christian literature, revealing itself as being among the first strata of hymns used in the Church’s worship. Among the most important sources are the Apostolic Constitutions (VIII,34) and Clement of Rome’s († 96) Epistle to the Corinthians (Metsakes; 1986, 59ff.). Nevertheless, this sense of the “arrival” of the Christ that the Matthean phrase adds is not out of place at this point of the Divine Liturgy. The Byzantine commentaries will equate the procession of the bearing of the gifts to be offered to the altar—which directly precedes the offering itself—as signifying “the last manifestation of Christ, which aroused the hatred of the Jews, when he embarked on the journey from his native country to Jerusalem, where he was to be sacrificed; then he rode into the Holy City on the back of an ass, escorted by a cheering crowd” (Cabasilas; 2002, 65).

We can see how whether we are in the Old Covenant, New Covenant or the future Kingdom the eternal worship of God is our goal: to continuously praise Him with all our being. We can also comment that the use of this imagery is not relegated only to the Byzantine liturgies. Whether we refer to the oldest extant prayer of the Anaphora, that of Saints Addai and Mari, Saints Hippolytus or Serapion, the Apostles Mark or Iakovos, the Egyptian, Alexandrian, Antiochian, Roman, Persian or Chaldean liturgy types, the first part of the prayer begins with a praise of the unoriginate, inexpressible, and incomprehensible God before moving into the introduction of the Angelic, Triumphal Hymn. The prayers then progress to the reason for the synaxis and remembrance of the Mystic Supper, climaxing with the epiclesis and commemoration of names. This venerable order is witnessed to throughout the ages (Trembelas; 1961, 24ff. Bradshaw; 2002, 73ff.).

It is clear, then, as a good mother, the Church teaches us by example, joining us and making the worshiper an extension of this eternal worship, raising us up to God’s presence—anagogy. In the words of a contemporary Church theologian, “when the believer is within the Divine Liturgy, he has gone beyond the world of corruption. He lives and dances for joy, extended beyond the threat of time, outside the prison of space. Although time and space exist, man is mystically nourished by the ‘hidden manna,’ by another reality, a reality earlier than time and above space. And when space and time cease to exist, man will be able to live and will live just the same. When man comes down from the mountain of his experience of the Liturgy, of participation in that which truly exists, he goes about his business in the created world in a different way. He does his service in time differently. He is a dynamic presence, like a grain of mustard seed: a witness to the Kingdom” (Vasileios; 1984, 79). The golden-mouthed Saint John Chrysostom (4th c.) also related how this most ancient of angelic hymns unites the earthly with the heavenly liturgy:

Above, the hosts of angels sing praise; below, men form choirs in the churches and imitate them by singing the same doxology. Above the Seraphim cry out the Trisagion Hymn; below, the human throng sends up the same cry. The inhabitants of heaven and earth are brought together in a common assembly; there is one thanksgiving, one shout of delight, one joyful chorus.

Patrologia Graeca lvi,97 (translation from McKinnon; 1987, no. 193).

Saint Cyril, the Patriarch of Jerusalem in the middle of the fourth century, will also comment on the hymn in almost the same context:

6. After this we make mention of heaven, and earth, and sea; of the sun and moon; of the stars and all the creation, rational and irrational, visible and invisible; of Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Dominions, Principalities, Powers, Thrones; of the Cherubim with many faces: in effect repeating that call of David’s, Magnify the Lord with me (Ps. 34,3). We make mention also of the Seraphim, whom Esaias by the Holy Ghost beheld encircling the throne of God, and with two of their wings veiling their countenances, and with two their feet, and with two flying, who cried, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth. For, for this cause rehearse we this confession of God, delivered down to us from the Seraphim, that we may join in Hymns with the hosts of the world above.
7. Then having sanctified ourselves by these spiritual Hymns [Eph. 5,19], we call upon the merciful God to send forth His Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before Him […].

Mystagogical Catechesis V, nos. 6 and 7 (Cyril; 1986, 73-74).

This ancient hymn, the Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth… was used in the Christian worship of both the East and the West, where it is known by the Latin names of Sanctus or Tersanctus. In the East we call this the Angelic or Triumphant Hymn and it still accompanies the most sacred section of the Divine Liturgy, the Anaphora, the time when the gifts are offered up to God in confession, thanksgiving and supplication, as both a preparation and purification, as well as participation in the eternal, heavenly and angelic worship of the Lord God.

At this juncture Saint Maximus Confessor (7th c.) can serve to summarize the place this sublime hymn holds in the process of anagogy:

The unceasing and sanctifying doxology by the holy angels in the Trisagion signifies, in general, the equality in the way of life and conduct and the harmony in the divine praising which will take place in the age to come by both heavenly and earthly powers, when the human body now rendered immortal by the resurrection will no longer weigh down the soul by corruption and will not itself be weighed down but will take on, by the change into incorruption, potency and aptitude to receive God’s coming. In particular it signifies, for the faithful, the theological rivalry with the angels in faith; for the active ones, it symbolizes the splendor of life equal to the angels, so far as this is possible for men, and the persistence in the theological hymnology; for those who have knowledge, endless thoughts, hymns, and movements concerning the Godhead which are equal to the angels, so far as humanly possible.

Mystagogy, St. Maximus Confessor, Chapter 24 (Maximus; 1985, 207ff.).

It’s musical expression, strictly for the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great (there are no musical settings of the leitourgika for the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom until the middle of the nineteenth century!), is considered among the most venerable and ancient of melodies still in usage today. Koutloumousi MS 457, now at National Library of Russia P. Ouspensky ArchivesThe chant compositions for it, as found in most music scores today, are abridged (syntmeseis) versions of the longer Byzantine compositions that were originally composed by Ioannes Glykys († 900) and shortened by Ioannes Protopsaltes in the eighteenth century (Stathis; 1983, 26). This Ioannes is the one called the first composer of “the method of the theseis in chanting” and the “second composer of the oikoi by Manuel Chrysaphes the Lampadarios in his treatise On the Theory of the Art (Chrysaphes; 1985, lns. 71 and 144). Ioannes’ position in the hierarchy of the Maïstores (a term used to refer to those considered great teachers) of the chant tradition is illustrated by this image from MS 457 of the Mount Athos Koutloumousion monastery. This particular folio, however, is today actually housed in the National Russian Library, P. Ouspensky Archives, as one of the infamous scholar’s prize “heists”; the rest of the manuscript, thankfully, is still at its home monastery library.

The oldest manuscript composition of the Seraphic Hymn is from the thirteenth-century Messina MS 161, fol. 74. Scholarship has studied this and other late Byzantine versions, like the Athens, National Library of Greece (EBE) MS 2458, as well as Latin expressions from the Missa Graeca, like the Italian Grottaferrata Γ.β.37(vi), fol. 54. (Levy; 1958-1963, Moran; 1974). The use of Mode II is normative throughout the manuscript tradition and is reflected in contemporary practice. The great consistency in the melos of this hymn is one lending itself to this central point of prayerful offering in the Divine Liturgy. The melos reminds us of compositions such as the Phos hilaron (O Gladsome Light). While the hymn’s structure seems to be straight forward and simplistic, its correct performance can be elusive to the inexperienced chanter because of its shear size and the cut time, properly referred to as rhythm syneptigmenos. Manuscript of Chrysaphes the New with Angelic Hymn, Mode II.This seventeenth-century manuscript (EBE 947), penned by Chrysaphes the New shows the abridged composition as it is chanted today, but in the post-Byzantine notational form. When performed correctly in this abridged form it is just the right length to cover the mystic prayers of the anaphora of St. Basil. During Byzantine times the Liturgy of Saint Basil was used on all Sundays, as well as other important feasts. Today, however, the Liturgy is used only on the Sundays of the Great Fast, the eves of the Nativity of Christ, Epiphany, Great Thursday and Saturday in Great Week, for the beginning of Pascha (Easter). In the monasteries one more day has been retained from ancient practice, the feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Holy Cross on 14 September.

After a few centuries the trinitarian aspect of the Angelic, Triumphal Hymn was to inspire the development of another, somewhat related ancient hymn, also claiming angelic, divinely-revealed, heavenly origins, the Trisagion or Thrice-holy Hymn.

2. The Trisagion

On the 25th of September, each year the Orthodox Church commemorates the miracle of the taking up into heaven by the angels of a child when Proklos was Patriarch of Constantinople (434-446) and Theodosios II was emperor.

ANNUS MUNDI 5930.—In this year Proklos, the most holy bishop of Constantinople, petitioned the Emperor Theodosios for the relic of John Chrysostom to be transferred from Comanus to the capital city. And in the next year, and for 33 years, it was processed with the King and the blessed Poulcheria a placed in the church of the Apostles. […] During Proklos’ reign great earthquakes were occurring in Constantinople for four months continuously. Being struck with fear, the Byzantines went out of the city to the so-called Kampos, and were supplicating God and processing with the bishop night and day. One day, when the earth was shaking and all the people were continuously crying out the Kyrie, eleison, at about the third hour, suddenly and in sight of all a young child was taken up into the air, and a divine voice was hear around it announcing to the bishop and the people to process and to say thus: Holy God, holy Mighty, holy Immortal, have mercy on us, nothing else being added. Our father among the Saints, Proklos, accepting the decision, processed the people chanting thusly and the earthquake immediately ceased. The blessed Poulcheria and her brother, supporting the miracle, established that this divine hymn be chanted throughout the entire ecumene; and from that day all the churches sing to God each day.

PG 108.244B-248A

In his treatise The Orthodox Faith, Saint John of Damascus (8th c.) adds that “it is traditional that the Thrice-Holy Hymn was also sung in this manner at the holy and great Fourth Ecumenical Council—that which was held in Chalcedon, I mean—for so it is reported in the acts of this same holy council” (John; 1958, 289). The Council of Chalcedon was held in 451, but it is clearly accepted that the hymn was inserted into the liturgy between the years 430 and 450. Since then, of course, its use spread throughout almost every service of the Orthodox Church. Today, it is intricately combined even with the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, both in the Church and in private devotion in what are known as the “Introductory, Trisagion prayers” that begin the majority of divine services.

The hymn was probably so completely embraced by the Church due to the fact that the Monophysite Antiochian Patriarch Peter the Fuller (circa 470) interpolated into the hymn the phrase “who was crucified for us,” attempting to align his position with the Theopaschites (a particular group of Monophysites). In any event, Orthodoxy would not accept the change and it was eventually rejected by the 81st Canon of the Council in Trullo, in 692. It’s popularity also seems to be attested to by the early date of its appearance in the West, also, as we shall see below.

The mystagogical-anagogical interpretation of the Trisagion hymn by the Fathers of the Church is connected the context of the Thrice-Holy, Angelic Triumphal Hymn we just examined: the three holies of the Seraphic Hymn is expanded in the Trisagion as a hymn specifically to the three persons of the Holy Trinity. In discussing the hymn’s place in the Divine Liturgy, Saint Nicholas Cabasilas comments establish us in the choir of the angels (Cabasilas; 2002, 59ff. Cf. Symeon; 1984, 34ff.):

Next [after the raising of the Book of the Gospels] we praise God himself, the Triune God, as the coming of the Saviour revealed him to us. The hymns which we sing comes to us from the angels, and is taken in part from the book of the sacred psalms of the prophet. It was gathered together by Christ’s Church and dedicated to the Trinity. For the Hagios [the Sanctus], which is repeated thrice, is the angelic acclamation [Is. 6. 3. Rev. 4. 8]; the words “Strong and immortal God” are those of the blessed David, who exclaims: “My soul thirsts for the strong and living God” [Ps. 42. 2]. The Church which is the assembly of those who believe and profess the Trinity and Unity of God, played its part in gathering together these two acclamations, joining them, and adding the ejaculation, “Have mercy on us”; she wished to show, on the one hand, the harmony of the Old and New Testaments, and on the other, that angels and men form one Church, a single choir, because of the coming of Christ who was of both heaven and earth.
That is why we sing this hymns after the bringing in and showing of the Book of the Gospels; it is as if we proclaim that he, by coming among us, has given us a place amid the angels, and established us in the heavenly choir.

20. The showing of the Gospel, and the Trisagion.

A number of structural liturgical factors, as well as the manuscript tradition for the Trisagion point to an origin outside the context of the Divine Liturgy. First, its structural hymnographic form—εὐφήμιον (refrain), glorification (Glory; both now.), ἀκροτελεύτιον (repeated last line), and περισσὴ (embellished, appendix repeat)—indicate its use as an antiphonal kanon, which would align itself well with its origin as a Constantinopolitan processional, as modern liturgiology has recently observed (Taft; 1977, 214ff.). Its use at the end of the Great Doxology and the witness of usage in the asmatic vespers of the cathedral rite in the Athos, Great Lavra MS Λ.165 shortly before the dismissal (Conomos; 1974, p. 70ff.) point to an origin in the Divine Liturgy as an entrance processional (introit) carried over from a wider processional, “stational” liturgical tradition (cf. Baldovin; 1987 and Mateos; 1971). Tradition has also preserved a special tidbit of information pointing to this processional origin. It is recorded that the point of the perisse (the appendix troparion at the end of an antiphonal psalmody) was when the Emperor and his court arrived in the Church (Conomos; 1974, 27 and Wellesz; 1961, 107). The highly formalized court rituals spilled over into the public worship life and we know that on great feasts the Patriarch and Emperor entered the Great Church together. The purpose of the highly melismatic perisse had the practical application of covering a multitude of liturgical actions, prayers and petitions establishing the Patriarch on the synthronon before the scripture readings, which in Byzantine times was the actual beginning of the Divine Liturgy (Taft; 1977, 214ff., and 1979, 287. Moran; 1979, 178ff. Baldovin; 1987, 218ff.).

Anyone familiar with the Divine Liturgies of the Orthodox Church knows that the Trisagion is still chanted today (without the antiphonal psalmic verses, which disappeared without a trace) and its psaltic tradition is still quite vibrant. The only time when it is not chanted is on the feasts of the Cross, 14 September and the Third Sunday of the Great Fast, and the Great Feasts of the Master (Despotikai heortai), when two special alternative hymns take its place—on the Great Feasts the baptismal hymn All those who have been baptized in Christ… (Ὅσοι εἰς Χριστόν) and on the feasts of the Cross the We venerate Thy Cross, O Master… (Τὸν Σταυρόν Σου), possibly originating in Jerusalem. The daily form is as follows: It is chanted three times followed by a glorification (Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.). The last phrase (ἀκροτελεύτιον) and then repeated a final time as a perisse, announced with the word δύναμις from the deacon. The word means “power” or “strength,” an obvious command to chant in a more intense fashion. All of this takes place just prior to the appointed scriptural readings for the day:

Right choir: Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός, ἅγιος ἰσχυρός, ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.
Left choir: Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός, ἅγιος ἰσχυρός, ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.
Right choir: Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός, ἅγιος ἰσχυρός, ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.,
Left choir: Δόξα Πατρὶ καὶ Υἱῷ καὶ ἁγίῳ Πνεύματι.
Right choir: Καὶ νῦν καὶ ἀεί, καὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.
Left choir: Ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.
Deacon: Δύναμις.
Right choir: Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός.
Left choir: Ἅγιος ἰσχυρός.
Right choir: Ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.

On Sundays and great feast days when there are many clergy serving the typika, euchologia and music manuscripts preserve a repeating of the hymn even more than three times, with the antiphonal chanting including the choir of clergy from within the holy altar (bema), something still practiced even today.

The musical tradition has handed down to us a rich variety of anonymous and eponymous kalophonic compositions of the dynamis, most of which are not used today. Dimitri Conomos, in his Byzantine Trisagia and Cheroubika of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries (1974) examines some of the most anthologized of these compositions, analyzing 17 basic Trisagion melodic forms and at least 5 dynamis forms, while detailed morphological and notational observations (including the Palaeoslavic tradition) are recorded by Neil Moran (a student of Prof. Constantin Floros) in his doctoral dissertation, The Ordinary Chants of the Byzantine Mass (1975). The dynamis compositions are characterized by a melismatic melos, often with kratemata. The majority of Byzantine trisagion compositions come to us in the second mode, although the plagal of the fourth mode is also witnessed to.

While trisagion compositions in all the modes can be heard in the Greek churches today, these are mostly products coming out of the last century, beginning from the latter part of the nineteenth century. The traditional bematos score used todayOn high, formal celebrated feasts, especially when a hierarch or co-celebration of hierarchs will take place the “classic” second mode traditional compositions will most likely be the ones heard. The second authentic mode is one characterized by a formal seriousness and prayerful, mystical character utilizing both soft and hard chromatic arches. The special bematos melody is chanted by the clergy from within the holy altar while the celebrating hierarch makes special petitions. This particular melody is known and performed from memory by most clergy. The image above is the traditional melody used today in hierarchical liturgies. [Image source is (Progakes; 1910, 34-35).]

There is one more musico-hymnographic comment we can make regarding the Trisagion before moving on in our present study. Cod. Sang. 376, page 190, Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen / Codices Electornici SangallensesThe popularity of the Trisagion Hymn also seems to be attested to by the fact that it was so quick to make its way into the Western Latin Office under the name Aius. The Trisagion Hymn is sung once a year in the Roman Church as a refrain between the Improperia (reproaches) of Christ on Good Friday at the culminating service of the unveiling and veneration of the Altar Cross—the Adoratio Crucis.

The most interesting points of this borrowing are that (1) the Trisagion is sung in both Greek and Latin, a possible relic of a practice that was once held in the Middle Ages, one piece of what is collectively known as the Missa Graeca (Wellesz; 1947, 50ff., Huglo; 1966, Atkinson; 1989, Troelsgård; 1991, Nardini; 2007.) and (2) if the scholarly opinion that these Improperia were established in the fifth- or sixth-century Gallican rite, possibly via Burgundy, then the Trisagion—which was adopted in the East in the fifth century—wasted no time making its way to the West, attesting to the prestige it must have held from the very beginning (Wellesz; 1942, 50ff. Wellesz; 1947, 11-18. and Parrish; 2000, 8ff.). [Note: Manuscript image is Cod. Sang. 376, page 190, Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen / Codices Electornici Sangallenses, available at http://www.cesg.unifr.ch/de/index.htm. Notice the alternating Greek and Latin ephymnion at the top of the piece that would be repreated after each “reproach.”] Also, the fact that it appears in the West as an antiphonal kanon bears witness to its earliest, processional form (cf. Taft; 1977 or 2001, 214ff.).

To summarize regarding the Trisagion, its divinely revealed origin attests to its popularity, as does its use throughout the Church’s daily worship cycle. It looks to be an expansion on the Angelic, triumphal thrice-holy hymn, developing its Trinitarian character to address each person of the Godhead individually. The Trisagion prayers, the introductory prayers used to begin almost every service, just before the Lord’s Prayer, are among the first prayers learned by an Orthodox believer. The term Trisagion service has come to refer to the memorial service for those who have fallen asleep in the Lord. For our purposes here, though, we emphasize the use of the Trisagion as a vehicle of anagogy.

There is yet one more hymn used in the Divine Liturgy expressing the ethos of our participation in the heavenly worship of the angels worth our attention, namely, the Cherubic Hymn. In the next installment of Psaltic Notes it will be our point of continuance.

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ISSN: 1941-7616   Copyright © 2008, Konstantinos Terzopoulos.

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