Trisagion [Sancte Deus/Svyaty Bozhe]-SAB
By Bortniansky, Dmytro
Author Fenton, Charles
Author in Latin/Greek/Old Slavonic/English
First published by ACP in the 1970 edition of The Johannine Hymnal, this Bortniansky setting of the Trisagion [triSAHgeeawhn], the "thrice-holy," is presented here in four languages: Latin, Greek, Old Slavonic, and English. The standard setting is presented, much as it is sung today in the Divine Liturgy of the Ukrainian, Russian, Belarussian, Serbian, and Bulgarian Churches. Also included is a setting based upon the original arrangement of the Trisagion, as an antiphon for an entrance song at the celebration of the Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy, in the Church of Constantinople, once known as Byzantium. Both settings in this octavo are intended for use in the Roman Rite, as part of the celebration of the Mass.
As in Byzantine Churches, the first setting of the Trisagion in this octavo involves a threefold repetition of the antiphon: "Sancte Deus," then "Hagios ho Theos," then "Svyaty Bozhe." There follows in English the doxology, "Glory Be to the Father," then the antiphon once again, "Holy God." Alternatively, the choir could sing the entire song just in English, by singing the antiphon three times at the beginning in that language, instead of in Latin, Greek, and Old Slavonic.
As in the early Byzantine Rite of the "Great Church," Hagia Sophia, the cathedral of Constantinople, there was a different use of the Trisagion. The second setting in this octavo represents this practice. Here, there was separate music for the choir, the people, and the cantor. All three had their own form of participation. For example, the choir would sing the antiphon three times at the beginning and at the very end of the song. In between, as the entrance procession went on, a cantor would sing the verses of a Psalm. The people would respond to each verse with a simple refrain, in this case, "Holy, Immortal One, have mercy on us." [It is also possible that the entire phrase, "Holy God," etc. served as a refrain.] Use of a simple refrain such as this enables the people to participate without looking down into a hymnal and to sing their part from memory; in this way, they would be able to look at the ministers in procession, moving through the church and into the sanctuary. The procession would conclude with the cantor singing the doxology, the "Glory Be to the Father," and the refrain repeated one last time by the people, then the antiphon once by the choir. If more verses were needed, the cantor would begin again with verse one. If fewer verses were needed, the cantor would simply cut the Psalm short and end with the doxology.
A similar practice existed in Rome, when the bishop himself would signal the cantor to sing the doxology and so bring the chanting to an end. In both Rome and Constantinople, the entrance procession was an elaborate ritual, with bishop, priests, deacons, servers, and other ministers. In the Byzantine Church, the procession was particularly splendid. A deacon led the procession, holding on high the Gospel Book, as a sign that the bishop was following. In imitation of secular honors given to the Emperor, servers carried lighted candles; and one or more thurifers carried censers with burning incense. [Not until the time of Charlemagne were such elements introduced in the Western liturgy.]
In both Rome and Constantinople, the respective cathedrals were large buildings. The gathered congregation, standing, would make way for the procession; there were no pews or other obstacles in the way, to separate the people. They were united as one body, one assembly, gathering around their bishop. Especially with the singing, the entrance rite served the function of uniting the people at the very beginning of the Divine Liturgy.
In documents available to us, the Trisagion is first mentioned in 451, in the records of the Council of Chalcedon, a suburb of Constantinople. We have some idea, then, of the start of the celebration of the Eucharist, in the late fifth century in Constantinople. The people already in the cathedral may have been speaking among themselves or praying quietly. The deacon would enter the building from the outside at the head of the procession. After the choir up front, under the pulpit, sang the antiphon, the people would sing the refrain aloud after each verse of the Psalm. The singing would gradually get stronger and stronger, especially as the procession and more and more people entered the cathedral. Finally, the procession would conclude with a final singing of the antiphon by the choir. The first Scripture reading would immediately follow. In the eighth century, we have evidence of a short service before the entrance procession, while the bishop waited outside: an "enarxis," with three antiphons and three prayers, presided over by a single deacon and/or a single priest.
So, in later generations, the Eucharist began differently. An opening blessing and a litany began the celebration. The people would already have gathered in the cathedral; they celebrated the enarxis with the clergy, who now were present with them, in the sanctuary. After the enarxis, the deacon would take up the Gospel Book from the altar, hold it on high, and move down into the nave, leading the clergy in the "Little Entrance," as several songs were sung. The Trisagion was the last of these, concluding the procession, when the clergy returned to the sanctuary. The people's part was taken over by the clergy. Ultimately, the verses of the Psalm dropped out; and only the antiphon and doxology remained.
Not only in Slavic and Greek-speaking regions but also in the Middle East, the Trisagion is used in the Byzantine Rite liturgies of the Melkite tradition, especially in Palestine and Egypt. Long ago, however, before the Melkites came into being, the Trisagion had spread into the Churches of Armenia, Georgia, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, making use of the local language, rather than the original Greek.
In the West, the Trisagion was widely sung in the Gallican Rite, celebrated once in present-day Ireland, Scotland, England, France, and part of Spain. There, it was sung at the beginning of Mass, after the opening greeting and again before and after the Gospel. In Rome, the Trisagion has long been sung on Good Friday, in both Greek and Latin. In many respects, then, the Trisagion is a catholic song, found throughout the world.
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