Orthodox Divine Liturgy – The Hymn of the Cherubim

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Orthodox Divine Liturgy celebrated in Svetogorskaya Lavra (Monastery) in Ukraine.

The Cherubikon (Greek: χερουβικόν) is the usual Cherubic Hymn (Greek: χερουβικὸς ὕμνος, Church Slavonic Херувімскаѧ пҍснь) sung at the Great Entrance of the Byzantineliturgy. The hymn symbolically incorporates those present at the liturgy into the presence of the angels gathered around God’s throne.[1]


The cherubikon was added as a troparion to the Divine Liturgy under Emperor Justin II (565 – 578) when a separation of the room where the gifts are prepared from the room where they are consecrated made it necessary that the Liturgy of the Faithful, from which those not baptised had been excluded, start with a procession.[2] This procession is known as the Great Entrance, because the celebrants have to enter the choir by the altar screen, later replaced by the iconostasis. The chant genre offertorium in traditions of Western plainchant was basically a copy of the Byzantine custom, but there it was a proper mass chant which changed regularly.[citation needed]

Although its liturgical concept already existed by the end of the 4th century,[citation needed] the cherubikon itself was created 200 years later. The Great Entrance as a ritual act is needed for a procession with the Gifts while simultaneous prayers and ritual acts are performed by the clergy. As the processional troparion, the cherubikon has to bridge the long way between prothesis, a room outside the apsis, and the sanctuary which had been separated by changes in sacred architecture under Emperor Justin II. The cherubikon is divided into several parts.[3] The first part is sung before the celebrant begins his prayers, there were one or two simultaneous parts, and they all followed like a gradual ascent in different steps within the Great Entrance. Verses 2-5 were sung by a soloist called monophonaris from the ambo. The conclusion with the last words of verse 5 and the allelouiarion are sung in dialogue with the domestikos and the monophonaris.[citation needed]

Liturgical use

The Synod of bishops of the Orthodox Church of Hellas, presided over by the Archbishop of Athens Hieronymus II (Liapis),

Concerning the text of the processional troparion which was ascribed to Justin II, it is not entirely clear, whether “thrice-holy hymn” did refer to the Sanctus of the Anaphora or to another hymn of the 5th century known as the trisagion in Constantinople, but also in other liturgical traditions like the Latin Gallican and Milanese rites. Concerning the old custom of Constantinople, the trisagion was used as a troparion of the third antiphonon at the beginning of the divine liturgy as well as of hesperinos. In the West, there were liturgical customs in Spain and France, where the trisagion replaced the great doxology during the Holy Mass on lesser feasts.[4]

The troparion of the great entrance (at the beginning of the second part of the divine liturgy which excluded the catechumens) was also the prototype of the genre offertorium in Western plainchant, although its text only appears in the particular custom of the Missa graeca celebrated on Pentecost and during the patronal feast of the Royal Abbey of Saint Denis, after the latter’s vita became associated with Pseudo-Dionysios Areopagites. According to the local bilingual custom the hymn was sung both in Greek and in Latin translation.

Today, the separation of the prothesis is part of the early history of the Constantinopolitan rite (akolouthia asmatike). With respect to the Constantinopolitan customs there are many different local customs in Orthodox communities all over the world and there are urban and monastic choir traditions in different languages into which the cherubikon has been translated.

Exegetic tradition of Isaiah

The trisagion or thrice-holy hymn which was mentioned by John Chrysostom, could only refer to the Sanctus of the Anaphora taken from the Old Testament, from the book of the prophet Isaiah in particular (6:1-3):

[1] Καὶ ἐγένετο τοῦ ἐνιαυτοῦ, οὗ ἀπέθανεν Ὀζίας ὁ βασιλεύς, εἶδον τὸν κύριον καθήμενον ἐπὶ θρόνου ὑψηλοῦ καὶ ἐπηρμένου, καὶ πλήρης ὁ οἶκος τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ. [2] καὶ σεραφὶμ εἱστήκεισαν κύκλῳ αὐτοῦ, ἓξ πτέρυγες τῷ ἑνὶ καὶ ἓξ πτέρυγες τῷ ἑνί, καὶ ταῖς μὲν δυσὶν κατεκάλυπτον τὸ πρόσωπον καὶ ταῖς δυσὶν κατεκάλυπτον τοὺς πόδας καὶ ταῖς δυσὶν ἐπέταντο. [3] καὶ ἐκέκραγον ἕτερος πρὸς τὸν ἕτερον καὶ ἔλεγον Ἅγιος ἅγιος ἅγιος κύριος σαβαώθ, πλήρης πᾶσα ἡ γῆ τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ.[5]

[1] And it came to pass in the year in which king Ozias died, that I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of his glory. [2] And seraphs stood round about him, each one had six wings, and with two they covered their face, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. [3] And one cried to the other, and they said “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts! The whole earth is full of His glory!”

In a homily John Chrysostom interpreted Isaiah and the chant of the divine liturgy in general (neither the cherubikon nor the trisagion existed in his time) as an analogue act which connected the community with the eternal angelic choirs:

Ἄνω στρατιαὶ δοξολογοῦσιν ἀγγέλων· κᾶτω ἐν ἐκκλησίαις χοροστατοῦντες ἄνθρωποι τὴν αὐτὴν ἐκείνοις ἐκμιμοῦνται δοξολογίαν. Ἄνω τὰ Σεραφὶμ τὸν τρισάγιον ὕμνον ἀναβοᾷ· κάτω τὸν αὑτὸν ἠ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀναπέμπει πληθύς· κοινὴ τῶν ἐπουρανίων καὶ τῶν ἐπιγείων συγκροτεῖται πανήγυρις· μία εὐχαριστία, ἓν ἀγαλλίαμα, μία εὐφρόσυνος χοροστασία.[6]

On high, the armies of angels give glory; below, men, standing in church forming a choir, emulate the same doxologies. Above, the Seraphim declaim the thrice-holy hymn; below, the multitude of men sends up the same. A common festival of the heavenly and the earthly is celebrated together; one Eucharist, one exultation, one joyful choir.

The anti-cherubika

The cherubikon belongs to the ordinary mass chant of the divine liturgy ascribed to John Chrysostom, because it has to be sung during the year cycle, however, it is sometimes substituted by other troparia, the so-called “anti-cherubika”, when other formularies of the divine liturgy are celebrated. On Holy Thursday, for example, the cherubikon was, and still is, replaced by the troparion “At your mystical supper” (Τοῦ δείπνου σου τοῦ μυστικοῦ) according to the liturgy of Saint Basil, while during the Liturgy of the Presanctified the troparion “Now the powers of the heavens” (Νῦν αἱ δυνάμεις τῶν οὐρανῶν) was sung, and the celebration of Prote Anastasis (Holy Saturday) uses the troparion from the Liturgy of St. JamesLet All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence(Σιγησάτω πᾶσα σὰρξ βροτεία). The latter troparion is also used occasionally at the consecration of a church.[1]

In the current traditions of Orthodox chant, its Greek text is not only sung in older translations such as the one in Old Church Slavonic or in Georgian, but also in Romanian and other modern languages.

In the Greek text, the introductory clauses are participial, and the first person plural becomes apparent only with the verb ἀποθώμεθα “let us lay aside”. The Slavonic translation mirrors this closely, while most other translations introduce a finite verb in the first person plural already in the first line (Latin imitamur, Georgian vemsgavsebit, Romanian închipuim “we imitate, represent”).

Οἱ τὰ χερουβὶμ μυστικῶς εἰκονίζοντες
καὶ τῇ ζωοποιῷ τριάδι τὸν τρισάγιον ὕμνον προσᾴδοντες
πᾶσαν τὴν βιωτικὴν ἀποθώμεθα μέριμναν
Ὡς τὸν βασιλέα τῶν ὅλων ὑποδεξόμενοι
ταῖς ἀγγελικαῖς ἀοράτως δορυφορούμενον τάξεσιν
ἀλληλούϊα ἀλληλούϊα ἀλληλούϊα[7]

10th-century Latin transliteration of the Greek text
I ta cherubim mysticos Iconizontes
ke ti zopion triadi ton trisagyon ymnon prophagentes
passa nin biotikin apothometa merinnan·
Os ton basileon ton olon Ipodexomeni
tes angelikes aoraton doriforumenon taxesin

Qui cherubin mystice imitamur
et vivifice trinitati ter sanctum ẏmnum offerimus
Omnem nunc mundanam deponamus sollicitudinem
Sicuti regem omnium suscepturi
Cui ab angelicis invisibiliter ministratur ordinibus

English translation
We who mystically represent the Cherubim,
and who sing to the Life-Giving Trinity the thrice-holy hymn,
let us now lay aside all earthly cares
that we may receive the King of all,
escorted invisibly by the angelic orders.

Church Slavonic
Иже херѹвимы тайнѡ ѡбразѹюще,
и животворѧщей Троицѣ трисвѧтую пѣснь припѣвающе,
Всѧкое нынѣ житейское отложимъ попеченіе.
Ꙗкѡ да Царѧ всѣхъ подъимемъ,
аггельскими невидимѡ дорѵносима чинми.

Transliterated Church Slavonic
Íže heruvímy tájnō ōbrazujúšte,
i životvoręštej Tróicě trisvętúju pěsňĭ pripěvájúšte,
Vsęko[j]e nýňě žitéjsko[j]e otložimŭ popečenìe.
Jákō da Carę vsěhŭ podŭimemŭ,
ángelĭskimi nevídimō dorỳnosíma čínmi.

რომელნი ქერუბიმთა საიდუმლოსა ვემსგავსებით,
და ცხოველსმყოფელისა სამებისა, სამგზის წმიდასა გალობასა შენდა შევწირავთ,
ყოველივე აწ სოფლისა დაუტეოთ ზრუნვა.[13]
და ვითარცა მეუფისა ყოველთასა,
შემწყნარებელსა ანგელოსთაებრ უხილავად, ძღვნის შემწირველთა წესთასა.
ალილუია, ალილუია, ალილუია.[14]
Transliterated Georgian

romelni qerubimta saidumlosa vemsgavsebit,
da tskhovelsmq’opelisa samebisa, samgzis ts’midasa galobasa shenda shevts’iravt,
q’ovelive ats’ soplisa daut’eot zrunva.
da vitartsa meupisa q’oveltasa,
shemts’q’narebelsa angelostaebr ukhilavad, dzghvnis shemts’irvelta ts’estasa.
aliluia, aliluia, aliluia

[citation needed]
Noi, care pe heruvimi cu taină închipuim,
Şi făcătoarei de viaţă Treimi întreit-sfântă cântare aducem,
Toată grija cea lumească să o lepădăm.[15]
Ca pe Împăratul tuturor, să primim,
Pe Cel înconjurat în chip nevăzut de cetele îngereşti.
Aliluia, aliluia, aliluia.[16]

Edited by: EZorrilla.

Hymn of the Cherubim (Studio)


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