The Antiphons

V. Liturgy of the Catechumens (Part B)

This evening we’ll talk about the section of the Liturgy called the Antiphons. Last week we talked about the Great Litany, and the Antiphons come after the Great Litany and before the Little Entrance with the Holy Gospel. They are divided by the two Little Litanies into three parts. (Antiphon-Litany-Antiphon-Litany-Antiphon) [The order regarding the Antiphons that I will discuss is the order used in the Russian tradition of the Church—the Greek tradition is varied somewhat from this.] On Sundays we sing the “typical antiphons,” which are comprised of Psalm 102, Psalm 145, and the Beatitudes (Gospel of St. Matthew), each of these we’ll look at in a moment. On some of the major feast-days the typical antiphons are replaced by antiphons that consist of prophetic verses from the Psalms with refrains for the feast, and also the Troparion of the Feast. [The typical cycle is first antiphon of sung Psalm verses with the refrain “Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Saviour, save us,” second antiphon of sung Psalm verses with a refrain appropriate to the feast, and the third antiphon is the Troparion sung several times separated again with verses from the Psalter]

So after the Great Litany, we sing a portion of Psalm 102 (XVV, or Psalm 103 KJV).

Bless the Lord, O my soul! Blessed art Thou, O Lord!
Bless the Lord, O my soul! And all that is within me bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul! And forget not all His benefits!
Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases!
The Lord is compassionate and merciful, long suffering and of great goodness!
Bless the Lord, O my soul! Blessed art Thou, O Lord!

This actually is only about 5 verses of the Psalm, which is 22 verses long. This Psalm is one of praising and blessing the mercy and grace and holiness of God. It is also read as the fifth of the Six Psalms that open Matins. It is very appropriate that we begin our singing with this Psalm, since we began the Divine Liturgy and the Great Litany by placing ourselves under the protection of God and praying for His mercy and salvation. And then we immediately hymn His mercy and His salvation. We praise God for Who He is, and for all that He does for us. The Orthodox Study Bible notes “within this psalm, the people of God are taught to praise Him for His great benevolence, which is proclaimed by Christ’s banishing of sin and by the glory of His Resurrection” (p. 718).

The first Antiphon is then followed by a Little Litany.

Again and again in peace let us pray to the Lord.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.
Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by thy grace.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.
Remembering our all-holy, immaculate, most blessed, and glorious Lady, Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary with all the Saints, let us commend ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God.
Choir: To thee, O Lord.
Prayer of the Second Antiphon
O Lord our God, save thy people and bless thine inheritance; preserve the fulness of thy Church; sanctify those who love the beauty of thy house; glorify them in return by thy divine power; and forsake us not who hope in thee.
Exclamation:
For thine is the strength, and thine are the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
Choir: Amen.

The Prayer of the Second Antiphon should be recognized by us all as part of the the Troparion of the Cross. It’s also one of the prayers the priest prays at the beginning of Vespers. St. Nicholas Cabasilas writes of this prayer, “the priest within the sanctuary has been praying to god for the whole body of the Church, and particularly for those who have adorned her holy house and have desired to contribute in every possible way to its splendour; he [the priest] asks that they in their turn may be glorified by God; giving immediately a fitting reason” in the exclamation. “Glory is the property of kings, he [the priest] seems to say, and they have power to render glorious whomseoever they will. You are the eternal King, and power and dominion are yours. This reason, which is itself a doxology, is proclaimed in a loud voice to all the faithful.”

This is followed by the Second Antiphon, which is divided into two parts. The first part is from Psalm 145 (XVV, or Psalm 146 in KJV) [about 5 verses of the Psalm’s 10], and the second section is the hymn “Only Begotten Son,” which was composed by the Emperor St. Justinian.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have being.
Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs he returns to his earth: on that very day his plans perish.
The Lord will reign forever: Thy God, O Zion, to all generations.

Psalm 145 “is a song of praise to God as our hope and as the Restorer and Healer of Israel” (OSB), or the salvation of the Church, the New Israel. Again in this Antiphon we praise God, and the Church also instructs us. Put not your trust in things of this world, put your only hope in the Lord God of Heaven and Earth who reigns forever and ever. It’s very similar to Christ’s word for us to not pile up riches on earth that decay, but rather to pile us riches in the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom which is eternal.

Now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.

Only Begotten Son and Immortal Word of God, Who for our salvation didst will to be incarnate of the holy Theotokos and ever virgin Mary, Who without change didst become man and wast crucified, O Christ our God, trampling down death by death, Who art one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, save us.

This hymn is always added to the Second Antiphon, even on special feast days when the prophecy verses from the Psalms are sung. The hymn is very theological, composed in honor of the incarnate Godman, Jesus Christ. Very specifically praising the True God as He has revealed Himself to be and as the Church has always praised Him, as He has offered salvation to mankind. The hymn also served to clearly respond to multiple heresies that plagued the Church (meaning of the incarnation, changelessness of God, resurrection, Trinitarian theology).

And then this is followed by another Little Litany.

Again and again in peace let us pray to the Lord.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.
Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by thy grace.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.
Remembering our all-holy, immaculate, most blessed, and glorious Lady, Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary with all the Saints, let us commend ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God.
Choir: To thee, O Lord.
Prayer of the Third Antiphon
O thou who hast bestowed on us these common and accordant prayers, and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in thy name, thou wilt grant their requests, fulfil even now the requests of thy servants as is expedient for them, granting us in this present age the knowledge of thy truth, and in that to come, life eternal.
Exclamation:
For thou art a good God who lovest man, and unto thee do we send up glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
Choir: Amen.

About the Prayer of the Third Antiphon, St. Nicholas Cabasilas writes, “the priest…recites a prayer for all the faithful who are praying with him, asking that each may receive from God that which he privately requests, insofar as it is good for him; besides this, he asks on behalf of each eternal life in the world to come, again giving the reason—God’s mercy and goodness.”

And then we sing the Beatitudes, which are the end of the section of Antiphons that we’re discussing this evening, from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.

In Thy Kingdom remember us. O Lord, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom.
Blessed are poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.

Before we bring out the Gospel in the Little Entrance, we proclaim in song the basic teachings of Christ’s Gospel. How is man to live in order to fulfill himself as a human being, and to unite himself with his Creator? He lives the Beatitudes.

We could have, and hopefully one day will have, many classes to look at the how the Father’s interpret and teach us to live the Beatitudes. But for a brief intro, and to help us in our prayer…

We begin with the saying of the thief on the cross—remember us when You come into Your Kingdom. To be remembered by God, to be in the eternal mind and memory of God, is salvation.
-“Blessed” indicates that by following the way of Christ, we will be blessed by God. Part of that blessing will include the promises made by Christ in this homily.
-“The poor in spirit” are the humble and the lowly, those who are not puffed up and proud, and they rely only on God to provide for them—they will in turn be granted life in the Kingdom of Heaven. [They are those who become like children, totally reliant on God]
-“Those who mourn” over their sins and the condition of mankind will be comforted in turn by Christ Himself. The Father’s say that holy sorrow, godly mourning, helps us watch over our hearts and learn self-control (OSB), therefore leading to meekness and purity of heart.
-“The meek” are content with whatever God provides—riches or poverty, honor or dishonor, life or death. Meekness is not weakness—remember Christ in the temple turning over the tables of the money-changers. The meek are content with whatever God provides for them, they have no worry for earthly honor, and therefore “they shall inherit the earth”—the newly created earth which will be everlasting, prophesied by Christ and the Apostle John.
-“Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” are those who consider the way of Christ and the love and presence of God to be the most important thing in life. Their hunger will lead to Christ filling them with His presence and His very life.
-“The merciful” judge no one. God’s mercy offers us salvation, and our mercy should offer our fellow man forgiveness. And in return for mercy, God will be merciful to us at the last and final judgment.
-“The pure in heart” are those who have been purified from the passions, who have only the will of God in their hearts. When we are purified from everything unclean, then our only desire will be for God. And in return, we are allowed to see God. The Father’s say that we aren’t expected to simply believe in a God that can never be seen or known. When we live the life according to the Gospel of Christ, when we live the ascetic life—avoiding all sin, practicing all virtue and remaining in constant prayerful remembrance of Christ—then in His good timing God promises to reveal Himself to us. If seeing God is our will, and we live out that will, then we will see God.
-“The peacemakers” are those who share the peace of God with those around them. God reveals Himself as the Prince of Peace, the Holy Spirit brings the gift of peace. Those who share the peace of God will be called “the sons of God”—they will be like unto their Father.
-“Those who are persecuted for righteousness sake” are those who are willing to undergo all types of persecution—ridicule, arrest, even death—to stand up for the Gospel of Christ, to refuse to compromise or deny Him for the way and the approval of the world. In refusing to deny Christ, we inherit the “Kingdom of Heaven.” If we confess Him before men, then He will confess us before His Father in Heaven.
-“ Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.” We follow the way of Christ when we accept this Cross for His sake. Remember, He told the Apostles that they would be treated in the same way that He was treated—reviled, persecuted, and even killed. But the reward will be great in Heaven.

But to be able to succeed in these latter Beatitudes—standing up for Christ in the face of persecution—we have to be practicing the life He taught us in the earlier ones (mercy and meekness and purity of heart).

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