Thrice Holy

TRISAGION (a posh word on Trinity Sunday and yo be used anywhere)

Sometimes, as people are often quick to remind me, a lot of hymns contain obscure or archaic phrases that keep us guessing about the meaning. For years I sang the hymn for the feast of St. Michael, ’Stars of the morning’, which contains the word ‘Trisagion’, without fully knowing its meaning. The New English Hymnal helpfully explains that this word means ‘a hymn to the Thrice-Holy God’ and is therefore a praise of God the Holy Trinity.

Holy God,
Holy and strong,
Holy and immortal,
have mercy upon us. “
(or, for personal use – ‘me’)

It is one of the most ancient and well-used of Christian prayers, ranking alongside the famous Jesus Prayer in popularity. The spirituality of countless Christians has been formed by using simple, short and effective prayers like this one. The Trisagion is used prominently in Eastern Orthodox churches but is also becoming more popular again. In the Church of England it is the prayer which ends the Litany.

It is a good prayer of personal devotion because it centres us on God who creates, redeems and sustains us. These three actions can be attributed to the three facets of God as Father (Creator); Son (Redeemer) and Holy Spirit (Sustainer/Enlivener). Thus by praying this short but profound prayer we are taken to the very heart of God’s actions in our lives. As we think over the wonderful things God has done for us, and goes on doing, we can realise his immense care and love for us. We can also marvel that God who is Almighty actually bothers about us. Like Isaiah, in Chapter 6, we behold God’s glory. (The Trisagion draws its inspiration from verse 3—”Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.)

 When faced with the Majesty and Glory of God, Isaiah was reminded that he was a ‘man of unclean lips’.  Like Him, before God, we are imperfect and in need of God’s forgiveness and mercy. So the Trisagion ends with a plea for mercy—like the Kyrie and the Jesus prayer. In claiming God’s mercy and forgiveness upon our lives we are also seeking his protection. Faith teaches us that God never withholds his mercy and love from those who seek him.

Finally, of course, the prayer is about God’s grandeur. Whilst God is always accessible to us, He is also greater than anything we can conceive. To be reminded of this is very important for us. It puts us in our place!

But we must also remember that our real place is secure – in God’s heart.

[Mr G]

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