The Trisagion (Greek: Τρισάγιον "Thrice Holy"), sometimes called by its opening line Agios O Theos, is a standard hymn of the Divine Liturgy in most of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches. The Latin name Tersanctus or Ter Sanctus is sometimes used to refer to this hymn, although this name is also sometimes used to refer to the Sanctus; it is the latter, a different formula, which is used in Western Christianity in the Mass.
In churches which use the Byzantine Rite, the Trisagion is chanted immediately before the Prokeimenon and the Epistle reading. It is also included in a set of prayers named for it, called the Trisagion Prayers, which forms part of numerous services (the Hours, Vespers, Matins, and as part of the opening prayers for most services).
Form of the prayer
- For other languages, please see the section below
The Trisagion prayer is an ancient prayer in Christianity. It may be that the prayer was originally an expansion of the angelic cry recorded in Isaiah ch 6, v 3 (sometimes called the Sanctus) or the one at Revelation 4:8
- Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός, Ἅγιος ἰσχυρός, Ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.
- Agios o Theos, Agios ischyros, Agios athanatos, eleison imas. (Traditional Romanization)
or more commonly:
- Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.
- Sanctus Deus, Sanctus Fortis, Sanctus Immortális, miserére nobis.
The Greek phrase Trisagion translates as "Thrice Holy" - as in this hymn God is described as holy in three different qualities; Agios o Theos means "Holy God".
The hymn is of great antiquity, and perhaps much older than the event assigned by the Greek Menology as connected to its origin. The tradition recounts that during the reign of Theodosius II (408-450), Constantinople was shaken by a violent earthquake, 24 September, and that whilst the people, the emperor and the Patriarch Proclus of Constantinople (434-446) were praying for heavenly assistance, a child was suddenly lifted into midair, to whom all cried out Kyrie eleison ('Lord, have mercy'). The child was then seen to descend again to the earth, and in a loud voice he exhorted the people to pray : 'Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal'. After giving this exhortation, the child died.
The hymn was one of the exclamations of the fathers at the Council of Chalcedon (451), and is common not only to all the Greek Oriental liturgies, but was used also in the Gallican Liturgy (see Saint Germain of Paris, d. 576), which shows that the hymn is ancient. Some believe it is extremely ancient perhaps of apostolic-era origin. However this goes against the Tradition in regards to the hymn.
The Coptic Orthodox Church believes that the Trisagion originated from Nicodemus. While taking the body of Christ off the cross with Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus saw Jesus Christ's eyes open and then shouted "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal". Traditionally, it is also considered proof that his Divinity did not part from his humanity.
Greek and Latin
Interestingly, the Gallican Liturgy refers to it as being sung both in Greek and in Latin: Incipiente præsule ecclesia Ajus [that is, Agios] psallit, dicens latinum cum græco, as also previously in Greek alone, before the Prophetia. Benedict XIV thought that the Greek formula was joined with the Latin in allusion to the divine voice heard at Constantinople. But the explanation seems hardly necessary, in view of the retention of Kyrie eleison in the Roman Liturgy, as well as such Hebrew words as Amen, Alleluia, Hosanna, Sabaoth. It is true that the Kyrie eleison is not joined to a Latin version; on the other hand, it is so simple and occurs so frequently, that its meaning could easily be learned and remembered—whereas the entire Trisagion might well receive a parallel version into Latin.
Modifications in history
Various additions or modifications made to the Trisagion at certain points in history have been the subject of considerable controversy. According to Pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor, the phrase 'who wast crucified for us' was added to it by Eustathius of Antioch to combat the Arians, although this is dismissed by some scholars. It was more likely written during the time of Peter the Fuller who enforced its use as a sort of "test of orthodoxy against Nestorianism". Those who understood the hymn as being addressed to the trinity (such as John of Damascus), censured Peter for propagating the teaching of the Theopaschites. Emperor Anastasius I's attempt to adopt the addition in 512 at Constantinople resulted in a riot.
Whether the Trisagion is to be understood as addressed to the Holy Trinity or addressed to God the Son has been a matter of contention, particularly between those who approved of the council of Chalcedon and those who were against it. But in light of widespread adoption of the hymn with the above addition ('who wast crucified for us'), Calandion, Bishop of Antioch, sought to allay the controversy surrounding it by prefixing the words 'Christ, King'. This had the effect of making the hymn refer directly to the incarnate Word: Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, Christ, King, who was crucified for us, have mercy on us. Though perhaps well intended, this effort at emendation was ultimately rejected.
Later Severus, who was the Non-Chalcedonian Patriarch of Antioch, wrote to prove the correct ascription of the hymn to the Son of God, and made the use of the emended version standard in his diocese. It is this form Holy art thou, O God, Holy art thou, O Strong One, Holy art thou, O Immortal, crucified for us, have mercy on us that is in use in the Oriental Orthodox Churches.
The eighty-first canon of the Council of Trullo anathematized anyone who allows the Trisagion to be modified by adding "who was crucified for us" or any other modification.
In the eleventh century, Pope Gregory VII (1073–1085) wrote to the Armenians, who still used the emended formula, instructing them to avoid all occasion for scandal by removing the additions, which Pope Gregory argues (incorrectly) that neither the Roman nor any Eastern Church (save the Armenians themselves) had adopted. The injunction appears to have been ignored. When, centuries later, Roman Catholic union with the Armenians was again discussed, a question was addressed (30 January 1635) to the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, as to whether the Armenian Catholics might still use the formula 'who suffered for us'. The request was answered in the negative. Nevertheless, Armenian Catholic continue to use the traditional formula.
Variations of the traditional formula and Trinitarian ascription are found also in the Armenian Orthodox Liturgy. In these the hymn is addressed to the Redeemer, and versions vary with the feast or office. Thus, the formula of Peter the Fuller (above) is used on all Fridays; on all Sundays: 'risen from the dead'; on Holy Thursday: 'betrayed for us'; on Holy Saturday: 'buried for us'; on the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos: 'who came to the death of the Holy Mother and Virgin'; on the feasts of the Holy Cross: 'who was crucified for us'; for the celebration of marriages: 'who took flesh for us', etc.
In the Divine Liturgy
When the Trisagion is sung during the Divine Liturgy of the Byzantine Rite, before the Prokeimenon of the Gospel that precedes the Epistle reading, it is normally sung three times to one of many melodies composed for it. This is followed by singing Glory... Now..., the second half of the Trisagion once, and finally the whole Trisagion a fourth time:
- Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, have mercy on us.
- Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, Have mercy on us.
- Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, Have mercy on us.
- Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
- Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us.
- Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, Have mercy on us.
On the other hand, in the usage of the other, non-Byzantine Eastern Churches, the Trisagion is simply sung thrice, with no Glory... Now....
In the West Syrian Rite, used by the Syriac Orthodox Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, Syro-Malankara Catholic Church and in a hybrid form, the Maronite Church and other derived rites of Syriac Christianity, the Trisagion is sung towards the beginning of the Holy Qurbana (Divine Liturgy), after the Old Testament Readings and the Introductory Hymn.
In the Armenian Rite, used by the Armenian Orthodox Church and the Armenian Catholic Church, the Trisagion occurs early in the Divine Liturgy, coming after the troparion of the Monogenes(Only-begotten Son) and the Midday first Antiphon.
The Trisagion also has a similar place in the liturgies of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Eritrean Orthodox Church, as well as the Coptic Catholic Church and Ethiopic Catholic Church.
As part of the Trisagion Prayers
During most services of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Trisagion is combined with several other prayers to form a unit, often called simply the Trisagion Prayers. This set of prayers forms part of the opening prayers of most services, and is also located within many of the Hours and daily cycle of services.
The full version normally looks like this:
- Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, have mercy on us. (three times)
- Glory... Both now...
- All-holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities. Holy God, visit and heal us for thy Name's sake.
- Lord, have mercy. (three times)
- Glory... Both now...
- Our Father...
While it is possible that the Trisagion has origins in the Biblical 'thrice holy' of Isaiah 6:3 (the Sanctus: Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are full of your glory', etc.), they are today separate prayers. The latter is used at a different point in the Liturgy (in the Divine Liturgy, during the anaphora).
The trisagion is also sung at the entry of the coffin into the church at a funeral and when the coffin is carried to the grave. It is also sung at the conclusion of the Great Doxology.
In the Latin liturgy
In the Latin Church, the main regular use of the Trisagion is on Good Friday, when it is sung throughout the ceremony of the Adoration of the Cross. In the Sistine Chapel, the traditional setting was the polyphonic musical setting of Palestrina. During this service, the hymn is sung by two choirs, alternately in Greek and Latin, originally two antiphonal Greek and Latin choirs, as follows:
- Greek (First) Choir: Ágios o Theos. (Holy God)
- Latin (Second) Choir: Sanctus Deus.
- Greek (First) Choir: Ágios íschyros. (Holy Strong One)
- Latin (Second) Choir: Sanctus fortis.
- Greek (First) Choir: Ágios athánatos, eléison imas. (Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us)
- Latin (Second) Choir: Sanctus immortális, miserére nobis.
The hymn is sung in this manner thrice, responding to the first three of twelve reproaches.
In the Latin Church, the Trisagion is also employed in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. There is also a Chaplet to the Holy Trinity used by the Order of the Most Holy Trinity called 'The Trisagion' or the 'Angelic Trisagion', which makes use of both forms of the Trisagion. It is also used in the hour of Prime, in the ferial Preces, on ferias of Advent and Lent and on common Vigils.
In the American Book of Common Prayer
The Episcopal Church's 1979 Book of Common Prayer introduced the Trisagion into the Eucharist in both Rite One and Rite Two as part of the Word of God. In Rite One it follows the Summary of the Law. In Rite Two it can be used as an alternative to the Kyrie eleison, which follows the Collect for Purity and precedes the Collect of the Day.
In the Church of England's Common Worship
The Trisagion is used principally as a concluding prayer of the Litany in the following form:
Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.
It is also used in the Good Friday liturgy in the same way as in the Roman Catholic Church.
- Heilige God, Heilige Sterke, Heilige Onsterflike, Ontferm U oor ons.
- ቅዱስ ፡ እግዚአብሔር ፡ ቅዱስ ፡ ኃያል ፡ ቅዱስ ፡ ሕያው ፡ የማይሞት ፡ አቤቱ ፡ ይቅር ፡ በለን ።
- Qədus ʾƎgziäbḥer, Qədus Ḫayal, Qədus Ḥəyaw, Yämaymot, ʾÄbetu Yəqər Bälän.
Ge'ez (Classical Ethiopic):
- ቅዱስ ፡ እግዚአብሔር ፡ ቅዱስ ፡ ኃያል ፡ ቅዱስ ፡ ሕያው ፡ ዘኢይመውት ፡ ተሣሃለነ ፡ እግዚኦ ።
- Qədus ʾƎgziäbḥer, Qədus Ḫayal, Qədus Ḥəyaw, Zäʾiyəmäwət, Täśahalänä ʾƎgzio.
- ቅዱስ ፡ እግዚኣብሔር ፡ ቅዱስ ፡ ኃያል ፡ ቅዱስ ፡ ዘይመውት ፡ ሕያው ፡ ይቕረ ፡ በለልና ።
- Qədus ʾƎgziäbḥer, Qədus Ḫayal, Qədus Ḥəyaw, Zäyəmäwət, Yəꝗər Bäläləna.
- قدوس الله، قدوس القوي، قدوس الذي لا يموت ارحمنا
- Quddūsun Allāh, Quddūsun al-qawī, Quddūsun alladhī lā yamūt urḥamnā.
- 至聖之上帝，至聖及大能之上帝，至聖及永生之上帝，憐憫我們。 (Traditional characters)
- 至圣之上帝，至圣及大能之上帝，至圣及永生之上帝，怜悯我们。 (Simplified characters)
- Zhì shèng zhī Shàngdì, zhì shèng jí dà néng zhī Shàngdì, zhì shèng jí yǒngshēng zhī Shàngdì, liánmǐn wǒmen. (pinyin)
- Banál na Diyós, Banál na Puspós ng Kapángyarihan, Banál na Waláng-Hanggán, maawà Ka sa amin.
- Allah Mahakudus, Sang Kuasa Mahakudus, Sang Baka Mahakudus, kasihanilah kami.
- 聖なる神, 聖なる勇毅, 聖なる常生の者や、我等を憐れめよ。
- Seinaru Kami, Seinaru Yūki, Seinaru Jōseinomonoya, Warerao Awaremeyo.
- 거룩한 하느님이시여, 거룩하고 전능하신 이여, 거룩하고 영원하신 이여, 우리를 불쌍히 여기소서.
- Georukhan Haneunimisiyeo, Georukhago Jeonneunghasin Iyeo, Georukhago Yeongwonhasin Iyeo, urireul bulssanghi yeogisoseo.
- 'ദൈവമേ നീ പരിശുദ്ധന്, ബലവാനെ നീ പരിശുദ്ധന്, അമര്ത്യനെ നീ പരിശുദ്ധന്, ഞങ്ങളുടെമേല് കൃപയുണ്ടാകേണമേ'
- Daivame nee parishudhan, Balavane nee parishudhan, Amarthyane nee parishudhan, Njangaludemel Krupayundakename
- पवित्र देवा, पवित्र शक्तिमान, पवित्र अमर्त्या, आम्हावर दया कर.
- Pavitra Deva, Pavitra Shaktiman, Pavitra Amartyaa, Aamhaavar Daya Kar.
- Qandisha alaha, qandisha hylsana, qandisha la mayosa, israham alain.
West Syriac: ܩܕܝܫܬ ܐܠܗܐ܆ ܩܕܝܫܬ ܚܝܠܬܢܐ܆ ܩܕܝܫܬ ܠܐ ܡܝܘܬܼܐ܆ ܕܐܨܠܒܬ ܚܠܦܝܢ ܐܬܪܚܡܥܠܝܢ܀
- Qadeeshat Aloho, qadeeshat hayelthono, qadeeshat lo moyoutho, deslebt hlofayn ethraham layn.
- Santo Dios, Santo Mapuersa, Santo Imortal, tene lastima kanamon.
- Սուրբ Աստուած, սուրբ եւ հզօր, սուրբ եւ անմահ, որ հարյար ի մեռելոց, ողորմեա մեզ
- Sourp Asdvadz, sourp yev h'zor, sourp yev anmah, vor haryar i merelotz, voghormia mez.
- Сьвяты Божа, Сьвяты Моцны, Сьвяты Несьмяротны, памілуй нас. (Cyrillic orthography)
- Śviaty Boža, Śviaty Mocny, Śviaty Nieśmiarotny, pamiłuj nas. (Latin orthography)
- Светий Боже, Светий Крепки, Светий Безсмъртни, помилуй нас!
- Svetij Bože, Svetij Krepki, Svetij Bezsmărtni, pomiluj nas!
- Old Church Slavonic:
- свѧтꙑи боже · свѧтꙑи крѣпъкꙑи · свѧтꙑи беꙁсъмрьтьнꙑи · помилꙋи насъ ⁘
- svętyi bože, svętyi krěpŭkyi, svętyi bezsŭmrĭtĭnyi, pomilui nasŭ.
- Russian Church Slavonic:
- Свѧты́й Бо́же, Свѧты́й Крѣ́пкый, Свѧты́й Безсме́ртный, поми́луй на́съ.
- Svjatyj Bože, Svjatyj Kriepkyj, Svjatyj Bezsmertnyj, pomiłuj nas.
- Sveti Bože, Sveti Jaki, Sveti Besmrtni, smiluj nam se.
- Heilige God, Heilige Sterke, Heilige Onsterfelijke, Ontferm U over ons.
- Püha Jumal, püha Vägev, püha Surematu, halasta meie peale!
- Pyhä Jumala, Pyhä Väkevä, Pyhä Kuolematon, armahda meitä.
- Saint Dieu, Saint Fort, Saint Immortel, aie pitié de nous.
- წმინდაო ღმერთო, წმინდაო ძლიერო, წმინდაო უკვდავო, შეგვიწყალენ ჩვენ.
- Ts'midao Ghmerto, Ts'mindao Dzliero, Ts'mindao Uk'vdavo, shegvits'qalen chven.
- Heiliger Gott, heiliger starker, heiliger unsterblicher, erbarme dich unser.
- Szent az Isten, szent és erősséges, szent és halhatatlan, irgalmazz nekünk!
- Santo Dio, Santo forte, Santo immortale, abbi pietà di noi.
- Dio santo, Dio forte, Dio immortale, abbi pietà di noi.
- Святой Юмо, Святой Куатле, Святой Колыдымо, мемнам серлаге.
- Svyatoy Yumo, Svyatoy Kuatle, Svyatoy Kolydymo, memnam serlage.
- Hellige Gud, hellige Sterke, hellige Udødelige, forbarm Deg over oss.
- Święty Boże, Święty Mocny, Święty Nieśmiertelny, zmiłuj się nad nami.
- Santo Deus, Santo Poderoso, Santo Imortal, tende piedade de nós.
- Sfinte Dumnezeule, Sfinte Tare, Sfinte Fără de Moarte, miluieşte-ne pre noi.
- Святый Боже, Святый Крепкий, Святый Безсмертный, помилуй нас.
- Sviatyi Bozhe, Sviatyi Krepkyi, Sviatyi Bezsmertnyi, pomilui nas.
- Свети Боже, Свети Крепки, Свети Бесмртни, помилуј нас. (Cyrillic orthography)
- Sveti Bože, Sveti Krepki, Sveti Besmrtni, pomiluj nas. (Latin orthography)
- Svätý Bože, Svätý Silný, Svätý Nesmrteľný, zmiluj sa nad nami.
- Santo Dios, Santo Poderoso, Santo Inmortal, ten piedád de nosotros.
- Helige Gud, helige starke, helige odödlige, förbarma Dig över oss.
- Kutsal Tanrı, Kutsal Kudretli, Kutsal Ölümsüz, bize merhamet göster.
- Святий Боже, Святий Кріпкий, Святий Безсмертний, помилуй нас.
- Svâtij Bože, Svâtij Krìpkij, Svâtij Bezsmertnij, pomiluj nas. (ISO 9 transliteration)
- Sviatyi Bozhe, Sviatyi Kripkyi, Sviatyi Bezsmertnyi, pomylui nas. (English transilteration)
- "''Catholic Encyclopedia''". Newadvent.org. 1912-02-01. Retrieved 2014-03-11.
- "a Note the Translation of the Trisagion" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-03-11.
- Geoffrey Greatrex (15 March 2011). The Chronicle of Pseudo-Zachariah Rhetor: Church and War in Late Antiquity. Liverpool University Press. pp. 254, 265–266. ISBN 978-1-84631-493-3.
- Vilakuvel Cherian Samuel (2001). The Council of Chalcedon Re-examined: A Historical and Theological Survey. Senate of Serampore College. p. 110. ISBN 978-81-7214-617-7.
- Salmond, S. D. F. "John of Damascus: Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book III, Chapter X.—Concerning the Trisagium". In Philip Schaff. Hilary of Poitiers, John of Damascus. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. 2–09. pp. 53b–54. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
- Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre: Chronicle. Liverpool University Press. 1 January 1997. pp. 7–9. ISBN 978-0-85323-760-0. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
- Percival, Henry R. "The Canons of the Council in Trullo, Canon LXXXI". In Philip Schaff. The Seven Ecumenical Councils. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. 2–14. pp. 400–401. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
- Parry (1999), p. 498
- Parry (1999), p. 166
- Joseph P. Christopher et al., 2003 The Raccolta St Athanasius Press ISBN 978-0-9706526-6-9 page 1
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "article=Agios O Theos". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "article=Improperia". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.
- Liber Usualis Missae et Officii: Paris n.d.
- Parry, Ken; David Melling, eds. (1999). The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity. Malden, Massachusetts.: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-23203-6.
- Trisagion Prayer – Legion of Mary
- Sheet music