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     (A Guide For Participating In The Divine Liturgy Of St. John Chrysostom)
by the Very Reverend Michel Najim & T.L. Frazier

2. The Antiphons and the Monogenes


Antiphons refer to something sung alternately by two choirs. From the very beginning, Christians have sung the praises of Christ antiphonally. Interesting evidence of this has been left to us by the official representative of Emperor Trajan in Asia Minor, the prominent lawyer and administrator Pliny the Younger (61-113). In an official correspondence with Trajan, Pliny asks the Emperor about the “Christian problem,” stating that “the sum total of their guilt or error amounts to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god.”106

The Antiphons of the Divine Liturgy mainly consist of the prophecies of the Old Testament foretelling the coming of the Son of God, like the prophet Baruch who proclaimed: “Our God has appeared upon earth and dwelt among us.”107

These are almost the same words as found in the prologue of the Gospel of John: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”108 The Psalmist foresaw the Incarnation when he declared that the Lord “is clothed in majesty,”109 that is, clothed in our humanity. But after He appeared whose coming had been foretold, He no longer used veiled prophecies.

The Antiphons represent the first stage of Christ’s coming, when, although present throughout the earth, He was not generally known. At this time He revealed Himself to us in prophetic writings. The time before John the Baptist is represented in the Liturgy by these chants taken from the prophetic writings; for at this point the eucharistic offerings, which are figures of Christ, are not shown to the Faithful, but are kept at one side and remain covered. The priest prays for the worshiping people and for the holy house, that God may pour forth upon them the riches of His tender mercy.

He concludes by giving the reason for his entreaties:  “Because to You belong all glory, honor and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages.”

We glorify Him because He is a God rich in compassion and tender mercy, and in granting us our petitions of mercy and compassion He is only adding to His own glory. This glorification belongs only to Him because He is the source of mercy and compassion. As David says, “Not to us, O Lord, but to Your name give glory.”110

The priest says the above in a very loud voice, that all may hear. Since it is a conclusion and a doxology, he wishes to bring all the Faithful to share in his hymn of praise, that God may be worshiped by all.

Then the congregation unites itself to the priest by replying, “Amen.” By this acclamation the people make their own the prayers just said. There is a particularly charming description of the ancient Christian Liturgy which was written by Saint Justin Martyr (100-165).

After describing the consecration of the gifts, Justin writes: “At the end of these prayers and thanksgiving, all present express their approval by saying, `Amen.’ This Hebrew word, `Amen,’ means, `So be it.’”111 He mentions this seemingly small detail because, in the pagan rites of the day, active participation of the non-ordained was rare. Justin takes pride in the fact that Christianity doesn’t practice such elitism, but that all illuminated through baptism are expected to contribute to the celebration of the holy Mystery.

The refrains of the Antiphons sung today are addressed to Jesus Christ as Savior. The first Antiphon implores Christ to save us through the intercessions of the Mother of God, and the second implores Christ to save us because He is the resurrected Lord. In the ancient Church, a designated Psalm was sung at this point along with the refrains.

The First Antiphon sung by the people is: “Through the intercessions of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us.” (Three times)

After the First Antiphon, the priest (or deacon) intones the Little Litany. Then the priest says the prayer of the Second Antiphon, praying to God for the whole body of the Church, and particularly for those who love the beauty of the holy house and have desired to contribute in every possible way to its splendor. He asks that they in their turn may be glorified by God. The priest gives a fitting reason: “For Yours is the dominion, and Yours the kingdom and the power and the glory.” Glory is the property of kings, but God is the ultimate King and has all power and dominion.

Then the refrain of the Second Antiphon is chanted:112 “Save us, O Son of God (who art risen from the dead)113, save us who sing to You, alleluia.” (Three times)

At the conclusion of the Second Antiphon, the hymn, “Only-begotten Son” (“Monogenes”), is chanted: “O Only-begotten Son and Word of God, though immortal, for our salvation you deigned to be incarnate of the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary; without change becoming human, and was crucified, O Christ our God, trampling death by death; being one of the Holy Trinity, glorified together with the Father and the Holy Spirit: Save us.”

This hymn emphasizes the triumph of the Redeemer who, without change, became human and was crucified, trampling down death by death. Emperor Justinian I is believed to have composed this hymn around 528 when he entertained Patriarch Severus of Antioch in Constantinople. It was adopted into the Liturgy the same year, though not without some reservations in certain quarters due to its connection with Justinian. The Non-Chalcedonian churches in Syria and Egypt, for example, never adopted it.

The Monogenes was originally an entrance hymn which was moved to its present position in the Liturgy around the ninth century. It is strongly anti-Nestorian,114 proclaiming that Mary is the Mother of God (Theotokos) and stressing that Christ is consubstantial with both the Father and the Holy Spirit. It also rebuts the Monophysite teaching of Eutyches, an archimandrite115 of Constantinople who believed that Christ’s divine and human natures blended at the Incarnation and became a third, compound nature. Orthodoxy, however, teaches that Christ can only be simultaneously true God and true man if His divine and His human natures remained unchanged after the Incarnation, not changed into a third compound nature. Thus the hymn proclaims that Christ “without becoming human,” rejecting the heresy of Eutyches.

Up to this point in the Liturgy, we have experienced Christ in the prophecies of the Old Testament and in His hidden early years. The Monogenes here signals a change by openly proclaiming Jesus Christ as He really is, true God and true man. Symbolically, the hymn is the counterpart of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, when the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him as a dove while the voice of the Father declared Him to be His “beloved Son.”116

The priest (or deacon) then intones another Litany and recites the prayer of the Third Antiphon, asking that each may receive from God that which he privately requests according to God’s will. The priest then asks on behalf of all that the Lord may grant “the knowledge of Your truth, and in the world to come, life everlasting.”

The Third Antiphon consists of the designated Psalm with the Troparion117 and is sung in a triumphal tone.11``8


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106 The Letters of the Younger Pliny, Book 10, letter 96. Translation by Betty Radice (New York:Penguin Books, 1969), 294.
107 Baruch 3:38.
108 John 1:14.
109 Psalm 92:1.
110 Psalm 115:1.
111 Justin Martyr, The First Apology, 65.
112 Historically, the designated Psalm is sung with the refrain; or the typical Psalm may be sung instead.
113 The part in parentheses is only sung on Sundays.
114 Nestorianism is a heresy which claims that Mary was the mother only of Christ’s human nature and which consequently banned the term “Theotokos,” Mother of God. Having posited a radical separation of Christ’s humanity from His divinity, Nestorianism was condemned at the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431.
115 An archimandrite is a high-ranking celibate priest who is the head of a monastery.
116 Matthew 3:16-17.
117 Or the Troparion of the Resurrection alone.
118 In some traditions, as in the Russian church, the Beatitudes are sung.


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Page created: 24-12-2012.

Last update: 24-12-2012.