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Choral Corner #28: What is the exclamation before "Holy God" when a hierarch is present?

A note on context: This article was originally published the week following our annual archepiscopal visit, when our hierarch served as a priest (as opposed to a full hierarchal liturgy).

Liturgical rubrics change when a hierarch is present, even if he is not celebrating or, as was the case last Sunday, serves as a priest. Many of the changes occur inside the altar, out of the view of the faithful, but one notable change is an extra diaconal exclamation before the choir begins the Trisagion (“Holy God”): the deacon chants “O Lord, save the pious!”, which the choir repeats; the deacon continues with “And hear us!”, which is again echoed by the choir. Sometimes this varies a bit, depending on local custom; a common variant is “O Lord, save the God-fearing”.

This tradition’s roots hearken back to the Byzantine Cathedral Rite, when the final verse of Psalm 19 (“O Lord, save the king, and hear us on the day when we call to Thee!”) was sung as the emperor and patriarch entered the temple. Prior to the 13th century, this was sung before the final Kontakion; sometime in the 14th century, it was moved to its current liturgical position. After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, there was no longer a Byzantine emperor, so the exclamation was changed to “O Lord, save the pious...”. In this form, it eventually became part of Russian liturgical practice, and did not revert back to “O Lord, save the king”, even though Russia had a tsar, possibly because the Russians were unaware of the original wording from several centuries beforehand. It is evident, however, that the phrase “the pious” referred not only to the worshipping faithful, but also to the

tsar, and for this reason the exclamation was abolished after the 1917 Russian Revolution. It was restored in 1997 by the Synodal Liturgical Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate.


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