We all know the hymn:
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!
We sing it at every Divine Liturgy. It is prayed in the context of every Orthodox service. It serves as the petition to God for those who have fallen asleep in the Lord, for there we even say that "We said a Trisagion for your beloved one" to comfort those who have lost a loved one.
But how many know the origin of the prayer?
To find out, we need to go back to the year 447. During the reign of Emperor Theophilus, the city of Constantinople was plagued by persistent earthquakes for nearly four months. The Emperor, and then Patriarch Proclus, called the people together into procession to pray to God for their safety. While they were so gathered, the shaking of the ground increased dramatically. The crowds witnessed a young boy ascending into the air, and all cried out with one voice, "Lord, have mercy!"
When the boy descended again, he was taken to the Patriarch. He told of hearing choirs of angels singing, "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!" He told the Patriarch that a voice commanded him to tell the Patriarch that the people gathered should make supplication to God in this way. And so the Patriarch instructed the people to begin to chant the hymn.
And, immediately the ground stopped its shaking. And, the child died!
The Empress Pulcheria asked the Patriarch to include this hymn thereafter into the Divine Liturgy, and it is for this reason that we find it there today.
Oh - do not weep for the child. His being called by God was a double blessing. In the first, he was granted grace to see and hear the glories of heaven. And, for his purity, his faithfulness, and his obedience, he was again given grace to dwell within those joys immediately!
The only instances in Church use when the prayer is omitted are on Feasts of the Cross, where the precedence of the Cross of Christ itself replaces the hymn with:
Before Your Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Your Holy Resurrection we glorify!
The use of the hymn within the Divine Liturgy is accompanied in some traditions by an exhortation from a deacon (when one is available to serve) that occurs after the "Glory... Now and ever" that separates the chanting of hymns three times from its chanting a final time. That exhortation is a command:
The Greek word "dynamis" translates to "power" or "force." It is the root of the English word "dynamic." In this context, those who are singing the hymn are encouraged to not just "sing" the hymn, but to mean it, to allow the words of the hymn to penetrate to the core, to the "nous" - and thereby to glorify God with these divine words, gifted to us by God!
When one serves the Divine Liturgy with our beloved Metropolitan Joseph, it is a special joy to approach this time in the Liturgy with him. For it is here that he comes forth to bless the people with dikiri and trikiri. But it is also the hymn itself which is the focus. Our Metropolitan becomes not just the main celebrant, but he becomes "choir director of the gathered clergy," urging all who are at the altar to not just sing - but to shout this most excellent of prayers!
Today, we celebrate the prayer''s birthday.....