After the Gospel Entrance, the choirs chant the appointed hymns of the day, which are called troparia, “stanzas,” and almost always are concluded by the patronal saint’s or titular festal troparion of the church temple after whom (or which) it is named. Every Orthodox Christian temple is dedicated to a patron (or matron) saint, or saints, or in honor of a great feast or divine event. All the faithful should learn to sing their own parish’s patronal or titular festal troparion by heart. After this sequence of troparia, the clergy (or in some churches, the choir) will sing the appointed seasonal kontakion. This latter hymn provides a seasonal “atmosphere” to the worship. The kontakia are very ancient, some extending from the early centuries of the Church. Some of the troparia (and kontakia) are sung so often, they, too, can be memorized. When all of the faithful sing, they show their active ownership of the liturgy and so fulfill their God-given vocation, to be “a holy people, a royal priesthood.” Especially in our Antiochian Orthodox ethos, the whole synaxis of the faithful is encouraged to sing.
Now, after an exhortation to pray, the priest exclaims the holiness of God and all sing majestically the very simple and profound Trisagion, “the Thrice-holy.” The faithful now emulate the angelic chorus in heaven whom Isaiah the prophet heard, when he beheld the Lord in His holy temple: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6: 2). The attribute, “holy,” cannot be described adequately in human analogies. Basically, “holy” means “separated unto and thus belonging to God.” Only God is holy in and of Himself, utterly holy, and He makes holy all who come to him, “Be ye holy for I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2), and “Without holiness, no one shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). On certain great feasts of the Lord, in place of the Trisagion, we sing either the baptismal hymn, “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia” or that of the Cross, “Before Thy cross, we bow down in worship, Master, and we glorify Thy holy resurrection.”
When the Bishop celebrates, the Trisagion is sung very elaborately, with a special prayer and episcopal blessing given three times, interspersed. The bishop holds in his left hand the dikerion, a two-branched candelabrum symbolizing the two natures of Christ, and in his right, the trikerion, a three-branched candelabrum symbolizing the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Thus, in his hands the central dogmas of the Church are shown forth as living and abiding truths which give our lives order and meaning. Dogmas in Orthodoxy are not dead concepts inscribed on paper. They are living truths which correct our waywardness and heal our lives from the disorder of sin and corrupting passions. We Orthodox do more than just believe in the Trinity, we lead a triadic, or trinitarian, way of life. This chiefly means love. We more than believe in the two natures of Christ, we practice a two-natured spirituality: body and spirit in a synergistic combination, what we call mystery. What we see with our material eyes is flesh; what we see with our nous, the eye of the soul, is spirit.