Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal have mercy on us
The Trisagion (thrice holy) Prayer
Let me confess. As soon as I got my Orthodox Study Bible, I immediately started using the Morning and Evening Prayers without asking any questions. Common sense should have told me to, at least, look up what the word Trisagion meant. This probably isn’t a smart move. It helps to do some reasearch behind the words one uses before using them. A lot of people fall into false doctrine over repeating stuff they heard, seen, or read without doing any other background investigation. Fortunately, I came to find the Trisagion to be in line with the scriptures and sound in doctrine as I made it a part of my prayer life. But, I will strive not to leap before looking and advise others to refrain from jumping too soon as well.
One thing that lead me to pray the Trisagion (follow along with the link) is that part of it is the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 5:9-13, Luke 112-4) that I grew up with. If Jesus taught us to pray these words, then why not use them. Granted, everything in scripture should not be taken too literally. But, the words of the prayer allow us to put God in his proper perspective, calls us to seek his will, directs us in our petitions, calls us to repentance, ask for His protection, and (through the Biblical embellishment) concludes by giving Him the glory and praise. The Trisagion ends with this bedrock of Biblical prayer.
The first movement of the prayer is an invocation. We are to approach God with a calmed spirit, acknowledging Him in His fullness and giving him glory. With the right approach to God, we then call for his presence. Please note that as well as giving him acknowledgement of his essence, we are inviting him into ourselves. That’s right, we want God to dwell inside of us. It is too easy for us to take for granted that we have the Holy Spirit inside of us and have Jesus in our hearts. Let us be mindful that “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). We are responsible for “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). As none of us who are alive are in heaven, it makes sense for us to ask for our ultimate salvation.
Also note that repentance is a part of this invocation. The call for repentance is underscored by repeating the basic Trisagion Prayer three times:
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us
All three Synoptic Gospels teach that the first thing Jesus commanded us to do after his trial in the desert was to “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). After giving glory to the fullness of God, we are led into humble repentance as the second movement of the Trisagion.To offer up our regular prayers without repentance is arrogant and inexcusable! In an impromptu moment of great stress or suffering, such an omission is tolerable. But, when we enter into our regular morning, noon, or evening prayers, repentance is essential. We do not go to God as if we are sinless. The Apostle Paul wisely repeats the words of the Psalmist, “There is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10, Psalm 13:3 Orthodox Study Bible, Psalm 14:3 Western translations). Let us remember that if we repent, God is merciful to forgive us. As a reminder that we must also forgive others if we seek forgiveness, the last movement of the Trisagion is the Lord’s Prayer.
Why do I find this prayer necessary? The Trisagion is a perfect series of prayers to calm down my mind and spirit for prayer. I wake up in the morning groggy, hungry, and wondering if Liverpool FC will win their next match. In the afternoon, my work duties clog my mind. I get home, I am thinking about dinner and what I have to do at the church. And at night, sleep. This is the prayer that helps me put all other things aside and all of my other prayers in focus. The written prayers make more sense. My personal prayers are more settled. C’mon, I irritate people when I rush to them with babble and dribble. God is forgiving and merciful. But, just as I prefer to approach people in a calm and orderly fashion, why shouldn’t I do the same for the One we serve?
I encourage all of my Catholic and Protestant friends to pray the Trisagion. This pattern of prayer has lasted longer than our denominations have been in existence. I believe if you use it as part of your regular quiet time for a week, you will see how valuable it is and not pray without it. And to my Orthodox friends, don’t take this precious jewel of a prayer for granted. Cherish the beauty and power of the Trisagion and share it with others.