Family Study of the Divine Liturgy: Antiphons and The Small Entrance
Yesterday we spoke of the very begining of the Divine Liturgy. We learned of the importance of the reflection of the Kingdom of God as well as the penitential, humble petitions for the world and for peace. The next part of the Liturgy is what I reffered to my Junior Choir kids as the “marathon.” Several hymns are sung by the choir or chanters antiphonally.
The practice of the antiphons varies dependent on the tradition served. Those from Greek or Antiochian traditions may feel lost or notice an increase in length in the Slavic tradition at this point of the Liturgy. Historically many different psalms were chanted in the church before the beatitudes, but these eventually became standardized into two psalms: 102 and 145. The shortening of the Liturgy, as practiced in non-Slavic churches occurred in 1838. A criticism has been made that this first half of the liturgy loses its catechetical identity by stripping the antiphons down to nearly nothing. Of course, the Liturgy has changed and evolved over the years, with certain lengthier traditions saved only for the monastic practice, so both arguments could be made. Nevertheless I shall provide study for the entire antiphons as presented in slavic practice so as to appeal to both groups.
The First Psalm
“Bless the Lord Oh my Soul..”
This psalm is a hymn of praise and glorification about God the Creator and Preserver.
In the Greek practice we hear “Through the intercessions of the Theotokos, Savior Save us” between a selection of three of the verses from Psalm 103.
The Second Psalm
“Praise the Lord O my Soul, I will praise the Lord while I live…”
This hymn is a hymn of praise to God for His help. we are reminded that we should only put our trust in the Lord (Put not your trust in princes, or in the sons of man, in whom there is no salvation) and that the Lord grants help to those who need it (The Lord frees the prisoners, the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord raises those that are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous; the Lord preserves the strangers). Something else to note is that since this is a psalm in the Old Testament, it is prophetical about Christ’s ministry on earth. The final verse describes how “the Lord will reign unto eternity”
In the Greek practice we hear, “Save us O Son of God, Who arose from the dead, we sing to You Alleluia”
Once more, we are asking for our salvation through the Lord.
Questions for Your Children
What are we asking God to Save us from?
The goal in our life is eternal salvation–to be like the Saints.
Why do we ask the Theotokos to intercede for us?
The Theotokos, as God’s mother is sitting right next to her Son, Jesus, in heaven. You know when sometimes you want something and you choose which parent you ask? It’s kind of similar. During this hymn you can focus your attention on the large icon of the Theotokos behind the altar and remember that she is there praying for us.
Only Begotten Son
Immediately we sing this hymn, which is so very brief and yet describes so fully Christ’s birth, death and resurrection. It is like the clif-notes of the Creed. Indeed, perhaps this should be committed to the memory of our children before the Creed!
Only begotten Son and Word of God
Though immortal accepted for our salvation to incarnate
of the holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary
Assuming humanity without change
Who were crucified, Christ our God trampling down death by death;
Who being one of the Holy Trinity are glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit
The short litany of peace is recited and then we begin the Third Antiphon
Questions for your Children
Can you find where the Trinity is referenced? Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
Why did Jesus become human?
For our salvation, the very thing we asked for in the last two antiphons
What does it mean to say “humanity without change?”
Jesus is still 100% God, although He is also 100% man. Jesus IS God.
When else do we hear the phrase “trampling down death by death”
In the hymn for Pascha “Christ is Risen”
The Third Antiphon
The beatitudes are Christ’s commandments to us from His Sermon on the Mount. He commands us to act as He acts, with Love, Compassion, Mercy and Purity. Tradition holds that it was the beatitudes inscribed on the tablets of Moses the first time he came down the mountain, but the Israelites were not ready for such a challenge and when Moses returned to the Lord after destroying the first set, God gave him what we now know the 10 commandments to be today.
Together with your child
As in the petitions, take each of the beatitudes and list individuals, groups, or personal experiences which serve as examples each of the verses. Additionally, the beatitudes can be looked as each week as a type of confession preparation. Was I meek, did I thirst for righteousness, did I work for peace? etc.
Hymns of the Day
It should be noted, that this portion of the Liturgy up through the readings and sermon is known as the “Liturgy of the Word” or the “Liturgy of the Catechumens”. It is meant to be instructional. Remember, Sunday School is a recent development in our church. Before there was Sunday School there was LIVING THE LITURGY. Attending all of the services and dwelling on the words of the service and the iconography in the church.
It is at this point that the Resurrectional Troparion and Kontakion for the week are sung. There is also a hymn to the Theotokos, a Theotokion. The resurrectional troparia consist of 8 tones, each with a different writing about Christ’s death and resurrection including the disciples, myrrh-bearers and even the guards.
Together with Your Child
Find the tone of the week, either as published by your parish priest in the bulletin or by checking online and read the tropar together with your child (or try to learn the hymns together).
The Small Entrance
This entrance once had a very practical meaning, coming from a time of persecution and the gospel was kept safe outside of the church. It was at this point that the gospel was brought into the church. Today the procession still exists but only for the symbolic meaning of the Word of God, Jesus Christ, entering into our humanity and into our fallen world.
Experiencing the Liturgy through the Senses
Sight: The altar-boys lead the priest, representing the LIGHT of Christ. The Priest holds the gospel in front of his face, representing the WORD of Christ.
Sound: The priest begins the hymn “Come Let us Worship and fall down before Christ, Save us Oh Son of God Who Arose from the dead”