Family Study of the Divine Liturgy: The Cherubic Hymn
When I was 12, I loathed this point in the liturgy. Above the cherubic hymn in my book I had written “S – L – O – W – L – Y” which really meant, “so slow you’re bored out of your mind” I believe in that particular book I owned, it did not come with the priest’s prayers and I had no idea that the reason the Cherubic Hymn is sung so slowly, or multiple times over is that the priest has A LOT to do in that time, even more during the Liturgy of St. Basil. Personally, I feel this is an important piece of information to share with your children because then the youngest can pay attention to what the priest is doing, and the oldest can follow the priest’s prayers as they are some of the most beautiful prayers in the Orthodox Church which date to the 8th century.
The Hymn is as follows,
“We who mystically represent the Cherubim, and sing the thrice-holy Hymn to the life giving Trinity let us now lay aside all earthly cares…”
During this time, the priest has and extensive prayer which is said. He will also do a small censing as he recites Psalm 50.
When the priest finishes all of this, the entrance occurs, lead by the Altar servers with the Cross and censer, and often the fans and candles if enough altar boys permit. The congregation bows in reverence, not because the priest holds the body and blood of Christ, but because we know those gifts are soon to become the body and blood of Christ. Some parishes have a tradition of the faithful touching the priest’s vestments and the priest granting a blessing on the faithful or specifically the children with the gifts.
During the entrance the priest offers a short commemoration, after which the cherubic hymn continues,
“that we may receive the King of all invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts. Alleluia!”
Together with your Child
Discuss who the Cherubim and Seraphim are.
The archangels are described in the priest’s prayer of the great entrance which references Isaiah 6:2 (you can look this up and read it together in your Bible)
“Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Images of the archangels can be seen on the fans, if used, in the procession. Point these out to your children.
We sing “we who mystically represent the cherubim and seraphim,” what does that mean?
It is a call to attention! The archangels spend their time glorifying and praising God. We are told to remember that God is literally with us. RIght now! In this very moment! And we are going to soon receive him in Communion! We must stand upright, pay attention, and if we have been thinking about anything else, refocus our mind on what is happening RIGHT. NOW.
Where do we see the angels in the church?
This varies from parish to parish, but you may see them “holding” up the Pantocrator in the dome of your parish and/or on the side doors into the altar. The cherubic hymn reminds is that they are EVERYWHERE. St John Chrysostom writes,
“The angels surround the priest. The whole sanctuary and the space around the altar are filled with the heavenly powers to honor Him Who is present on the altar.”
Living the Liturgy with the Senses:
- Sight: The procession. Pick out the Cross with Christ Resurrected facing us, the fans with the archangels, the candles and the priest or deacon holding the paten and the chalice.
- Sound: The cherubic hymn and the commemorations of the priest
- Smell: The fresh insence as the gifts are censed during their procession
- Touch (if applicable): The priest’s vestments as a way to reverence the gifts which will soon become the Living Body and Blood of Christ.