A Greek for “thrice-holy,” a hymn used in Coptic worship. The Byzantine form of the Trisagion is as follows: “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us,” to be reiterated three times, followed by the lesser doxology. But the Coptic form of the Trisagion is as follows (verses 1-5 are in Greek; verses 6-10 are in Coptic):
(1) Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, Who wast borne of a virgin, have mercy upon us. (2) Holy God, etc., Who wast crucified for us, have mercy upon us. (3) Holy God, etc., Who rose from the dead and ascended into the heavens, have mercy upon us. (4) Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and always and unto the ages of the ages. Amen. (5) Holy Trinity, have mercy upon us. (6) All-Holy Trinity, have mercy upon us; Holy Trinity, have mercy upon us. (7) Lord, forgive us our sins; Lord, forgive us our iniquities; Lord, forgive us our transgressions. (8) Visit, Lord, the sick of Thy people, heal them for Thy Holy Name’s sake. Our fathers and our brethren who have fallen asleep, Lord give rest to their souls. (9) Sinless Lord, have mercy upon us: Sinless Lord, aid us, receive our prayer. (10) For to thee belongeth glory and power and the Trisagion: Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, bless us. Amen.
The whole hymn is understood as being addressed to Christ. The choice of verses varies according to the service and the holiday. For example, verses 1-10 are recited during the canonical hours, whereas verses 1-5 are sung in the Divine Liturgy before the prayer of the Gospel; from Christmas Eve to the Feast of the Circumcision, the first verse is repeated thrice, followed by the fourth and fifth verses (without the singing of the second and third verses), and so on. It is sung before the prayer of the Gospel in many church services.
According to the Byzantine tradition, it was in the time of Saint Proclus, bishop of Constantinople (434-446), that the Trisagion came into use (Salmon, 1974).
In the thirteenth century, however, Ibn Siba‘ in his Kitab al- Jawharah noted a tradition that Saints Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, while giving burial to the body of Christ, heard the angels saying, “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One,” and at the words “Holy Immortal One,” Christ opened His eyes in their face. Then Joseph and Nicodemus said, “Who wast crucified for us, have mercy upon us.”
Ibn Siba‘ also said that the Trisagion is repeated thrice to accord with the number of the Holy Trinity and that the word “Holy” in the Trisagion (verses 1-3) is repeated nine times in reference to the nine angelic orders, whose worship in heaven is the prototype of the worship of the church. Hence, the dignitary present (whether he be a senior priest, a bishop, or the patriarch), as a head of the earthly angels or heavenly men, alone says the first verse of the Trisagion, “Holy God . . . , Who wast borne of a virgin, have mercy upon us,” and the people sing the rest.
[See also: Music: Description of the Corpus and Musical Practice.]
- Burmester, O. H. E. “The Canonical Hours of the Coptic Church.” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 1-2 (1936):78-100.
- . The Horologion of the Egyptian Church: Coptic and Arabic Text. Cairo, 1973.
- Daniell, F. H. B. “Proclus.” In DCB, 4, pp. 483-84. Millwood, N.Y., 1974.
- Yassa ‘Abd al-Masih. “Doxologies in the Coptic Church.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 4 (1938):97-113.