08 June 2011

The Great Doxology

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace,
good will towards men.
We praise Thee;
we bless Thee;
we worship Thee;
we glorify Thee;
we give thanks to Thee
for Thy great glory:
O Lord, Heavenly King,
God the Father Almighty,
O Lord the Only-begotten Son,
Jesus Christ,
and the Holy Spirit,
O Lord God,
Lamb of God,
Son of the Father,
that takest away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us,
Thou that takest away the sins of the world.
Receive our prayer,
Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father;
and have mercy on us.
For Thou only art holy;
Thou only art Lord,
Jesus Christ,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Every day will I bless Thee,
and I will praise Thy Name for ever,
yea, for ever and ever.
Vouchsafe, O Lord,
to keep us this day without sin.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the God of our Fathers,
and praised and glorified is Thy Name unto the ages. Amen.
Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
according as we have hoped in Thee.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes.
Lord, Thou hast been our refuge from generation to generation.
I said: O Lord, have mercy on me;
heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee.
Lord, unto Thee have I fled for refuge;
teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God.
For in Thee is the fountain of life;
in Thy light shall we see light.
O continue Thy mercy unto them that know Thee.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Translation by Holy Transfiguration Monastery, from The Great Horologion, 101-102.
This is the Great Doxology which appears in Eastern Orthodox Matins and Great Compline liturgies daily througout the world. It is also found among the Odes (as Ode 14) following the Psalms in various manuscripts of the Septuagint, most notably and earliest, the great Codex Alexandrinus. Aside from some minor textual differences, this “morning hymn” (more properly “matins hymn”) is the same today as it was in the late fourth or early fifth century when the texts for Alexandrinus originated. Try that on for liturgical stability! Scholarly types will also find it in their Rahlfs, in the second volume, pages 181-183, or on the last page of the Psalmi cum Odis of the Göttingen Septuaginta. The major differences between these texts are: the insertion of a line between Rahlfs lines 35 and 36:
Γένοιτο, Κύριε, τὸ ἔλεός Σου, ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καθάπερ ἠλπίσαμεν ἐπὶ Σέ.;
and the attachment at the end of a threefold Trisagion and the Doxology. There are also some minor variations in the manuscripts in lines 4 through 8.

A shortened version of this Great Doxology, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo, commonly referred to simply as the Gloria, is also found in the Roman Catholic and other dependent traditions, also for Matins, and in the Ordinary of Mass. Curiously, a short version of the Greek Great Doxology roughly equivalent in length to the Latin version is also found in the Apostolic Constitutions VII.47. The wording is somewhat different, which is not surprising in the AC, otherwise well-known for its alteration of source materials by interpolation, omission, and replacement. But this is also good evidence that a shorter version of the Great Doxology, roughly similar to the Latin version, was in use in the fourth century in at least some places.

Like much of early Christian liturgical hymnology whose precise origins are lost to us, the Great Doxology is largely a pastiche of other biblical texts, beginning with Luke 2.14, and containing other extracts from the Psalms and other texts. As may be well known, the other Odes include various hymns and songs otherwise found in biblical texts, including the Magnificat or Prayer of Mary the Theotokos from Luke 1.46-55, 68-79; the Nunc Dimittis or Prayer of Symeon from Luke 2.29-32, and even the Song of the Three Youths from the Additions to Daniel chapter 3, and the Prayer of Manasseh. All of these were used in various liturgical settings, and so such collections of Odes were typically practical, and not just excercises in redundancy.

I have always enjoyed discoveries like these, which show the deep roots of Eastern Orthodox traditions in particular, their great antiquity, and the respect in which these liturgical writings were held even in the distant past, so as to even be bound in a pandect manuscript of a Bible, and one of the most famous surviving from antiquity, at that! One can’t help but be reassured, feeling a sense of stability and certainty in knowing that this text has remained the same for over 1600 years, and has been sung every day for all that time. One also can’t help but be amazed at such a thing.

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