Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 10.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 28 November 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 10

Introduction

Whereas during the singing of the first two antiphons the clergy and faithful just stand, the third antiphon is different both in its content and in the sacramental act that takes place during it.  Because the clergy begin to do something during the third antiphon—walk in and out of the altar, but the faithful typically remain standing just as they do for the first two, there is a possibility of a disconnect between the actions of the clergy and the participation of the lay people, or lack thereof.  In this lesson, we will learn about the content of the third antiphon, its place in the Liturgy, and the meaning of the clergy’s movements.

The Small Entry

After the third exclamation by the priest, in other words after the third sacramental prayer, the royal doors[1] open, and the choir begins to sing the third antiphon, which on most Sundays consists of the Beatitudes or what is known as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.[2] Between the verses of the beatitudes, an appointed reader reads special troparia[3] which are also commonly referred to as Beatitudes[4] in liturgical books.  These special verses vary from one Sunday to the next as they follow the eight-tone cycle of services.  We shall not re-print the eight sets of troparia here, but only the actual Beatitudes:

In Thy Kingdom remember us, O Lord, when Thou comest in Thy kingdom.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.

Until this point, most of what we heard in the divine services preceding the Liturgy and in the beginning of the Liturgy itself were remembrances and foreshadowing from the Old Testament.  From this point forward, the Old Testament gives way to the New.  After showing to us God’s mercy and love, and symbolically depicting for us the kingdom of God in the first two antiphons,[5] the Church now invites us to enter into this kingdom.  It is not at all surprising that this invitation begins with the plea of the Penitent Thief[6]: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”[7] The Beatitudes that follow this plea show what kind of people will enter into the kingdom of God.

The troparia which are supposed to be read between the verses of the Beatitudes are omitted in some parish churches.  This is most unfortunate and truly sad.  A Russian liturgical scholar, Mikhail Skaballanovich, once noted: “One cannot speak without pain about the custom of omitting the troparia at the Beatitudes.  And this is done during the Liturgy, a service which is already short and so sacred that here any omissions should be allowed even less than in any other service.”[8]

At the conclusion of the Beatitudes, the clergy enter into the altar in a rite which is known as the Lesser or Small Entry.  The Gospel is solemnly carried by the deacon or priest, preceded by lit candles.  The procession pauses at the royal doors, and the priest says the Prayer of the Small Entry:

O Master Lord our God, Who hast appointed in the heavens the ranks and hosts of angels and archangels unto the service of Thy glory: With our entry do Thou cause the entry of the holy angels, serving and glorifying Thy goodness with us.  For unto Thee is due all glory, honour, and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.[9]

This prayer is both the prayer of the entry into the kingdom of God and into the sacrament of communion with Christ, both of which are most intimately interrelated.  It is during this Entry and during this prayer that Saint Seraphim of Sarov “saw the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in the form of the Son of man, proceeding into the Church with the Heavenly host and blessing those praying. The saint could not speak for a long time after being struck by this vision.”[10]

As was noted, this Entry symbolizes the entry of the faithful into the kingdom of God.  But, of course, Christians do not enter into the kingdom by themselves and on their own.  The Gospel which is carried ahead of the procession symbolized Christ, the Word of God, in Whom and through Whom we inherit the kingdom.  At the same time, the Small Entry reminds us of Christ, the Word of God, symbolized by the Gospel, entering into this world preceded by His Forerunner, Saint John the Baptist, symbolized by the candles which are carried ahead of the Gospel.  This latter meaning of the entry, however, is most certainly secondary to the former.

Finally, to conclude the rite of the Entry, the clergy and faithful sing: “O come let us worship and fall down before Christ; O Son of God Who didst rise from the dead,[11] save us who chant unto Thee: Alleluia.”  Note that the Alleluia is sung only once, unlike in many other places in the services.  This is because in this particular prayer we address only Christ, and not the Holy Trinity.  It is with this New Testament entry into the kingdom of God that the Liturgy, the sacrament of the kingdom, actually begins, which is why a bishop if he is present does not enter into the altar until this point.[12]

It is said sometimes that in ancient times the faithful actually walked through the church during the Small Entry, thus symbolically participating in the Entry.  It is difficult to imagine how this would be possible, except in the largest of cathedrals, such as Hagia Sophia.  From Church history we indeed know of very elaborate patriarchal entries, not unlike those of emperors, which took place in the Byzantine Empire.  At times, these processions included more than one church and lasted for several hours.  Additionally, it is said that Gospel books used to be kept in separate repositories, rather than on the Holy Table as is the modern practice, and thus were actually carried into the church from a separate building.  Considering that all three antiphons became part of the Liturgy relatively late in its development, it is indeed possible that the Small Entry was inspired or shaped by these fancy processions.  But in almost all parish churches, any elaborate ritual would have had to be adapted to provide meaning to the individual community in the absence of a huge cathedral, separate Gospel repositories, or the Patriarch of Constantinople.  Whatever its history, the Small Entry with the singing and reading that surround it is among some of the most profound theological insights found in the Divine Liturgy.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Based on the priest’s prayer at the Small Entry, what does the Entry symbolize?
  2. What other meanings can we see in the Small Entry?
  3. If the Small Entry symbolizes the entry into the kingdom of God, what kind of people enter into this kingdom?

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[1] The central doors of the iconostasis are more properly called “the beautiful gates” or “holy doors,” as the term “royal doors” or “imperial gate” refers to the main entrance of the Great Church (Μεγάλη κκλησία)—the Hagia Sophia (γία Σοφία) Cathedral in the City of Constantine.  The Emperor entered into the cathedral through these royal doors, while Christians of lesser stature typically used side doors.  In modern usage, however, both in English and Russian, the term “royal doors” refers to the central doors of the iconostasis.

[2] Matt. 5:3-12

[3] Greek: τροπάριον, (plural: τροπάρια)—a short hymn.

[4] Greek: μακαρισμοί

[5] See esp. Ps. 102:19; 145:10

[6] Also the Good Thief, or Saint Dismas, or Rach, or the Sensible Robber (Russian: благоразумный разбойник)—see Luke 23:39-43.

[7] 42

[8] Скабалланович, Михаил. Толковый типикон. Москва: Сретенский монастырь, 2004, стр. 749 сн. 1.

[9] The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1999, p. 38.

[10] Mileant, Bishop Alexander. St. Seraphim of Sarov: Life and Teaching. Trans. by Natalia Semyanko. <http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/seraphim_e.htm&gt;

[11] This is the Sunday form of this verse.

[12] Скабалланович, Михаил. Толковый типикон. Москва: Сретенский монастырь, 2004, стр. 749.

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