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Antiphon (Antiphonon) in the Greek Church

A form of singing made an integral part of the Mass

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Antiphon (antiphonon), IN THE GREEK CHURCH. —Socrates, the church historian (Hist. Eccl., VI, viii), says that St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, the third in succession from St. Peter in that see, once had a vision of angels singing the praises of the Trinity in alternating hymns, and remembering his vision he gave this form of singing to the Church of Antioch. From there it spread to all other Churches. In the Greek Church the antiphon was not only retained as a form of singing, but it was made an integral part of the Mass, and also a part of the liturgical morning and evening services. It is especially known as a portion of the Greek Mass, and the divisions of this portion are known as the first, second, and third antiphons. While the choir is singing alternately the versicles of the antiphons the priest at the altar recites secretly the prayer of each antiphon. These antiphons come in the early part of the Mass, after the Great Synapte, or litany, with which the Mass opens, and they change according to the feast which is celebrated. They usually consist of three versicles and three responses, and each closes with “Glory be to the Father”, etc., with the response sung to it, as well as to “As it is now”, etc. The Greek Orologion (an Office book corresponding to the Roman Breviary) gives the different antiphons for the various feast days during the year. The responses to the various versicles are usually the same. Where there are no special antiphons appointed for the Sunday, the Greek Orthodox churches in Russia and Greece usually sing Psalm cii for the first antiphon, Psalm cxlv for the second antiphon (which two are often called the Typica), and the Beatitudes (Matt., v, 3-12) for the third antiphon, singing the verses alternately instead of the versicles and responses. In the Greek Catholic churches of Austria, Hungary, Italy, and the United States, where there are no special antiphons for the day, they sing Psalm lxv for the first antiphon, to each verse of which the antiphonal response is: “By the prayers of the Mother of God, O Savior, save us”, and Psalm lxvi for the second antiphon, to each verse of which the response is “O Son of God, risen from the dead, save us who sing to thee, Alleluia“, and Psalm xciv for the third antiphon with the same antiphonal responses. If it be a weekday, however, the response to the second antiphon usually is: “By the prayers of the saints, O Savior, save us”, while the response to the third antiphon is, “O Son of God, who art wonderful in thy Saints save us who sing to Thee, Alleluia“. The prayer of the first antiphon, recited secretly by the priest, is for the mercy of God upon the whole people; that of the second antiphon for the welfare of the Church and people; while the prayer of the third antiphon, asking that the prayers of the faithful may be granted, has been incorporated bodily into the Anglican Book of Common Prayer under the name of “A Prayer of St. Chrysostom”.

Besides the antiphons of the Mass there are also the antiphons of Vespers commonly called the kathismata, or psalms sung while seated, and the antiphons of matins called the anabathmoi, or psalms of degrees, as well as certain chants used on Holy Thursday, all of which are sung antiphonally. These latter are not usually known as antiphons, but are generally called by their special names.


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