The Cherubic Hymn

One of the most beautiful moments in the Divine Liturgy is the singing of the Cherubic Hymn. Here we are exhorted to cast aside all earthly cares, and to unite ourselves to the heavenly choir that mystically escorts our Lord into the Holy of Holies, the “noetic altar above the heavens,”1 where we experience the “reasonable worship”2 of all the heavenly hosts. While the people of God sing, the presiding priest or hierarch begins to pray silently to Christ— “the King of Glory,” “our High Priest,” the prophetic Word of the Father who “rests upon the saints”— asking that his own unworthiness not stand in the way of his vocation to represent the people in their offering. The priest then humbly asks that he be enabled to stand before the Holy Table, the earthly counterpart of the heavenly altar. All the while, he acknowledges that his own priesthood is nothing less than a participation in the never-ending priesthood of Christ.

In the oldest portion of this prayer (first expressed by St. Theophilus of Alexandria)3 we hear, “For You, O Christ our God, are both the offeror and the offering, the receiver and the one distributed.”4 Our Lord is simultaneously the priest, the sacrifice, the one to whom the offering is made, and the one received by the people in the Eucharist. The entire mystery of our salvation is perfectly summarized in this brief statement. As we explore the meaning of these words, we will uncover the truth of our salvation as accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal King, Priest, and Prophet; and how his self-offering is our initiation into a Christian life of intercession and self-sacrifice.


Footnotes

  1. Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Litany before the Lord’s Prayer

  2. Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Anaphora (Prayers of Consecration).

  3. Norman Russell, “Homily on the Mystical Supper,” in Theophilus of Alexandria (London: Routledge, 2007), 60.

  4. Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Prayer before the Great Entrance