The Problem of the Third Hour Troparion Interpolation

The Orthodox have celebrated the Liturgy for more than two thousand years. The Liturgy has gone through a great deal of development, evolution and growth, becoming rich in hymnography and more complex in its ritual. God has entrusted us not only with the Holy Scripture, but also with the Eucharist, the most amazing and important Sacrament of the Church. Nevertheless, just as the text of Scripture may contain involuntary mistakes of scribes and translators, so too may the Divine Liturgy, over the centuries, potentially be impacted by the human factor. One example of such an issue in the Liturgy, which has been the subject of a great deal of research and many scholarly discussions, is the introduction of the Third Hour Troparion of the Great Lent into the text of the anaphora, as well as the phrase from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom into the anaphora of St. Basil the Great.

On February 15, 2018, Metropolitan Tikhon of Washington, D.C. sent out a liturgical instruction (No. 02/004) adopted by the OCA Council of Bishops in the spring of 2017. The Council had decided to remove the interpolation of St. John Chrysostom’s Anaphora from the text of St. Basil’s Anaphora. What arguments did the Fathers of the Council use? And what is the problem of interpolations?

All liturgical scholars (Alexei A. Dmitrievsky, Archim. Cyprian (Kern), Nikolai D. Uspensky, etc.) recognize that the insertion of the fragment of the Third Hour into the anaphora is fairly recent. The exact time when it was made is unknown, but this troparion appeared in the text of some Sluzhebniks and first on the margins, in the 15th century. It was adopted in Russia in the 16th century, and with the spread of Russian books in the Balkans, this late tradition passed to the Serbs and the Bulgarians. Apparently, the source of this insertion were some of the Venetian editions of the Euchology, which started adding the Troparion to the Holy Spirit at the time of the epiclesis, presumably in order to emphasize that it was the Holy Spirit who was mysteriously changing the gifts at that moment, contrary to the Catholic theology, which teaches that the Bread and the Wine are transubstantiated at the moment when the priest utters the words of institution. This insertion was made within the framework of the controversy with the Catholics, but unwittingly began to undermine the Byzantine liturgy and our own Orthodox tradition, which had previously refrained from a scholastic search for some magic words at the Liturgy. For example, St. John Damascene (†749) refuses to explain what and when happens to the Bread at the Liturgy and only says, “Now you ask how the bread becomes the Body of Christ, and wine and water turn into the Blood of Christ? Let me tell you, too, that the Holy Spirit comes down and does this, which is beyond our comprehension and thought” (An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith). The Eastern tradition is more inclined to consider the whole anaphora as the Sacrament of the appearance of Christ among the believers, because we can see several epicleses in the Chrysostom’s anaphora. It is worth noting that at the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church introduced the epiclesis into its mass due to the influence of the Orthodox theology, so it is already practiced in Catholic churches. Therefore, our polemically conditioned interpolation of the Third Hour Troparion has been irrelevant for 50 years already.

The insertion of the troparion to the Holy Spirit into the prayer of the epiclesis disrupts its grammatical integrity, and this is particularly noticeable in Greek. This is clearly seen in the anaphora of St. Basil the Great, where the logical connection of the epiclesis is brutally interrupted at the most important point right in the middle of the sentence. “We pray Thee, and we call upon Thee: O Holy of Holies, through the favour of Thy goodness send Thy Holy Spirit down upon us, and upon these Gifts presented here, and bless them, sanctify, and manifest them.” And then there’s a period, although the sentence is not yet finished. “O Lord, Who didst send down Thy Most-holy Spirit at the third hour upon Thine apostles: Take Him not from us, O Good One, but renew Him in us who pray unto Thee.” And then the first sentence again, “Make this bread the Precious Body of Thy Christ. Amen.” As we can see, the smooth flow of the thought of the Cappadocian saint was blatantly shattered by a later editor. The same dissonance, albeit less blunt, is present in the anaphora of St. John Chrysostom. The very idea of insertion is not completely clear, because our anaphoras already contain the invocation of the Holy Spirit, while the troparion asks not to take the Spirit away from us, rather than to send Him upon the Gifts.

By ignoring the rules of syntax and the smoothness of the anaphora, the insertion of this troparion violates the integrity and orderliness of not only the prayer of invocation, but also the entire Eucharistic canon. It is a well-known fact that almost all kinds of anaphoras, including those used by our Church, are prayers to God the Father. Of course, while praying to the Father, we immediately recall the Son and the Holy Spirit, but the text of the anaphoras itself, following the ancient Christian law of prayer, suggests that all gratitude should be expressed to the Father, and it concludes with the glorification of the whole Holy Trinity only at the very end. This strict order, however, is disrupted by the introduction of the troparion of the Third Hour, and there may occur some serious confusion and inconsistency with the overall plan and logic of the anaphora. The troparion in which we address the Son of God suddenly arises in a prayer directed to God the Father, which results in the following: “O Lord, Who didst send down Thy Most-holy Spirit at the third hour upon Thine apostles: Take Him not from us, O Good One, but renew Him in us who pray unto Thee. Make this bread the Precious Body of Thy Christ, and that which is in this Cup, the Precious Blood of Thy Christ, changing by Thy Holy Spirit.” Because of the insertion, it may seem that we pray to Christ that He may make this bread the Precious Body of His Christ… An 18th-century Greek preacher even wondered how many Christs we have in that case?

Turning to the problem of another insertion, we have to admit that the transfer of the phrase “Changing by Thy Holy Spirit” from the anaphora of St. John Chrysostom, where it is more than appropriate and natural, to the anaphora of St. Basil, which should end with the words “Which was shed for the life of the world, and for its salvation”, as it is practiced in the Orthodox East, an equally gross violation of the order of the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. The learned monk St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite (†1809) was already struggling against such an interjection. He wrote: “When a priest celebrates the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, then during the transubstantiation and consecration of the Gifts he should not say Changing by Thy Holy Spirit, because it was planted there by a certain insolent ignoramus who took these words from the liturgy of Chrysostom and inserted them into the liturgy of Basil the Great, while these words are not present in the ancient copies, and there is no place for them in the syntactic structure.” (Nomocanon). Also, the outstanding Russian theologian Vasily V. Bolotov called this insert “a disparagement of Basil the Great and his Athenian education” (Notes on the text of the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great).

What’s to be done, then? The practice of reading the Troparion of the Third Hour has become entrenched in the practice of the Russian Church and it is not so easy to abandon it. At any rate, it is within the competence of the ruling bishop and should be discussed at a church council. As long as the hierarchy of the Russian Church has not spoken directly about the abolition of this insertion, it seems that an ordinary priest has no authority to get rid of it arbitrarily. However, many priests who are familiar with liturgical theology move the interpolation a little higher up the text without canceling it, namely, just before the epiclesis, and do not read it loudly, but quietly and without raising their hands, as it was originally written in the rubrics. This troparion is not an integral part of the anaphora. It represents a pious prayer of the priest that reminds him of his unworthiness. At the moment, this would probably be the best solution for dealing with the issue. Let us wait for the settlement of this liturgical issue in our Church, because the divine service, and especially anaphora, is the heart of our Christian life, the Holy of Holies of Orthodoxy. Theology should carefully monitor the divine service and promptly detect and eliminate human mistakes, because all things must be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40).

John Nichiporuk

About the author

John Nichiporuk,
a Bachelor of Theology, specialized in Biblical Studies; a member of The Catalog of Good Deeds team

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