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.

17 Replies to “The Great Doxology”

  1. Triads and dyads everywhere! Thanks for this, Kevin.

    The translation is classical. My only quibbles have to do with the introduction of “O” in various places, according to no obvious pattern, and the “and” before what is line 24 in Rahlfs’ edition.

  2. Very classical. The HTM translations are very traditional, and very well-received in Orthodox circles. You should hear it sung!

    The O just represents vocative in the Greek, generally, of course. The presence or absence of “and” just comes down to style, I think. The majority have been eliminated.

    What’s not apparent from this translation is that it fits very well with the tune to which the Great Doxology is sung in Greek, so that may explain why it seems a little off in English, with the “O” and “and” misplaced relative to the Greek. All in all, getting the English translations to fit the Greek metrics and rhythm is exceedingly difficult, and often done poorly, but HTM has always done a fine job. I’ll look around for some audio clips of this sung, in Greek and/or English. I’ll post a link when I find it/them.

  3. Mike,

    I am an evangelical pastor, and I truly appreciate the Orthodox tradition. I am always interested in learning more about it. This was helpful. I am wondering, however, if this is also sung in Orthodox Chruches. If so, can you give me some information about it?

    Thanks, James Grant

    1. Yes, it’s sung at the end of Orthros right before the Liturgy beginning “Blessed be the Kingdom of the Father, and Son and the Holy Spirit both now and ever until the ages of ages. Amen.” This is my friend Nick Baba. And his brother chanting it Byzantine style in English. They are excellent chanters and sons of Fr. Paul.

  4. Hi James. Yes, it is sung every day for Matins and Compline. I’ve actually got a piece of the tune stuck in my head this morning. As I mentioned to John above, I’m looking for a link to it, to either the Greek or English, and I’ll post that when I find it. So stay tuned! It’ll probably be this evening.

    Don’t worry about the name. “Hey you” works fine, too.

  5. Hi Kevin,

    As you say, this is a very fine translation, even if I don’t know the music that accompanies it. It’s always bugged me why ICEL couldn’t have just checked out what others who had already translated into the vernacular had done?

    A question:

    [from above]
    For Thou only art holy;
    Thou only art Lord,
    Jesus Christ,
    to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

    [in Latin, from the Gloria at Mass]
    Quoniam tu solus Sanctus,
    tu solus Dominus,
    tu solus Altissimus,
    Iesu Christe,
    cum Sancto Spiritu:
    in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.

    To your knowledge, are the two additional lines strictly part of the Roman liturgy, or are there “witnesses” to them away from the Latin?

  6. Hi Michael! The reasoning behind much of the work of the ICEL is not accessible to most of us. (I’m practicing charity! Did it work?)

    I’ll have to hit the books when I get home and see. My guess would be that it may originally have been partly a variation, as seen in that stretch of lines 4-8, where additions or variants appear, and sometime all the variants. At some point, the variation (tu solus Altissimus) was retained and the surrounding verses very nicely reworked to be explicitly Trinitarian. I’ll check my copy of Metzger’s Apostolic Constitutions and the Goettingen text when I get home and let you know what’s in there, if anything.

  7. Michael, it looks like the tu solus Altissimus is indeed peculiar to the Latin version. The cum Spiritu Sancto, however, is simply placed differently than in the Greek, where it appears several lines above. Neither Metzger (Marcel, not Bruce; the Sources Chrétiennes edition of the Apostolic Constitutions: volumes 320, 329, and 336) nor the Göttingen Septuaginta indicate any Greek texts with the equivalent of tu solus Altissimus in that position.

    That was a fun hunt!

  8. Thanks Kevin. I would love to teach it to my church if I can find something that will work for us. As evangelicals, you know we struggle with these things 🙂

    Seriously, over the past year we have learned “Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” and “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” The congregation loved them. I know its not much, but it was a start. I am on a quest to find whatever I can, and this Great Doxology is perfect.

  9. Hi James, I think it’s wonderful that you’re at all looking into this. So many people are just not that curious.

    Would you actually want the sheet music for it, too? I can ask around and find a source for that and let you know. Web searches for the Great Doxology bring up alot of different Russian settings for it, including by Rachmaninoff and probably every other Russian composer who’s ever lived, it seems. The Byzantine tones are quite different than those are, though, and quite a bit easier, too, since they’re not complicated polyphonic settings. The rhythm will sound odd, because the Byzantine music was originally tied to the rhythm of the Greek, of course. It can sound quite odd with English lyrics, but if done right, it works really well and is quite moving.

    This looks like it might be something good for you. I’m not having any luck finding something online. Do let me know if you want the sheet music for the Great Doxology. I’m sure our choir director would be able to give me the references for you, if you want them. He would probably even know of a matching set of recordings and music, which would be really neat to have.

  10. Okay! I’ll check with him this Sunday and get some references to resources for you. He’s also a musicologist, so I’m sure he knows of many things to help.

    One thing I can recommend right now, if you’re interested in learning the Byzantine eight tones is The Byzantine Prosomia: The Chanter’s Companion. It’s a two CD set, with various hymns in English, with pdf files with sheet music in both the old Byzantine and modern notation. There are several samples of different hymns sung to each tone, so you can learn the tune independent of the words, in addition to be able to read it on the sheet music. It’s also produced by Holy Transfiguration Monastery, which did the translation of the Great Doxology above. It’s available here (at the very top) and here (under the Compact Discs, English section), and probably other places as well. I’ll ask our choir director for more introductory stuff, particularly anything like the Prosomia set. I have it, and the singer(s), using the Holy Transfiguration Monastery English translations, show(s) how easily good translations can fit with the Byzantine tones, when the translations are done with this in mind. The singing is smooth, and it doesn’t sound awkward at all, unlike some other examples I’ve heard (and experienced–we sing mostly in Greek in our parish, but in English people stumble, typically, oddly enough!).

  11. has all types of music for free d/l
    there are numerous recorded videos of the great doxology on youtube for your viewing…and yes…even if there aren’t Matins services at our parish, most mornings you will find my daughter and I singing this before starting our morning prayers 🙂

    It’s my favorite ear worm…and it’s usually stuck in my head…which makes for a good focus keeper for the day 😉

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