Offering praise is the work of angels who constantly love to be before the Throne of God. They praise Him zealously since all their pleasure, satisfaction, and comfort is in the praise of their Creator. Offering of praise is the most sublime type of prayer, for it is conversing with God.
When we praise, we are likened with the heavenly hosts who praise God incessantly. As St. Gregory the Theologian says, “He who has granted those on earth to give praise, praise together with the Seraphim, accept from us as well, our own voices with the invisible ones, count us together with your heavenly hosts.” The offering of praise is the precious heritage from our forefathers kept in our holy church and covers every aspect and field of prayer. In it, you find thanksgiving, glorification, praise, supplication for intercession, repentance…etc.
The believer who learns to offer praise with its discreet tunes becomes an important pillar in the church. He is considered a talented servant who embodies one of the most cherished church mysteries: the mystery of giving praise to God.
The First Canticle
The First Canticle of the Midnight Psalmody is the praise which Moses and the children of Israel chanted after crossing the Red Sea and escaping from Pharaoh and is derived from Exodus 15. By this song of praise, the church declares it has been given the essence of this immortal praise mentioned in the book of Revelation: “they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” (Rev. 15:3). The Church chants this praise with a feeling of transfiguration, as someone standing before the Throne of God on the sea of glass. He also has God’s harp and praises God with those ones who overcame the dragon, its image, its qualities, and its many names.
The Second Canticle
This is a praise of giving thanks to God who gives us the victory to overcome the hidden and apparent enemies with the help of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the same victory and triumph He gave to the children of Israel at the hand of Moses the prophet, who were delivered from Pharaoh and his soldiers. The Second Canticle is Psalm 135 according to the Coptic edition.
This praise begins by the words, “O give thanks to the Lord for He is good: Alleluia, His mercy endures forever.” The phrase for His mercy endures forever is repeated in order to give us peace and relief that God’s mercy encompasses us at all times. (Ps. 103:8,9). The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. The phrase, “for His mercy endures forever” is repeated 28 times. The Holy Spirit does not repeat words in vain; but is repeated to signify that God’s mercy has over-whelmed and enveloped all the generations from King David the prophet, who chanted the psalm for the coming of out Lord Jesus Christ.
Moreover, St. Matthew the Evangelist says, “So all the generations from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.” (Matt. 1:17). Thus, the number 28 signifies the total number of generations, just as the numbers of the quartets in the Second Canticle.
The Third Canticle, the Three Holy Youth, and the Third Exposition
The Three Holy Youth: Hannaniah, Azariah, and Mishael sang this praise when they were in the scorching furnace. When the Three Holy Youth refused to worship the golden image made by Nebuchadnezzar that the people were ordered to kneel down and worship to, the king commanded they be cast into a furnace. After King Nebuchadnezzar commanded the furnace to be heated to seven times its usual temperature, the flames of fire rose to 49 cubits high–the height of a seven-story building.
Then our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, appeared to them, loosed their chains, and walked with them in the furnace as if it were a fragrant paradise. The fire had no power over their bodies and not one of their hairs were singed. Their garments were unchanged and no smoke could be smelt on them (Dan. 3:27). The Lord extinguished the fiery flames of the furnace and made the fire as dew on them. Thus, the fire did not touch, harm, or disrupt them in any way (Dan. 3).
They praised God saying, “Blessed are You, O Lord, God of our Fathers, and exceedingly to be praised and exalted above all forever.” Azariah gave praise, solely, in a strong and magnificent song, in which there was a lot of humiliation and self-denial, saying, “We follow You with all our hearts, and we fear You, and we seek Your face, O God do not forsake us. But rather deal with us, according to Your meekness, and according to Your great mercy, O Lord help us!” The Church set this prayer after the Psali of the Three Holy Youth. It is chanted in a beautiful tune as the praise exposition of the Third Canticle
The Third Canticle, its Exposition, and the Psali of the Three Youth overflow with the assurance of victory in which their hearts are overwhelmed with the confidence in God. Moreover, as long as the youth are true to God and cling to Him with all their hearts, they are strengthened with a power greater than fire, their enemies, and the envious or spiteful.
The Church sings the song of praise because she wishes to transfer to the children all of the feelings of these believing youth in God. The church wants the hearts of its members to be filled with the same assurance and confidence in victory when they are in the midst of the furnace: in persecutions and various kinds of tribulations. The Church asks them only to be true to God, to hold on to Him and cling to Him–for He is fully able to protect, defend, and deliver them from any and every calamity.
God’s policy with His children is that they undergo tribulation, make us of it, and cry out to Him. He thus delivers them according to His promise: “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me” (Ps. 50:15). “Because he has set his love upon Me, I shall save him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation” (Ps. 91:14-16). This is the praise given by the whole creation, led by the Church. As we have previously said, it is the praise said by the three youth when in the fiery furnace. When the Church chants it, she expresses her joy in her divine Groom who dwells in her midst. Thus, the Church will not be shaken. The doors of Hades will not overcome her. The fiery ordeals and sufferings will not have any authority over her.
Since “the cubit is around 100 years,” the 49 cubit-height of the fire in the furnace symbolizes the 4900 years separates Adam’s disobedience and the beginning of the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, who commanded the three youth to be cast into the fire furnace. The six times that the youth address the Lord Jesus by saying, “Blessed are You, O Lord” represents the 600 years that separate Nebuchadnezzar and the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the period of time between Adam and the Lord Jesus is 5500 years (4900+500), as well known today.
The youth addressed the entire creation and urged it to give praise to God 34 times saying, “Praise the Lord.” This symbolizes the 33 years and part of another that the Lord Jesus has lived on earth.
The Third Canticle has depths, and is comforting, and is rich in the tunes that exalt the spirit to the heavens, such as the hymns of ‘Esmo-Epchoic’ ‘Hoos-Erof’, and ‘Areeho-Chassef.’ As for the glorification or the exposition of praise, in it you find the tune, ‘Ten-owi-Enthok’ which is chanted in various ways depending on the season of the Church year.
Psali of the Three Holy Youth
This Greek Coptic Psali Batos is arranged according to the order of the Greek alphabet. It follows the pattern of the Third Canticle since it urges the entire creation to give praise to the Lord and to exceedingly exalt Him forevermore. This pattern does not change throughout the church year, unlike other psalies. It also has a beautiful set chorus, “Hoos Erof Ari Ho-o-chasf,” (“Praise Him and exalt Him above all forever”).
Afterwards, we chant the “Batos praise of the Three Holy Youth” or ‘The Exposition of Praise for the Third Hoos.” This is similar in its pattern to the Commemoration of the Saints, since it also changes according to church occasion (annual tune, Kiahk tune, abstinence tune, funeral rituals, and festal tune). This glorification is part of Azariah’s prayer that he prayed alone when he was with Hanniah and Mishael in the midst of the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:24-45).
The Fourth Canticle
The Fourth Canticle consists of three psalms of praise: 148, 149, and 150 with three messages. In Psalm 148, the church urges the entire creation to give praise to God, its Creator and Maker, as the psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Ps. 19:1) In Psalm 149, the Church urges man, the most noble of God’s creation, to give praise to God and glorify Him according to His divine will. “This people I have formed for Myself, they shall declare My praise.” (Is. 43:7, 21) In Psalm 150 the chanter repeats the phrase, “Praise Him” ten times.
The number ten is a perfectly complete number, an analogy for the perfect praise that is offered to God. We can also say the number ten means the nine angelic hosts in heaven that praise God zealously, in addition to the host of the saintly spirits that share the angels in their praise. Thus they would be ten ranks of hosts offering God a perfect spiritual praise.
The Hoos begins with the entire creation in general, then with man specifically, followed by the heavenly hosts in more detail. This arrangement of the Canticle is magnificently arranged, greatly comforting and deeply spiritual.
With the Fourth Canticle and the praises that follow, we praise God as followers of the righteous. We ask God to help us as He helped them and to grant us a share and an inheritance in the eternal rest as He did for them. They have gone ahead; we are to follow. Let us, therefore, be ready through repentance, communion, prayer, praise, and by every means of grace and salvation.
Thus, the water refers to the light struggle; the fire represents the violent struggle; and the rest signifies the harbor devoid of suffering and full of divine peace. This harbor fills the struggler’s heart to experience a taste of the eternal comfort in the heavenly glory. Therefore, when God looks upon man’s strife, his honesty, and his strong desire in leading a sanctified life, He is gracious enough to lessen the wars of Satan and the enemies against him. He gives him the strength of endurance and patience, so that he overcomes them. Thus he enters this place of rest, the haven void of suffering, as a reward and an encouragement to attain perfect comfort in the heavenly glory after departure from this world.
Conclusion of Praise
After reciting the Introduction to the Creed and the Creed, the conclusion of the praise is said, “God have mercy…etc.” with its tune. This is followed by “Holy, Holy, Holy…” and “Our Fr. who art in heaven…” After the priest prays the Priests’ Absolution, they chant the Morning Doxology followed by the Raising of the Morning Incense (Baaker).
This is the Midnight Praise in its various sections and amazing levels, and deep rhythm, in its sublime spiritual and divine meanings that elevate the mind to think of the heavenly things. It encourages the spirit to soar up in the glorious heaven, and thus we live the heavenly day when we are still in the body on earth. The above is a translation from the introductory chapter of the book entitled, “Meditations on the Midnight Praise” By His Grace Bishop Mettaos. This portion was graciously translated by Margaret Rafla.