The Spiritual Depth of the hymn
The hymn Pekethronos is a magnificent symphony, whose tunes tell us a story of love between the human soul (as a bride captive under the rule of the devil) and the Lord Christ as her Bridegroom who goes to free her. Here, the human soul sees her groom walking in love towards the cross to face, in a bitter battle, the forces of evil – represented in the devil and his armies. The groom crushes them and is victorious over them. He frees the bridegroom from their hand, and He sits on His throne as a King to her and over her.
The human soul here sees the Lord Christ on the cross, “in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain” (Rev 5:6), and “[I looked] And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them” (Rev 5:13) and “I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev 7:9) “and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:10).
Some consider the hymn Pekethronos as the holy of the holies of hymns in the Coptic church. The musical tunes of the hymn resemble the steps of a spiritual ladder, connecting the earth and the heaven. The chanter ascends upon it, until one stands before the throne of God. There one sees and hears indescribable things and says with St. John the Beloved and St. Paul the Apostle that he “heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor 12:4). Therefore, when one cannot express what was witnessed in human words, one finds themselves expressing it through the tunes and symphonies of this beautiful hymn.
The hymn Pekethronos is taken from a Pharaonic tune, similar to one that ancient Egyptians would chant to express their sadness for the departure of the dead. This is evident in the tune of the first part of the hymn. The second part of the hymn crescendos, also following Pharaonic themes, as Ancient Egyptians would also express their joy in celebrating the dead on their journey towards the carriage of the sun, and to the god Ra where the eternal life is.
Part 1 – Pekethronos (Your Throne)
The tune of the hymn Pekethronos begins in the letter “O” as if the revealing that the throne of God has neither beginning nor end. For He sits upon His throne and rules over all creation from the beginning and to eternity as Isaiah the prophet said, “He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants” (Is 40:22).
We find the tune of the hymn is a mixture of sadness and joy, and weakness and strength.
The hymn’s tune starts in tranquility –
and it reveals to us the mystery of the divine incarnation and the descent of the Son of man to the earth, in peace and tranquility. This reminds us of the angels chanting to Him on the day of His birth “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men!” (Lk 2:14).
The tranquil tune points to the Lord Christ emptying Himself in humility while He lived on the earth. The Holy Bible describes Him saying “He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets, a bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (Mt 12: 19-20).
Then, we find the tune elevating in the middle of this part. It is reminiscent of the suffering of our Lord Christ while on the cross or the battle that He endured with the devil while on the cross.
Before the end of this part, we find the tune expressing the movement of the Lord Christ as a king in steady steps to sit on the throne.
At the end of the part, the tune has three distinct levels, mimicking the Lord Christ completing his Ascension to sit on His throne in tranquility and stability.
It is for this reason that the hymn Pekethronos is chanted for the first time during the eleventh hour of the day of Tuesday of the Holy Pascha – to announce the beginning of the road of the cross and the saving work of our Lord Christ. This time also coincides with Judas the traitor agreeing with the Jewish high priests to betray the Lord Christ for thirty pieces of silver (Mt 26: 14-15).
Pekethronos is also chanted during the twelfth hour of the day of Good Friday, to announce the victory of the Lord Christ over the devil, when He said, “It is complete” (Jn 19:30). It also signifies His sitting as a King on His throne – the cross – that the words of the psalm may be fulfilled “the Lord reigned on a wood” (96:10).
Similarity of tune between Pekethronos and Avechenon
It is of note that the tune of the hymn Avechenon is identical to Pekethronos, despite the opposite meanings of their words. The hymn Pekethronos speaks of the victorious God sitting on His throne, while the hymn Avechenon speaks about Judas the traitor whose soft words of oil are like arrows or a sword.
In other words, we say that Pekethronos resembles goodness, while the Avechenon resembles evil. This battle between good and evil begins on the day of Tuesday of the holy Pascha until Good Friday. It initially appears that evil is victorious over good, especially on Wednesday and Thursday when Avechenon is chanted. At the conclusion of the battle, however, good always emerges victorious over evil. This is what happened during the twelfth hour of Good Friday, when the Lord Christ emerged victorious over the devil and all his soldiers through the cross. Therefore, it is during the twelfth hour that we chant the hymn Pekethronos as a melody of victory. It is chanted by all the children of God who awaited this victory.
It is also through the identicality of the tune between these two hymns that the deceit of evil is revealed to us. Evil often disguises itself by taking the appearance of the lamb, as the psalmist says, “his words were softened above oil, and they are arrows.” This is to say that the words of evil are soft like oil in their appearance, yet on the inside, deadly as if to kill with the sword.
The parallelism between the tunes of the hymns also reveal the dichotomy of the image of the cross – where the forces of evil were replaced with the image of strength and victory by the work of the Lord Christ. Even though these evil forces succeeded in crucifying the Lord Christ on the cross, in the end, true victory belongs to the forces of good, represented in the Lord Christ. This is what the church announces to us, by arranging to chant Pekethronos during the twelfth hour of Good Friday (i.e. the end of the day). It also symbolizes the end of life or the end of the battle.
Part 2 – Efnouti (O God)
The second part, Efnouti, is a mixture of two opposing tunes. It announces the seating of God on His throne while also pointing towards the Lord Christ, as the incarnate God. In other words, it reveals the union between the human nature and the divine nature – without blending, confusion, or alteration.
The hymn reveals to us the person of the Son. He is God and He is one of the three Hypostases, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We cannot know God, except through the Son, i.e. the Lord Christ, as the Bible says, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (Jn 1:18), and “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).
The tune of Efnouti is long, resembling the extent of the Kingdom of God and His never-ending rule. The tune extends during the letter “O” once again revealing to us the nature of God, which has neither beginning nor end. It is eternal and everlasting, just as His throne also has neither beginning nor end.
The tune can be broken out into three sets. The first and second sets are tranquil tune
as if to point to the life of the Lord Christ on earth, and the period of emptying Himself, as the Bible says about Him “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Phi 2:6,7). This tune is also calm to mimic his life during His Incarnation “He will not quarrel nor cry out, Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets” (Mt 12:19).
The third set is strong and chanted with a raised voice to reveal to us the strength of the Lord Christ.
For despite His humility and His weak appearance, He is the almighty God who has power over everything. This ascending tune also announce the strength, awe, and majesty of He who is seated on the throne. Every note in it carries the period of the incarnation of the Lord Christ; it reveals the strength of His divinity through miraculous works, from the opening of the eyes of the blind man to the raising of the dead, the calming of the turbulent sea, and the exorcising of demonic spirits.
If the tunes of the first and second sections show us the Lord Christ on the cross in His weakness, then the third set shows us the Lord Christ in His power and victory. Therefore, we sing to Him these tunes, to say to Him “For Thine is the power, the glory, the blessing, and the majesty forever Amen.”
Part 3 – Sha eneh ente pi eneh (forever and ever)
The tunes of the hymn in sha eneh ente pi eneh (forever and ever) are likened to the waves of the glass sea like the crystals before the throne, and the Lamb standing as if slain (Rev 4:6).
Here the soul falls on this sea, is raised with the height of the waves, and lowered and proceeds before the throne.
And before it reaches the throne, it calms down and is lowered.
It is then released before the throne.
And when it sees the majesty and awesomeness of He who is seated on the throne, it trembles and turns back to worshipping Him.
It then pours out in calmness, peace and obedience to Him.
Here, the human soul meditates on the heavenly visions expressed by St. John the Beloved:
- “around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back” (Rev 4:6)
- “the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever” (Rev 4:9)
- “…the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (Rev 4: 10-11)
- “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne … and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (Rev 5:11)
- “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them” (Rev 5:13)
- “and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb … and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:9-10)
And when the human soul meditates on all this glory around the throne, and hears the voices of praise from all these heavenly ranks, it exalts and joins them in their praise, and chants these tunes:
This group of notes is repeated a second time, as if the human soul here confirms her joy, happiness, and enjoyment of her presence before He who is sitting on the throne.
And in the depth of this joy and happiness, the human soul is halted before a strange scene: “And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thundering, and voices” (Rev 4:5). Therefore, it cries out with loud high-pitched tunes:
Then the soul continues her praise with the angelic hosts a second time saying these tunes.
Finally, the trance of joy and praise captivates the soul and moves to this beautiful melody that does not end, which is Alleluia.
Part 4 – Alleluia
Alleluia is comprised of two Hebrew words. The first “Allelu” means praise, and the second “Ya Yahwe” means being, which is the name that is known about that which must exist. It was translated in the Holy Bible to Kirios in Greek, which means Lord. Therefore, the meaning of Alleluia becomes Praise God.
The tune of Alleluia depicts the joy of being in the divine presence, before the throne of God and the Lamb standing as if slain. It begins and ends with the letter A, to praise God who never ends. Whenever we begin this part of the hymn, after the prior period of praise, we imagine that we are drawing into this beautiful melody that does not end. This revelation of God who has no beginning or end is depicted in the Bible, which states the Lord Christ is, “the beginning of God’s creation” (Rev 3:14), and “the root and offspring of David” (Rev 22:16), and He is “the beginning of everything and its end.”
The tunes of the hymn in the word Alleluia begin with the letter “A.”
The praise to God continues until we reach an elevated depth, and we are moved to the next part of the word:
Here the soul thinks that she has reached the fullness of praise. The target it is seeking is God, yet it finds that when it reaches this part, the praise restarts another time with the letter “A”:
Likewise, the praise continues with this melody, not only for an age, but to the age of ages. We too participate with the heavenly in their praise to God, which never ceases. Here the human soul resembles someone walking towards a target that is at the edge of sight. Whenever he reaches a specific point, he thinks that he has reached the target, but instead he begins anew and searches even larger areas, until he finds the target.
It is no coincidence that the prior two parts of the hymn have identical tunes. This reveals that God has neither beginning nor end for he is, “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (Rev 1:8).
In these prior two sections, there is a stop in the tune which is:
This is to remind us not to slumber and forget that we are standing in the divine presence before the throne of God, lest the scene of the divine glory captivates us, and we proceed forward and touch Him and burn. It is also a pause of astonishment for someone who is overwhelmed by the vision of an awesome scene, which is the scene of He who is sitting on the throne and the Lamb standing as if slain. Then he speaks in astonishment to himself and to those around him about the majesty of this glory.
The tune in the conclusion of this section is said in release, and decrescendos until it disappears.
This gives us a true picture of the chanter who praises with this beautiful hymn. For with the conclusion of this section, one has reached the height of spirituality. Their soul is released from them and is taken to heaven, where one repeats the chanting of this hymn, not on earth, but in heaven, before He who sits on His throne forever and ever.
Source and where to go to learn more:
- العمق الروحى فى لحن بيك اثرونوس – الراهب القمص زكريا السرياني
The Spiritual Depth in the Hymn Pek Ethronos – by Very Reverend Fr. Zakareya Elsoriany