The Angelic Trisagion Chaplet consists of three sets of nine beads separated by three larger beads. The intention is to join with the choirs of angles in praising our Triune God.
Considered one of the oldest prayers in Christianity, the Trisagion—pronounced “tree-sah-yon”—comes from the Greek tris (three) + hagios (holy). It is prayed on the three larger beads of the Angelic Trisagion Chaplet.
Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, have mercy upon us.
Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine Rite, use the Trisagion regularly in the Divine Liturgy and other services.
In the west, the Trisagion is the official prayer of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity (Trinitarians), which was founded in 1198 in France. Episcopalians today are familiar with the Trisagion—“Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy on us”—as it is used in both rites of the Holy Eucharist in the Book of Common Prayer published in 1979.
Though similar to the Sanctus (or Tersanctus) in the Latin Rite, the Trisagion is considered a separate prayer and used at a different point in the Liturgy. The Sanctus is taken from Isaiah 6:1-4, whereas the Trisagion is sometimes referenced with Revelations 4:8. Yet, interestingly, both of these verses refer to beings with six wings singing “Holy, Holy, Holy….” In Isaiah they are referred to as Seraphim, and in Revelations they are called “living creatures.” Drawing parallels between these verses may not be theologically sound, as angels are considered celestial beings while creatures are considered animals. But nevertheless, the intention of the Angelic Trisagion Chaplet is to give glory and praise to God, and both of these biblical references describe this practice.
The three sets of nine beads in the Angelic Trisagion Chaplet are representative of the nine choirs of angels.
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, who was a mystic and theologian of the late 5th and early 6th century, is attributed with proposing the concept of the nine choirs of angels in his writing The Celestial Hierarchy. The writings of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite influenced many later theologians, including 13th century theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas.
In his writing Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of the hierarchy of angels and divides the nine choirs of angels into three groups of three. They are listed in descending order relative to their closeness to God:
1. Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones
2. Dominators, Virtues, Powers
3. Principalities, Archangels, Angels
St. Thomas speculated that angels also had three roles:
1. To worship God
2. To implement the will of God
3. To serve as messengers from God
What we know biblically about God’s angels is quite vague, but their existence and presence has played significant roles in the lives of the men and women of the bible. It is mainly in the last role, which St. Thomas Aquinas refers to as messengers from God, that angels are mentioned in the bible.
I could go into describing the more specific roles that scholars have proposed for each of the angel classifications, but I heed Paul’s warning in Colossians 2:17 not to let angels become our sole focus. They were most definetely created to serve God, not to be the objects of our devotion.