During the singing of the third antiphon, whether it be the Beatitudes or the Troparion of the day, the so-called Small Entrance is made. The Small Entrance is the solemn procession of the clergy to the altar led by the Book of the Gospels. If the bishop is celebrating, the Gospel Book is brought out to him in the center of the church in the midst of the people where he has been standing from the beginning of the liturgy.
After the exclamation: “Wisdom! Let Us Attend!” the clergy enter the royal gates of the iconostasis while all sing the Hymn of Entrance:
O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ. O Son of God . . . Save us who sing unto Thee: Alleluia.
A special line is added before the final phrase of the entrance hymn at each liturgy, proper to the celebration. Thus, for example, on the Lord’s Day this line would always be, “Who rose from the dead.”
If the priest is serving the Divine Liturgy alone, or with a deacon, the Small Entrance is made by the clergy circling the altar table and coming to the middle of the church with the Gospel Book in order to enter through the royal gates of the iconostasis accompanied by the Hymn of Entrance.
The Small Entrance is the first significant movement of the Divine Liturgy. It follows the primary liturgical action which is the gathering of the faithful into the one community of the Church of God. The Small Entrance is the movement of the entire Church through its Head Jesus Christ, in the person of the celebrant, to the altar which symbolizes the Kingdom of God. It is the movement made possible by the Gospel of Christ, the Way to the Kingdom. It can only be accomplished by following Jesus, the Living Word of God in human flesh (Jn 1.1–18).
There can be no approach to God the Father but through Christ, the Son of God (Jn 14.6). There can be no communion with God the Father except by the fulfillment of his commandments which are given by Jesus and proclaimed in the words of his Gospel. Thus it is the Gospel of Christ, the Son and Word of God, which takes us into the realm of the Father and into the eternal life of the Blessed Trinity whose Kingdom we enter and experience in the Divine Liturgy of the Church.
Technically speaking, the Small Entrance is not completed when the clergy enter the sanctuary and stand before the altar table. It is completed only with the singing of the Thrice-Holy Hymn during which the clergy proceed to the place behind the altar table (called the High Place), at which time the chief celebrant turns and blesses the people with the solemn biblical greeting: “Peace be, unto all!”
While the clergy are still before the altar table, the people sing the troparia and kontakia of the day. These are hymns which praise the saving events or holy persons celebrated liturgically at the particular gathering. On Sundays these songs always praise Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
While these hymns are being sung, the celebrant of the liturgy prays before the altar for the general absolution and forgiveness of sins of the entire assembly so that all of the people might be made worthy by God “to stand before the glory of Thy holy altar and to offer worship and praise which are due unto Thee.” There then follows the singing of the Thrice-Holy Hymn of the angels which perpetually resounds in the presence of the Kingdom of God. “Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us!” (Is 6.1–5).
This version of the Thrice-Holy Hymn is of very ancient origin. It is a hymn to the Holy Trinity in whose presence the Christians now find themselves at the liturgy. It is within the presence of the Kingdom of God that men are made competent by Christ and the Holy Spirit to hear, to understand and to do the Word of God which will be announced to them from the throne of the Father.