An Explanation of Tenen

Introduction to the 3rd Hos (Canticle)

The 3rd Hos is the praise of the whole creation led by the church. It is the praise said by The Three Saintly Children in the furnace. When we all chant it in the church, we are symbolizing the world with all its bitterness and temptations, yet we are preserved by the Son of God (Dan. 3:25). The fire of the world (Satan) has no authority on us. The church has tasted the love and mercy of its Groom, so it is calling everyone to share in praising and glorifying Him.

The church has gained its authority over all the creation through the authority given by God. As it is living in the Divine Paradise here on earth, it is inviting the whole creation to praise God “exceedingly to be praised and exalted above all, forever”, as an announcement for the new heaven.

The 1st and 2nd Hos both express the victory of the children of God over their enemies, through God’s strong and outstretched arm. However, the 3rd Hos expresses the victory of man over his pains and temptations. In this case, he accepts these tribulations gracefully, as if they are a gift from God’s hand, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Phil. 1:29)

As the fire did not burn the three young saints, in the same way, the fire of Hades did not burn the righteous ones. Instead, the fire burnt the devil’s followers, and it is written in the Holy Bible, “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Dan.3: 25)

 

Background of the Hymn Tenen

Primarily chanted in the month of Kiahk and Joyous Saturday, the hymn, Tenen has a wonderful tune and meaning. It calls the prayers and praises a “mental worship and sacrifice”. In addition, it honors the three saints (Hanania Azariah and Mishael) who deserved the Son of Man to walk with them amidst the fire and protect them. This hymn demonstrates the work of God with the three young men (also known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) when he saved them from the furnace.

“And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king’s counsellors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not s nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.” (Dan. 3:27) This story in its entirety is recorded in the book of Daniel chapter 1-3.  Moreover, the hymn urges us to offer thanksgiving after partaking of the Holy Communion, thus we gain the full blessings of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The disciples and Jesus gave us the example to follow, as it is written, “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matt. 26:30). It is of significant note, the timing of when the hymn is chanted, after the 3rd Hos and proceeding the hymn (“Tenoih we follow You with all our hearts) and then the congregation of the saints.

The full hymn in English, is as follows:

+ We therefore present an offering and rational worship;

we send unto you this day psalmodies for Your glory, O our Savior;

Hananiah Azariah and Mishael.

+ When they were raised to take glory in their bodies

The angel came down, stopped the fire and became cool for

Hananiah Azariah and Mishael.

+ They bless the Lord – the three in the midst of the fiery furnace,

And the fire did not overcome them for the angel of the Lord was in their midst,

He saved them and He did not leave any evil to reach them;

Hananiah Azariah and Mishael.

+ Afterward, we partake from His holy mysteries, proclaiming and saying,

“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, who gave us His grace,”

Have compassion our ignorance.

Hananiah Azariah and Mishael.

+ Praise and glorify God at all times.

 

 

Composition of Tenen

The Hymn Tenen, known as the Hymn for the Three Saintly Children, is composed of four parts. The first two parts are in Greek and the latter two are in Coptic. Each part is concluded with the phrase “Hanania Azariah and Mishael.” The conclusion of the hymn is the concluding phrase “Praising and blessing God at all times.”

The hymn is first recorded in the Kiahk psalmody in 1781 AD while not being recorded in the annual psalmody published by the same publisher in 1804 AD which leads us to believe that the hymn originally was intended for the month of Kiahk. A study of the hymn and its spiritual meaning concluded that the hymn can be chanted at any time as its meaning is not specific to Kiahk but rather a hymn praising the three young men and urging us to praise at all times. It is however reserved for the month of Kiahk as there is more time during the 7 & 4 praise permitting us to chant the hymn. This does not preclude the believer from chanting it during the annual midnight praise if there is time.

The “Dallal of Holy Week” or “Instructions on the rites of Holy Week” instructs the believers to chant this hymn during the vigil of Bright Saturday. The concluding phrase of the hymn which says “Praising and blessing God at all times” urges us to chant it at all times and thus we participate with the three young men in praising God always.

HG Bishop Rophail’s Sermon of Tenen

The hymn glorifies God who saved the three young men in the fiery furnace. The first thing we notice in this story is that God did not prevent three young men from entering the furnace and being placed in the fire, but instead, He was existent with them inside the fire. He did not prevent the fire, nor did he remove its heat and the proof is that those who put them in the furnace were burned. Instead, He protected them from the fire and from being burned. This is a very wonderous event and that is why we remember it always and praise God for it particularly because this story occurs every day with each one of us. God allows us to be placed in hardships and temptations, but He always remains with us and protects us from harm.

This hymn is one of four marvelous, very deep spiritual hymns chanted in the third canticle (Esmou Epchois, Hos Erof, Ari-ho-ou chasf, and Tenen). These four hymns are the most beautiful musically. In fact, if most people are asked which hymns are their favorites in the midnight praise, the answer would be one or all these four hymns which speak about being in the fiery furnace. In the same manner, if the three young men are asked about their life and their best experience, they would long for the fiery furnace and be accompanied by our Savior.  If a faithful believer is asked about his/her life, he would say that he is happy, particularly during the tough times when, God protects and saves them. Therefore, the church put its most precious and beautiful hymns during the third Canticle so as to say to her children not to fear during the times of trouble. In fact, the most beautiful times during your life will be when you are going through hardships.

Contemplating the tune of the hymn itself, we notice that every time the tune descends in pitch, it is then followed by extremely high notes. Furthermore, the concluding phrase which says “Praising and blessing God at all times” begins with a long tune that repeats as if to illustrate that the life of praise should be continuous and at all times. That tune begins low but ends on a high note illustrating that while life with God might see us facing many difficulties, if we are faithful to the end, God will save us, and we will see much joy.

Conclusion

“Tenen” is one of the many beautiful Coptic Hymns that are chanted not just in the Kiahk Praises, but through the entire year. May the Lord give us the spirit of the three saintly youths as they gracefully accepted torture and praised God with all jubilation. 

 

Sources and where to go to learn more:

  1. THE SPRITUALITY OF THE PRAISE According To The Rite Of The Coptic Orthodox Church – H.G. Anba Mettaous