The Coptic Church Tradition And Worship
A Worshipping Church
The Coptic Church is known as being a worship-loving church. Her worship is rather incessant, her liturgies are rich with theology and rites, so profound and delightful. A child can participate with a cheerful heart. Her feasts are continuous every-day besides Sundays, the weekly feasts, the monthly and the yearly feasts. Its songs are diversified and enjoyable. With her calm, meek and effective spirit she is capable of reaching deep into the soul and she shakes the heart and emotions in credit of the Kingdom of God. Her joy is mixed with asceticism and her fasting exceeds half of the year.
Worship in the church represents a living part of the ecclesiastical life which reacts together with the enjoyment of the Holy Bible, doctrine faith, ascetic life and her sacred outlook to man and his entity. All that collaborates to lead to "life in Christ".
This devotional life is not exclusive for the priests and monks, but it is for every member of the church. Everybody participates in worship and performs through organized church services without confusion. They worship collectively not individually, in spirituality and gentleness and not in the rigid deadly letter. The spirit of public worship can be practiced by the believer even in his bedroom, because he practices his personal worship as a member of the community, who thanks, praises, and asks in the name of the whole, as all are in the depth of his heart.
The Holy Bible And Church Worship
The Holy Bible and The Alexandrine Church
Since her inception, especially starting from the second century, the Alexandrine Church has been known for her School which concentrated on the study of the Holy Bible and was interested in its allegorical interpretation. This method of interpretation was received by Origen from his teacher, St. Clement, and from his predecessors. Origen had put its principals and bases and explored its aim, to the extent that the allegorical interpretation of the Bible all over the world is owed to him. Origen exaggerated in using this method but he had left many disciples, directly or through his writings, among church leaders, and his influence remained clear even over his opponents.
I do not intend here to enumerate Oirgen's fault's because they have been exposed before, but I wish to elucidate the role of the Holy Bible in the Alexandrine Church and her School, particularly as related to church worship.
1. The School of Alexandria paid attention to science and philosophy, and therefore did not show any hostility towards philosophers, on the contrary, for some of the churchmen were students in the philosophical School "the Museum" and they attracted many of its leaders--the philosophers--to Christianity. Yet at the same time the School of Alexandria did not look to the Holy bible with a philosophical view for mere satisfaction of the mind, or for the sake of arguments and debates. She looked at the Bible as the experience of meeting with the Word of God and a true enjoyment of the Holy Trinity's work in the life of the community and in the life of each member therein. According to the Alexandrine thought the soul enters - through the spirit of prayer and piety - into the presence of God that He might raise her above the deadly literal meaning, ascends her to His heavenly chamber, and reveals to her His divine mysteries which cannot be expressed in human language. Thus the Holy bible in its essence is a discovery of the incarnate Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is hidden behind its words, who leads us to experience the communion with the Father through Him, by the Holy Spirit. In other words, studying and meditating on the Holy Bible is a spiritual worship and an enjoyment with the Holy Trinity, as we experience our sonship to the Father and His Fatherhood to us, our steadfastness in the Only Begotten Son and the attainment of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
2. The Holy bible is considered as an encounter with God and an
interaction with Him in a spirit of worship and piety, so worship, common or
private, is an expression of the flowing love from hearts which have
encountered God and yearned to enter into new depth in order to stay with Him,
in His bosom, forever enjoying His mysteries and glories. In other words,
worship is also an enjoyment of the evangelic life, understanding the Holy
bible and a discovery of the words' secrets.
Here we acknowledge church life which is inflamed with love, as one integral life, containing on one hand the spirit of studying the Holy Bible. Worship is a practical entrance to the Gospel, and the study of the Bible is a true experience of worshipping. Every worship outside the Bible is fruitless, and every Bible study without the spirit of worship distorts the soul.
Therefore, it is needless to say that church worship - common and private - is correlated to the Bible, not only because it includes excerpts from the scriptures, but also because it carries the spirit of the Bible, every breath of love to God through our worship. Worship is inspired by the spirit of the Bible and at the same time the Bible reveals the spirit of worship and the depth of its mysteries on a heavenly level.
3. All church liturgies, common, family, and private worship include readings from the Old and New Testaments, particularly from the Book of Psalms, the Epistles of St. Paul, the Catholic Epistles, and from the four Gospels. Such readings are included in the liturgy of catechumens, the liturgy of blessing the water, the celebration of Holy matrimony, blessing the baptismal water, funeral services, for blessing new homes as well as at the daily Canonical Hour. Thus the church offers thanksgiving to her God in every occasion in a spirit of worship through reciting verses of the Holy Bible, and at the same time she urges her children to sit with God's word, enjoy and meditate on it.
4. Church life is not only a life of worship in an evangelic way or a biblical life in a spirit of worship, but it is one, inclusive and integral life, which includes the practical daily life with good behavior, the ascetic practice and the desire of the heart to witnessing and preaching. In other words, our Bible study is worship, practical behavior, asceticism and preaching. Truly some members may be gifted in depth with certain talents. For example, some my be involved in studying the Bible, others in practicing asceticism, and others in preaching etc… Yet all members have to live in the one whole spirit in order not to deviate from the aim of the bible and the spirit of the church.
5. Moreover, the Alexandrine Church recognized that the mystery of the Scriptures is uncovered through three essential and related matters:
1. Study and research: Origen collected the texts and translations of the Bible and arranged them in six columns (Hexapala). If a verse is obscure, the scholar may refer to other texts to elucidate it. Thus Origen from the second century - was ahead of his time.
2. Prayers and pious life: The Alexandrine students were men of prayer and asceticism. They believed in the need of the Divine Revelation to the soul through purity in Christ to understand the Bible.
3. Discipleship: The scholar cannot fully enjoy the biblical spirit through his own individual private studies. In order to deviate, he needs to be disciple of a spiritual father to attain the delivered biblical though, besides the need of being disciple of the Early Fathers through their writings.
The Liturgical Worship In The Coptic Church
The Word "Liturgy"
The word "Liturgy" in classic Greek means "a public service undertaken on behalf of the people" it comes from:
1. "Liaw," meaning "People."
2. "Ergia," meaning "work."
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, this word means "the service of the altar," or "the priestly service" Heb. 8:6; 9:21.
The church used this term since the apostolic age, to cover all that worship which is officially organized by her, and which is offered by all her members, or on their behalf. In the course of time, this term has come to be particularly applied to the performance of the service of Eucharist, although there are other liturgies as the liturgy of Baptism, liturgy of marriage etc.
Liturgical Worship And The Liturgical Life
Liturgy does not mean some hours spent by believers - clergymen and laity - in participating in the Eucharistic liturgy, performing on vesper or matin or baptism or marriage celebrations etc., but it is in its essence the true communion with Christ. This liturgical life is not lived only when a believer participates in common worship whatever it is, but it dwells within his heart even when he is alone in his room. In other words "liturgy" is a life which the church practices, through which she acknowledges her nature, realizes her message and attains her own existence which is life and growth in Jesus Christ.
In fact, we use the word "liturgy" for common worship, because the believer participates in this worship with the members of the community. This membership is alive and active and it represents a part of his entity. He is a member even when he is alone speaking with God in his own room. The holy community is in the heart of the real believer, and the believer is within the heart of the church community. In other words, when a believer prays in his room, he realizes that all the church is within his heart, praying in her name, calling God: "Our Father" and not my Father who art in heaven." At the same time, when the community prays it endows its members, present and absent with love.
The Characteristics Of The Coptic Liturgies
1. The Coptic liturgies are known to be not monopolized by clergymen. They are the liturgies of all the church, laymen and clergymen. The people participate in the hymns, and prayers. Therefore clergymen should pray in the language of the people, clearly and with a pleasant tone, as the people take their turn in participating. Here the "people" means all the congregation: men, women and children. The Coptic Church does not exclude children during the liturgy, and this is one of the resources of our church in Egypt, for even the child feels his positive membership and acknowledges his right in participating in church liturgies. The beautiful rites and heavenly hymns encourage children in worship without feeling bored, In spite of the lengthy services.
2. The Coptic liturgies not only emphasize church unity, clergy and laity, young and old, men and women, but also aim at revealing that the heavenly life is near and realizable to us! All the Coptic liturgies have eschatological (heavenly) attitude. In the liturgies the church participates in the hymns of the heavenly creatures, its thoughts are attracted to acknowledge the hidden mysteries of heaven. For example, the liturgy of marriage attracts our thoughts to the heavenly marriage of our souls to Christ, and also to the crowns of the saints.
3. The Coptic liturgies are correlated to the church dogmas and doctrines. Liturgies' rites and texts instruct even children in simple ways about Church faith, her concepts and dogmas concerning:
God; our relation with Him; our relation with the heavenly hosts and saints; our view of sanctity, of the world and our bodies, our struggles against the devil and his agent etc. Liturgies represent a school to the people, opening its doors to the children through its simplicity, and to the theologians through its depth.
Coptic liturgies clarify church dogmas without the need of any theological discussions, and at the same time gives genuine theological concepts that believers experience during their worship.
4. Coptic liturgies are correlated to the ascetic church life. Asceticism has its effect on our liturgies, as it appears in the long duration of the services and practicing kneeling during the services. Liturgies soothe and delight the ascetic person. For example, in the service of the Holy Week and Good Friday, although the believers fast for long periods and abstain from many kinds of food, they feel true consolation, which they rarely attain in other occasions during the year. The daily Eucharistic liturgies in Lent season grant the believers spiritual delight of particular character.
5. Coptic liturgies are biblical. Every liturgy declares the word of God and the experience of the evangelic life. They include readings from the Holy Bible, the Old and New Testaments, especially the book of Psalms, Epistles of St. Paul, the Catholic Epistles, and the Gospels. They also present prayers and hymns quoted from the Bible, carrying evangelic thoughts. Thus we can say that liturgies are totally presented in the spirit of the Bible.
6. Coptic liturgies touch the believers' daily life and also their family life, for they are the "dynamic energy" which moves their lives. There is no separation between common worship and actual life. In other words, believers practice the common worship as a part of their lives as a whole.
To explain the correlation between the liturgical life of common worship and the daily life for Copts, we here give some examples:
a. The priest and the laity acknowledge the liturgy of Eucharist as a meeting at the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as an entrance to Golgotha, so that they all might sit under the Cross' shadow (Cant. 2:3). The priest puts his hand on the "Lamb" (Holy Bread) and prays for his family, his spiritual children and for all the people. He prays for the repentance of those who stray away and for the solution to church problems and family disputes, and for those who are in trouble that God may intervene through His Divine grace. He also prays for those who are travelling, for the sick and for those who departed in the Lord etc.
The Coptic people used to ask the priest to remember them and their problems on the attar of the Lord and they themselves participate with him in asking God. Thus, Copts find their comfort in the liturgy -of the Eucharist, as they find the precious Blood of Jesus Christ as the propitiation of their sins (I John 4: 10), and a source of their inner peace.
b. Through the various liturgies believers acknowledge the motherhood of the church and the fatherhood of the priest as a figure and shadow of God's Fatherhood. Therefore, Copts flee to the church as their own refuge in the important and trifle matters, in sadness and in their happiness, because of their trust in her and their love for her. For Example, when God grants a family a baby, the church prays a special "liturgy" for washing the babe on the eighth day of his birth. The priest, deacons, the family and their friends participate in giving thanks and praise to God, asking Him to act in the baby that he might grow in the &race of God as a saintly member of the church. When a person succeeds in any work usually he asks for giving thanks to God by praying a special doxology through or after the Eucharistic liturgy. When a person falls ill he asks for praying the liturgy of the unction. When a person dies the church prays the funeral service, on the third day prays a common prayer at his house to declare God's consolation through the resurrection of Christ on the third day, and in every memory the priest mentions the name of the dead person in Eucharistic liturgy (the diptych).
Thus, the church does not interfere in the lives of her children but through love, participates in all their aftirs, that they might feel her motherhood and her sharing in their feelings.
The Coptic Feasts
Feasts And Worship
Moses' Law arranged seven major feasts (lev. 23), which had their rites and sanctity, as a living part of the common worship. These feasts are: the Sabbath or Saturday of every week, the first day of every month, the Seventh Year, the Year of Jubilee, the Passover (Pasch), the feast of the weeks (Pentecost), the feast of Tabernacles (feast of Harvest). After the Babylonian exile two feasts were added, i.e., the feast of Purim and the Feast of Dedication. The aim of these feasts was to revive the spirit of joy and gladness in the believers' lives and to consecrate certain days for the common worship in a holy convocation (assembly) (Exod 12:16; Lev. 23); and to remember God's promises and actions with His people to renew the covenant with Him on both common and personal levels. The feasts were a way leading to enjoy Christ, the continuous "Feast" and the Source of eternal joy.
When the Word of God was incarnate and became man, He submitted to the Law and attended and celebrated the feasts. However, He diverted the attention from the symbol to reality, and from the outward appearances to the inner depths (John 2, 5, 6, 7, 12); to grant the joy of the feast through practicing the secret communion with God and receiving His redeeming deeds.
Almost all the days are feasts to the Coptic Church. Although she is known for bearing the cross, she is eager to have her children live, in the midst of sufferings in spiritual gladness. She is capable, by the Lord's help, to raise them above tribulations. In other words, the Coptic Church is continuously suffering and joyful at the same time, her feasts are uninterrupted, and her hymns with a variety of melodies are unceasing.
A Church Of Joy
One of the main characteristics of the Coptic Church is "joy," even in her ascetic life. St. John Cassian described the Egyptian monks who spread from Alexandria to the southern borders of Thabied (Aswan) saying that the voice of praise came out perpetually from the monasteries and caves, as if the whole land of Egypt became a delightful paradise. He called the Egyptian monks heavenly terrestrials or terrestrial angles.
St. Jerome informs us about an abbot called Apollo who was always smiling. He attracted many to the ascetic life as a source of inward joy and heartfelt satisfaction in our Lord Jesus. He often used to say: "Why do we struggle with an unpleasant face?! Aren't we the heirs of the eternal life?! Leave the unpleasant and the grieved faces to pagans, and weeping to the evil-doers. But it befits the righteous and the saints to be joyful and pleasant since they enjoy the spiritual gifts."
This attitude is reflected upon church worship, her arts and all her aspects of life, so that it seems that the church life is a continuous unceasing feast. Pope Athanasius the Apostolic tells us in a paschal letter that "Christ" is our feast. Although there are perpetual feasts the believer discovers that his feast is in his innermost, i.e., in the dwelling of Christ the life-giving Lord in him.
The church relates and joins the feasts to the ascetic life. The believers practice fasting, sometimes for almost two months (Great Lent) in preparation for the feast, in order to realize that their joy is based on their communion with God and not on the matter of eating, drinking and new clothes.
The Coptic feasts have deep and sweet hymns, and splendid rites that inflame the spirit. Their aim is to offer the living heavenly and evangelic thought and to expose the Holy Trinity and Their redeeming work in the life of the church, in a way that is simple enough to be experienced by children, and: deep enough to quench the thirst of theologians.
Feasts Of The Coptic Church
1. The Seven Major Feasts Of Our Lord
a. The Annunciation (Baramhat 29, c. April 7): In it we recall the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, and the attainment which the men of God had longed for across the ages, namely the coming of the Word of God incarnated in the Virgin's womb (Matt. 13:17).
b. The Nativity of Christ (Christmas) on Kayhk 29, c. January 7: It is preceded by a fast of 43 days. Its aim is to confirm the divine love, when God sent His Only - begotten Son incarnate. Thus, He restored to humanity her honor, and sanctified our daily life, offering His life as a Sacrifice on our behalf
c. The Epiphany or the Baptism of Christ on Tobah 11, c. January 19: It is connected with Christmas and the circumcision feasts. For on Christmas, the Word of God took what is ours (our humanity) and in the "circumcision" He subjected Himself to the Law as He became one of us, but in the Epiphany He offered us what is His own. By His incarnation He became a true man while He still being the Only-begotten Son of God, and by baptism we became children of God in Him while we are human being
In this feast, the liturgy of blessing the water is conducted, and the priest blesses the people by the water on their foreheads and hands to commemorate baptism
d. Palm Sunday: It is the Sunday which precedes Easter. It has its characteristic joyful hymns (the Shannon - Hosanna (Matt. 21:9), and its delightful rite. The church commemorates the entrance of
our Lord Jesus into our inward Jerusalem to establish His Kingdom in us and gather all in Him. Therefore a delighful is procession or the redeemed believers, starts -God's plan for Christ's self-oblation. The procession moves towards the nave of the church were it stands before the icons of St. Mary, the Archangels, St. John the Baptist, the Apostles, the marthe ascetics etc... and before the church doors and the baptismal basin, praising God who embraces all together in His Son Jesus Christ. The procession ends by re-entering the sanctuary, for the of God of the Old and New testaments meet with the heavenly in heaven (sanctuary) forever.
The end of the liturgy of Eucharist, a general funeral service is held over water, which is sprinkled on behalf of anyone who may die during the Holy week, since the regular funeral prayers are not conducted during this week. By this rite, the church stresses on her pre-occupation with the passion and crucifixion of Christ only. She itrates on the marvelous events of this unique week with its glorious readings and rites which concern our salvation.
e. Easter (The Christian Pasch or Passover): It is preceded by Great Lent (55 days) and is considered by the Coptic Church as the Feast." Its delight continues for fifty days until the Pentecost. Easter is also essentially celebrated on every Sunday by participating A sacrament of the Eucharist. For the church wishes that all believers may enjoy the new risen life in Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:4).
f. Ascension: It is celebrated on the fortieth day after Easter Is on a Thursday. In this feast we recall Him who raises and lifts us up to sit with Him in heaven (Eph. 2:6).
g. Pentecost: It represents the birthday of the Christian Church. Only-begotten Son paid the price for her salvation, He ascended heaven to prepare a place for her. He sent His Holy Spirit in her, offering her existence, guidance, sanctification and adornment as the Heavenly Bride.
In this feast, the church chants hymns, being joyful with the resurrection of Christ, His ascension and the dwelling of His Holy Spirit in her, thus she connects the three feasts in one whole unity.
On this day, the church conducts three sets of prayers, called "Kneeling," during which incense and prayers are offered on behalf of the sick, the travelers, the winds, and it gives special attention to the dormant, as a sign of her enjoying the communion and unity with Christ that challenges even death.
2. The Seven Minor Feasts Of Our Lord
a. The Circumcision of our Lord: It is celebrated on the eighth day after Christmas (Tobah 6, c. 14 January), by which we remember that the Word of God who gave us the Law, He Himself was subjected to this Law, fulfilling it, to grant us the power to fulfill the Law in a spiritual manner. Thus we enjoy the circumcision of spirit and that of heart (Col. 2:11), instead of the literal circumcision of the flesh.
b. The Entrance of our Lord into the Temple (Amshir 8, c. February 15): We remember that the Word of God became man and does not want us to be careless about our lives, but to set our goals early since childhood. Thus we have to work and fulfill our goals regardless of people related to us, in spite of our love and obedience to them (Luke 2:24).
The Escape of the Holy family to Egypt (Bashans 24, c. June 1): The Coptic Church is distinguished among all nations with this unique divine work, by the coming of our Lord to Egypt among the Gentiles.
d. The First Miracle of our Lord Jesus at Cana (Tobah 13, c. January 12): Our Lord changed the water into wine, as His first miracle, at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, confirming His eagerness for our attaining the heavenly wedding, and granting us the wine of His exceeding love.
e. The Transfiguration of Christ (Musra 13; c. August 19): The unity of the two testaments was manifested in this feast, for Moses and Elijah assembled together with Peter, James and John. The glory of our Lord was revealed to satisfy every soul who rises up with Him to the mountain of Tabor to enjoy the brightness of His Glory.
f. Maundy Thursday: This is the Thursday of the Holy week. In it we commemorate the establishment of the Sacrament of Eucharist by our Lord Jesus, when He offered His Body and Blood as the living and effective Sacrifice, capable of sanctifying our hearts, granting us the victorious and eternal life.
This is the only day of the Holy Week in which Sacrifice of the Eucharist is offered, and the rite of washing the feet is practised in commemoration of what Christ did for His disciples.
On this day also an unusual procession takes place, starting from the south of the church nave, during which a hymn of rebuking Jude the betrayal is chanted as a warning to us not to fall like him.
g. Thomas's Sunday: This is the Sunday that follows Easter; In it we bless those who believe without seeing so that all might live in faith through the internal touch of the Savior's wounds (John 20:29).
3. The Monthly Feasts
The believers joyfully celebrate the commemoration of the Annunciation, Nativity and Resurrection of Christ on the 29th of every Coptic month, the commemoration of St. Mary on the 21st and the feast of Archangel Michael on the 12th
4. The Weekly Feast
Every Sunday stands as a true Sabbath (rest), in which we find our rest in the resurrection of Christ. There is no abstention from food on Sundays after the celebration of the Eucharist, even during Great Lent.
5. Feasts Of The Saints
There is almost a daily feast, so that the believers may live in perpetual joy and in communion with the saints. In addition there are other special fasts and occasions:
a. The Feasts of St. Mary: The Coptic Church venerates St. Mary as the "Theotokos," i.e., the Mother of God, whom the Divine Grace chose to bear the Word of God in her womb by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). Since she is considered to be the exemplary member in the church, and the interceding mother on behalf of her spiritual children, she is exalted above heavenly and earthly creatures. Therefore, the church does not cease glorifying (blessing) her, and celebrating her feasts in order that we imitate her and ask her intercessions on our behalf Her main feasts are:
The annunciation of her birth (Misra 7, c. August 13);
her Nativity (Paschans 1, c. May 9);
her Presentation into the Temple (Kyahk 3, c. December 12);
her Dormant (Tobah 2 1, c. January 29);
the Assumption of her body (Paoni 21, c. June 28);
her apparition over the Church of Zeitoon (Baramhat 24, c. April 2);
and the apparition of her body to the Apostles (Mesra 16, c. August 22).
b. The Apostles' Feast (Abib 5, c. July 12): This is the feast of martyrdom of the Apostles SS. Peter and Paul. It is preceded by a fasting period which starts on the day following the Pentecost. In this feast, the liturgy of blessing the water takes place, in which the priest washes the feet of his people (men and children) commemorating what the Lord did for His disciples. Thus, the priest remembers that he is a servant who washes the feet of the people of God and not a man of authority.
c. The Nayrouz Feast (I st of Tout, c. September 11): The word "Nayrouz" is Persian, meaning "the beginning of the year." The Egyptian calendar goes back to 4240 B.C. Copts restored the calendar with the beginning of Diocletian's reign in A.D 284, to commemorate the millions of Coptic martyrs. His reign is considered a golden era in which the church offered true witnesses to Christ, when the souls of martyrs departed to paradise and kept shining as living stars therein.
This feast, with its joyful hymns, continues until the feast of the Cross (Tout 17, c. 27 September). Thus the church announces her joy and gladness with the martyrs through bearing the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, the sufferings and martyrdom were turned into a source of joy.
d. The Two Feasts of the Cross: The first feast is on Tout 17, (c. September 27). It commemorates the dedication of the Church of the Holy Cross which was built by Queen Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine. The second feast, is on Barmahat 10 (c. March 19) and commemorates the discovery of the Holy Cross on the hands of the same empress in A.D 326.
During these two feasts the church conducts a procession similar to that of Palm-Sunday and uses the same tone in chanting (Shannon-Hosanna), to announce that the cause of her joy with the Cross is the openness of the hearts (the inner Jerusalem) to receive the Savior as the King who reigns within us.
The Coptic Church And The Spirituality Of Rite
The Rite Of Heaven
God is Spirit, and His heavenly Creatures are spirits without bodies. Nevertheless, the book of Revelation tells us about a rite of heaven; for it has specific hymns (Rev. 4:8) and certain worship (Rev. 4: 10); there we find the 24 incorporeal priests with golden crowns on their heads and hold golden censers (Rev. 4:4). St. John also describes the heavenly Jerusalem, its gates, foundation, walls and temple etc.. (Rev. 21). Therefore, it is not surprising that the Alexandrian Church established her rites since her conception.
A Ritual Church
The holy Scriptures emphasize that our God is "not the author of confusion" I Con 14:33, hence He establishes His heavens with splendid spiritual rites. The church of the Old Testament carried out a rite which was "the copy and shadow of the heavenly things" Heb. 8:5. The word of God dedicated some books of the Old Testament to declare in detail and exactitude the rites of priesthood, sacrifices, the structure of tabernacle and its tools, and rites of worship. For God wants "all things to be done decently and in order I Cor. 14:40.
It is not in vain that the Lord in the New Testament when He was about to feed the multitude, said to His disciples: "Make them sit down in groups of fifty" Luke 9:14. He rather emphasized the necessity of order to grant His heavenly gifts. The Lord did not take a hostile stand towards the Jewish rite, but He subjected Himself to the Law with its rites; He was circumcised and entered the Temple to transfer the Jews to the spiritual rite with its heavenly concept.
However, He criticized the literality and the formality of rite. The disciples also followed their Lord's footsteps and attended the daily temple worship (Acts 3:46), besides their meeting together to break the bread without attacking the Jewish rite. They sought its completion through announcing the mystery of the cross and the sacrifice of Christ. When they were dismissed from the temple and from the Jewish synagogues as individuals and groups, the church did not live without rite or order. On the contrary, the apostles emphasized the necessity of "order" and "decency" to the Church of God (I Cor. 14:40, 1 Thess 5:14; 2 Thess 3:6), declaring that orders and rites were handed out orally (I Cor. 11:34; Tit 1:5; 2 John 12:14).
The Aim Of The Coptic Rites And Characteristics
The Coptic rite is not an aim in itself, that the Church practises it literally without understanding. It is rather the Church's language, uttered by the holy congregation as a whole, and by every member, that they may enjoy the pledge of heaven through the rites. Therefore, St. Clement of Alexandria states that the church is the icon of heaven.
1. Any rite in which the believer does not practise his communion with God the Father, in His Son by the Holy Spirit and has not the experience of the joyful evangelic life as a heavenly one, is strange to the Coptic Church. For example, the rite of the sacrament of holy matrimony in its prayers concentrates on the heavenly crown and the spiritual marriage between God and His saints. This can be understood if the couple practise this sacrament spiritually and comprehend that this marriage is an image of the greatest mystery: the Union of Christ with His Church (Eph. 5:32).
2. The rite has its educational role, since the Coptic Church presents all the Christian dogmas, the concepts of faith, and the spiritual thoughts in very simple style. The child understands it, the theologian is satisfied with it, the priest who is burdened with pastoral work finds his comfort in it, and the spiritual ascetic finds it
very nourishing to his soul. For example by making the sign of the cross children acknowledge the Trinitarian dogma and the divine incarnation, and through venerating icons they understand the extension of the church as the body of Christ.
3. The Coptic rites is characterized by harmony and oneness of spirit. Thus the church building with its splendid rite is in accord with the liturgical rites so that believers live under the guidance of the Spirit of God in a joyful pious life.
4. In the Coptic rite, the body shares with the soul in worshipping God, whether in congregational, familial or private worship. It is a sign of Church belief in unity of the human being as a whole without ignoring the role of the body in the spiritual life. In other words the church emphasizes the sanctity of the soul and the body together through the Holy Spirit of God.
The Coptic rite which contains hymns, standing piously for praying, stretching hands, kneeling, offering incense etc. does not present restricted bodily movements, but it represents a support of the body for the alert soul. In a similar way, every evil bodily action is capable of destroying the soul and hindering her union with God.
The rite is the language of man as a whole, which uses all man's capabilities to express his innermost which common language can't realize. Rite is an expression, which comes out of the body interacting with the depths of the inner soul.
5. In the Coptic rite not only the whole body participates in worshipping God, but also the creation shares in glorifying the Creator. In other words, the believer, realizing the sanctity of the creation, appears before God offering incense, wood (icons), bread, wine etc. to God, declaring that all creation glorifies God. This concept is in accordance with the words of the "Psalmody": [Praise the Lord from the earth... fire, hail, snow, clouds etc. (Ps. 148)]. Thus the inanimate creatures are not evil, nor do they hinder worship, but are good tools, which the believer can use them to express the sanctity of all creatures.
6. We may state that rite is an integral part of Church life. It touches our worship, our faith, our spirituality and our asceticism, if it is practiced spiritually and with understanding under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If it is practiced as a duty or routine work, performed literally without understanding, it becomes an obstacle to the evangelic spiritual life. In other words, the rite is not mere order, an outer organization, or sets of laws that rule church life, but it is in its essence a living spirit we have received throughout the ages. The rite has its body, i.e., the visible order, and has also its spirit, i.e., the innermost thought. Whoever accepts the body of the rite without the spirit becomes a corpse, a burden, which should be buried. If we accept the body with the spirit we enjoy a life which has its effect on the congregation and on every individual.
The Fasting Order In The Coptic Church
A Church Of Asceticism
God, who created all the trees in the Garden of Eden for the sake of man, His beloved; ordered him not to eat from just one specific tree. This was not to deprive man, or to impose His authority, but rather to make man worthy of His love through fasting and obeying His commandment; "man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord..." Deut. 8:3, Matt. 4:4.
The Lord, Himself, the Word Incarnate, fasted before undergoing trial and undertaking His ministry on our behalf We therefore fast with Him to attain victory and blessings at work, and to be able to proceed in the spirit and not according to the flesh (Rom. 8: 1). The Lord fasted for forty days (Matt. 4:2) to transfigurate in the midst of Moses and Elijah who also fasted for forty days (Exod. 40:28; 1 Kings 19:8). In this way He declared that fasting is not deprivation, neither is it a restraint upon the body; but it is rather a sublimation with our Lord on Mount Tabor which enables us to enjoy His Glory made manifest in us.
The Coptic Church (as well as the Ethiopian Church) is an ascetic church that believes in the power of fasting in the life of the believers. Fasting is not considered a physical exercise, but rather it is an offering of inward love offered by the heart as well as the body. Consequently, the Church requests believers to fast for over six months a year. Strangely enough, the Coptic Church desires - of its own free will to spend its whole life fasting, while most churches in the world increasingly tend to reduce the fasting periods from one generation to the next. In fact, during confession many of the Coptic youth request to increase the days of fasting... very few indeed complain of the many fasting periods.
The Concept Of Fasting
1. The church requires us to fast and abstain from food for a period of time to experience hunger. The Lord Himself experienced hunger (Matt. 4:2) though He is the source of all satisfaction, physical and spiritual. The apostles experienced hunger as they fasted (Acts 10:1; 2 Cor. 11:27). Moreover, we should not indulge in delicacies after abstention, but rather we should observe eating certai
n non-fat foods:
"I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth" Dan. 10:3.
" Take you also unto your wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spell" Ez. 4:9.
"MY knees are weak through fasting, and my flesh fails of fatness" Ps. 109:24.
In spite of that, fasting is not merely abstention from food, drink, or delicacies. It is essentially an expression of our love to God who has given His Only-Begotten Son to die for us. If the Lord Jesus delivered Himself for my sake (Ephes. 3:20), then in turn I wish to die all day for His sake (Rom. 8:38). Thus fasting and abstention from food is closely connected with abstention from all that is evil or has a semblance of evil. It is moreover connected with continuous spiritual growth, thereby achieving an offering of fasting that is holy in the eyes of God.
That is what Pope Athanasius elaborated powerfully in his first letter: [When we fast, we should hallow the fast (Joel 2:15)... It is required that not only with the body should we fast, but also with the soul. Now the soul is humbled when it doesn't follow wicked thoughts... And as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, being the heavenly Bread, is the food of the saints... so is the devil the food of the impure, and of those who do nothing which is of the light, but work the deeds of darkness... For not only does such a fast obtain pardon for souls, but being holy, it prepares the saints, and raises them above the earth].
2. God created our "good" bodies and souls to function together under His guidance and to carry out his will. Now if our souls succumb to the wicked desires of the flesh in disobedience, we become carnal (Rom. 7:14), Through fasting we beseech God to subjugate our bodies by the Holy Spirit so that we might live in the spirit and not according to the flesh (Rom. 8:12). It is true that St. Paul preached the Gospel to many, but he warned against the flesh, which he mastered by fasting as he feared to be a castaway. (I Cor. 9:27).
3. While fasting, we pray to be liberated from our "ego." Thus we fast and abstain from "selfishness" as much as we abstain from food. We practice loving God through loving our brothers and all humanity by His grace. Hence St. Paul says "Though I give my body to be burned and have not charity, it forfeit me nothing" I Cor. 13:3. Therefore fasting should be associated with the witness to God's love through giving alms and striving for the salvation of souls. In the early church, many catechumens were baptized on Easter eve or the Christian Passover as a result of the great activity of church preaching during Lent besides the rest of the year doing so in a state of continuous prayer, fasting and practical testimony. Particularly that people were more prepared, while fasting, to receive the word of God and become members in the body of our Lord Jesus.
Until today, Lent is considered one of the richest periods of wholehearted devotion demonstrated by practical offerings to the poor and the needy. Believers undertake this in obedience to the Scripture: "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? Is it not to deal by bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? " Is. 5 8:3 -7.
In the first centuries of Christianity, praying and fasting (the direct love of God) were integrated with alms giving (our love to God interpreted by our love to our neighbors). This is explained in the book "The Shepherd" of Hermes, urging believers to offer their savings resulting from fasting to widows and orphans, Origen blesses those who fast and feed the poor, and St. Augustine has written a whole book on fasting, as he feels that a person, who fasts without offering his savings to the poor, has in fact practiced "greed" rather than fasting.
4. The days of fasting are days of repentance and contrition. At the same time, they are periods of joy and cheer as believers experience victory and power in their innermost self. Fasting does not imply fatigue, restraint, or irritation, but rather it inspires joy and inward gladness with the Lord reigning within the heart... This is the experience of the Coptic Church particularly during the Holy Week. At that time believers practice asceticism more than at any other time of fasting. The signs of real spiritual joy and consolation filling the heart are so clearly evident then.
Pope Athanasius of Alexandria has recorded this experience. He says: [Let us not fulfill these days like those that mourn, but by enjoying spiritual food, let us try to silence our fleshly lusts. For by these means we shall have strength to overcome our adversaries, like blessed Judith (13:8), when having first exercised herself in fasting and prayers, she overcame the enemies, and killed Olophernes
Fasting is not a situation which may be used as a pretext for anger. It is rather an opportunity to demonstrate a loving heart and power over the spirit of anger, selfishness, and all egocentricity.
Fasting And Church Order
While many Copts (as well as Ethiopians) spend most of their days fasting of their own free will, and while they do so by the motherly help and love of the Church (through the Church Order), Many westerners avoid the cross of fasting and put forward the following excuses:
1. Fasting is an individual worship to be practiced privately (in secret) (Matt. 6:17,18). The answer to this is that the same commandment applies to prayer and giving alms (Matt. 6:3,6). Besides, prayer and alms giving are practiced in all the churches of the world on a communal basis. In the Old Testament people observed communal worship in the form of prayer, hymns and Bible readings as well as fasting (Zech. 8:19; Est. 4:3. 16; Ezra. 8:21; 2 Chorn. 203; Joel 3:5). In the New Testament the apostles fasted together (Act 13:2,3). Hence why should believers avoid communal fasting under the pretext of private observance? The secret of the Early Church being strong was its unified faith as well as communal participation even in fasting. History itself is a witness that ever since the apostolic age, both Eastern and Western churches fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays besides the Great Lent. To answer to the concept of fasting privately in order to avoid boastfulness, we find the apostle revealing that he fasted. He announces "with fasting," and he practiced it with those who were on the boat (Acts 27:21).
2. Why are the days set for fasting specifically designated? If they are not indicated or organized by the Church, believers may be deprived of fasting all their lives. This is just what has happened in most Western Churches. In the Old Testament there were designated fasting days (Zech. 8:9) side by side with communal fasting or personal ones practiced in periods of hardship.
3. Some object to fasting designated by the Church by quoting the words: "Let no man therefore judge you in meat or in drink..." Col 2:16, and "What God has cleansed, that call you common" Act 10: 11- 15, and also the words: some shall depart from the faith. Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats which God has created to be received with thanksgiving..." I Tim. 4:1-3. This can be explained as follows:
a. The Apostle didn't say, "Let no man therefore judge you in fasting" but he said… "In meat or in drink." Thus what is intended here is the abstention from certain forbidden food designated by the Law of Moses. As when St. Peter saw a great sheet cover with all kinds of food and abstained at first (Acts 10: 11 - 15). Therefore the Apostle meant here to fight the idea of reverting to Judaism.
b. Concerning those who forbid specific food such as the Manichaeans and the Donatists, who also have forbidden marriage as unclean and eating meat as defiling ... those were excommunicated. During fasting we do not forbid certain food (as unclean) but we voluntarily subjugate and control the body (I Cor. 9:27).
It is noteworthy to underline that the first man was vegetarian (Gen. 1:29), and man continued to avoid eating meat until the period of Noah's ark (Gen. 9:3). At that time his spiritual standard dropped. This explains why believers eat vegetarian food when they wish to create a suitable atmosphere for spiritual development. The same behavior was observed by Daniel and the three young men at the palace, and also by Ezekiel.
c. "Church Order" is essential to communal life, as it is indicated in 2 John. Besides, the church is known for its flexibility; believers can be allowed to increase, decrease or even stop fasting by their spiritual fathers, during confession, and according to their spiritual, physical, or health condition.
Periods Of Fasting In The Coptic Church
First: The Weekly fast: Just as the church practices worship weekly, it also practices general fasting weekly. This has its origin in the Jewish Church. Jews were accustomed to fast on Mondays and Thursdays, as on these two days Moses went up to receive the commandments and descended the mountain carrying the two stone tablets. That is why when Christ spoke about the Pharisee, He said he boasted about fasting every week (Luke 18:12). Since the apostolic age, the Church has been aware of the value of fasting and designated Wednesdays and Fridays as days for fasting. This is done in memory of Christ's betrayal and crucifixion.
Second: The Great Lent or "Tessaracoste (forty days fasting)." This is set to achieve a dual purpose: first, to be prepared to experience the joyful resurrection of the crucified Lord. Secondly, to prepare catechumens through teaching and guidance to practice worship together with practical repentance, so that they might receive the sacrament of baptism on Easter eve.
It is necessary to stop and reflect upon these two objectives. Although we celebrate the resurrection weekly on every Sunday, and practice the "resurrected life" every day through continuous renewal and unceasing repentance, yet we are in need of the fasting period of forty days (Great Lent) besides the Holy Week in order to become ready for the joy of the resurrection and the power it gives. Within this period we practice "mortification" in the Lord, that His resurrection may be transfigured in us, and to be able to say with the Apostle Paul: "If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together" Rom. 8:17.
With regards to the preparation of the catechumens within this period, fasting is necessary for the performance of this task, and gives an increasingly deep significance. It implies an open loving heart towards human race. The whole church fasts, so that God may attract new children to Him, and prepare them for the blessings of His Fatherhood... Thus fasting is a sign of our faith in God's power manifested in our ministry and preaching. On the other hand, fasting particularly the Great Lent should have the aim of witnessing to Jesus Christ and of unceasing prayer for the sanctification of mankind.
At every Lent, a believer used to remember how the Church fasted on his behalf and strived to gain him as a holy vessel and as an altar to the Lord. Similarly, it is his turn now to repay this love by working for the salvation of others.
Actually the observance of "Great Lent" dates back to the age of the apostles:
a. In the writings of St. Irenaeus in the second century - mention is made of believers who fasted for a day, besides others who fasted for two days before Easter, as well as others who fasted for longer periods. There is reference to some who counted forty hours in a day. This does not mean that St. Irenaeus negates fasting during Lent or the Holy Week, but he indicates the complete abstention from food which precedes the Easter Liturgy of Eucharist. For while some are satisfied to fast on Holy Saturday (and that is the only time when the Coptic Church fasts on a Saturday in the form of complete abstention), others abstain for two successive days: Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Concerning the calculation of forty hours in a day, this probably refers to a custom practiced in the second century, and which some Copts follow, wherein fasting starts on Good Friday and continues until sunrise on Easter Sunday i.e., until the celebration of the Easter Liturgy. This is equivalent to forty hours.
b. In the middle of the third century, there is strong evidence that fasting extended for six days (from Holy Monday to Holy Sunday). Some scholars comment on this as a clear indication of the distinction made between fasting during the six paschal (Holy) days as a whole and fasting on Good Friday and Holy Saturday which has specific significance 10. Actually, what occurred in the third century may be considered as complementary to what is mentioned by St. Irenaeus. This saint mentions complete long abstention preceding the Easter Liturgy, whereas what is mentioned regarding the middle of the third century refers to fasting during the Holy Week as a whole and which also has specific significance, especially that it is still observed by our Church with greater asceticism than the rest of Lent period.
c. In AD 325, the Council of Nicene mentioned Lent as a settled matter recognized by the Universal Church, and not as an innovation in the church or in some churches.
d. In the middle of the fourth century, St. Athanasius was greatly concerned with writing the "Paschal Letters," even in his exile. The Popes of Alexandria have followed this custom at least ever since Pope Dionysius of Alexandria. These were written on the occasion of the Epiphany, not only to designate Easter time but also to designate the beginning of Lent immediately followed by the Holy Week and by Easter day.
It is noteworthy that in the letters that have come down to us, St. Athanasius integrated Lent with the Holy Week, although he stressed the clear distinction between them.
The Coptic Church fasts for fifty five days (forty day [Lent]; eight days [Holy Week] and seven days instead of the seven Saturdays which are not observed with complete abstention.
Third: Other Periods of Fasting: Besides the weekly fasting and Lent followed by the Holy Week, Copts observe the following periods of fasting:
1- Fasting before Christmas: Its win is spiritual preparation to receive the birth of Christ. It lasts for forty days plus three days in memory of the general fast observed in the reign of Al Moiz when EI-Muqattarn Mountain was moved.
2- The Fast of the Apostles: This begins on the day following Pentecost and continues until the feast of the martyrs, SS. Peter and Paul, on Abib the fifth (twelfth of July). The aim of this fasting period is to fill the soul with fervor and zeal to preach the Word with an apostolic thought.
3- The Fast of Nineveh: This lasts for three days. It starts on the Monday preceding the one before Lent. It probably refers to Jonah's fast, while he was inside the whale's belly.
4- The Fast of the Holy Virgin: This takes place fifteen days before the celebration of the Holy Virgin Mary feast. (It lasts from the seventh to the twenty second of August (16th of Misra)).
5- Fasting on the eve (Paramoun) of Christmas and on the eve of the Epiphany... this fast is observed immediately before these feasts, it is taken with great asceticism. If this occurs on a Saturday or Sunday, then fasting starts on Friday to allow complete abstention until sunset.
Notes on Periods of Fasting observed by the Copts:
1- Fasting is not observed on Wednesdays and Fridays occurring in the "Pentecostal Period," i.e., the fifty days starts from Easter to Pentecost.
2- The sick and travelers may reduce the periods set for fasting by absolution during confession. As for those who observe asceticism, they many fast all their lives and follow no restrictions. Upon consecration, a bishop fasts for a complete year.
Church Readings In The Coptic Church
Man's words proclaim his inner life, characteristics, personality, abilities and his gifts. Likewise church readings uncover her nature, thoughts, aims, and abilities.
Church Readings In The Early Ages
Jews used to pray daily liturgies besides the rites of the morning and evening sacrifices, especially on Saturdays and on feasts. The synagogue set certain readings especially for Saturdays.
We can summarize the contents of the daily Jewish liturgy in the days of Jesus Christ in the following points:
1. The president of the synagogue chooses one of the people to read the "Shema," i.e., the Jewish Creed which contains Deut. 6:49; 11:13-21; Num. 15:37-41, and the 18 blessings (On Saturday there are only 7 blessings).
2. A reading from the Pentateuch (five books of Moses) in Hebrew and in Aramaic.
3. A reading from the Prophets or other books.
4. If there was a suitable person or persons to preach, he (or they) did so (Acts 13:15).
5. The Christians who had Jewish origin participated in these Jewish liturgies till the year A.D 60 (Acts 20:16).
6. The Christian Church inherited from the synagogue the readings from the Scriptures that were suitable to the Christian mind.
7. In the second century, St. Justin stated that the church admitted readings from the Gospels and the apostolic writings.
8. In the second century there were certain church readings especially for feasts of Christian Pasch and Pentecost. Afterward other readings were set as those of the feasts of martyrs and of Sundays. [Many of the church Fathers mentioned the use of the two testaments in the church readiness.]
9. Before the Council of Nicea, the church had one "Lectionary" or more.
The Features Of The Readings In The Coptic Church
First: Church readings can be divided into two kinds, each one revealing a side of the church nature:
1. Readings that present a general line throughout the year, starts with El-Nayrouz (the beginning of the Coptic year) and continue till the end of the year in a certain theological and spiritual manner. These readings throughout the whole year uncover the church curriculum and her spiritual ladder, and at the same time represent the church catholicity (universalism) and her unity.
2. Everyday readings, according to the feasts of the saints and other circumstances. These readings show the distinctive nature of a day and the other. According to us, this represents the distinction between church members, and the variety of their gifts. This distinction and variety complement the catholicity of the church and her unity.
We can call the first kind of readings: "The general line of church readings" while the other is called: "The special readings."
Second: Church readings are considered as a part of church worship, these readings are recited with special tones (in Coptic) to declare the purpose of the choice of the church from these readings. Through church readings, worshipers offer to God hymns of love. In other words, church readings are prayers, through them we hear God's voice and talk to Him secretly. These readings are a dialogue of love between God and His people, therefore there is no church worship without biblical readings. Church readings are used not only through the daily Eucharistic liturgy but also in evening (Vesper), and morning (Malin) offerings, also through different liturgies such as the funeral services. Even in the canonical hours, every time we pray, the Psalms are mixed with certain readings from the New Testament.
Third: Church readings in the Eucharistic liturgy are not set by distributing the chapters of the two Testaments throughout the year, but the church chooses by the guidance of the Holy Spirit certain chapters to present an integral spiritual and theological curriculum. This curriculum is in accordance with church occasions, hymns and rites throughout the year, aiming at the edification of the holy community.
Fourth: Besides the readings from the two testaments which are in accordance with the church hymns, there are other readings from the traditional and patristic writings, such as:
1. The "Synixarum": It contains the biographies of saints and God's actions with the church throughout the ages.
2. The "Difnar": It contains doxologies to God who acted in the life of the saint whose feasts we celebrate. This book is no longer used in most of our churches.
3. Patristic sermons like those of St. John Chrysostom. Today most of our churches suffice with a sermon preached by one of the clergymen.
Church Readings Books
There are many "Lectionaries" that contain selected chapters from the Holy Bible, used in the Eucharistic liturgy, vespers and matins:
1. General Lectionary: contains readings for Sundays and ordinary days throughout the year. It is divided according to the Coptic months.
2. Lectionary for the Great Lent.
3. Lectionary for the Holy Week (Paschal Week).
4. Lectionary for the Pentecostal period (the period between Easter and Pentecost).
The General Line For The General Church Readings
Besides everyday readings (special church readings of the Days), the general church readings through the Coptic year present an integral church curriculum as an evangelic, ascetic, theological and eschatological (heavenly) one and at the same time it does not ignore our practical everyday life on earth.
The general church readings are for the followings periods:
1. From El-Nayrouz feast (the beginning of the Coptic Year) to the
feast of the Cross (1:17 Tout): The readings of this period concentrate on joy,
chanting hymns and the constant renewal; the first verse that is read in the
eve of El-Nayrouz is: "Sing to the Lord a new
song." Truly, repentance is the way to the kingdom of God, but when
repentance is mixed with hope, it is practiced through per petual
The analogy between El-Nayrouz (Feast of Martyrs) and the feast of the Cross. Using a joyful (Farayhi) tone throughout this period confirms the joyful life of the suffering church, for she joyfully bears the cross together with her Heavenly Groom.
2. The preparation for Christmas (Nativity of Christ in Keyahk 29): The church fasts for 43 days before Christmas, and presents readings which concentrate on "God's friendship with man" realized by the divine incarnation.
3. The correlation between the feasts of Christmas, Circumcision and Epiphany (The Baptism of Jesus Christ): The readings of these feasts announce that our Friend became like us, submitted Himself to the Law and was circumcised. He also entered with us into. the Jordan River, was baptized to lift us up to the spiritual circumcision, changing our friendship to Him unto the "Adoption to God", that we might become "members of the household of God" Eph. 2:19.
In other words, the "divine friendship'' (Christmas) can be realized through two integral actions: descent of the Word of God unto, us (His circumcision like us), and lifting us up to Him by His Holy Spirit (our spiritual circumcision or our baptism). He became like us, subjected Himself to the Law which He issued, that we might become like Him, children of His Holy Father!
4. "Jonah's Pasch": Our adoption to God is realized through "passing over" (Pasch), for we have to die with Christ, be buried with Him (as if we were in the belly of the great fish), that we might reign with Him and enjoy the new life [the word "Pasch" means "Passover"].
The readings of the fasting and of the "Pasch" of Jonah represent a call to believers that they might read the books of the Old Testament in a new concept, through the events of the Christian Pasch, i.e., the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
5. The readings of Great Lent, on Sundays and ordinary days in Lent. These readings, from the Old and New Testaments, have their particular features, for they urge us to accept the true and practical communion with Christ, our Pasch, who was slain for our sake.
6. The readings of the Holy Week, i.e., the readings of the period from Saturday of Lazarus till Easter. These readings are considered the center of all church readings, for through them the church follows all the events of salvation hour by hour, to declare the mystery of the redeeming divine love from the Old and New Testaments, so that believers might live in these events with all their hearts and senses and lastly enjoy the delight of Christ's resurrection
7. The Pentecostal Period, with its readings and joyful (Farayhi) hymns reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, which in its essence is the enjoyment of communion with the Risen Christ, who is in heavens.
8. The Feast of the Apostles (5th of Abib 12 July): It is the feast of preaching and ministering unceasingly, and the feast of the acceptance of the apostolic life.
9. The Feast of St. Mary (16 Misra 22 August): It declares the glories that a believer might attain by his unity with the Glorious Christ, revealed in a unique way in St. Mary as the excellent member among the believers. It also assures the communion of saints.
10. The preparation for El-Nayrouz: In the last two weeks of the Coptic year, church readings attract our sight and mind towards the events of the end of the world and Christ's last advent. Church readings prepare the believers to sing: "Yes; Come O Lord Jesus."
In brief, the frame of the general curriculum of the church is:
1. It starts with the spiritual joy in the Lord together with the desire of the continual renewal, as a base for our spiritual life (Feast of El-Nayrouz till the feast of the Cross c.II September up to c. 27 September).
2. This joy is based on God's friendship and love towards men (Christmas or the Feast of the Nativity of Christ - 7 January).
3. God's love and friendship were realized through His participating in our nature, that we may also participate in Jesus' sonship by the spirit of adoption (Feasts of Circumcision and Epiphany - 19 January).
4. This sonship is realized by passing over from bondage through the Pasch, the center of the Old Testament (Jonah's Pasch).
5. The Old Pasch is a symbol of our True Pasch, the Crucified and Risen Christ (The Great Lent).
6. We have to accept the practical communion with our Pasch by participating in His crucifixion so that we might attain the delight and power of His resurrection (The Holy Week).
7. We have to accept the eschatological (heavenly) thought, that we might not miss the inner kingdom (The Pentecostal period).
8. As we attain communion with God we must witness to Him by preaching (The Feast of the Apostles).
9. Our communion with God leads us to the communion with our brothers and unites us with His saints (The Feast of St. Mary).
10 Our experience of the communion with God and with our brothers inflames our desire for the Lord's last advent, to enjoy the heavenly and eternal communion in the perfect glories (The end of the year).
Through the above mentioned summary we remark that the Coptic Church presents through the general readings an integral thought about God's love and His redeeming work. It also presents our responsibility for the spiritual struggling, meditation on the heavenly glories accompanied by accepting sufferings joyfully, attaining the mysteries of the word of God together with preaching and witnessing, and attaining the communion with God and His son by His Holy Spirit through our communion altogether in Him.
Private Worship In The Coptic Church
One Worshipping Life
In his daily life, conduct and worship, the believer bears an integral indivisible life, either life "in Christ" or "out of Christ." When he enjoys his life "In Christ," his fellowship in public worship is complimented by practicing his unseen private worshipping; as both represent one devotional life. In other words, sharing the church liturgies with the congregation, a believer fortifies his spiritual life when he goes into his private room and shuts the doors of his senses. Thus when he is among the group physically, his heart, mind and soul are at liberty in heavens meeting and conversing intimately with God as though the universe embraces none but them both. And when he enters into his private room, closes the outer door and pours forth in front of God in a true spiritual worship he holds the whole world -in his heart; I mean the whole human race praying for them and seeking their prayers on his behalf While he is in his room he feels he is inside the church that unites a host of spiritual militants with the victorious including the heavenly hosts.
In the fight of this concept we cannot draw a dividing line that separates between church life and private worshipping life, because the church is every believer holding firmly together with his brethren in the One Head.
That is why in the present time, due to housing problems in Egypt, when a believer does not find a private room to pray in solitude, he stands or bows in prayer in the presence of the family members. He does not abstain from praying because he does not have a private locked room. His room is already inside him if he chooses to shut out his senses.
Private Or Individual Worship?
Individuality is non-existent in our Church's dictionary. The spirit of individuality and isolation has been eliminated in the human loving Christ, that we might live in the spirit of collective love even if we were in our private rooms. This I have clarified frequently while talking about monasticism and monarchism. Hence monasticism is not an inner isolation from the community, or a practice of individual life, but it is a unity with God, the Lover-of-mankind.
In the Coptic Church, the believer practices many private forms of worships of which we mention:
1. The Canonical Hours (the Agbia prayers): The early church took after the Jewish Church the system of dividing the days into hours of prayers. Many of the Copts pray Matins and Compline and some pray Midnight. When they have the chance they pray other prayers.
We need to notice the following in the Canonical Hours prayers:
a. Every prayer is called "song of praise," as though the church is calling on her children to lead a life of joy if possible all the hours of their life, day and night.
b. In every hour the church offers us the memory of a certain phase of God's redeeming work. The "Matin" song of praise reminds us of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and our daily resurrection to begin a new life in Him. The Terce (praise of the third hour) reminds us of the coming upon the church of the Holy Spirit of God, the Giver of perpetual renewal and holiness. In the Text we remember the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, while in the None (ninth hour) we remember the death in the flesh of our Lord and the acceptance of the right hand thief, in Paradise. In the Vespers (sunset) we remember the removing of our Lord's Body from the cross, giving thanks for concluding the day, and asking Him that we might spend the night in peace. In Compline we remember the burial of the Body of our Lord watching for the end of our sojourn on earth... yet in the three midnight prayers we await for the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ.
c. The hourly songs of praise begins with giving thanks to God after the Lord's prayer, then submitting our repentance (Psalms 50 ), followed by praise with Psalms.
2. Besides the prayers or the praises of the Canonical Hours the believer practices his private talk with God; one time praising, another time thanking and a third time contending and a fourth time asking and pleading. It is worthy of the believer to be openhearted. He would not focus in his prayers upon his personal needs but ask for all if possible: for his beloved as well as his antagonists, for his acquaintances as well as for strangers, for believers as well as nonbelievers.
3. It is worthy of a believer also to practice "kneeling" (Metanias), as a sign of contrition and repentance. The believer trains himself to practice "kneeling" for the salvation of others.
4. Preoccupation with God through the day, that is "prayer of calling Jesus' name". Which is called the "arrow prayer," in which the believer cries out from moment to moment with a short prayer calling the name of our Lord Jesus Christ as an arrow to strike with, the snares of our enemy Satan. This action, simple as it is, has its own effectiveness in the life and worship of the believer.
5. Praises, glorification and beatification: some believers practice church hymns daily or on feasts as a private worship in their bedrooms. Here we need to mention that some Copts prefer setting up a special corner for prayer. If this is not easy to do we find that many icons decorate their homes as a sign of their longing for holy life in God and fellowship with the saints.
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