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The Ritual Of The Raising Of Incense
Using incense in the Church is not pagan, as some believe, but it is the praise of heavenly angels which takes place at all times in heaven. "Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. And he was given much incense that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne." (Rev. 8: 3).
The raising of incense is a preparation for mass because it consists of a collection of praise and prayers to ask for the blessing of the Lord on this sacramental service. It is possible to raise incense without a mass in order to offer God prayer and praise. Of itself, it is considered an offering of prayer and a sweet smelling odor to God. There was, in the Jewish temple, a special altar called "the altar of incense; other than the altar for sacrifices and burnt offerings. Holy Mass cannot be held without the raising of the incense at matins at least, preceded by the midnight praise.
The Ritual of the Raising of Incense:
The priest opens the curtain as he says: "Elyson Issas" and prays the ‘Our Father’. He then bows down before the sanctuary and says: "Tenowsht emmok o piIkristos nem pikiwt en agathos nem piepnevma ethoab, je aki eksoti emmon". He then bows low to the priests and people saying: "Ezmo eroi esti metania koni evol", which means: Bless this ‘metania’; forgive me. He the embraces his brothers the priests as a sign of greeting and love. His greeting to them witnesses to their hearts that he has good intentions towards them, and that they have good intentions toward him and that there is peace and reconciliation between them. He obtains forgiveness from the congregation when he says: "I have sinned, forgive me." Obtaining the absolution of the priest and the forgiveness of the congregation are vitally important before he begins prayer, for our Savior commanded us: "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses" (Mk. 11: 25). St. Paul also says: "Therefore, I desire that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (1 Tim. 2: 8).
The priest goes back to stand before the sanctuary in humility and lifts his hands; in his right hand he holds the cross, and the deacon stands behind him to the right. He then starts the prayer of thanksgiving.
1. The Prayer of Thanksgiving:
This is a very important prayer in the Church. We begin all our prayers with it: mass, weddings, funerals, baptisms, for the sick, and in the prayers of the hours and others. We thank God, who controls everything, for everything, in every condition, and for every condition: in sadness and joy, in sickness and health, in strained and easy circumstances. We believe that all these circumstances that our children are passing through are from the hand of, or with the permission of, the Lord, Who controls everything. We are confident that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Rom. 8: 28).
After the prayer of thanksgiving, the priest falls to his knees before the sanctuary and then enters it with his right foot first because he is entering the Holiest of Holies, the symbol of heaven. He then bows down before the altar and kisses it.
The many times the priest bows before and after entering the sanctuary and before the altar are pleas for the mercies of God to rain down on us and efforts to find favor with Him so that he might accept his prayers and intercessions, as well as his sacrifice and offerings.
2. Prayer for those who have slept:
This prayer is a firm and established doctrine in the Coptic Church for the following reasons:
This prayer makes it clear that the souls of those who have slept are alive, and not like dumb animals which have no existence once their bodies decompose. God said: "I am the God of the living and not of the dead." Every time we pray for those who have slept, we have to remember the immortality of their souls and ours and we have to make every effort to make them obtain eternal happiness.
Another purpose is to believe the resurrection. We ask God to raise their bodies on the last day and to raise ours with them and to forgive them and us the small sins we may not have not confessed and repented of before leaving this world.
This prayer is for the realization of the general judgment. Our prayer for those who have slept publicly confesses this coming judgment, reminding those among the living who know it already and informing those who do not of it.
It confirms the reward that no one has as yet received, for those who have slept are not made perfect apart from us (Heb. 11: 40).
It reminds us continually that those who have slept are our members and brothers, and that it is our duty to remember them, for: "The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance" (Ps.112: 6).
It comforts the living and brings down the grace of patience and endurance to their hearts.
We repay a debt towards those who have slept, for God has ordered us to pray for one another (Jas. 5: 16).
3. Have Mercy Upon Us:
After the doxologies and the Creed, the priest holds the cross on which are three lit candles symbolizing the fact that He Who was crucified is the Light of the world Who gave Himself to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
The priest stands before the sanctuary in humility and lifts both hands. In the right hand, he holds the cross with the lit candles, and the left is spread in prayer and abasement. He prays: "Lord have mercy on us, grant us mercy, and be tender to us."
4. The Gospel:
After the congregation’s response, the priest says, "efnouti nai nan" and makes the sign of the cross on the congregation with the cross and the lit candles. He then blows them out and gives them to the deacon. Next, he makes the sign of the cross on the incense box which the deacon brings to him at the door of the sanctuary. He puts one measure of incense and then says the prayer before the Gospel, then he waves the incense on the New Testament while he is standing in his place before the sanctuary. He says: "We bow to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ with the prayers of the psalmist, David the prophet; Lord, grant us the grace of the forgiveness of our sins."
Next, he enters the sanctuary and goes round the altar in the tour of the gospel, saying: "Now Lord, let your servant depart in peace ....etc." Then the Gospel is read in Coptic and in Arabic. The priest then says the five short prayers: for peace, the fathers, the place, divinity, and meetings.
The priest takes the cross from the deacon and says the three absolutions, two of which are directed to the east, and the third to the west, towards the people who bow their heads, asking for absolution and forgiveness. These are three absolutions which the priest reads over the head of the confessor after hearing his confession. They are full of humble meanings.
6. The Blessing:
The priest says the blessing while he is facing the west. "May the Lord have mercy on us and bless us; may His Countenance shine upon us and bless us. Lord, save Your people with the strength of Your life-giving Cross, with the prayers and requests of our Lady, the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the three pure Singers, the angels Michael, Gabrial, and Raphael, all the angels, and all the heavenly hosts, and all the prayers of the patriarchs and prophets, the apostles and martyrs, the host of the pure who wear the cross and the righteous, and the angel of this blessed day. May their holy blessings, their grace, their strength, their gift, their love, and their help be with us all for ever. Amen."
He then pronounces the dismissal, for the congregation to go in peace.
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