FR. TADROS Y. MALATY
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
We can summarise the contents of the daily Jewish liturgy in the days of Jesus Christ in the following points2:
1. The president of the synagogue chooses one of the people to read the "Shema," i.e., the Jewish Creed3 which contains Deut. 6:4-9; 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).
U The Christians who had Jewish origin participated in these Jewish liturgies till the year A.D 60 (Acts 20:16).
U The Christian Church inherited from the synagogue the readings from the Scriptures that were suitable to the Christian mind.
In the second century, St. Justin4 stated that the church
admitted readings from the Gospels and the apostolic
In the second century there were certain church
readings especially for feasts of Christian Pasch and
Pentecost5. 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
U Before the Council of Nicea, the church had one "Lectionary" or more7.
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 theo-
logical 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 read-
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 (Matin) 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.
Church readings in the Eucharistic liturgy are not
set by distributing the chapters of the two Testaments
throughout the year, but the church choses - 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.
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,
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
The general church readings are for the followings
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 re-
pentance is mixed with hope, it is practised through perpet-
ual inner joy.
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 incar-
3. The correlation between the feasts of Christmas,
Circumcision and Epiphany (The Baptism of Jesus
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"
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
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
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. 11 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
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 realised by passing over from bondage
through the Pasch, the centre of the Old Testament (Jonah's
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
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
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
together with 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.
1. J.G. Davies: A dict. of Liturgy and Worship, SCM 1978, p. 211.
2. W.K. Lowther Clarke: Liturgy & Worship, SPCK 4943, p. 76,77.
3. Every Jew had to recite the creed twice a day.
4. Apology 1:67.
5. Dom Gregory Dix: The Shape of Liturgy, 1975, p. 39.
6. St. Clem. Alex. PG 8:237F; Origen: Homilies, passim; Tertullian: De Prescript 36; Cyprian: Ep. 38,39.
7. Dix, p.39,370.
U U U