THE COPTIC FEASTS
FR. TADROS Y. MALATY
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 practising the secret communion with God and receiving His redeeming deeds.
Almost all the days are feasts to the Coptic Church. Al-
though 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
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
St. Jerome1 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
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 Apos-
tolic tells us in a paschal letter that "Christ" is our feast. Al-
though 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 practise 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 which 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
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
c. The Epiphany or the Baptism of Christ
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 delightful procession is conducted
during the "Matin." It starts from inside the sanctuary around
the altar to indicate the procession of the redeemed believers,
starts with 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 martyrs, the 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 men of
God of the Old and New testaments meet with the heavenly
hosts in heaven (sanctuary) forever.
At 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 concentrates on
the marvelous events of this unique week with its special
glorious readings and rites which concern our salvation.
(The Christian Pasch or Passover): It is
preceded by Great Lent (55 days) and is considered by the
Coptic Church as the "Great Feast." Its delight continues for
fifty days until the Pentecost. Easter is also essentially
celebrated on every Sunday by participating in the Sacrament
of the Eucharist. For the church wishes that all believers may
enjoy the new risen life in Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:4).
f. The Ascension:
It is celebrated on the fortieth day after
Easter and it falls on a Thursday. In this feast we recall Him
who raises and lifts us up to sit with Him in heaven (Eph.
It represents the birthday of the Christian
Church. When the Only-begotten Son paid the price for her
salvation, He ascended to heaven to prepare a place for her.
He sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in her, offering her
existence, guidance, sanctification and adornment as the
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 travellers, 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.
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 fulfil 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
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 fulfil our goals regardless of people related
to us, inspite of our love and obedience to them (Luke 2:24).
c. 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
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
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
her Dormant (Tobah 21, 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
(1st 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
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
1. Fr. T. Malaty: Dict. of the Church Fathers and Saints, Vol. 1, 1986, p.113 (in Arabic).
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