Dogmas, to the Coptic Orthodox Church, are not merely theological concepts concerning God, man, church, eternal life, heavenly creatures, demon etc.., to be discussed among clergymen, scholars and laymen, but are, in essence, daily experiences each member of the church has to live. In other words, dogmas representing our faith in God through various aspects have one message, i.e. our communion with God the Father in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, by His Holy Spirit. Thus, we conceive of our redemption, and our membership of the church, a deep understanding of the Holy Bible, an acceptance of the Kingdom of God within our souls, a communion with the heavenly creatures and the experience of eternal life.
For a long time, some western writers looked to "tradition" as a blind obedience to the past, and stickfast to a passive solid deposit. In their point of view, tradition is a precise catalogue of a set of ancient doctrines, canons and rites, or it is a museum for antiquity. Therefore, the traditional church, in their view, seems to be a solid obscurant and retrograded one, attached to what is old, simply for its antiquity.
THE MEANING OF "TRADITION"
The word "tradition," in Greek, as it is mentioned in the New Testament, is "Paradosis," which does not mean "imitation," but "delivering a thing and receiving it, i.e., delivering a deposit of faith and receiving it along the generations (Jude 3).
THE SUBJECT OF CHRISTIAN TRADITION
1. The message of Faith in the Holy Trinity and God's redeeming deeds.
2 . The deeds and words of Christ.
3. The books of the Old Testament.
4. The spiritual and ethical teachings of Jesus Christ. 5. The curriculum of worship, its concept and order.
TRADITION IN THE APOSTOLIC AGE
In the apostolic age, tradition was the only source of Christian faith, doctrines and worship. Its role in the Church life of that period may be summarized in the following points:
1. The Early Church received from Christ and the apostles a new understanding of the Old Testament, which the Jews did not acknowledge. She received the Old Testament with a new concept.
2 . Through tradition, Christians accepted the books of the New Testament as the inspired word of God, before they were canonized by the Church.
3 . Tradition was the source of the Apostles' teaching (I John 1: 1; John 19:35, Luke 1:2; Acts 1:21,22). The Apostle Paul considered what he received from the Church through tradition as if received from the Lord Himself (Gal. 1: 7; 1 Cor. 11: 23).
4. By tradition, the church practiced the active new life in Christ.
TRADITION AND THE HOLY SCRIPTURES
The Holy Scriptures in fact are a part of the Church tradition. The tradition in its essence is declaring the word of God by various methods. For tradition concentrated on the apostolic teaching. The appearance of the books of the New Testament did not cancel the tradition, but these books command us to preserve the tradition (2 John 12; 3 John 13:14; 1 Cor. 11:34; Titus 1:5; 2 Thes. 3:16; John 21:25; 2 Cor. 11:23).
TRADITION IN THE APOSTOLIC AGE
In the apostolic age, tradition was the only source of Christian faith, doctrines and worship. Its role in the Church life of that period may be summarized in the following points:
* Origen says: "By tradition, I knew the four Gospels, and that they are true ones."
* Church Tradition preserve the unity of understanding the Holy Scriptures throughout ages, so that no believer interprets them according to his own will. Origen states: "The true disciple of Jesus is He who enters the house, that is to say, the Church. He enters it thinking as the Church does, and living as she does; this is how he understands the word. The key of the Scriptures must be received from the tradition of the Church, as from the Lord Himself.
THE JEWISH TRADITION AND CHRISTIANITY
Christ rejected the literal Jewish tradition, which opposed the word of God (Matt. 15:3; Mark 7:13; Col 2:8). The early Church used to participate in the ministry of the Jewish temple with its hymns and Psalms. The Church accepted what was living and in accordance with the word of God. From the Jewish tradition St. Jude knew the dispute between Michael and the devil (Jude 9), and the prophecy of Enoch (Jude 14,15), and the apostle Paul knew the names of those who opposed Moses (2 Tim. 3:8), etc.
THE PRESERVATION OF CHURCH TRADITION
Church tradition in faith, worship, behavior and practical life was delivered to us through the decisions of the Ecumenical and local councils, the patristic writings and also through the practical life of laymen who played a vital role in delivering the spirit of the new life to us throughout generations.
CHURCH TRADITION AND THE PRESENT LIFE
* Tradition does not mean "rigidity," but giving attention to the past as a basis for the present, and to the present as a basis for the future. Tradition is the mystery of church growth and vitality and not of rigidity.
* We have to understand tradition in its spiritual depth and theological basis and not in holding fast its literality without understanding.
* When the Church of Alexandria preached to Ethiopia, she offered her the living Church tradition, but did not oblige the Ethiopians to accept the Coptic traditions in their details. We have to distinguish between tradition as a general Church thought and the traditions which concern the local churches. For example, Ethiopia accepted the tradition of using liturgies in her worship but did not use the same texts in their literality. She accepted the spirit and the general frame of the liturgies. Ethiopia also accepted tradition of venerating icons but she used her own art and not the Coptic one. Thus the Coptic church offered Ethiopia the essence of her tradition but not its details. Therefore if we preach to a foreign country, we
have to present the Orthodox Church Tradition without obliging them to accept a certain local thought. This is what happens today as the Coptic church preaches to Africa, and Kenya for example.
THE CHURCH TRADITION AND PERSONAL LIFE
Some believes that preserving the Church tradition means canceling the personality of every member of the Church in his relationship with God, his understanding the Holy Bible and in practicing worship. The Orthodox Church believes in the moderate way without any exaggeration, for she holds fast the church tradition that organizes the church life, clarifies the principal concepts of worship and reveals the spirit of the Holy Bible without canceling the personal relationship of every member of the church with his Savior. Besides his personal understanding of the Bible, and his enjoying freedom.
For example, in any society, social organization and family relationships or bonds furnish the personality of every member within the spirit of the community, but do not ignore his personality.
The Church of Europe in the middle ages used church orders and canons as rigid laws and got the believer's personal rights. While today the majority of the Western Christians believe in the individual freedom in understanding the Bible according to one's will, and to acknowledge Christianity individually. The Orthodox church in fact follows midway, i.e., sanctifies the church thoughts as a community and at the same time appreciates the personal life of every member of the Church.
THE SAINTS AND THE BOND OF LOVE
The Saints are dear brothers who have struggled like us and have departed to Paradise. They are not dead, but are sleeping, as our Lord said (John 11: 11), and as St. Paul called them (I Thess. 4:13).
Our early fathers spoke clearly and in detail about our relationship with Saints. The Saints in Paradise are the triumphant members of the same one church in which we are militant members. We, the triumphant and militants, are members of the Church, which is the one Body of Jesus Christ. The triumphant become invisible members because of the death of their bodies, and then militants ire the visible ones. This is man's point of view, but in God's sight, we are all a visible holy family.
They departed from earth, but did not leave the church; their love toward their brothers did not cease by their departure and dwelling in Paradise. The death of their bodies does not sever the bond of mutual love between them and us-, on the contrary it increases in depth and strength. Their prayers for the salvation of all the world never cease. They pray for us, and we venerate them as they are our holy and dear friends.
ICONS OF SAINTS
We venerate the icons of saints and put them on the iconstasis (icon-stand). Church walls and doors are hung with icons, also our homes etc., as a sign of our communion with them in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Coptic Icons have their own characteristics as we have mentioned in the book : "Church, House of God."
THE INTERCESSIONS OF SAINTS (THEIR PRAYERS FOR US)
We all - the triumphant and militants - as one Body, have love that never fails (I Cor. 13:8), for our interaction is unceasing. Those who preceded us pray for us, and we through love - pray for those who departed, and God in His Fatherhood appreciates this mutual love.
Our belief in intercession is biblical, as it appears from the following points:
1 . Saints who departed are still alive, for it is said, "When he called the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob for He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all are alive in Him" Luke 20:37,38; Matt. 22:32; Mark 12:26. Moses and Elijah appeared on Jesus' transfiguration (Luke 9:28-33), and many bodies of the saints were raised on Jesus' transfiguration (Matt. 27:52,53).
2. God disclosed many secrets which concern the future of His men in both the Old and the New Testaments (Acts 20:22, 23, 29, 30; 2 Pet. 1: 14), no wonder that He reveals our conditions to the saints who are in Paradise. Their knowledge about us is a gift from God to them. Therefore Abraham knew that Moses and other prophets had come (Luke 16; 29-3 1), and those who are in heaven rejoice for the repentance of a sinner (Luke 15:7-10).
3. The believers who departed have a kind of privilege before God, therefore the Lord blessed Isaac for the sake of Abraham his father (Gen. 26:5), and He was gracious to Israel and had compassion on them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (2 kings 13:23). He did not tear down the kingdom in the days of Solomon for the sake of his father David (I kings 11: 11- 13). God raised a dead man when his corpse touched the bones of Elisha the prophet, revealing the great position of this prophet in God's sight (2 Kings 13:20,21).
4. We, the militants ask for the intercessions of the saints, as Jacob did when he asked for the intercessions of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac (Gen. 32:9). Moses asked for the intercession of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exod. 32:13)... For God honors those who honor Him (1 Sam. 2:30). He attributes Himself to them (Gen. 26:24; 28:13), and hears their supplications... Therefore the rich man appealed to Abraham (Luke 16:27,28).
Origen says: "It is not against truth, that we ask saints and seek for their intercessions... but that they might help us." St. Athanasius says: "0 lady and queen, the mother of God (Theotokos) intercede for us."
The Sacremental Life
SACRAMENTS AND CHURCH LIFE
I am delighted to write here about church sacraments, for in fact practicing church sacraments gives us enjoyment through the exceeding love of God and the free divine grace. Such are the practical gospels in the actual church life, that through them believers discover the mystery of the Gospel.
In brief I can say that the sacraments grant us the following blessings:
1. Practical divine grace: If teaching the divine grace is the heart and center of the Gospel, we attain this grace through the sacraments, as it is written in the Holy Bible:
In the sacrament of Baptism, we attain the rebirth, not of our own merit nor by a human hand but by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-5; Tit. 3:5). We also receive God's adoption (Gal. 3:26, 27), attain the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and sanctification (Eph. 5:25-26).
Through "Chrism" (Mayroun) we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who teaches us, guides us and sanctifies us, so that we may attain the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Acts 8:17; 19:5,6).
Through penance and confession, the Holy Spirit grants us the remission of sins (Matt. 16:19).
In the Eucharist, the church is lifted up as if to heaven so that she meets her heavenly Savior, participates with the heavenly host in their hymns, and partakes of the Body and the Blood of the Lord to be united with Him, established in Him and to live forever with Him
(John 2:3 5,55; Matt. 26:27,28; 1 Cor. 10: 17).
Through the Sacrament of holy unction, the sick who accepts to be united with Christ in His sufferings attains the remission of sins (by repentance). and the healing of his body (James 4:14; Mark 6:13).
Through the Sacrament of marriage, the couple are united together, and the Holy spirit sets their home as the holy church of God...
Through the Sacrament of priesthood, Jesus Christ, the Unique Chief-Priest acts in those whom the Holy Spirit grants the grace of priesthood (Matt. 28:19-20; Eph. 4:11; Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1: 16).
These exceeding divine acts are the free grace of God offered to believers through His Church.
2. The free divine actions for human sanctification: These actions are called "Sacraments," for they are divine and they surpass the human mind. The believer acknowledges the Holy Trinity acting to his advantage, so that he may become son of God sanctified by the precious Blood. He participates with the heavenly creatures in their supreme life, and enjoy God's action in his conjugal life, and the divine providence in his sickness etc. These sacraments have an evangelic spirit, I mean they do not ignore the human side.
In more details, I say that God grants man special honor because of His love to him. Thus God acts by him and through him and does not ignore him. For example, no heavenly or earthy creatures has the power to grant a human being to be a child of God. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in baptism, according to the merits of the Cross, but it is performed by the priest. God appreciates giving man this honor, but the Sacrament is effectively God's work and not the priest's. Someone may ask, why does not God grant His gifts to the believer directly and not through the priest? we reply that when God the Son became man, He honored all mankind by acting through them, calling them, sanctifying them and granting them the grace of priesthood.
When God the Son was incarnate for our salvation, He took a true Body from Virgin Mary who had a positive role... We considered this as an honor to mankind. Likewise, God asks men to have a positive role, so that He may reveal Himself through men.
3. Proclaiming the nature of the church: Someone may misuse the sacraments, as sources of authority and not for serving others. This in turn may cause anger and protest against church authority. The Coptic Church however deals with the believers in a motherly way through these sacraments. The Holy Trinity grants gifts to the believer through His Church that has the image of Christ, and carry His likeness.
For example, the believer who receives rebirth in baptism, looks to the church as his mother who begot him by the Holy Spirit as a son of God. This gift of adoption unites him spiritually with other members so that he will not feel isolation nor live in individualism. In his conjugal life, a husband meets his wife as one with him through the loving church, looking at his relation with her as an image of the relation of Christ and the Church.
Practicing the sacraments in spirit and truth without misusing authority proclaims the motherhood of the church, her unity, her spiritual existence and her message concerning the salvation of every soul, far away from the spirit of administration and human organization.
4. Proclaiming our concept to the whole creation: God the Word who surpassed all materials; became a true Man; who ate,
drank, worked and sanctified our view, not only on the body that He took, but even on our daily life and the materials we use. We find no defilement in food, or look at the creation in enmity or as an element of darkness.
I Using materials in sacraments, like water in Baptism, oil in the Holy Unction, bread and wine in the Eucharist, metal crown in baptism and marriage celebration, priests' vestments etc. grant us an honorable view on materials, for we see God's hand that sanctifies everything for our salvation.
OUR CONCEPT OF CHURCH SACRAMENTS
Sacraments are vital and essential to the believers; they are the means of practicing the evangelic thoughts, besides receiving the grace of God and the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church of Christ, so that all believers-might be lifted up to the bosom of the Father.
Here, I wish to explain in brief our concepts of every sacrament:
1. In the Coptic rite of Baptism there are two essential lines; denying Satan and the acceptance of God's work. In other words, in baptism the believer is transferred from being belonged to Satan through subjection to his works, to receiving God's adoption, and being His. He denies the kingdom of the devil to receive within himself that of Christ, turning towards the east, where the sun of Righteousness shines, instead of the west, which is a symbol of darkness.
In this rite, the church deposits the newly baptized into the hands of a godparent giving him firm commandments, to be responsible of, and do his best to present the evangelic church life to the newly baptized.
The Coptic church insists that baptism is performed by immersion, except in necessary cases such as illness; whereas the baptized person is buried with Christ and also risen with Him to enjoy the new risen life (Rom. 6:4-6).
2. In the rite of Chrism, the body is anointed with holy oil thirtysix times, as a symbol of the sanctification of the soul and body together, so that man in his wholeness, becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. All members of the body-even those which are inferior-are anointed with the holy Chrism, for there is no defiled or shameful member of the body.
Putting on new white clothes (and also a crown in ancient), refers to enjoying the pledge of the crowned, pure and heavenly life.
3. In the rite of penance and confession, the priest and the confessor feel that they are together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which convicts men of sins, and forgives sins in order to obtain a communion with the Holy Trinity.
The believer does not feel ashamed of discovering his own weakness, in the presence of his spiritual father who takes care of his salvation, and who feels as if he was partaker with his sons of their weaknesses.
4. In the Eucharist, the church is lifted up to heaven, through the One unrepeated Sacrifice, the life giving and ever present One.
In this Sacrament, the church prays for her children, for the whole world, for the salvation of mankind, and for their life on earth etc. For she appeals to God's heart that is tender with love, and His ears that hear her petitions.
5. In the Holy Unction, the petition for spiritual blessings are correlated to the temporal ones, so that the sick person may obtain remission of sins and healing of the soul and body.
6. In the sacrament of marriage, the rite is concentrated on revealing the heavenly crown, that the hearts of all who are present
may be lifted up to the heavenly marriage, and that the couple acknowledge that their conjugal life is a shadow of the church in heaven.
7. In the sacrament of priesthood, the person obtains this grace to wash the feet of God's people, not by himself, for he is unworthy of this ministry, but by Christ the Servant of mankind on behalf of their salvation. The priest receives "fatherhood" not by his own merit, but by the act of God's Fatherhood in him. He says with St. John: "My children" I John 2: 1, and with Paul the Apostle, "in Christ Jesus I have begotten you" I Cor. 4:15.
Hence the sacraments, in their rites seek for man's salvation and his receiving God's adoption, lift him up to the heavenly life to the bread of angels, that he may obtain participation in the eternal glories. Sacraments are the fulfillment of Gospel blessings.
The Heavenly Creatures
THE COPTIC CHURCH AND THE WESTERN THEOLOGY
When Calvin spoke about "angels," he said, "It is also our duty cheerfully to remain in ignorance of what is not for our advantage to know"; and Barth began his discussion of angels with so much hesitation. The western theologians are inclined to avoid talking about the heavenly creatures, looking to modern man even though he has no objection to the existence of angels theologically or logically but he does not like to describe them on psychological bases, looking to this speech as a kind of myth and imagination. As for the Coptic Church, we find that the heavenly creatures have had their own strong print on the writings of the Fathers of Alexandria, especially Origen, as well as on her hymns, feasts, icons, church buildings etc.
Concerning the patristic writings, there was a clear line of thought as regards to the heavenly creatures in the early church, especially the writings of the School of Alexandrian which adopted the biblical thoughts. For the Holy Bible refers to them throughout all its books, from Genesis to the Revelation. These references throughout the two testaments is not meaningless or without aim.
As to Church hymns, believers who receive the pledge of the heavenly life waiting for being in the likeness of angels chant hymns with the angels, blessing them, requesting their prayers, setting feasts in their names, especially the Archangel Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the four Living creatures, the twenty-four incorporeal priests etc.
The Coptic Church was interested in icons of the heavenly creatures, either portraying them alone, or in the icons presenting events of the life of Christ, or in the icons of saints as they appear holding crowns on top of the saints' heads. These indicate the accessibility of heaven to the believers, and that believers struggle to attain resemblance to angels.
Angels are highly considered, when we speak about the Church as an icon of heaven. In the "Doxology of Morning" we sing: "Hail to the church, the house of the angels." The Church as defined by an ancient Coptic homily is "a place of consolation, a place of meetings of angels and a place of the Cherubim and the Seraphim."
THE CHURCH AND THE MINISTRY OF ANGELS
St. Paul the Apostle speaks about the angels as "ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation" Heb. 1: 14. This does not mean that they are less in rank or glory than believers, but means that they love them and serve them for their salvation. What is their ministry to the believers?
1. The suffering church finds a kind of heavenly joy through her feeling that she is accompanied by angels, her heart is involved in the eternal glory and the communion with the heavenly creatures,
Therefore Origen says "do not waver at the solitude of the desert; it is during your sojourn in the tents that you will receive the manna from heaven and eat the bread of angels. 11
2. Stephen the Deacon, and Paul the Apostle spoke about the active role of angels in receiving the Law (Acts 7:35; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2-3). Origen states that angels are friends of the Groom who prepare the Church - people of God - during the time of her espousal to meet the Groom personally. He says "When I was preparing myself for my marriage with the Son of the King and the Firstborn of every creature, the holy angels followed me and ministered to me, bringing me to Law as a wedding presented''. [These are the angels who are called the guardians of children and who always see the face of the Father in heavenly].
St. Clement of Alexandria refers to Daniel (10:13-21) when he says: "The presiding powers of the angels have been distributed according to the nations and the cities.
3 . The coming of the Groom, our Lord Jesus Christ, does not stop the work of the angels nor their acting love on behalf of the Kingdom of Christ within us. The New Testament declares the appearance of angels throughout the life of Christ on earth from the announcement of His incarnation till His Ascension. Origen states: "When the angels saw the Prince of the heavenly host touring the places of earth, followed the way He had opened, following their Lord and obeyed the Will of Him who put those who believe in Him under their guardianship. The angels are in the service of your salvation... They say among themselves, "If He has put on mortal flesh, how can we remain doing nothing? Come, angels, let us all descend from heaven." That is why there was a multitude of the heavenly host praising and glorifying God when Christ was born. Everything is filled with angels71.
St. Athanasius states that angels who descended from heaven to announce the coming of Christ, ascended to heaven on His ascension to announce to the heavenly creatures that they might open their doors to the King of Glory.
4. Origen clarifies the communion of the Church with the heavenly creatures, for he says: [If the angel of the Lord encompass those who fear God and brings them deliverance (Ps. 33:8), it would seem that when a number of people duly meet together for the glory of Christ, each will have his own angel, encompassing him, since they all fear the Lord. Each angel will be with the man he has been commissioned to guard and to direct. Thus when the saints assemble, there exist two churches one of men and the other of angels].
St. Clement of Alexandria sees that angels have their own role in helping clergymen in the ministry of the children of God, and Origen speaks of their role in the ministry of the church sacraments and in the repentance of souls 11, and in helping believers in their prayers.
St. Clement speaks about angels' assistance to souls in their spiritual progress, and Origen speaks about their grief over man's fall in sin -3.
5. Origen correlates between angels and our entrance to paradise, especially the martyrs. He comments on the Apostle's words that we became a spectacle to angels and men (I Cor. 4:9), saying that angels look to the martyrs in wonder, and that they rejoice with us in heaven.
NATURE OF THE CHURCH
The Church occupies the heart of the Bible, for she is the object of the redemption which the Bible proclaims. God purchased her at the cost of Christ's Blood (Acts 20:28).
Understanding the Church means understanding the relationship between God and man, manifested in, the divine plan of salvation, God's Fatherhood, the kingdom of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, the means of grace, the lessons from the history of mankind, the destiny of men ... etc. It is through the church that God makes known His redeeming wisdom even to the heavenly hosts (Eph. 3:10).
The fathers of Alexandria adopted the spiritual concepts of the Church and did not consider it a political or a human organization, for many reasons:
a. Throughout the past twenty centuries, the Church of Alexandria was isolated from politics and had no civil authority.
b. The Alexandrines'' view of knowledge (gnosis) as a divine gift constantly granted by the Fattier through His Son, attracted the clergymen to practicing contemplation, studying the Holy Bible and worshipping without being involved in church administration.
c. Even before the appearance of the monastic movement, the Egyptian clergymen and laity practiced the ascetic life. Their minds and hearts were more often lifted up to the heavenly kingdom than to church administration.
1. COVENANT WITH THE PEOPLE OF GOD: In the Old Testament, believers looked at the community as a whole, as the people of God and the children of Abraham who enjoyed a covenant with God (Gen. 17). In the New Testament Christ offered a new covenant giving HIS Blood and Body, and presenting them as food to His people thus capable of granting them eternal life (Matt. 26:28; 1 Cor. 11:25).
The Church of the New Testament inherited the promises that were given through the Old Testament, but in a new and deep concept. Therefore the church is ancient and is new at the same time. We, the members of the Church enjoy the ancient prophesies through the new life which we practice in Jesus Christ who never ages.
2. THE MOTHER OF BELIEVERS: The Church is virgin because of her Purity (2 Cor. 11:2), and at the same time she is a mother who brings forth children of God unceasingly. Her children are a fruitful witness to Christ.
3. THE BODY OF CHRIST: The Church is the Body of Christ that grows towards perfection; her children enjoy communion in the Body and Blood of the Lord.
4. A new creation in Christ: The believer receives the rebirth in baptism, and he becomes a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), he dies with Christ and also rises with Him (Eph. 2).
The work of the Holy Spirit is the continuous sanctification of the believers so that they might become in the likeness of Christ, the Head.
5. THE BIRTH OF CHRIST: The Church waits for her Christ who will come to perform His eternal spiritual marriage with her (Rev. 19:7). Christ called Himself the Bridegroom (Matt. 9:14,15; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5-33-35- Matt. 25:1-3). Through this concept we acknowledge that the Lord who is the Judge, is cming not to judge us but to grant her to be close to Him, to unite with Him and to enjoy His glories. As the Groom, He is jealous (Exod. 20:5; 34:24; Deut 4: 25; 5:9; 6:51), for He cannot be in communion with sin. Every sin we commit is a crime not only against His law but rather against His love, for by sin we break the heart of our Heavenly Groom. This concept also means that our unity with God is eternal and indissoluble.
6. THE DWELLING PLACE OF CHRIST, that grows as the holy temple of God (Eph. 2:21 etc.), a spiritual temple, and a sanctuary in which the Holy Trinity dwell.
7. THE CHURCH IS THE HOUSE OF FAITH, the house that preserves the deposit of faith without deviation.
8. THE CHURCH IS THE HOUSE OF SALVATION, like the house of Rahab (Jos. 2). There is no salvation outside it
9. THE COMMUNITY OF LOVE : The Church reveals the kingdom of God on earth, as the pure kingdom of love, her goal is that every soul may enjoy eternal life.. Whoever belongs to the church but has no love, is truly outside the church, for he does not know God (I John 3:14, 16; 4:7,8). This love unites us all in God who is Love, and unites the earthly creatures with the heavenly hosts, men with angels, the militant members with those who are victorious.
10. THE ICON OF HEAVEN: The Heavenly One descended to our land, made of us His heavenly Church. Thus we live on earth
with a heavenly heart and high thought, participating with the heavenly creatures in their hymns, joy and peace.
11. EVER-YOUTHFUL CHURCH: The Church never ages (spiritually) nor weakens, for she is united with her Groom who never ages. The Groom grants her His Holy Spirit which renews her
unceasingly, therefore her youth is renewed like the eagle's (Ps. 103:5). "Even though our outward man perishes, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" 2 Cor. 4:16.
12. THE FIRST-BORN CHURCH: Her Groom, the First-Born One, grants all her members the glory of becoming first-born in Him.
THE CHURCH CHARACTERISTICS:
The Alexandrian Fathers spoke about Church democracy.
It is the peoples' right to choose their shepherds, and it is the duty of the clergyman to show his loving fatherhood and not his authority.
Every member of the church - man, woman or a child - has his own role in the church, as we shall explain when we speak about "the Church of the People."
Spirituality is the common feature of all aspects of church life and activities.
The Alexandrian Fathers- like St. Cyril The Great- state that "Unity," based on the "One faith" without deviation is a characteristic of the church.
Our Belief in God
GOD IS LOVE
"God is love" I John 4:8. He is neither an idea that we believe in, nor a Supreme Being isolated from mankind in His heaven far away from our world, but He is the Lover of mankind, He granted us His divine knowledge to enjoy His love and to touch His Fatherhood. He would like to be very near to mankind, to unite them to Himself, to live within their souls, and grants us participation in His Glory.
In other words, God reveals Himself to us, not to involve us in theoretical discussions, nor to practice His authority upon us, but to attract us to Himself as children to their true Father in whom they find the essence of life, satisfaction, immortality and eternal glorification.
REVELATION OF GOD
God created man in His image, as the most perfect of His creations on earth. God did not plan to leave man in Paradise alone, but to embrace him as His beloved, to meet him (Gen. 18:17), and to reveal Himself, His nature, His mysteries and His will to him.
God spoke to mankind through nature (Rom. 1:20). As they refused to hear the voice of the natural law, He presented His written Law through Moses and sent His prophets to them (Heb. 1: 1,2). At last, the Incarnate Son of God came to enlighten their inner life and to set His Kingdom within them. He came to reveal the mystery of God, the Lover and Savior of men. His revelation has its effect on our nature and eternal future.
MYSTERY OF GOD
"Mystery" in Christianity does not mean that a believer takes obscure dogmas without understanding them, or that these dogmas are unacceptable to his mind. Our minds cannot conceive this naturally without God's grace and revelation. Mystery does not oppose man's thinking but is supreme and inconceivable without God's help.
God created us as rational beings. He reveals Himself and His deeds to us, not to abolish our minds but to elevate them so that all our human nature can accept Him and acknowledges His mysteries.
MONOTHEISM AND TRINITARIAN FAITH
Our faith in its essence is a call to enjoy the experience of the One God, Lover of mankind. The Old and the New Testaments confirm the belief in the One God, but the Old Testament deals with this matter in its passive aspect, for its aim was to keep the believers away from idols and from practicing the abominations of nations that accompanied paganism (2 Kings 21:2; Chorn. 28:3).
The New Testament witnesses to the One God in a positive aspect, for it does not only declare the oneness of God but it also deepens our faith in God by revealing the "Trinitarian" faith. In fact this faith does not oppose "Monotheism," but emphasizes it by revealing some mysteries of the One God and giving interpretation to these mysteries.
THE TRINITARIAN DOGMA AND THE BIBLE
The Holy Trinity was referred to at Jesus' baptism (Joh. 1:27-33). Besides our baptism is fulfilled in the name of the Holy Trinity (Matt. 28:19). St. Paul benediction enumerates the Trinity in 2 Cor. 13:14.
In the Old Testament we find the Trisagion (holy, holy, holy) of Isaiah's Vision (6:3); and the name of God is mentioned in plural "Elohim," even in the Deuteronomy 6:4 "unity" passage [see Gen. 1:26, 11 :7].
Is it necessary to believe in the Holy Trinity?
The "Trinitarian" faith solves many problems which was caused by the absolute "monotheistic" faith. For example, we say that God is love and His love is eternal; does this mean that there was another being whom God loved eternally? We can not say that He loves Himself eternally; this means He is selfish (God forbids!). We cannot say that He eternally loved by power and not by action, and after the creation of the heavenly and earthly beings His love became in action; this means that creation was necessary for God to realize His love and changes it from power to action.
What we say concerning love might be repeated in regards to other divine characteristics like peace-making, mercy etc..
Truly if we accept the Holy Trinity as three Hypostaseis in one divine essence, this problem will be easily solved. This faith in the One God of three Hypostasies declares the act of love, unity and peace in God as an eternal action of the Holy Trinity. The Father loved the Son and there was no time when the Father did not love the Son. Love as a divine character was eternally in power and in action, for "Love" is God Himself who loved eternally, and was not in need of the creation to declare His characteristic' s. God's love to us is an extension of His work and eternal loving nature. Then the Trinitarian faith reveals God as a dynamic, personal and communal Being and not a solid being.
Someone may say that the "Trinitarian" faith may incline to "polytheism." We reply that the Son is the Word of the Father; many religions believe that the words of God are eternal. the Word of God is not "outside" God, but is one with Him, as brightness that shines from the light. The Father was not without His Word, as light is never without brightness. Thus our belief in the Son does not mean Polytheism.
The Holy Spirit is the "Life," and the Father is the "Being." This "Being" is not separated from "Life..."
It is important to believe in God who is "the rational, Being" one essence, eternally simple, for the three are not separated, nor has one existed before the others. They are like the fire which has flame, light and heat at the same time.
St. Clement of Alexandria states that all expressions concerning God are used because of our weakness and disability. In other words, we must not understand "One" here as a number among other numbers, but it means an unspeakable unity. "Monotheism" cannot be tasted nor understood as "Numbering," for it makes God as a solid Being subject to numbering. St. Clement says: [God is One, and beyond one, and above the Monad itself].
Let us not understand the Oneness of God in a material manner.
We should not understand the expression "the Son" in a materialistic way as if the Son had an essence other than that of the Father, but He is the Brightness who never separates from the "Light. 11
Can God not bring forth a Son? For we cannot accept God as a solid, being unable to bring forth! Every energetic essence has to bring forth something. Fire brings forth light and radiates heat, the radio element brings forth energy, and the human mind brings forth wise thoughts. God can never be a solid Being, but eternally He brings forth the Son, for He is the "Light" who brings forth "the Light." Truly a light that brings forth no light is darkness.
Bringing forth the Son eternally reveals the nature of God as the Loving Being, who in His infinite love brings forth the Son offering to Him His own divine essence being One with Him.
St. Athanasius clarifies that the "Son" is called "the Word of God," to confirm the oneness of the essence, that no one may think in two essences.
The unity of the Holy Trinity as a unity of love, of continuous movement, has an effect on our lives, for we imitate the Holy Trinity through our unity together in the Holy Trinity.
The "Trinitarian" faith has its effect on our daily life and on our eternal future. For through it we acknowledge the fatherhood of God, enjoy the divine friendship of Jesus our Savior, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the door of hope in the eternal glories will always be opened before us.
The Holy Trinity declares the concept of "perfection," i.e., the perfection of the unity of the Holy Trinity and not the theoretical A the solid perfection which has no movement of love.
THE HOLY TRINITY AND HUMAN MIND
Our Trinitarian faith does not oppose the human mind as someone may think, for if it is called a "Mystery" this is because of our need for a divine revelation to accept it. Even "monotheism" has many mysteries that the mind cannot understand by itself. For example, all religious men say that God fills heaven and earth and He in infinite, at the same time there is a divine throne. Is this divine throne limited? How does it look like in heaven? How can God occupy the whole world and at the same time He is present in every room and in every house of God, not partially for He is undivided, but He is entirely present?
The human soul may be used as an example to explain the Trinitarian faith. Every soul is "Existent," rational and alive. Although man has one soul and its being is distinguished from its mind and its life, the three are inseparable.
Fire has three self-properties that look like the hypostasis, for ithas flame, the light that is begotten of the flame, and the heat that proceeds from it.
It was very important to reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity so that our salvation can be realized. The Father, Lover of men, sent His Word incarnate to bear our sins and pay our debts, and sent His Holy Spirit which raises us to His Glory.
Our Trinitarian faith uncovers the real divine love, for God does not seek our destruction, or have authority over us as some existentialists say, He is "Love," that longs for our adoption so that we might be united with Him and share in His eternal Glories.
Man and Redemption
MAN IN GOD'S SIGHT
Our faith in God is correlated to our life, for we acknowledge Him as the Lover of mankind who reveals Himself to His beloved creatures, likewise we can't understand ourselves as human beings, our salvation and our eternal destiny apart from our relationship with God and outside our concept of Him.
Man in God's view is not just one out of billions of creatures, but God deals with him as His own image, beloved, and His own close friend. He founded all the world for his sake, and gave him authority even over the space. Therefore, when man was totally ruined his spirit and body the Word of God was incarnated to raise him up and to renew his nature. Through Incarnation, God revealed two things:
God's honorable sight of man, for the Word of God Himself became man and dwelt among us.
He granted man freedom which sin had destroyed.
According to St. Cyril of Alexandria, the image of God in which man was created (Gen. 1:26) was his own free will, however, he spoiled it by his disobedience to God, thus he became incapable of interacting with God's love, freely.
THE HUMAN NATURE
When we speak about "man and his redemption" or about the human nature and its renewal, we refer to man's soul, mind and body, for Christ came as a perfect Man to renew "man" in his wholeness. Therefore, the Alexandria Fathers argued against the Gnostics who rejected the body and looked at it as an enemy. The Alexandrians were also interested in revealing the sanctification of mind: looking to science and philosophy as if it were not in enmity towards the mind.
GOD'S ROLE IN MAN'S SALVATION
After his fall, man became in need to enjoy the risen life, and at the same time he was in need for One who can redeem him by realizing God's justice. These two requirements can't be fulfilled except through the "Incarnation and the Resurrection." The Word of God descended to us and became our Savior, to realize the following advantages to us:
1 . To declare the Creator's goodness. He created man and He is able to renew his nature.
2. To join us with Himself (John 17:23).
3. To accomplish God's sentence of death (2 Cor. 5:14) and to condemn sin (Rom. 8:3).
4 . To undergo death by His victory over death and His resurrection (I Cor. 15:21).
5. To conquer Satan, our enemy (I John 3:1).
6. To raise us up to heaven (Eph. 2:6).
7. To renew our nature in Him, and grant us participation in His divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).
8. To realize universality of the Church, by joining the Gentiles together with the Jews through faith in one Body.
9. To grant us the true knowledge (Matt. 11:27), for Jesus alone knows the Father.
MAN'S ROLE IN SALVATION
Grace is the center of the Alexandria theology, for God "first loved us" (I John 4:19), foreknew us (Rom. 8:29), chose us, predestined us, called us, justified us and glorified us. He wills, decides and acts for our salvation, but we never enjoy this free salvation unwillingly. God wills that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4), for He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the wicked turns from his way and lives (Ezek. 33:11). He offered His Son as the propitiation for the whole world (I John 2;2). Nevertheless, God asked us to choose the way we desire (Deut. 30:15,19), and to declare this choice through practical faith. Thus the good deeds that we practice by the divine grace are necessary and essential.
H.H. Pope Shenouda III, in his book "Salvation in the Orthodox Concept" presents many proofs of the importance of "good deeds" to our salvation:
Evil work leads to eternal condemnation (Gal. 5:19,21; Eph. 5:5,6).
Judgment will be based upon our deeds (Matt. 16:27; John 5:28, 29).
Works are the fruit of true faith (Luke 3:8, James 2:14).
Through good deeds we witness to our faith (James 2:18; Matt. 7:16, 17).
Through our good deeds we witness to be children of God (I John 2:29; 3:9, 10).
Works make faith perfect (James 2:22; 1: 2 7).
We have to distinguish between many kinds of good works as mentioned in the Holy Bible:
The works of man's own righteousness, when man trusts in his own power, his salvation is ruined.
The works of the Lam), like circumcision, preserving the Sabbath in a solid way etc. If these works are performed literally they ruin the spiritual life.
Good works which are the fruits of faith: The believer leans on the Lord's breast and asks for the work of His divine grace under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; these works are necessary to our salvation.
Alexandria and Christian Dogmas
DOGMAS AND INTEGRAL CHURCH LIFE
The Christian Church is not merely a school involved in researches and teaching dogmas, but an institution which worships God and serves mankind. It works for the transformation and the renewal of this world, and hopefully awaits the world to come. Truly, the Christian Church would not be the church as we know it without Christian dogmas. Dogmas interpret our whole philosophy of the church through repeated practise of our faith through the holy tradition (the holy Scriptures, worship, behavior and preaching). All these elements represent different aspects of the one inseparable church life.
If we look at the relationship between the dogmas and the holy Scripture, we observe that they are not only based on the Scripture but that any dogmas which has no base in it is invalid. Dogmas in fact are mirrors of the holy Scripture. They explain the holy Scriptures and attract men to enjoy its spirit.
Similarly, we can say that dogmas are the way in which believers are guided to worship God in truth and in spirit. True worship reveals our dogmas in simplicity.
Dogmas correlate to our ascetic attitude. The early Alexandrian theologians and clergymen were true ascetics, and as a result asceticism still strongly affects our theology. This is not by denying the needs of our bodies, as some scholars charge, but by insisting on the esoteriological aspect: The early Coptic ascetics were involved in enjoying the redeeming deeds of the Holy Trinity, i.e. in enjoying the sanctification of the soul, mind, body, gifts etc.. through communion with the Father in His Son through the Holy Spirit.
Early Egyptian asceticism was biblical. It did not hate the body, its senses and capacities nor did it deny the human free will, or despise earthly -life and all its properties. Coptic asceticism in its essence was not an isolation from men, but rather enjoying unity with God. This attitude affected our theology and dogmas, through concentration on the "deification," i.e. the return of man to the original image of God by restoring his soul, mind, body etc.., in preparation for Paradise.
Concerning the relationship between dogmas and behavior or practical faith'. we have to distinguish between only believing (without practicing) and a living belief, for as St. James says: "even demons believe" Jam. 2:19.
Concerning the relationship between dogmas or theology as a whole and practical religious life, we can quote Alan Richardson: "Religious people very often feel that theology leaves a cold dead
abstraction in the place of what was once a warm and living faith. Theology, like any other study can become dry and academic.. The fact is that religion without theology is as unthinkable and incomplete as theology is without religion: the two are as complementary to one another as theory and practices.
The close relationship between dogmas and preaching was well exercised through the ordination of the majority of the early deans of the School of Alexandria as Popes or Bishops of this See. Those men were well educated in theology, and dogmas and were highly capable of preaching and practicing pastoral care.
In conclusion, the true theologian is not merely a man who is involved in discussing or teaching dogmas, but also one who accepts the dogmas of the church of which he is a member. Therefore Origen calls him "a man of the church. " He is not only a spokesman of the church but he practices its life.
Dogmas are what is believed, taught, confessed and practiced.
DOGMAS AND KNOWLEDGE
One of the very important characteristics of the church of Alexandria was her broad-mindedness and openness of heart towards philosophers. While leaders of the church in other countries looked at philosophy as an enemy of faith (like St. Justin and Tertullian), our Fathers embraced philosophers with love, treated them as children in need of the, church to help them grow through faith into manhood. Thus the Alexandrians saw faith not as opposite to the mind and knowledge, but as a satisfaction of mind and an elevation of thoughts through which one could enjoy Divine knowledge. This knowledge was thus superior to philosophical knowledge. God grants faith to men who are His rational creatures, and He would not destroy the minds which He created.
During the second century, St. Clement of Alexandria, a theologian of great piety, wide reading and classical scholarship, believed that the spiritual believer was a Gnostic, giving the word "gnosis" (knowledge) a Christian meaning, instead of the common meaningof that time which signified "heresy." He says: "Gnosis is the principle and author of every action conforming to the Logos," the grace of gnosis comes from the Father through the Son.
Faith, in our concept, embraces all human nature, it signifies not only our souls and hearts but also our minds and thoughts.
THE "DOGMA" BASED ON "TRUTH" AND "LOVE"
Dogmas, as we have seen, are the interpretation of our experience of God, in the Crucified and Risen Jesus Christ. This experience throughout the ages does not alter, for Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:18). The disciples and apostles (and bishops afterwards) did not sit around a table and agree to teach new dogmas, but rather they preached their Christian experience. As St. John says, "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you" I John 1:3. Thus all Christian dogmas resulted from Church's experience of the Crucified and Risen Christ, "Truth and "Love" at the same time. We receive these dogmas as the unchangeable truth that we must holdfast, with "love."
The Alexandrian Popes (bishops) as theologians and pastors at the same time looked to dogmas as an expression of evangelic truth integrated with love. They were very zealous in defending the Orthodox faith and dogmas against any heresy, not only in Egypt but in all Christendom, offering their lives as sacrifices on behalf of the church. They were very firm and strict concerning the faith they had once received (2 Tim. 12,14), and some historians accuse them of violence, but in fact they were truly loving and kind men. St. Cyril wrote to Nestorius telling him that he would never find a person who loved him like Cyril, but never would this love be at the expense of his faith. He hated heresy and error but loved the soul of the heretic and desired his salvation.
DOGMA AND THEOLOGICAL TERMS
The Alexandrian Fathers used theological terms to explain the divine truths and their deep meanings, and to defend the Orthodox faith against heresies, but they were not enslaved to the terms themselves. St. Athanasius who devoted his life to defending Christ's Godhead stated that disputes merely about words must not be suffered to divide those who think alike.
DOGMA AND RENEWAL
The Coptic Orthodox Church is well known as a conservative church, especially in dogmas and doctrines. At the same time, it progresses not by embracing new doctrines or new "articles of faith," but by explaining the same faith "once given to the saints" (Jude 3) in a contemporary language.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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).
A reading from the Pentateuch (five books of Moses) in Hebrew and in Aramaic.
A reading from the Prophets or other books.
If there was a suitable person or persons to preach, he (or they) did so (Acts 13:15).
The Christians who had Jewish origin participated in these Jewish liturgies till the year A.D 60 (Acts 20:16).
The Christian Church inherited from the synagogue the readings from the Scriptures that were suitable to the Christian mind.
In the second century, St. Justin stated that the church admitted readings from the Gospels and the apostolic writings.
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.]
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:
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.
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:
The "Synixarum": It contains the biographies of saints and God's actions with the church throughout the ages.
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.
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:
General Lectionary: contains readings for Sundays and ordinary days throughout the year. It is divided according to the Coptic months.
Lectionary for the Great Lent.
Lectionary for the Holy Week (Paschal Week).
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:
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 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.
The preparation for Christmas (Nativity of Christ in 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 or & nary 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:
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 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.
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.
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!
"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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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).
This joy is based on God's friendship and love towards men (Christmas or the Feast of the Nativity of Christ - 7 January).
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).
This sonship is realized by passing over from bondage through the Pasch, the center of the Old Testament (Jonah's Pasch).
The Old Pasch is a symbol of our True Pasch, the Crucified and Risen Christ (The Great Lent).
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).
We have to accept the eschatological (heavenly) thought, that we might not miss the inner kingdom (The Pentecostal period).
As we attain communion with God we must witness to Him by preaching (The Feast of the Apostles).
Our communion with God leads us to the communion with our brothers and unites us with His saints (The Feast of St. Mary).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 certain 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].
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).
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.
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:
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).
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.
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:
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.
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.
"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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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)).
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:
Fasting is not observed on Wednesdays and Fridays occurring in the "Pentecostal Period," i.e., the fifty days starts from Easter to Pentecost.
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.
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***
THE SEVEN MAJOR FEASTS OF OUR LORD
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
THE SEVEN MINOR FEASTS OF OUR LORD
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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"Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them." (Luke 9:16-17).
Vespers Prayer, Every saturday Evening, At 7:30 Pm.
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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:
"Liaw," meaning "People."
"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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 traveling, 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.
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.
Please see the following to read some of the colorful history of our Church.
The Holy Bible & 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 Origen'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Moreover, the Alexandrine Church recognized that the mystery of the Scriptures is uncovered through three essential and related matters:
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.
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.
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 Coptic Church 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.
I. The Coptic Church as an Apostolic Church TERM "COPTS" Each major town in ancient Egypt used to recognize some kind of a triad. But these triads were too alien from the Christian Holy Trinity. Their philosophers believed in One Supreme Being; the best example is King Ikhnaton (1383-1365 B. C.). While the majority of the ancient civilizations were preoccupied with the earthly life, seeking temporary pleasures, the Egyptian mind was absorbed in the world to come, and in the resurrection. When they were converted to Christianity, they became involved in awaiting the advent of the Risen Christ, through their lengthy hymns, excessive fasting, enduring and suffering with joy. This eschatological attitude has its effect on our worship, liturgies and even in our daily life. The Cross: Egyptians tended to identify the Cross with their own sign of eternal life, "the Ankh," which was held in the hands of the immortals such as gods and pharaohs. The "Ankh" sign took the shape of a cruciform with rounded tip, which was readily adopted and used by the Copts from the very early times. In addition to this, the Egyptians seem to have had an idea of the unity of God, His eternity, His infinity, as well as His loving kindness. The Holy Family in Egypt Egypt in the Holy Bible Bubastis Hill Mataryah Old Cairo In Upper-Egypt St. Virgin Mary's Church at Zaytoun See of St. Mark The Coptic Church or the Church of Alexandria is called "See of St. Mark" on of the earliest sees: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Rome. The Book of Acts refers to the Jews of Egypt who were present at the Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Upon their return home, they must have conveyed what they saw and heard about Christ and their relatives. The same book mentions an "Alexandrine Jew named Apollos" who arrived at Ephesus… He was described as an eloquent man with sound knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. He preached with great spiritual earnestness and was able to demonstrate from the Scriptures that Jesus was the expected Christ (Acts 18:24028). It is quite possible that Apollos was a member of a small Christian group of Jewish origin who lived in Alexandria. St. Luke addresses his Gospel to "His excellency Theopilus," a Christian believer from Alexandria. The Coptic book of Sinxarum (the day of 15 Bashance) records the preaching of Simon the Zealous in areas of south Egypt and Nubia. St. Mark The Founder He begins his Gospel describing John the Baptist as a lion roaring in the desert (Mark 1:3). His famous story with the lion, as related to us by Severus Ebn-El-Mokafa: Once a lion and a lioness appeared to John Mark and his father Arostalis while they were traveling in Jordan. The father was very frightened and begged his son to escape, while he awaited his fate. John Mark assured his father that Jesus Christ would save them, and began to pray. The two beasts fell dead and as a result of this miracle, the father believed in Christ, and died shortly thereafter. Preaching With The Apostles Preaching in Egypt, Pentapolis, Judea, Asia Minor, and Italy, during which time he ordained bishops, priests, and deacons. Establishing the "School of Alexandria" which defended Christianity against the philosophical school of Alexandria and conceived a large number of great Fathers. Writing the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist, which was modified later by St. Cyril to the liturgy known today as the Liturgy of St. Cyril. Writing the Gospel according to St. Mark.
The term "Copts" is equivalent to the word "Egyptians." It is derived from the Greek "Aigyyptos," which in turns is derived from the ancient Egyptian "Ha-ka-Ptah," i.e. "the house of the spirit Ptah," a most highly revered deity in Egyptian mythology. From the Arab conquest and until today, This term refers to the Christian Egyptians to distinguish them from the native Muslims.
SONS OF PHAROHS
The Copts as the successors of the ancient Egyptians are defined as the modern sons of the Pharaohs. They played an essential role in the whole Christian world, especially during the first five centuries.
Their religious background helped them to accept Christianity with eagerness and to enjoy its depth through their ascetic life, meditation and studying of the Holy Scripture.
In this topic we wish to throw some light on the ancient Egyptian culture and how it reacted towards the new Christian faith.
It is well known that nature and upbringing have religiously minded ancient Egyptians since the very early times. Herodotus states that "The Egyptians are religious to excess, far beyond any other race of men." Their religious curiosity was satisfied by the Christian faith that puts no limits to spiritual progress, for it raises the believers towards the bosom of the Father that they might enjoy the likeness of God, fast communion with Him and acknowledgment of the eternal divine mysteries.
Modern science achieved unceasing progress, particularly in the last century. Many of the ancient Egyptians' scientific work which took place thousands of years before Christ are still considered to be obscure secrets; for example the pyramids with their scientific wonder and mysteries, the art of embalming, the art of carving, colored painting on walls etc. All of these arts are still under research to the extent that some believe that the ancient Egyptians were working under the guidance of superhuman (coming from the outer space), or from other stars. Some consider that man would have conquered space much earlier if the library of Alexandria had not been burned, which led to losing scientific secrets of great importance.
In any case, the fact is that the ancient Egyptians put their scientific abilities at the disposal of the religious thinking (such as the building of the pyramids, embalming etc.). It had influenced the Copts. They looked to science not as an enemy of religion or contrary to it, but that science acts in favor of religion. Therefore, the school of Alexandria opened its doors to the scholars and philosophers, believing that science and philosophy could serve the true spiritual life.
The Holy Bible concentrates on "Jerusalem" which means, "land of peace," or "vision of peace" as center of the promised land, where God declares His dwelling among people. And a holy temple was established in it in His Name, where people worshipped Him, offered Him sacrifices and offerings, and celebrated many feasts as a symbol of the heavenly joy. This is Jerusalem, the symbol of heaven, that is called "Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all" (Gal 4:26). On the other hand, we find Babel and Egypt; Babel represents disobedience to God, violence, vainglory (tower of Babel, Gen.11), opposing God through His believers (the Babylonian captivity), adultery and abominations (Rev. 17:5). Egypt was well known for its abundant cops, and its king (Pharaoh) to whom Israel and Jude used to refuge against Babylon. Therefore, Egypt was a symbol of loving the temporary things and trust in human hands (1 Kings 18:21).
Egypt was a refuge to many people, especially in famines. Abraham visited Egypt (Gen. 12:10). So did Joseph who became the second man after Pharaoh, offering crops to all the neighboring countries. Jacob and his sons came to Egypt where they lived as a family and grew as a nation. It was the birth –place of the nursery of the people of God. Their first leader, Moses, the great prophet and his brother Aaron the first chief-priest appeared in Egypt to grant them freedom. St. Stephen says, "And Moses was taught in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds" (Acts 7:22).
Among the prophets who visited Egypt was Jeremiah who implored people not to flee to Egypt, but in vain, for they forced him to accompany them in their journey to Egypt (Jer. 41:1, 43:7). He uttered his last prophesies in Tahpanhes of Egypt (Jer. 43:8-44:30).
Thus, Egypt became a representative of the Gentiles to whom Christ came to establish His Church and form His new people.
Blessed Be Egypt, My People
Hosea, the Prophet, foresaw the Son of God going out of Bethlehem and fleeing to Egypt, where He found a welcome in the hearts of the Gentiles. Through Hosea, God the Father uttered this prophesy, "I called my son out of Egypt" (Hos. 11:1).
Isaiah the Prophet gave us more details, saying "Behold, the burden of Egypt, the Lord rides upon a swift cloud, He shall come to Egypt, and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at His presence. In that day there shall be an altar to the lord in the midst of the land of Egypt" (Isa. 19:1). St. Cyril the Great interpreted this prophecy saying:
"The glittering cloud which carried the child Jesus to Egypt was His mother, St. Mary, who suppressed the cloud in purity. The altar which was established in the midst of the land of Egypt is the Christian church which had replaced the temples of paganism as the idols collapsed and the temples were deserted in the presence of the Lord Jesus."
The Holy Journey
The important stations where the holy family took shelter are:
The holy family left Bethlehem on its way to Egypt through Sinai. They followed the Southern Caravan way along the Mediterranean coast, passing through Gaza-Raphia (Rafah)-Rhinocolura, (now El-Arish), and then to Ostrakini which became a diocese of Bishop Abram who joined the council of Ephesus 431 A.D.
The last station for the Holy family in Sinai was Pelusium (now Al-Farma) which is located between El-Arish and Port-Said and which is considered the key entrance to Egypt from the eastern side.
From Pelusium they crossed to Bubastis (Tel-Basta), where they rested under a tree, that is said to have survived until 1850 A.D. Here, at Bubastis Hill, a spring of water erupted, from which the holy family used to drink; and its water healed many from their sickness.
oon after the Holy Family resided in the city, the pagan statues began to collapse and this consequently aroused the anger of the pagan priests against the Holy Family. Therefore, the Holy Family left to the outskirts of the city to a place now called "Mastard."
The Holy Family traveled to Bilbais, then to Miniat-Genah (now Miniat Samanoud), crossing the River Nile to Samanoud and from there to Borolos. They crossed the River Nile to the Western bank to Sakha, and then they traveled westward along Wadi-el-Natroun (Natroun Valley), south of the "Sheheet" widerness. This wilderness became a paradise of monks, the earthly angels.
The Holy Family then traveled to Heliopolis, to a district called "Mataryah," where they took shelter under a tree, known as the "St. Virgin Mary Tree." The Coptic Orthodox Church is taking care of this tree which is still blossoming despite its old age. Near this tree is a spring of water shot and balsam plants are still growing. These plants are added to the ointments used to make the Holy Chrism (Oil for confirmation).
Pilgrims in the middle ages used to visit "Mataryah" and "St. Mary's Tree" regarding them as sacred places. Until today tourists come to visit them.
Old Cairo is considered the third station for the Family. Here we have St. Virgin Mary's Church and a nunnery which are both located at Zwayla lane. But the most attractive landmark is the cave in Babylon in Old Cairo in which there is an altar and a niche. It is probable that the Holy family might have used this cave as a place for the Child Jesus to sleep. Above this cave, a church had been built in the fourth Century and is known as the St. Sergius Church (Abu-Sarga).
Within a week, the idols of the pagan temples began to collapse, the pagan priests aroused with anger, forced the foreign family out of the city. Thus, the holy family left for Memphis then to Maadi where St. Mary's Church has been built. Perhaps, this church was a Jewish Temple. The present structure with its attractive triple granary domes is known from the thirteenth century.
The Holy family crossed the River Nile to Upper Egypt and headed east to Bahnassa (near Beni-Mazar), they then crossed to the eastern bank, where they stopped at Gabal-el-Tair (Mount of Birds) near Samalout.
From Gabal-el-Tair, the Holy Family went to Ashmounin near Malawi, then to a village called Philes, about 20 km south of Ashmounin. They traveled to Qoussieh (Qousqam) where they were treated harshly and were driven away by the very people who saw that their stone idols had fell before Jesus. The Holy Family escaped to the village Mirah (now Mir), whence they took to the Qousqam Mountain on which the famous Monastery of the Holy Virgin, known as "Al-Muharraq" stands. There, at that mountain it had been revealed to them by Spirit to return back to Jerusalem. They followed a way that took them to the South up to Assyout Mountain where they took shelter for a while in a cave known now as St. Virgin Monastery at Assiout.
The Holy Family might have passed through Zaytoun, a suburb of Cairo. On the domes of St. Mary's church at Zaytoun, a good number of St. Mary's apparitions occurred (from the 2nd of April 1968 until 1971). Such wonderful apparitions occurred successively and were obviously seen by thousands of people.
St. Virgin Mary's Closet At El-Ezrawia
It is said that the Holy Family passed by a watermelon farm where seeds had just been sown. St. Joseph asked the farmer to tell the soldiers, who were chasing them, that the Holy Family passed by his farm at the time when he was sowing his seeds. Two days later, when the soldiers arrived at the farm, the watermelon had blossomed and some fruits were visible. This made the soldiers believe that the Holy Family had passed by this place several months before. Therefore the soldiers slowed down the chase after the Holy Family.
Palm (El-Kaf) Mountain
It is said that while the Holy Family was crossing the Nile to Gabal-el-Tair a huge rock from the Mountain was about to fall on their boat. St. Mary was afraid but her Son – who has power on nature – stretched His hand thus prevented the rock from falling, and left his palm print on it. Queen Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine, ordered that a church should be build at this place. In the twelfth century (1168 A.D.), when Almeric, King of Jerusalem invaded Upper-Egypt, he cut away the piece of the rock and took it back to Syria.
How Was Christianity Introduced to Egypt?
St. Mark is considered the founder of the Coptic Church. However, evidence indicates that Christianity was introduced into Egypt before St. Mark, though undoubtedly, it must have been on a very small scale. The following are some interesting points on this subject:
The Copts are proud of the apostolicity of their church, whose founder is St. Mark; one of the seventy Apostles (Mark 10:10), and one of the four Evangelists. He is regarded by the Coptic hierarchy as the first of their unbroken 117 patriarchs, and also the first of a stream of Egyptian martyrs.
This apostolicity was not only furnished on grounds of its foundation but rather by the persistence of the church in observing the same faith received by the Apostle and his successors, the Holy Fathers.
St. Mark's Bibliography
St. Mark was an African native of Jewish parents who belonged to the Levites' tribe. His family lived in Cyrenaica until they were attacked by some barbarians, and lost their property. Consequently, they moved to Jerusalem with their child John Mark (Acts 12:12; 25; 15:37). Apparently, he was given a good education and became conversant in both Greek and Latin in addition to Hebrew. His family was highly religious and in close relationship with the Lord Jesus. His cousin was St. Barnabas and his father's cousin was St. Peter. His mother, Mary, played an important part in the early days of the church in Jerusalem. Her upper-room became the first Christian church in the world where the Lord himself instituted the Holy Eucharist (Mark 14:12-26). There also, the Lord appeared to the disciples after His resurrection and His Holy Spirit came upon them.
Young Mark was always associated with the Lord, who chose him as one of the seventy. He is mentioned in the Scriptures in a number of events related with the Lord: He was present at the wedding of Cana of Galilee, and was the man who had been carrying the jar when the two disciples went to prepare a place of the celebration of the Pasch (Mark 14:13-14 ; Luke 22:11). [He was also the same man who fled naked before the Crucifixion (Mark 14:51, 52)]. Accordingly, the church insists on calling St. Mark "Theorimos," i.e. the beholder of the Lord, in order to prevent counterfeits of some historians.
St. Mark And the Lion
The lion is the symbol of St. Mark for two reasons:
At first, St. mark accompanied St. Peter on his missionary journeys inside Jerusalem and Judea. Then he accompanied St. Paul and St. Barnabas on their first missionary journey to Antioch, Cyprus and Asia Minor, but for some reason or another he left them and turned home (Acts 13:13). On their second trip, St. Paul refused to take him along because he left them on the previous mission, for this reason St. Barnabas was separated from St. Paul and went to Cyprus with his cousin Mark (Acts 15:36-41). There, he departed in the Lord and St. Mark buried him. Afterwards, St. Paul needed St. mark with him and they both preached in Colosy (4:11), Rome (Phil. 24; 2 Tim. 4:11) and perhaps at Venice.
St. Mark's real labor lays in Africa. He left Rome to Pentapolis, where he was born. After planting the seeds of faith and performing many miracles he traveled to Egypt, through the Oasis, the desert of Libya, Upper Egypt, and then entered Alexandria from its eastern gate on 61 A.D.
On his arrival, the strap of his sandal was out loose. He went to a cobbler to mend it. When the cobbler – Ananias – took an awl to work on it, he accidentally pierced his hand and cried aloud "O one God." At this utterance, St. mark rejoiced and after miraculously healing the man's wound, took courage. The spark was ignited and Ananias took the Apostle home with him. He and his family were baptized, and many others followed.
The spread of Christianity must have been quite remarkable because pagans were furious and sought St. Mark everywhere. Smelling the danger, the Apostle ordained a bishop (Ananias), three priests and seven deacons to look after the congregation if anything befell them. He left Alexandria to Berce, then to Rome, where he met St. Peter and St. Paul and remained there until their martyrdom in 64 A.D.
Upon returning to Alexandria (65 A.D.), St. Mark found his people firm in faith and thus decided to visit Pentapolis. There, he spent two years preaching and performing miracles, ordaining bishops and priests, and winning more converts.
Finally he returned to Alexandria and was overjoyed to find that Christians has multiplied so much that they were able to build a considerable church in the suburban district of Baucalis.
In the year 68 A.D., Easter fell on the same day as the Serapis feast. The furious heathen mob had gathered in the Serapis temple at Alexandria and then descended on the Christians who were celebrating Easter (Christian Pasch) at Baucalis. St. Mark was seized, dragged with a rope through the main streets of the city. Crowds were shouting "The ox must be led to Baucalis," a precipitous place full of rocks where they fed the oxen that were used in the sacrifices to idols. At nightfall the saint was thrown into prison, where he was cheered by the vision of an angel, strengthening him saying, "Now your hour has come O Mark, the good minister, to receive your recompense. Be encouraged, for your name has been written in the book of life…" When the angel disappeared, St. Mark thanked God for sending His angel to him. Suddenly, the Savior himself appeared and said to him "Peace be to you, mark, my disciple and evangelist!" St. Mark started to shout "O My Lord Jesus" but the vision disappeared.
On the following morning probably during the triumphal procession of Serapis he was again dragged around the city till death. His bloody flesh was torn, and it was their intention to cremate his remains, but the wind blew and the rain fell in torrents and the populace dispersed. Christians stole his body and secretly buried him in a grave which they had engraved in a rock under the altar of the church.
During the schism which burst between the Copts and the Melkites, the first kept the head while the body remained with the latter. On 644 A.D., a soldier sneaked into the church where the head was buried. He took it away to his ship under the impression that it was a treasure. Later, when Amro-Ebn-El-Aas (leader of the Arab troops) ordered the ships to sail off Alexandria, that particular ship could not move. Eventually the soldier had to confess and Amro handed it back to Pope Benjamin.
The saint's body did not remain in Egypt, for it was stolen and taken to Venice by some Italian merchants. They built a huge cathedral in St. Mark's name, believing that St. mark was their patron Saint. In 1968, part of his relics which is now kept in the new Cathedral in Cairo, was offered to the Egyptian Pope Cyril (Kyrillos VI) from Pope Paul VI).
His Apostolic Acts
St. Mark was a broad-minded Apostle. His ministry was quite productive and covered large fields of activities. These included:
I. The Coptic Church as an Apostolic Church
Each major town in ancient Egypt used to recognize some kind of a triad. But these triads were too alien from the Christian Holy Trinity.
Their philosophers believed in One Supreme Being; the best example is King Ikhnaton (1383-1365 B. C.).
While the majority of the ancient civilizations were preoccupied with the earthly life, seeking temporary pleasures, the Egyptian mind was absorbed in the world to come, and in the resurrection. When they were converted to Christianity, they became involved in awaiting the advent of the Risen Christ, through their lengthy hymns, excessive fasting, enduring and suffering with joy. This eschatological attitude has its effect on our worship, liturgies and even in our daily life.
The Cross: Egyptians tended to identify the Cross with their own sign of eternal life, "the Ankh," which was held in the hands of the immortals such as gods and pharaohs. The "Ankh" sign took the shape of a cruciform with rounded tip, which was readily adopted and used by the Copts from the very early times.
In addition to this, the Egyptians seem to have had an idea of the unity of God, His eternity, His infinity, as well as His loving kindness.
The Holy Family in Egypt
Egypt in the Holy Bible
St. Virgin Mary's Church at Zaytoun
See of St. Mark
The Coptic Church or the Church of Alexandria is called "See of St. Mark" on of the earliest sees: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Rome.
The Book of Acts refers to the Jews of Egypt who were present at the Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Upon their return home, they must have conveyed what they saw and heard about Christ and their relatives.
The same book mentions an "Alexandrine Jew named Apollos" who arrived at Ephesus… He was described as an eloquent man with sound knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. He preached with great spiritual earnestness and was able to demonstrate from the Scriptures that Jesus was the expected Christ (Acts 18:24028). It is quite possible that Apollos was a member of a small Christian group of Jewish origin who lived in Alexandria.
St. Luke addresses his Gospel to "His excellency Theopilus," a Christian believer from Alexandria.
The Coptic book of Sinxarum (the day of 15 Bashance) records the preaching of Simon the Zealous in areas of south Egypt and Nubia.
St. Mark The Founder
He begins his Gospel describing John the Baptist as a lion roaring in the desert (Mark 1:3).
His famous story with the lion, as related to us by Severus Ebn-El-Mokafa: Once a lion and a lioness appeared to John Mark and his father Arostalis while they were traveling in Jordan. The father was very frightened and begged his son to escape, while he awaited his fate. John Mark assured his father that Jesus Christ would save them, and began to pray. The two beasts fell dead and as a result of this miracle, the father believed in Christ, and died shortly thereafter.
Preaching With The Apostles
Preaching in Egypt, Pentapolis, Judea, Asia Minor, and Italy, during which time he ordained bishops, priests, and deacons.
Establishing the "School of Alexandria" which defended Christianity against the philosophical school of Alexandria and conceived a large number of great Fathers.
Writing the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist, which was modified later by St. Cyril to the liturgy known today as the Liturgy of St. Cyril.
Writing the Gospel according to St. Mark.