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Tuesday, 05 May 2015
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The Egyptian church is a deeply liturgical church. It has some of the oldest and most authentic liturgies in Christendom. But it is equally true that the liturgies of the Egyptian church are deeply biblical. A critic of St. Basil’s Coptic Liturgy, dismisses it as “nothing more than a biblical patchwork.”

I personally think that this is the nicest thing that was ever said about our Liturgy! Nothing more than a Biblical patchwork. And indeed it is! I have an old copy of the liturgy that goes back to the 19th century, it is falling apart but it is very dear to me. It is filled with footnotes on every page, that link every phrase in the text with the biblical verse from which it is literally taken. So, when we chant our Liturgy, we are actually chanting the Bible!

But this “Liturgy of the faithful” is preceded by the teaching part of the Liturgy, which we call “The Liturgy of the word.”

This part has readings from the Bible that vary according to the day and the season of the church calendar.

The readings on a typical Sunday morning service would include, a selection from one of the Pauline Epistles, a selection from one of the non-Pauline or catholic Epistles, a selection from the acts of the Apostles and two selections from the gospels.

The Gospel reading is treated differently, it is first preceded by a prayer, in which we ask God to make us worthy to hear and to act according to the Gospel reading we are about to hear. Then the deacon exhorts the people, “Stand with the fear of God, let us hear the holy Gospel.” The Gospel is then read.

Because we believe that we hear the Gospel as if it were from Christ Himself, the reader proclaims before commencing the reading, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” It is customary for the person with the highest priestly rank to read the Bible, out of reverence. So the priest normally reads it, but if a Bishop is around, he would have the honour, and if the Pope is around, he would be the reader.

Because we believe that the Old Testament, and especially the Book of Psalms contain the shadows of the things revealed to us in the Gospels, every Gospel reading is preceded by selected Psalm versicles, that link that particular reading of the Gospel to its prophetic counter-part in the Psalms.

During Lent the readings are expanded to include selections from the Old Testament Books, as well as readings from what the Western Churches call Apocrypha, and what we consider as Deutero-canonical or secondary canonical books.

As we enter the Holy Week, the service becomes wholly a service of the word. The Eucharist is suspended except for Holy Thursday, the day on which the Lord instituted the Eucharist.

There are usually two services for every day of the holy week, one in the morning and one in the evening. Each service will have five selections from the Gospels, with their corresponding Psalm versicles, and between five and ten selections from the Old testament.

on Good Friday, the service starts in the morning and ends shortly before 6 p.m. The service traces all the events of Good Friday in their chronological order, through the prophesies in the Old Testament that prophetically fore-shadowed the event, then the Psalm versicles that relate to the event, followed by the narratives from all four Gospels. There are also hymns and praises appropriate for the occasion.

The service resumes at midnight (six hours later) with the Vigil service of Holy Saturday. The Biblical content of this service is staggering, with selections from the Old and New testaments and the Deutero-canonicals. Even the hymns that are sung are taken from the Bible. At 4 o’clock in the morning, the service reaches its high point, when the congregation takes turns in read aloud the Book of Revelation from beginning to end. It is this that gives the service its common name, “The vigil of the Apocalypse.”

The service ends at 7 a.m. with the Eucharist. Our children love this service, according to them, it is “the most fun night of the year,” they usually invite their schoolmates to attend with them.

Easter service starts 12 hours later at 7 p.m. It is a relatively short service, lasting only til midnight.

The only way to appreciate these deeply Biblical services is to attend one. So, come and join us some day! The services are mostly in English, except for the odd hymn in Greek or Coptic. Service books to help you follow the service are plenty. We will even assign one of our deacons to explain to you what is going on.

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