We believe in one God, God the Father the Pantocrator, Who created the heaven and the earth, and of all things seen and unseen. We believe in One Lord Jesus Christ, The Only Begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages.
Light of Light; True God of True God, begotten, not created; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were created. Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from the heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontious Pilate, suffered, and was buried. And the third day He rose from the dead, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of His Father.
And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, whose Kingdom shall have no end. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father; Who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the prophets in one Holy Katholik and Apostolic Church. We confess one baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
The Coptic Alphabet:
The Coptic alphabet contains 32 Letters.
24 letters are of Greek Origin
8 letters are pure Coptic and were derived from the Demotic
(Old Egyptian) script.
• The ancient Egyptians devised a writing system to record their spoken language over 60 centuries ago .
• The system started by giving each word a symbol, called hieroglyph. This convention was of course doomed because of the tremendous vocabulary it would have generated.
• This script, popularly called hieroglyphics, identified over 4,000 hieroglyphs.
• So in the fifth century BC. a new script was devised that was both simpler to write and included about ten percent of the total number of hieroglyphs used previously. This new script came to be referred to as ‘Demotic’.
• Through their frequent travels to the ancient world the Greeks learned their writing system from the Phoenicians who in tern had learned it from the
• In the course of their commercial dealings with the Egyptians, the Phoenicians imported the Egyptian script and molded it into an alphabet with a far smaller number of characters, all pronounceable and all consonants.
• As they traveled the Mediterranean and traded with the inhabitants of the Greek Isles, they gave their version of the Egyptian writing system to the Greeks.
• They in turn revised its orthography and added a number of written vowels.
• This is the system that eventually became the basis for the new Egyptian script, i.e. Coptic.
• In 313 BC. Alexander the Great invaded Egypt. His legacy was carried on by his general and successor in Egypt Ptolemeus.
• That legacy was to have a universal culture, a Greek or Hellenistic one.
• In Egypt the Greek language prevailed over the Demotic.
• It offered 24 characters all pronounceable as opposed to over 400 symbols that only a small percentage represented sounds and the rest were ideograms.
The Coptic Language:
• The Coptic language system used the Greek characters along with several other characters borrowed from the Demotic to denote sounds not available in Greek.
• The Coptic alphabet contains 32 Letters.
24 letters are of Greek Origin
8 letters are pure Coptic and were derived from the Demotic script, Old Egyptian script.
• Due to the distribution of the population along the length of the Nile, many dialects developed.
• Each was characterized by the use of different vowels in pronouncing the same words as well as some distinct variation in the vocabulary.
• All the dialects were to a large extent geographically-dependent. Their spanned the entire length of the Nile Valley.
• Based on literary records we have such dialects as the:
a) Akhmimic b) Lycopolitan (Asyutic) c) Fayoumic d) Bohairic e) Sahidic
Bohairic & Sahidic
Sahidic Dialect: Became from the earliest times the neutral dialect used throughout Egypt and eventually gained literary dominance with the extensive writings of St. Shenouda the Archimandrite. However, now is no longer in use.
Bohairic Dialect: The only surviving dialect of Coptic. It was kept alive first by the strength of the monastic communities of Wadi n’ Natrun which used it extensively. Then with the move of the Patriarchate from Alexandria to Cairo in the 11th century, Bohairic, the dialect of the District, became the official dialect of the Church replacing the Sahidic.
The Feasts of the Church
The Coptic Orthodox Church is a church of joy, commemorating and celebrating several events in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Church throughout the year.
Seven Major Feasts of the Lord
The Annunciation (Paramhat 29, c. April 7)
The Nativity of Christ (Christmas, Kiahk 29, c. January 7)
The Theophany or the Baptism of Christ (Tuba 11, c. January 19)
The Feast of the Resurrection: It is preceded by the Great Lent (55 days) and is considered by the Coptic Church as “The Feast.”
Seven Minor Feasts of the Lord
The Circumcision of our Lord (Tuba 6, c. 14 January)
The Entrance of our Lord into the Temple (Amshir 8, c. February 15)
The Escape of the Holy family to Egypt (Pashans 24, c. June 1)
The First Miracle of our Lord Jesus at Cana Galilee (Tuba 13, c. January 12)
The Transfiguration of Christ (Messra 13; c. August 19)
Thomas’ Sunday: The Sunday after Easter
The Church celebrates the commemoration of the Annunciation, Nativity and Resurrection of Christ on the 29th of every Coptic month
The commemoration of St. Mary is celebrated on the 21st
The feast of Archangel Michael is celebrated on the 12th of every month
Every Sunday stands as a true Sabbath (day of rest). There is no abstention from food on Sundays after the celebration of the Eucharist, even during Great Lent.
Feasts of the Saints
Every day of the year is a 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:
Feasts of St. Mary
The annunciation of her birth (Messra 7, c. August 13)
Her Nativity (Pashans 1, c. May 9)
Her Presentation into the Temple (Kiahk 3, c. December 12)
Her Dormant (Tuba 21, c. January 29)
The Ascension of her body (Paona 21, c. June 28)
Her apparition over the Church of Zeitoon (Paramhat 24, c. April 2)
The apparition of her body to the Apostles (Messra 16, c. August 22)
Other Notable Feasts
The Apostles’ Feast (Abib 5, c. July 12)
The Nayrouz Feast (1st of Tute, c. September 11)
The Two Feasts of the Cross (Tute 17 and Paramhat 10, c. September 27 and March 19)
The Historical Value of the Coptic hymns:
The Coptic hymns are that praising tradition which was preserved by the Coptic Orthodox Church for 2000 years. Pray–ers, fastings, tears, sweat and the blood of our martyrs were the ways to maintain this tradition through several centuries. It is quite remarkable that the church was able to preserve these hymns inside its holy chapel for 2000 years despite that they were not written by musical notation and the absence of tape recorders, the use of which spread only during this century.
So the Coptic church depended on oral tradition in preserving these hymns, and chose, for this reason, the cantors who were usually from the blind, due to their exceptional ability to memorize this huge number of hymns, which may reach up to 575 hymns, the duration of each of them ranges from half to 10 minutes
Many consider that retaining this great deal of Coptic hymns by oral tradition to be a miracle, helped by the insistence of the traditional Coptic Church on not giving up all what was handed over from the Apostles without any deviation from it.
Furthermore, some consider this miraculous preservation of the tradition of Coptic hymns throughout these centuries to be equivalent or even exceeding the miracle of building and conservation of our Pharaonic monuments.
The spiritual value of the coptic hymns:
The holding of the Coptic Church onto these hymns as a praising principle may be due to the fact that Christ himself praised along with His holy disciples, as in the upper room after he gave them His holy body and His precious blood, St. Mark the evangelist – the owner of that room – mentions “and when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Mark 14:26). And the disciples as they had learned the sacrament of praising from Him they “were continually in the temple praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53). Therefore our church made these hymns occupy a great period of time in its ritual prayers in that the priest prays, the deacon calls and warns and the congregation answers and participates, all with hymns. The Epistles are introduced with a hymn; the psalms and the gospel are also read with a hymn.
The musical value of the coptic hymns:
When researchers studied the Coptic hymns, they found that they revealed the musical rules regarding the measures, rhythms, scales, time signatures, musical cadezas, and the right balanced form of the musical phrase. The reason behind this may be that St. Mark the Apostle, who is considered the first to preach in Egypt, founded the School of Theology in Alexandria, where great philosophers studied and from which many patriarchs graduated, and where musical sciences were taught.
The Coptic hymns are reach in musical scales and they have transformations and transitions between them. Which reflect the composers’ genius. They also contain changes in the speed and rhythm, which make them occupy the top position among the nations’ music.
The Coptic hymns are distinguished for being expressive as they explain the meaning of the spiritual words by the intonation depiction which may increase, rise and fall. This is a remarkable style of the Coptic hymns which is called the Millisma i.e. the variation and repetition of tunes using a single pronounced letter. They are also unique in the way of using one uttering letter to connect two musical sentences.
The way of parsing by the coptic hymns:
The ways of performing these hymns vary, either praising in two choruses (North & South) which is called “Antiphonal” signing, or the “Responsorial” praising in which the congregation or the chorus answers the priest or the chantor, the latter led to the appearance of the “Virtuose” signer outside the church. There is also the solo praising as well as group praising. This variation in the ways of performance helps the reaching of the spiritual contents hidden within the tunes.
The musical instrument and the coptic hymns:
Chanting these hymns in the holy liturgy is not accompanied by musical instruments, a style which was known in the Coptic church and spread all over the world by the name “Acappella”, the style which Palysterina – a musician of the 16th century – was famous for. Some contented hymns may be accompanied by the cymbals and the triangle for the rhythm, and to announce the joyful state that the church lives on that occasion. However, these hymns may be presented with musical instruments outside the holy liturgy, as David the prophet had said in the psalms “Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet, Praise Him with the lute and harp; Praise Him with the timbrel…. Praise Him with the stringed instruments and flutes” (Psalms 150:3,4). And “David and all the house of Israel played music before the Lord on all kinds of instruments, made of fir wood , onharps, on stringed instruments on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals.” (2 Samuel 6:5).
Even David the prophet was keen to awaken his musical instruments to begin praising with him so he tells it: “Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn” (Psalms 108:2).
The New Testament, as well, announces that praising in heaven will be ‘enlightened’ musical instruments, as Saint John the Theologist had written. And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.” (Revelation 15:2).
Some had explained the prohibition of using the musical instruments in the New Testament in that the subjects could not afford to buy expensive instruments, as the ones which were used in the Old Testament, because the early churches, were always moving from one place to another due to persecution, therefore there was no time for developing the music or training the musicians.
One of the researchers gave reasons for not using the musical instruments in the church in that the architectural nature of the churches of the early ages, which were built underground to escape from persecution, did not allow the hymns to be performed except by human voices.
It is unreasonable that musical instruments, especially the rhythm ones, could have been used by those persecuted and were praying and worshiping while being threatened by death at any moment.
But Father Matta Al-Maskeen asserts in his book “The Daily Praising”, that the Copts had received the way of praising with the flute from the Jewish hermits, who became Christians, in their assemblies which were called ‘Aghaby’, and they continued using it until 190 A.D when Klemundus the Alexandrian stopped the usage of the flute and replaced it with the cymbalon.
The coptic hymns affected by the pharoanic hymns:
Undoubtedly, the Coptic hymn has a Pharaonic origin, as it is so natural that the pharoahs, who were specialized in the Gods’ music with its pharaonic secrets, when they became Christians could not get rid of that music which lived in their being, mixed with their life aspects and was stored in their subconscious mind. And they, with the holy spirit that filled them, started composing new hymns that may have included certain Pharaonic themes or some musical forms that were created unintentionally from the musical sentences stored in the subconscious mind. And were sent to the conscious mind when they matched the feelings and emotions that were to be expressed. Then these pharoanic themes merged with the new sentences to produce a new harmonized musical fabric which the Holy Spirit dyes with a Coptic Orthodox tinge. This opinion may agree with what was written by the great scientist Al-Farabi in his famous book ‘The Great Musician’ when he asserted that music cannot be created from nothing.
It is known that some of these hymns carry the names of ancient Egyptian cities that perished long time ago. For example, the hymn ‘Singary’, which is a name an Egyptian city in the north of the Delta that dates back to Ramses the Second. Also the ‘Edribi’ hymn ‘Ke Eperto’ which is repeated many times in the Holy Week, is named after a town called ‘Atrib’ which lies to the north of Benha and had a cathedral with twelve alters.
Dimetrios the Phalerony in 297 BC. Who was one of the superintendants of the library of Alexandria, assured that “The Egyptian priests had been praising their Gods with the seven vowels which they had been singing one after the other, and their chanting using these letters produced beautiful sounds.” It is clear from this that the “Millisma is a way of signing that had been present during the pharaohs’ days and has extended to the Coptic Church as a way of chanting and as hymns in particular.
There are names of some Saints the history tells us that they are among those who had put and composed Coptic hymns. For example, Didemos the Blind and Saint Athanasios the Apostolic who is said to have put the wonderful hymn ‘Omonogenis’ ‘O Only-Begotten Son’ which is chanted in the sixth hour prayer on Good Friday.
In another text, Philo the philosopher had mentioned that the early Christians took some hymns from Ancient Egypt and put Christian lyrics to them. One of these is ‘Golgotha’ hymn, which was sung by the pharaohs during the mummification procedure and in funerals. And the hymn ‘Bek ethronos’ the first half of which includes sad tunes that were chanted in the occasion of the pharaoh’s death and the other half was chanted with joyful tunes celebrating the enthronement of the new pharaoh.
The effect of both the Coptic hymns and Hebrew hymns each other:
The Coptic and Hebrew hymns were affected by each other. For instance, it is written in the Book of Exodus “Now these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt; each man and his household came with Jacob: Rueben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All those who were descendants of Jacob were seventy persons (for Joseph was in Egypt already)…. But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them.” (Exodus 1:1-5,7). It is evident, from what was mentioned in the Book of Exodus, that the people of the children of Israel with their twelve tribes, had lived in Egypt and listened to the Pharaonic hymns for four hundred and thirty years, the period they had stayed in Egypt (Exodus 12:40).
Undoubtedly during this period, six hundred thousand men apart from the children from the people of the children of Israel who left “Ramsis”, were able to memorize many of the Ancient Egyptian hymns.
They were affected by these hymns which lived in their being, and were able to recognize their scales, rhythms, measures and different forms, and left the land of Egypt, carrying them in their feelings, memories and worshipping rituals.
On the other hand, we find that Saint Mark the Apostle had lived a while among the tunes of David of Bethlehem, while they were chanted in the Jewdishal Synagogues, and in the holy upper room sung by Jesus Christ the son of David with the twelve disciples repeating them after Him, when they had sung a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives. It must have been that these hymns with all their hymnal details, were carried by Saint Mark to Egypt, and that he had been repeating them while he was on his way to Egypt, to help him overcome the harshness of that long and weary path in which his shoes were torn. It must have been also that when he founded the Theological School of Alexandria, and made music by taught beside the theological sciences, he taught these hymns and put some of them in the holy liturgy, which he wrote, which is considered the oldest liturgy the Coptic Church had ever known. And from what was mentioned above, it appears that the Coptic hymn and the Hebrew hymn were both mixed and affected by each other
St. Mark the Apostle, the Founder of the Coptic Church - Biography
The Coptic Church or the Church of Alexandria is called "Sees of St. Mark"; one of the earliest four sees: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome.St. Mark
St. Mark, The Founder
The Copts are proud of the apostolicity of their Church, whose founder is St. Mark; one of the seventy Apostles (Mk 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 Christ. 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 Jesus Christ Himself instituted the Holy Eucharist (Mk 14:12-26). Also, this is the same place where 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 choose him as one of the seventy. He is mentioned in the Holy Scriptures in a number of events related with the Lord. For example, 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 for the celebration of the Passover (Mk 14:13-14; Lk 22:11).
St. Mark and The Lion
The voice of the lion is the symbol of St. Mark for two reasons:
He begins his Holy Gospel by describing John the Baptist as a lion roaring in the desert (Mk 1:3).
His famous story with lion, as related to us by Severus Ebn-El-Mokafa: "Once a lion and lioness appeared to John Mark and his father Arostalis while they were traveling in Jordan. The father was very scared 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."
Preaching with the Apostles
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 returned 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 St. 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 Colosse (Col 4:10), Rome (Phil 24; 2 Tim 4:11) and perhaps in 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 in 61 A.D.
On his arrival, the strap of his sandal was loose. He went to a cobbler to mend it. When the cobbler - Anianos - 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 and began to preach to the hungry ears of his convert. The spark was ignited and Anianos 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 ought St. Mark everywhere. Smelling the danger, the Apostle ordained a bishop (Anianos), three priests and seven deacons to look after the congregation if anything befell him. 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 in 65 AD, 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 had multiplied so much that they were able to build a considerable church in the suburban district of Baucalis.
In the year 68 AD, 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 the Glorous Resurrection 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 rock where they fed the oxen that were used in the sacrifice 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 populaces disperse. Christians stole his body and secretly buried him in a grave that they had engraved on a rock under the altar of the church.
His Apostolic Acts
St. Mark was a broad-minded Apostle. His ministry was quite productive and covered large field of activities. These include:
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 philosophical school of Alexandria and conceived a large number of great Fathers.
Writing the Divine Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist which was modified later by St. Cyril to the Divine Liturgy known today as the Divine Liturgy of St. Cyril.