When Chanters Don’t Chant: How We’ve Lost Sight of the Meaning of “Deaconship” in the Coptic Church

WhenChantersDon'tChantUpdate 6/1:

Looks like the Holy Synod may actually address the matter of chanter ordinations, if I’m reading the following correctly:

From copticworld.org article regarding the May 2015 Holy Synod meeting: “Committee of Pastoral Care and Service: 1- Review the regulations of chanters and celibate consecration for a vote next November.”

https://www.copticworld.org/articles/4745/

Original post:

“I am not a deacon!” That is what I asked a room full of “deacons” to say during a meeting that included the entire gamut of “deacons” from my parish, young and old alike.

“Repeat after me. I am not a deacon!” I exclaimed. Many participated, but there were a few who had an eyebrow raised while responding, and some who did not want to utter a word (and after the meeting, some expressed that they were actually quite offended).

I walked up to the young kids, pointed to one of them and asked, “I am not a deacon, but I am a ???”

Someone blurted out: “Chanter!”

“Yes, that’s right,” I said. Then I pointed to someone older, and asked, “I am not a deacon, but I am a ???”

Understanding better the point of my question, he excitedly responded, “Reader!”

Why all of this? Because the truth is, there is a systemic issue in the Coptic Church that has skewed the meaning of “deaconship,” and I earnestly pray for improvement. But first, we need to see the problem.
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Keep Those Graven Images Coming! It Shouldn’t Stop with Just the Manger Scene

GravenImageMangerSceneMeme

I saw the meme image above and realized how truly astonishing it is that many Christian denominations treat religious images (e.g., statues, icons, pictures, crosses with Christ on it [a.k.a crucifixes], and even sometimes a simple cross) as being something absolutely heretical and unacceptable in God’s eyes.

Unfortunately, while most of them seem to understand the value and harmless character of religious imagery during the Christmas season, once it ends its back to the passionate decree: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Exodus 20:4).

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Why Christ Had to Be Born, Not Just Appear In Spirit, To Save Us: According to St. Athanasius

Christ's Incarnation -- The Reason For Season[This post is derived from a Sunday School lesson given 12/14/2014. You can download the presentation here]  [Also, click on the above image for a full high resolution version that you can download and share as you wish!]

St. Athanasius’s “On the Incarnation” is a must read for every Christian, Orthodox or not. (A free public copy is provided at the end of this post). Don’t take my word for it; C.S. Lewis, famous author and writer of the Chronicles of Narnia series (among many other works), called it “a masterpiece.”

St. Athanasius answers fundamental questions in the work, including:

  • Why couldn’t Adam and Eve have just repented?
  • What does it mean that they would “surely die”?
  • Why was Christ born?
  • Why couldn’t Christ have just saved us by appearing in spirit, without becoming incarnate?

Here is a summary of what the 20th Archbishop of Alexandria had to say in the first couple of chapters:

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Understanding, Enjoying, and Improving “7 & 4” Kiahk Praise Service in the Coptic Church

StMaryThetokiaManuscript18thCentury

“Seven & Four”

There is a special rite of praises in the Coptic Church that are commonly known in Arabic as “7 & 4,” which relate to a service conducted on Saturday nights during the Coptic month of Kiahk. What does that name mean? From the amateur to the scholar, you will hear the same answer that the renown author Gawdat Gabra gives: “It is commonly called ‘the seven and four’ because seven Theotokias and four odes [a.k.a. canticles] are thus sung.”

If anyone has paid any attention to the praises sung on Saturday night, you would have realized that the above explanation is no longer valid!

Allow me to explain:

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The Early Church Tradition of Separate Seating: Ancient Practice, Not a Cultural Anomaly

Separate Seating

I will let St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. AD 313–386) start this blog post off with what he taught people who were considering joining the Church:

Let men be with men, and women with women. For now I need the example of Noah’s ark, in which were Noah and his sons, and his wife and his sons’ wives. For though the ark was one, and the door was shut, yet things had been suitably arranged. If the Church is shut, and you are all inside, yet let there be a separation, men with men, and women with women, lest the pretext of salvation become an occasion of destruction. Even if there be a fair pretext for sitting near each other, let passions be put away. (Protocatechesis, 14, NPNF 2:7)

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