My Intriguing Visit to an Ethiopian Orthodox Church—A First-Time Coptic Visitor’s Perspective

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What a remarkable experience I had visiting the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church! A friend of mine gave my name to an Ethiopian Orthodox priest, suggesting that I give the after-church sermon to the youth. He invited me to attend the service, which I did, and by the end of it I had so many questions I wanted answered due to all the intriguing things I witnessed! Here are all the fascinating things I learned, and my observations upon further reflection:

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Bowing Standing Relaxing Prostrating Sitting: What Your Posture In Church Says About You

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“Bow”—and we kneel or prostrate. “Worship”—and we sit. “From now on, let us observe the rule of bowing and worshiping as it should be observed,” I proposed to the “deacons” (using this term loosely to refer also to the minor orders) of our parish. When I was asked to serve as deacon coordinator, this was one of the newly implemented efforts that at first yielded much resistance. One deacon even likened me to a Pharisee, yet I desperately explained the reason behind our different postures in church, and by God’s grace, even the staunchest of opponents seem to have been convinced (for the most part). Continue reading

Explaining the Resurrection “Play” Enactment and Procession in the Coptic Rite: by H.G. Bishop Youssef

ResurrectionReenactment Ever wondered what the symbolism is behind the “Resurrection play” in the Coptic Rite. During the Feast of the Resurrection, there is this special moment where something that normally never happens happens. Although the Church is supposed to resemble heaven and therefore always have the lights on, during a particular segment the Liturgy of the Word of that feast, all the lights turn off (except for some or all lights inside the sanctuary), and the curtain (or door) of the altar is closed. Then the presiding clergyman, standing inside the sanctuary, engages in a melodic dialogue with two deacons outside (and yes, according to H.G. Bishop Youssef, it should be two, and he explains why). To understand the meaning behind all of this, let us first turn to the official source for liturgical text for the Coptic Diocese of the Southern U.S. (the Coptic Reader App), we learn the following: Continue reading

Behind the Iconostasis: Who May Enter Beyond It, and How We Copts May Have Gotten It Wrong

Iconostasis St Mary Atlanta Coptic Church

I was really surprised recently about hearing of many Coptic church members who decided to stop attending a particular church because the priest does not allow anyone among the laity to go beyond the iconostasis, as we Copts are (unfortunately) accustomed to.

Another situation came up recently as well, whereby a particular rank of the minor orders (I presume a chanter) was very upset by a request of the deacons (and I use this term loosely, referring to the minor orders of our church), that none should leave their position in the choir section of the church and stand behind the iconostasis during the service, unless they are engaging in a liturgical purpose, or unless otherwise they have received permission. Again I was greatly saddened to be reminded of a fact I had known but didn’t want to dwell on: most in the Coptic Church have forgotten where we should stand (and shouldn’t stand) in the church, and why that is the case.

What are we to think of this? Is the priest correct? Does he have any basis for his rule? What about the deacon? Should several deacons be allowed to rest or stand during the service behind the iconostasis? Continue reading

5 Things We Sadly Often Miss During the Baptism Rite/Ceremony

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You squeeze into a small room that can fit only a handful of people. You are barely able to follow along as the bishop/priest rushes through his prayers and the responses to those prayers leave you wanting. You examine the parents’ faces, the baby, and those gathered around, and offer a smile if anyone happens to glance your way. And all you and mostly everyone really wants is simply to get to the end of the service when the baby is dunked in the water three times.

For most of us, the rest of the service is really just superfluous. “Just get to the end already!” is what many of us are probably thinking. And finally, after the “main event,” the baby puts on his new outfit—oh how cute! And then the baby is paraded around the church at the end of the Divine Liturgy in a procession that has all the “deacons” (most of whom were not present in the baptism ceremony) asking, “What’s the kid’s name? Is it a boy or girl? What do we say at the end of this Axios? Do we go around three times or just once? Someone bring a candle! Two candles? Or just one?”

And then it’s all over, and what exactly happened? That’s how the priest actually ends the service, asking, “Didn’t you hear the words full of awe that were told you about the holy baptism?”

How many of those who attended are able to describe the key elements of the baptism ceremony that they just witnessed? Sadly, quite few. It has become more of a show rather than a solemn mystery. Here is my list of 5 key highlights of this occasion that people often miss:

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

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“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

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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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Why and How We (Copts and Eastern Orthodox) Fast Before Nativity (Christmas)

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As Americans approach the Thanksgiving holiday, many Orthodox Christians openly or secretly grumble about how the Nativity (a.k.a. Christmas/Advent) fast interferes with their holiday eating plans. So let’s take a moment to understand why and how we (should) fast before celebrating the incarnation of our divine Lord, taking flesh and living among us.

Basics 

How many days do we fast before Christmas?

  • 40
  • (and if you are Coptic Orthodox, add an additional 3 days [reason explained below])

Spiritual basis for length of fast 

The Coptic Church as well as the Eastern Orthodox agree regarding the spiritual basis for the length of the fast. Continue reading