St. Shenouda Coptic Newsletter

Volume 2, No. 2 January 1996

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Coptic Music and the Coptic Language in the Coptic Church in America (by Hany Takla)

The subject of Coptic and the Coptic Music in the Coptic Church has always been debated with regards to the future of the Coptic Church in America. The views tended to be both extreme and lacking in depth, good-willed yet misguided. They ranged from those that would give up any and every thing to bring people into the Church, to those that would not give up anything regardless of the outcome. The first extreme lacks knowledge of, pride in, and respect for the Coptic Tradition and Culture. The other extreme lacks Christian compassion at times. The first would sacrifice the 99 for the sake of one and the other would sacrifice the one for the sake of the 99. One would bring every one in while he has not enough to feed them, and the other would not let any one in lest his abundant riches be diminished. As a result the people entering the home of the first will be like the seed that fell upon stony ground and those entering the other's home resemble the seeds that fell on the roadway. The first will prosper for a short while, and the other will have no chance. In either case the environment will not sustain newcomers.

Let us put symbolism aside and look now at the relationship of Coptic to Coptic Music and what importance does it hold. As most of us know, the Coptic Script was used by the early Christians in Egypt to bring Christianity to the Egyptian masses that mostly could not read or write. By doing so, they allowed the Egyptian Christians to express their thought process and beliefs that have astonished the world to this day. As a result, the greatest ecclesiastical musical tradition was born. A tradition in its fully developed form has no equal, as attested to by those who studied it in depth. This tradition integrated the feelings (tunes) and the thoughts (language) of the Egyptians into a wonderful new language. A language for the soul to address its creator. A language that the Coptic language became its corner stone. All who truly experienced it will know what is being talked about here.

Let us now look into the importance of this music, or language of the soul, in regards to our Liturgical services. No one can dispute that the tunes we hear in such services express the meaning of such services, even though the same words are sometimes used. These services contain the Church wise guidelines for our interaction with God. I even dare to say that 50% of the meaning that the Church is conveying to us during these services is embodied in the music. So we can all agree that to take away such important aspect of these services would severely limit their effectiveness.

Now let us examine how the Coptic language relates to this musical tradition. The language represents the consonants of the Coptic Music while the tunes are its vowels. A rather inseparable relationship to insure its healthy existence. It expresses its thoughts and beliefs in poetic form that matches the tunes that are used to express them. In other words it is the best suited vehicle to convey these beautiful tunes and move the souls of its hearers.

Looking at the state of affairs of this beautiful tradition, we see that its opponents has caused it to retreat from being a dominant part of the liturgical system of the church to a severely diminished role. Its current strongholds became the liturgy, the hymnology, and the Passion week. After we brought this tradition with us to America. These strongholds came under further attack. We see the limited role that the Coptic music has been relegated to. The hymnology is being invaded and weakened as a result. The last victim-to-be is obviously the passion week, truly the crown jewel of this tradition. All this is being done to bring people into the Church, but who can bear to live spiritually in a Church with a healthy name and a weakened soul.

We should all remember that our forefathers have entrusted this tradition of their forefathers to us to faithfully transmit it to our children in the best form possible. We should not let our temporal thoughts and ideas be the judge for what to preserve from such tradition. If we detect elements contrary to the true spirit of our Church, then we should try to trace their origin and make sure of what it is we are pronouncing judgment over. Regardless of our good intentions, we all will give an account for our actions before the throne of the Almighty. May God grant us the wisdom to do what is pleasing to HIM.

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The Horologion (Agbeya) of the Coptic Orthodox Church (3) A Psali Adam of the Morning Prayer (by John Rizk)


The following Bohairic text is of a portion of the morning prayer taken from a Copto-Arabic manuscript, preserved in the Oxford Bodleian Library, Marshall Or. 57 (CML 319A). The manuscript is undated, but probably goes back to the 16th century AD. This Psali Adam prayer immediately follows the Gospel reading in the Prayer of the First Hour of the Coptic Horologian. In its original form, this prayer consisted of 22 verses. It is a joyous prayer which addresses Our Lord Jesus Christ, while rejoicing over His coming and offering Him praises. These original 22 verses are preserved and found in the extant text of the Coptic Psalmodia as part of the morning doxology. In the current text in-use of the Agbeya, only 9 of the 22 verses are preserved. They are divided into two parts and known as the troparia (Cf vol. 1, no. 2 of this Newsletter). The first part consists of verses 1 through 4, and the second consists of verses 5 through 9. The remaining verses are replaced by a Arabic Theotokia prayer, of which no original Coptic version is known. This troparia/Theotokia structure found in the current First Hour prayer was apparently adopted from the pattern seen in the 3rd, the 6th, and the 9th hour prayers. Other Horologian manuscripts from Paris, London, and the Vatican (Italy) are consistent with this Bodleian manuscript, in that they also contain this Psali Adam consisting of 22 verses. The question of when these 22 verses were reduced to 9 in the current Agbeya is a topic which requires more research. The text here is copied directly from the manuscript with vowel point modifications to reflect a more understanble text grammatically.


1. O The True Light, the one that luminates for every man that comes to the world.

2. You came to the world through Your love of mankind and the whole creation rejoiced by Your coming.

3. You saved Adam from the treachery, and You freed Eve from the pains of Death.

4. You gave to us the spirit of the sonhood, and we sang and praised You with Your angels.

5. When it came to us inside, namely the early morning time, O Christ Our God, the true light.

6. Let them shine in us, namely the thoughts of Light, and we did not cause it to cover us, namely the Darkness of the lustful passions.

7. In order that we sing to You perceptibly with David, declaring unto You and saying,

8. "They were first to attain, namely my eyes, the early morning time, to meditate in all Your words."

9. Listen to my voice according to Your great mercy, and save us O Lord, Our God, according to Your compassions.

10. O God, the Caring, Beneficent one, the Steward of His chosen good ones.

11. O the mighty Guide of those who fled to Him, the One who desire for everyone to be saved and be whole.

12. In Your Goodness, You prepared us in the night. Grant to us in this day, to being without sin.

13. Make us worthy to lift our hands upward toward You, in Your presence, without anger and evil thought(s).

14. In this morning, straighten our paths inside and our paths outside, in the joy of Your protection.

15. Make us say Your righteousness in every day, and make us to praise Your power with David the prophet.

16. For in Your peace, O Christ Our Saviour, we slept, we arose, and we hoped in You.

17. Behold, What is good or what is sweet except the good pleasure of brothers dwelling together

18. While they are harmonizing in true, evangelical charity as(?) the apostles.

19. Like the ointment upon the head of the anointed one, coming upon the beard down to the feet.

20. While being always anointed, the elders, the children, and the youth, and the servants.

21. These (ones) whom He has reconciled together, namely the Holy Spirit as a harp praising God at all times.

22. In psalms, and spiritual odes by the day and the night, with an unceasing heart.

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Preservation of the Coptic Heritage - A Pyramid of Cards (The Presentation by the Scriptorium at St. Peter and St. Paul Coptic Orthodox Church in Santa Monica on October 28, 1995 (By Emad N. Georgy)

The preservation of the Coptic heritage in the diaspora (more specifically, the United States) has become quite difficult especially for those youth members who are torn between the egoism of society and the agape of the Church. Our heritage is like a pyramid of cards -- delicate and easily broken by the winds of secularism. But thank God for those special people who dedicate their lives to the preservation and study of this heritage. Through the benevolent efforts of the Scriptorium, Dr. Scott Carroll, Dr. Jerry Pattengale, and Dr. Van Elderen have built a crystal dome of protection over this "pyramid of cards" we call our heritage. Faced with the dangers of secularism and the pressures of society, the Coptic people joyfully welcomed these honorable men. They are greatly respected, not just for their intellectual curiosity and study, but also because they too feel a deep spiritual involvement with the Coptic heritage. Truly, the night of October 28, we welcomed brothers into our midst -- brothers who help us to protect our delicate "pyramid of cards" -- our Coptic heritage.

Dr. Scott Carroll was the first to speak. He expressed a profound interest in our heritage but also expressed his spiritual interest in the subject. As he said, there are cold waters beneath the desert floor -- we just have to dig deep to find them. In other words, no matter how spiritually dry the world may seem, we have deep in our hearts the cold, refreshing waters of Christianity. Dr. Carroll also talked of the significance of educating ourselves about our spiritual roots.

Next to speak was Dr. Jerry Pattengale. Surprisingly, he was introduced to our Church by one of his former students, Mark Hanna! Dr. Pattengale showed many interesting artifacts and manuscripts including one of the oldest cuneiform texts which corroborates with Biblical texts. He also presented the only known complete Isaiah scroll and an Esther scroll. He fascinated us with his deep knowledge and empathy for the Coptic people and their heritage.

Once again, Dr. Carroll spoke. He showed us the earliest Sahidic passage of Jeremiah known! Among monks' letters, early Egyptian liturgical texts, and deeds of sale, he also presented three complete Arabic papyrus leaves from the Koran which contained textual variations from the Koran texts of today. He recognized that there were also textual variations in the Bible but stressed the importance of worshipping the author rather than the book itself. Additionally, he presented the complete book of Lamentations (Mississippi Codex 2), earliest known text of John (a fragment), and an apocryphal text fragment in which Jesus talks to Judas in the underworld. Dr. Carroll also showed a fragment of St. Luke's Gospel with St. Colluthus' name appearing on it. This proves to be important because the details of his trial are also presented. Documents such as these help us piece together the historical chronology of events in our history. Probably the most striking find was the discovery of a nine year-old girl buried with the Coptic Book of Psalms under her head. Much like the ancient Egyptians buried their dead with their valuables, the Coptic people buried their dead with their valuables -- that is, their Coptic religion and their unyielding faith.

Finally, accompanied with slides, Dr. Van Elderen began to take the audience, step by step, through the different monastic excavation work he participated in, leading to the newly discovered monastery of St. John the Short in Egypt. He told of how a farmer came upon what seemed to be an ancient Egyptian tomb and found a jar with thirteen books written in Coptic (the Nag-Hammadi Codices)! He also showed us a copy of the Gospel of John, dated 200 A.D., which is the oldest occurrence of a Biblical text (the Dishna or Bodmer Collection). Dr. Van Elderen displayed pictures of the monastery -- its rooms, cooking facilities, and monks' cells. They found an egg that was still intact after many years! Another amazing find was a fragmentary frescoe painting of our Lord found scattered on the floor. It resembled a giant jigsaw puzzle. Dr. Van Elderen stated that there was still a lot of work to be done and would resume again in January. Finally, Dr. Van Elderen cited this expedition to be the most productive in his years of experience in the Middle East (since 1952).

It is because of people like Dr. Scott Carroll, Dr. Jerry Pattengale, and Dr. Van Elderen that we learn how important the preservation of our heritage is. Although they left us thirsty for more information, our hearts were enlightened with their amazing interest and deep involvement in our heritage. They are an inspiration to all Coptic people. If we do nothing to protect our delicate pyramid of cards, our heritage, very soon the winds will sweep away all traces of it. Truly, it was an honor to be in the presence of these men. As A. Cleveland Coxe, D.D. said in his Introductory Notice of Ante-Nicene Fathers: v.1 Apostolic Fathers, "Those [Christian times] were times of heroism, not of words; an age, not of writers, but of soldiers; not of talkers, but of sufferers" (Coxe vii). These three men reminded us, through their endless efforts, that we are heroes and soldiers first, not writers; sufferers for the faith first, not talkers. It is up to us to carry on that tradition. From the deep wells of our hearts, we thank those special three men, Dr. Scott Carroll, Dr. Jerry Pattengale, and Dr. Van Elderen for the light that they shined into our hearts that night. We hope to see them again soon and wish them all success in their explorations this month of January.

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News (by Hany N. Takla)

1. The NKCSC Project: This project has yielded 3 PC applications, designed to promote the learning and the use of the Coptic Language. The first applications were the "Introductory Bohairic Coptic Grammar" (NKCSC-CL1) and "The Bohairic English Dictionary" (NKCSC-CL2). They requires Windows 3.1 or 3.11 to run plus the Coptic fonts (Antonious), included in NKCSC-CL1. In addition the grammar application requires Word for Windows 2.0 or 6.0 to run. The last application to be released was the Coptic New Testament Viewer. It displays either parallel Bohairic/English (KJV) or Sahidic/Greek texts, arranged by book and chapter. It is distributed in three different configurations; Bohairic/English (CB1a), Sahidic/Greek (CB1b), or a combination of both (CB1).

A version compatible with Windows 95 Operating System has also been developed. They have the designation CL1M for the Grammar (Does not require a word processor software), CL2M, CB1M, CB1am, and CB1bm. CL1M can be used by any version of Windows when a word processor is not available.

Other programs under development are the Bohairic/English Annual Lectionary, programmed in Word for Windows like NKCSC-CL1, along with other Church lectionary systems. Publishing The Old Testament will be released in separate books or groups of books, arranged in the same manner as the New Testament in Bohairic/English (Septuagint), and Sahidic/Greek. We are also contemplating a CD publication of the life and times of St. Shenouda the Archimandrite, including text and translations of the available vitae, selections from his writings, and graphical tour of his famous monastery church (the White Monastery). May God help us in accomplishing these worthwhile efforts.

2. The Society on The Internet: Since the last time we communicated to you, our internet site moved to a new location. The new address is: The site was officially opened on December 4, 1995. It currently contains 16 html documents as well as an extensive graphical representation of the niche decorations of the monastery of St. Shenouda in Sohag, Upper Egypt. The documents include an overview of the work of the Society; articles on life and times of St. Shenouda, his monastery, and his disciple St. Besa (under construction still); the Center's newsletters, including a downloadable version in word for windows format; the history of the Coptic language and its value; and other miscellaneous documents including a link to other related sites. You can gain access to our site through search engines like Yahoo or Webcrawler as well as CoptNet. This site will always be expanded God's willing, so stay tuned.

3. The California Orange County Coptic Regional Center: Since its official opening on July 22, 1995, the center completed the first Introductory Coptic Grammar Class. This was taught by Mr. Joseph Fahim, center's assistant director. The next class will be offered late January and will be conducted by a team of instructors. For more details contact Mr. Fahim at (714) 842-1344. The center also produced the long-awaited volume 1 of the Coptic Puzzles and Word games. A truly proud accomplishment of our Coptic Youth in the area. If you are in the Orange County area, be sure to visit the Regional Center, located within the confines of Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church at 4405 Edinger Blvd., Santa Ana CA 92704.

4. Coptic Word Games Handbook: Eighteen of our Coptic youth, affiliated with our Orange County Regional Coptic Center have produced a great Coptic educational tool, i.e. Volume 1 of the Coptic Word Games Handbook. This book, which became ready late in December 1995, is truly a proud fruit of the effort of these predominantly college-age Coptic students. It provides an excellent text book to pleasantly introduce our younger and even older generations to the language of our fathers. It also will give hour of enjoyment to those of us that already have knowledge of Coptic regardless of age. The price will be $2.00 for members and $3.00 for non members. Slightly lower prices will be given to churches for large orders (50+). We made the prices for the first volume real low to promote its use, its value is priceless!

5. The Scriptorium in Egypt: The second excavation season for the Scriptorium, under the direction of Prof. Scott Carroll, in the Western desert of Wadi 'N Natrun, Egypt is starting this month. This season is featuring the first edition of their "Spring Semester in Egypt". About ten students will participate in the program that will afford them the chance to learn about Coptic monasticism, Language, History, and Art as well as to participate in the excavation under the direction of renowned scholars in each of these respective fields. The program will count for 16 semester units and will last for about three months. Included among the students is our own staff member, Maged S. Mikhail, who will give us a first hand report on the accomplishments of this season. For more information on this program or the activities of the Scriptorium, please contact Profs. Scott Carroll or Jerry Pattengale at (800) 333-8373.

6. The Scriptorium in Los Angeles: On Saturday October 28, 1995 at 8 p.m., three scholars from the Scriptorium addressed a large gathering at St. Peter and St. Paul Coptic Orthodox Church, Located at 1245 4th St., Santa Monica, CA. More details about the lecture and the exhibits they brought are included in a separate article in this newsletter.

7. Coptic Microfilm Library (CML): During this period, we received microfilms of 7 Coptic codices from the London British Library. They include biblical and liturgical Bohairic manuscripts. Currently we are approaching some of the monasteries in Egypt to facilitate acquisition of copies of some manuscripts in their library holdings.

8. Coptic Book Library: More volumes related to the different branches of Coptic Studies were added to our Coptic library. Most notable is a beautiful volume about the Fayoum Portraits that shows early examples of Coptic Art. We also acquired several volumes of books and catalogs related to Ancient Egyptian Art. More volumes are planned for the next quarter.

9. Coptic Classes: The Pope Shenouda III Theological Seminary in Bellflower California, concluded the Coptic I course, taught by Hany Takla, the Society's president. Two other sessions of this course are given at St. Peter and St. Paul Coptic Orthodox Church in Santa Monica on Saturday evenings. Another session will be offered at the Center after the conclusion of the ones in Santa Monica. The Advanced Coptic Seminar is holding two sessions on Sundays, one translating Bohairic literary texts, and the other translating Sahidic monastic texts. Prof. Loprieno of UCLA will be offering a 4-unit Coptic dialect translation class in the Spring Quarter, (late March 96) for those that attended the 8-unit Sahidic Class last year.

10. Analysis of the Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil: Mr. Monir B. Raphael of Chicago IL has authored a most important publication to aid in the comprehension of the Coptic Liturgy, the most visible text in use by the Copts today. The book is titled The Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil - Coptic Language Analysis. The first volume was published in 1994 with volumes 2 and 3 coming approximately one year apart. It publishes the text of the Liturgy of St. Basil in 3 columns, the middle one in Coptic with the Arabic text on the left and the English translation on the right. The Coptic text is coded with numbers that one can use to look up the meaning as well as the grammatical analysis of the word on the opposing page or in the footnote section. There are also detailed appendices on the Coptic as well as the Greek grammar used in the liturgy. It is a must-reference to any Copt or any person interested in learning the proper meaning of the Coptic Liturgy. The price is for members is $32.00 for all three volumes (vol. 1 $17, vol. 2 $7, vol. 3 $8) and for non-members $38.00 (vol. 1 $20, vol. 2 $8, vol. 3 $10). Multiple copies discount is available. Note that volume 2 requires volume 1, and volume 3 requires volumes 1 & 2. This set is an enlarged as well as an enhanced edition that the author has produced in Egypt nearly 30 year ago in Coptic and Arabic only.

11. Publications by Copts: We would like to alert our readers to the admirable publication that Prof. Ishak of Toronto, Canada publishes in English annually, under the name of Coptologia. Since 1980, such publication brought out many important articles dealing with our Coptic Heritage and written by prominent scholars, Copts and others. Their business address is: Coptologia Publications, P.O. Box 235, Don Mills, ON, Canada M3C 2S2.

Mr. Maged Attia of Sydney Australia has authored a book under the title "The Coptic Orthodox Church of Australia (1969-1994)". This 200-page book outlines the history of the Copts in Australia and the establishment of their 21 churches, 2 monasteries, Theological College, primary and secondary schools, and nursing home. Pope Shenouda wrote the introduction to the book. It can be ordered from: Coptic Orthodox Church Publication, P.O. Box B63, Bexely NSW 2207, Australia the price is $15.00.

The Society has several important Coptic Art publications that it sponsors their distribution. The first is a 2-volume set of "Coptic Art". A collection of over 370 beautiful color plates of Coptic Art treasures with a brief caption accompanying each plate. An indispensable set to have by all those interested in the Coptic Heritage. The price is $35.00 for members, and $40.00 for non-members. The second publication is a single volume of Coptic Icons by the same author, containing nearly 100 color plates of Coptic Icons. The price is $8.00 for members and $10.00 for non-members. Also we have brief pictorial guides to the Coptic Monasteries of St. Antony and St. Paul in Egypt. The price is $1.25 each.

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Prepared by Hany N. Takla. Last Update3/18/96

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