Last night my sister and I went to the evening Pascha services. I love the prayers, but hate to go because it’s an hour from our house. This year my sister just got her driver’s license, and for some strange reason enjoys driving. And this morning I asked the senior resident, and she quickly agreed to let me go to the Great Thursday liturgy at noon, and the Black Friday prayers in the morning.

These prayers are the canonical prayers of the hours, six said together for convenience in the morning, and then the “eve of. . .” said together in the evening. So we went to the Eve of Wednesday prayers. Here is one of the readings from Hosea:

Give them, O Lord: what wilt thou give them? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.

All their wickedness is in Gilgal; there I hated them. For the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of my house, I will love them no more; all their princes are revolters. . .

My God will cast them away, because they did not hearken unto him; and they shall be wanderers among the nations. . .

. . . He will break down their altars; he shall spoil their images.

At the beginning of each hour there are readings from the other prophets, in a similar key: the sins of the people, and God’s righteous wrath and impending judgment. Jeremiah figures largely. The men of the congregation take turns reading at the lectern, and the boys are always very proud when they are judged old enough to read.

Then, the doxology of Pascha week. I love this hymn. The tune is an ancient Egyptian chant, and phrases are added to the middle verse every day. Here is the final version, that of Black Friday:


          Thouk ta ti goum, nem bi ou-o, nem bi’smonem, bi amai, sha-eenay, Amen. Emmanuel Benouti, Ben-ouro.

          Thouk ta ti goum, nem bi ou-o, nem bi’smonem, bi amai, sha-eenay, Amen. Bashois Iesous BeChristos, Basoter en agathos.

               Ta goum, nem ba esmo bi epchois, ef shobi-naya, ef soteraya, efowab.

          Thouk ta ti goum, nem bi ou-o, nem bi’smonem, bi amai, sha-eenay, Amen.


           Lak al kowa, w’al magdi, w’al baraka, w’al aiza, il al abad, Amen. Emmanuel Illahna, wa malekna.

           Lak al kowa, w’al magdi, w’al baraka, w’al aiza, il al abad, Amen. Ya Rubbi, Yasou al Masiha, Mukhalis, es-saleh.

                Kowati, wa tasbehati, how’al Rubu, khat sarali, qudas an’muqadassan.

           Lak al kowa, w’al magdi, w’al baraka, w’al aiza, il al abad, Amen.


          Thine is the kingdom, and the glory, and the blessing, and the power, forever. Amen. Oh Emmanuel, our God and our King.

          Thine is the kingdom, and the glory, and the blessing, and the power, forever. Amen. Oh my Lord, Jesus Christ, my good

                 Savior. The Lord is my strength and my song, and is become my salvation.

          Thine is the kingdom, and the glory, and the blessing, and the power, forever. Amen.

(You can see the Greek influence in some borrowed words in the Coptic version.) This song is sung twelve times, antiphonally between the two sides of the church, in every canonical hour. The biblical references are too many to name; both David and Isaiah refer to the Lord as song and salvation. The tune doesn’t have the majesty of Haydn’s masses (which I’m still listening to: I need to switch the Messiah CDs in for this week), but there’s a persistency and dedication to the repeated chant, which I love. Click here for a recording of this particular hymn; travel around on that site, or on this one for other Coptic Pascha hymns.

Then, the psalm is read. This is one from Tuesday evening, Psalm 65:4:

Blessed is the man whom you choose, and cause to approach unto you, that he may dwell in your courts.

We will be satisfied with the goodness of your house, even of your holy temple.

And then, the Gospel. This is read in a chant; some of the older men know how to sing beautifully, matching the holds and pauses in the chant with the words of the reading. The younger men mostly sing in a monotone, which passes. The program is to collate the Gospels, and read the parallel passages together. Thus, on Thursday, all the accounts of finding the house for the Last Supper will be read at the same hour, and all the accounts of the Institution, and all about Judas, at their specific hour. Tuesday evening the readings were all from Matthew 23-25.

That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel, unto the blood of Zacharias son of Berechias, whom ye slew between the altar and the temple. Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation. . .

Watch therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord shall come. . . Therefore be ye also ready; for in such hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh. . .

. . . And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. Afterwards came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.

Lastly, a short exposition, also printed in the prayer book, is read. Conclusion of the exposition of the eleventh hour:

Tribulations will come upon this generation because they had conspired to kill the Son of God. This is why God scattered them all over the earth, their enemies dominated them, their heritage was given to others, and their dwellings became desolate.

I hope to show this more fully with excerpts from the coming days, but here in these brief passage you can see the message of salvation clearly taught. On one level, the juxtaposition of prophecies and gospels shows the wrath of God against Israel for their continued idolatry and rejection of him culminated in his judgment on their rejection of the Messiah. But these passages also apply to all sinners, who continually reject God’s goodness and choose to revolt against him, necessitating the suffering and death of the Messiah. At the same time, the Psalms which are read are a mixture of the Messianic ones – especially Psalm 22 – and expressions of the hope and security that God’s people have in him.

And then that hymn, which runs all through the week, continually repeated, known by heart, building to the central lines: The Lord is my strength and my song, and is become my salvation. And the repeated acknowledgment of Christ as Lord, victor, king. In the midst of his passion, we praise him as the triumphant savior, the Ruler. There was never any doubt that he would overcome; and there is no possibility for his enemies now to escape. The Epistle read on Easter night says, “He must reign, till he has put all enemies under his feet.”

The Copts are postmillenialists, though they don’t quite know it. God, make these truths clear to your people during this holy week. God, set our hearts on fire for your glory, so that we do not hesitate to proclaim your truth in spite of rejection and even danger.

(There’s nothing interesting at the hospital. All my patients throw up and get dehydrated, get admitted for the night, and recover. Just a few psychogenic syncope/seizure girls here and there. Our cystic fibrosis patient is doing a little better. She’s planning her wedding in a week or two. The nurses helped her pick a wedding dress, of which she now has a picture hanging on her wall. Hope she makes it to the wedding.)