After the prayer of the ninth hour this morning came the Blessing of the Water. This is an almost mass-like service, blessing water with which the priest then ritually washes the congregation’s feet. (Mostly symbolical; it is accomplished without removing the socks. The women get the water on their hands; remember, as recently as Victorian society, seeing a woman’s ankles was scandalous for Westerners too.)

Part of the service is the reading of the following collection of passages referring to water (some rather indirectly):

Genesis 18:1-23: Abraham receiving God as a guest, and the promise to Sarah, and the intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah.

Proverbs 9:1-11: Wisdom decks her house and prepares a feast.

Exodus 15: Israel rejoices after crossing the Red Sea to freedom.

Joshua 1, 3: The people go over Jordan, strengthened to defeat their enemies.

Isaiah 4:2-4: The coming glory of Zion.

Isaiah 55:1-13: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat; come, buy wine and milk without money and

        without price.”

Ezekiel 36:25-29: God promises to sprinkle his people with water, and give them soft hearts to obey his laws.

Ezekiel 47:1-9: Ezekiel is brought through a flooding river which brings blessing to all the earth.

Then, the regular liturgy, ending in communion, is said. (This is the part I was able to attend today.) The Pauline epistle is Paul’s description of the Institution. The Trisagion, a hymn shared with the Greek Orthodox, is sung, but the verses about Christ’s birth and resurrection are left out. The middle verse is repeated three times: “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal. Thou who wast crucified for us, have mercy on us.” The gospel is Matthew’s account of the Last Supper. The Creed is recited, but only up to “incarnate of the Virgin Mary and of the Holy Spirit, and became man.” The crucifixion and resurrection are skipped, and we proceed to the “We believe in the Holy Spirit. . .”

At one point in the liturgy, during the intercessions for various things (the patriarch, the bishops, the peace of the community, good harvests), a chant from another version of the liturgy is often introduced. This is one of my favorite parts. The priest chants, almost crying out, “Rahumna, ya’Allah; rahumna, ya’Allah; rahumna, ya’Allah, Mukhalisuna!” And the people echo him: “Have mercy on us, O God; have mercy on us, O God; have mercy on us, O God, our Savior.” And repeat. Partway through this, my beeper went off for the second time, and I had to dash out to answer it. Just a resident, not knowing I was gone; the first one was another student, who also didn’t know. It’s nice to know that people look for me sometimes. Also, in spite of ruining my favorite part, it was semi-exciting to be paged in church, just like a real doctor. I’m sure that’s the last time I’ll think that.

During communion, instead of singing Psalm 150 as usual, the prophecy of the eleventh hour is read: Isaiah 52:13-53:12.

His visage was so marred, more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men; so shall he cleanse many nations. . .

Who hath believed our report, and to whom was the arm of the Lord revealed?

. . . Surely he hath born our griefs, and carried our sorrows. . . He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed. . .

He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied; by his knowledge shall my righteous Servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. . .

And the psalm, relevant to the betrayal by Judas (whom some of the hymns spend a great deal of time castigating, in beautiful, woeful chants):

You have hated instruction, and cast my words behind you. If you saw a thief, you ran along with him, and have cast in your lot with adulterers.

Earlier in the day were read the psalms about “my trusted friend, the one with whom I ate bread, lifted up his heel against me.” The final gospel reading for the afternoon is John’s account: How Jesus foretold betrayal by a disciple, and Peter told John to ask who, and Jesus indicated Judas, who ate bread with him; and Judas went out into the dark night.

Finally, I was able to stay for the prayers after the last hour is read: a series of intercessions: wisdom for the patriarch, right doctrine for the bishops, peace for the monasteries and all churches (Dear God, no repetition of the attack in Alexandria, not this week!), for Christian rulers, for deliverance of prisoners, for provision for the poor, and then this one: “Let us pray and ask for the rising of the waters of the river this year. . .lift from us death, the rise of prices, plagues, capture by the Berber, the sword of the enemies, and the rising of heretics. . .” Nothing ever changes.

Then antiphonal singing, which is poetic and lively in Coptic, but I will not burden you with the English, except for these lines: “We cry out saying, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified on the cross, trample down Satan under our feet. . . . O King of Peace, bestow your peace upon us; make firm your peace upon us; and forgive our sins.”

Tomorrow I have permission to leave after seeing my patients, before rounds, thus getting to almost the beginning of the Great Friday service, which will run from 9am till 6pm – if it finishes on time, which is not likely. I doubt I’ll have time to post about it, what with going to sleep for the midnight vigil. The church will be darkened (in addition to the black hangings already covering all the walls and lecterns); the gospels of the crucifixion read at length, with many Psalms, especially 22. Finally, as the deacons sing a very slow and mournful tune about Golgotha, roses brought by the congregation are stripped of their petals, mixed with spices, and wrapped around an icon of the burial, to be “buried” in a marble sarcophagus until Easter. Then the deacons get together behind the iconostasis, and read the entire book of Psalms straight through, while everyone else goes downstairs to eat together.