Arrived at church at 10:30, when the Third hour was just begining, and left at 12:30, towards the end of the Sixth hour, to get to class. Got back at 4pm, middle of the Eleventh hour. The Twelfth hour concluded around 6pm. I don’t usually say much to the people I work with as far as my religous observances, but I had to explain this, to explain my dashing away from the hospital so much. They looked so horrified at the idea of a nine-hour service. I keep forgetting that this only feels normal to the Copts, or if you were raised doing this. I suppose most Christians also don’t regard midnight as the best time for a celebration. (The cat just climbed on my lap and asked to be petted . . .)

I’ve been thinking lately of how the Holy Week services could be adapted to share some of the richness with Protestants, without trying to drag them through the long hours, the elaborate rites, and the otherworldly chanting. It would be tremendous to get together, either at church or at someone’s house, and just take turns reading the prophecies and gospels, and singing some traditional Western Passion hymns. Easter is so much more meaningful if you go through Pascha week to get there, rather than jumping just from Palm Sunday to Easter.

This is actually the first time I’ve been able to attend so much of the Good Friday prayers. So I finally discovered what makes them take so long: the concluding litanies are said after every hour, there are several prophecies read per hour, and the sixth and ninth hours have several long hymns which need to be sung “in the Paschal tone,” which means that six syllables take about three minutes to sing. Literally.

Here is one of the hymns sung by the congregation (thus faster, since only the deacons can remember or carry the long notes) called Omonogeneis, from the first word in Coptic:

O Only-begotten, Eternal, Immortal Word of God, who for our salvation willed to be incarnate of the Holy Birthgiver of God, the Virgin Mary;

Who without change became man, and was crucified, O Christ, God;

Who by death trampled down death;

One of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit: save us.

Holy God, who being God for sake became man without change;

Holy Mighty, who by weakness showed forth what is greater than power.

Holy Immortal, who was crucified for our sake, and endured death in his flesh, the Eternal and Immortal.

Holy Trinity, have mercy on us.

And then, after reading the gospels about the thieves on either side:

Coptic

Mnaestheti mou, Kyrie, en tay basileia sou;

Mnaestheti mou, Agie, en tay basileia sou;

Mnaestheti mou, Despota, en tay basileai sou.

English

Remember me, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom.

Remember me, O Holy One, when you come into your kingdom.

Remember me, O Master, when you come into your kingdom

That’s the chorus, interspersed with verses praising the faith of the good thief, who without seeing any of Jesus’ miracles, or his transfiguration, or any of his glory, still recognized and trusted him. It’s sung to a beautiful, haunting melody.

The psalm for the twelfth hour has verses collected from different places: “They laid me in the lowest pit, in dark places, in the shadow of death. . . Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. . . Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; the sceptre of thy kingdom is a sceptre of righteousness. Thy garments smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia.” Even at what outwardly seems the point of Christ’s lowest humiliation, the church sees him having defeated death and hell, the way already open to his enthronement in heaven. Thus, the exposition of the ninth hour, which is when he died, says:

He shouted with a loud voice and gave up the ghost. . . Rejoice today, all righteous people, prophets, and patriarch: The first man has been reborn in the new man who conquered death, ended its pride, and broke its bittern thorn.

God the Word went down to hell through Adam’s nature. The souls who were in captivity he lifted up according to his great mercy. . .

He took Adam by the hand and lifted him and descendants with him and admitted them to the paradise of joy.

The one thing I dislike about the Friday prayers is the place in the twelfth hour which calls for Kyrie Eleison to be prayed four hundred times. This seems to me excessive. Singing the Pascha doxology (thouk ta ti goum) twelve times is fine; but this is definitely vain repetition. I was thinking all day of the verse in Romans 8: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Stop and think about that.

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