We are having a group of Egyptians over for an Easter party this evening, so this will have to be slightly abbreviated. The guests are invited for 4pm; will arrive between 5 and 6; will stay till 11 or 12. Egyptians do not consider they have had a good time, unless there is a controversial discussion, with everyone talking at once, waving their arms, and speaking at the top of their voices. Americans would think they were angry. We’re just having a good time.

The Bright Saturday vigil starts around 1am, Saturday morning. Many songs to the Virgin and other saints are sung. I like the saints’ songs fine; they recount the saints’ deeds, and praise their virtues, and conclude with a brief request for intercession. But the amount of time and praise spent on Mary is too much, for me. Around 3am, all the men in the church start taking turns reading a chapter from the book of Revelation, while seven cotton wicks are lit in a bowl of oil in front of the priest. Certain sections of the book turn into a song, such as the praise of the Lamb, or the counting of the elect from Israel, or the description of the gates of the city. Again, so many verses take on a new meaning in this context. To quote just from the first chapters:

From Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first begotten of the dead, the prince of the kings of the earth.

Unto him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever, Amen.

Behold, he comes with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they which pierced him; and all kindreds of the land shall wail because of him. . .

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches: he who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. . .

He who overcomes, and keeps my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to slivers; even as I received of my Father. . .

. . . in the midst of the throne, and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain. . .

They sang a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth. . .

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.

At the end, the people are anointed with the oil from the lamp. The dark hangings of the week were removed at the end of the Friday service, and by now the church is hung in red and white and banners, showing Christ over the guards, and the phrase, “He is not here, for he is risen.” A liturgy is now said. One of the long final prayers, the Fraction, shows the amazing theology embedded in the Coptic liturgy; which the people are too sadly ignorant of.

O Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the name of salvation, who according to the multitude of his mercies descended into hades and abolished the power of death:

You are the King of the ages, Immortal, Eternal, the Logos of God, Shepherd of the sheep, the High Priest of the good things to come,

Who ascended into the heavens, and became above the heavens, and went within the veil. . .

You are he concerning whom the prophet Isaiah prophesied, saying, “As a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb silent before his shearer, so he opened not his mouth. In his humiliation, his judgment was taken away.”

You were wounded for our sins, and afflicted for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon you, and with your bruises we were healed. . .

Therefore we praise you, we bless you, we serve you, we worship you, we glorify you and give thanks to you at all times. . .

And then, late Saturday evening, the climax of the whole week: The Easter service. Everybody comes, even from different states, for this one. All the girls bring their American boyfriends (and who knows what they make of it, or what the neighbors round about make of this midnight celebrations). The Pauline epistle is from 1 Corinthians 15:

He must reign, till he has put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. . .

But some man will say, How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die. . .

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. . .

The first man is of the earthy, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. . .

As we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

Then, the curtain is drawn in front of the altar, and all the lights are put out. The deacon sings, and the priest answers, three times, in Coptic and Arabic:

Christos anesti! Elithos anesti!     Christos anesti! Elithos anesti!     Christos anesti! Elithos anesti!

Il Massiha kama! B’il haqiqati kama!      Il Massiha kama! B’il haqiqati kama!        Il Massiha kama! B’il haqiqati kama!  

(Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!     Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!     Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!)

Then, the deacon sings, slowly and impressively, “Lift up your head, ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.”

And the priest asks, “Who is this King of glory?”

The deacon answers, “The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory!”

And with a loud clashing noise (symbolizing the earthquake that opened the tomb) the lights are turned on, candles lit among the deacons, and a great procession formed, headed by the cross, with the deacons playing cymbals, and brought up by the priest censing an icon of the resurrection. They proceed around the church three times, singing:

Christ has risen from the dead; by death he trampled on death.

To those who were in the graves he gave eternal life.

Alleluia, Alleluia.

Jesus Christ, the King of glory, has risen from the dead on the third day.

Alleluia. Alleluia.

Christ, our God, has risen from the dead; he is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

The gospel is John’s account: Peter and John running to the tomb, finding it empty; Mary Magdalene weeping, and meeting Jesus, who sends her to tell the other disciples. Instead of a sermon is read the Patriarch of Alexandria’s letter to the “churches of immigration.”

The service then proceeds as usual, except that the chant is often the Paschal tune, which means longer. And throughout the service, as the usual phrases mention the resurrection, everyone sings in chorus, “Jesus Christ, the King of glory has risen from the dead.” For communion, this becomes the chorus to every verse of the 150th Psalm; everyone knows this chant, and everyone sings. The church is alive with joy and smiles – and pretty dresses. At the end, most people go downstairs to eat an Easter meal together – at 1am, what better time? The dishes consist almost solely of meat and eggs, in triumphant breaking of Lent. For the next fifty days, there will be a procession every Sunday, and special prayers and hymns for the resurrection. People greet each other with “Christos anesti!” “Elithos anesti!”

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