Most of my memories of Christmas are shaped by Western traditions – carols, Christmas trees, decorations. But Easter I have primarily experienced through the Pascha (Passover) week rituals of the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Church. I think Christmas is a one-day event, and easily lends itself to feasting and celebration, so even cultures as bare of tradition and ritual as American evangelicalism can do Christmas pretty decently. But Easter is different. Properly understood, it’s the culmination of forty days (or fifty, for the Copts) of fasting and preparation, and a week of reliving the last hours of Jesus’ life. It is the central event of Christendom, and indeed of all human history. One week dedicated to meditating on the events is not too much to spare. So, I’m going to post here some of the readings and hymns from the Coptic prayers of Pascha week. (If my internet connection improves tomorrow, I might be able to find the online recordings of the chants. You have to bear in mind that the Copts chant everything; if you’ve heard some Muslim prayers, it’s a similar musical style, but different, because we came first. 😉

(Flipping through the prayer book, so saturated with incense that it fills the room even now:)

The doxologies of Palm Sunday, sung before each Scripture reading (Hebrews, 1 Peter, Acts, and each of the Gospel accounts), accompanied by cymbals and triangle (and you have to picture the church decorated with woven palm leaves, and the children making camels and pyramids out of palm leaves, and the ladies wearing palm leaf crosses, and the priest’s usual inlaid cross replaced with an elaborate palm leaf creation):

He who sits upon the Cherubim, on the throne of his glory, sat upon a colt, and entered Jerusalem.

Hosanna in the highest. This is the King of Israel. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord of Hosts.

Alleluia. Alleluia. Jesus Christ the Son of God entered into Jerusalem. Alleluia. Alleluia.

Sing aloud unto God our strength; make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob. Take a psalm, and bring the timbrel, the pleasant harp with psaltery. Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.    Psalm 81:1-3

Hosanna in the highest. This is the King of Israel. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord of Hosts.

Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion; and to thee shall the vow be performed. O thou that hearest prayer, to thee shall all flesh come.    Psalm 65:1-2

He who sits above the Cherubim today appeared in Jerusalem, riding on a colt with great glory, and multitudes of angels surrounding Him.

The crowds spread garments on the road, and cut branches from the trees, shouting and singing: Hosanna to the Son of David.

For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? . . .

For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with the blood of others, for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the ages hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself:

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment, so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.    Hebrews 9:13-14, 24-28

Today these sayings have been fulfilled, as told in the prophets and proverbs, as Zechariah prophesied about our Lord Jesus Christ.

And the Fraction Prayer, which changes for the different occasions in the church year:

O Lord, our Lord, as a wonder your name became upon the whole earth, for the greatness of your splendor is exalted above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings you have prepared praise. Prepare also, O Lord, our souls for praising You, singing to You, blessing You, serving You, worshipping You, glorifying You, giving thanks to You every day and every hour; that we may confess to You and cry out to You, O Holy Father who are in heaven: Our Father, which art in heaven. . .

(And I’ll just throw this out for the sake of some Protestants who think the Orthodox believe in salvation by works, and aren’t true Christians: read these things, read through their prayer books, and try to tell me that again. The whole Liturgy and Agbeya (prayers of the hours) are basically just verses rearranged as prayers.)