The prayers of the first hour of Thursday are greatly extended by the ceremony of foot-washing, which is preceded by prayers and litanies in the style of the liturgy, but with special songs for this occasion.
Doxology of the Archangels
Seven archangels stand glorifying the Almighty, and serving the hidden mystery.
Michael is the first; Gabriel the second; and Raphael the third, a symbol of the Trinity.
Surael, Sadakael, Sarathiel and Ananael: these are the shining ones, the great and holy, who ask him for the Creation.
The Cherubim, the Seraphim, the thrones, the dominions, the powers, and the four incorporeal beasts, bearing the chariot of God:
The twenty-four priests, in the church of the First-born, praise Him without ceasing, proclaiming and saying:
. . . Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Doxology of Saint Mark (apostle to Egypt)
O Mark, the apostle and the evangelist, who witnessed the passion of the only God,
You came and enlightened us with your gospel, and preached to us of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
You brought us out of darkness to the true light; you fed us with the Bread of Life which descended from heaven.
All the tribes of the earth are blessed by you, and your sayings have gone out to the end of the world.
Hail to you, o martyr; hail to the evangelist; hail to the apostle, Mark, the beholder of God.
Ask the Lord for us, O beholder of God, the evangelist, Mark the apostle, that he may forgive us our sins.
before the creed, which is recited with the omission of the phrases about the crucifixion and resurrection:
Glory be to thee, O Christ, our Master and our King, the honor of the apostles, the crown of the martyrs, the rejoicing of the righteous, the confirmation of the churches, the forgiveness of sins. We proclaim the Holy Trinity, one in essence. We worship him and glorify him. Kyrie eleison.
And then, one of the most haunting hymns of the whole week, with the refrain “Ioudas ho paranomos,” which is the Coptic-borrowed-from-Greek for “Judas, the law-breaker.” (Bear in mind that much of the rhythm and poetry of these songs are lost in translation; but the meaning and theology remain.)
With silver you have sold Christ to the Jews, who have broken the law. They, who were contrary to the law, took Christ and nailed him on the croos in the place called Kranion.
Barabas, the thief and the condemned one, was set free, and the master, the judge, they crucified. They thrust a spear in your side; and as a thief they nailed you on the cross, and they laid you in a tomb, o you who raised Lazarus from the tomb.
As Jonah stayed three days in the belly of the whale, so our Savior stayed three days. After he died, they sealed the tomb.
Truly he rose, but the soldiers were not aware; truly, the Savior of the world has risen, he who suffered and died for our sake. O Lord, glory be to thee!
The story of Abraham and Isaac is read, interspersed with several mournful chapters from Job. Then, the water is blessed, in a ceremony including what looks like a harvest of all the passages in the Bible concerning water and hospitality, from the visit of the three men to Abraham, to the promise in Isaiah to wash the sinner with hyssop, to the mysterious prophecy in Ezekiel about the rising rivers, to Wisdom in the book of Proverbs preparing her house for a feast. The priest wraps a towel around his waist and kneels down to symbolically wash the congregation’s feet, making the sign of the cross on their ankles. (Ok, very symbolic.)
When the gospel readings progress to Christ’s actual institution of the Lord’s Supper, the service slips from simple prayers of the hours into the liturgy, but a shortened liturgy, in which no cymbals are used (congregants are also forbidden from greeting each other with the usual Middle Eastern kiss from this day till the end of the week, in remembrance of Judas’ traitorous kiss), the epistle readings are omitted, the creed skips the crucifixion and resurrection again, and the prayers for the dead are omitted, since at this point in time one would have no basis for them. This liturgy is the fullest instance of the Copts’ philosophy of the Holy Week: to relive exactly what the disciples witnessed, exactly what Christ went through (because he knew, just as we do, what the week was moving toward on Friday), simply with the addition of the Old Testament passages which should have explained everything to the disciples. The Fraction prayer of this liturgy is a long theological disquisition on Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice being foreshadowed in the ram which replaced Isaac. I have often heard the priest’s voice break as he comes to the father’s agony in this prayer. (So much for the charge of rote prayers without meaning. These prayers are very much prescribed, but quite the opposite of meaningless or impersonal.)
The prophecy of the eleventh hour is Isaiah 53, the famous Messianic prophecy called The Suffering Servant: “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground. He hath no form nor comeliness, and when we shall see him, there is no beautfy that we should desire him.
“He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. We hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But he was bruised for our transgressions; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. . .
“Yet it hath pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief. When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
“He shall see of the travail of his sould, and shall be satisfied. By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities. . .”
Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee: when thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers. Ps. 50:17-18
And then the gospel of how Judas went out to betray Jesus concludes the morning prayers.
Some psalms from the evening prayers; by now the chanting of these is almost a wail:
Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee.
Mine enemies reproach me all the day, and they that are mad against me are sworn against me.
Ps. 102:1, 8
Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God; defend me from them that rise up against me.
Reproach hath broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness; and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.
Ps. 59:1, 69:20
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. Ps. 2:1-4
The gospel readings being the last discourse in John, the prayers in Gethsemane, the arrest, and the midnight trial before Caiaphas, along with Peter’s betrayal (please go read them yourself; they’re just too long to type in here, but they’re the culmination of all). This concludes some eight hours of prayer today, and sets the stage for an eight-hour vigil/drama during the day tomorrow.