The Historical Value
of the Coptic hymns:
hymns are that praising tradition which was preserved by the
Coptic Orthodox Church for 2000 years. Pray--ers, fastings,
tears, sweat and the blood of our martyrs were the ways to
maintain this tradition through several centuries.
It is quite
remarkable that the church was able to preserve these hymns
inside its holy chapel for 2000 years despite that they were
not written by musical notation and the absence of tape
recorders, the use of which spread only during this century.
Coptic church depended on oral tradition in preserving these
hymns, and chose, for this reason, the cantors who were
usually from the blind, due to their exceptional ability to
memorize this huge number of hymns, which may reach up to
575 hymns, the duration of each of them ranges from half to
consider that retaining this great deal of Coptic hymns by
oral tradition to be a miracle, helped by the insistence of
the traditional Coptic Church on not giving up all what was
handed over from the Apostles without any deviation from it.
Furthermore, some consider this miraculous preservation of
the tradition of Coptic hymns throughout these centuries to
be equivalent or even exceeding the miracle of building and
conservation of our Pharaonic monuments.
The spiritual value
of the coptic hymns:
The holding of
the Coptic Church onto these hymns as a praising principle
may be due to the fact that Christ himself praised along
with His holy disciples, as in the upper room after he gave
them His holy body and His precious blood, St. Mark the
evangelist – the owner of that room – mentions “and when
they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
disciples as they had learned the sacrament of praising from
Him they “were continually in the temple praising and
blessing God” (Luke 24:53). Therefore our church made these
hymns occupy a great period of time in its ritual prayers in
that the priest prays, the deacon calls and warns and the
congregation answers and participates, all with hymns. The
Epistles are introduced with a hymn; the psalms and the
gospel are also read with a hymn.
The musical value of
the coptic hymns:
researchers studied the Coptic hymns, they found that they
revealed the musical rules regarding the measures, rhythms,
scales, time signatures, musical cadezas, and the right
balanced form of the musical phrase.
behind this may be that St. Mark the Apostle, who is
considered the first to preach in Egypt, founded the School
of Theology in Alexandria, where great philosophers studied
and from which many patriarchs graduated, and where musical
sciences were taught.
hymns are reach in musical scales and they have
transformations and transitions between them. Which reflect
the composers’ genius. They also contain changes in the
speed and rhythm, which make them occupy the top position
among the nations’ music.
hymns are distinguished for being expressive as they explain
the meaning of the spiritual words by the intonation
depiction which may increase, rise and fall. This is a
remarkable style of the Coptic hymns which is called the
Millisma i.e. the variation and repetition of tunes using a
single pronounced letter. They are also unique in the way of
using one uttering letter to connect two musical sentences.
The way of parsing
by the coptic hymns:
The ways of
performing these hymns vary, either praising in two choruses
(North & South) which is called “Antiphonal” signing, or the
“Responsorial” praising in which the congregation or the
chorus answers the priest or the chantor, the latter led to
the appearance of the “Virtuose” signer outside the church.
There is also the solo praising as well as group praising.
This variation in the ways of performance helps the reaching
of the spiritual contents hidden within the tunes.
instrument and the coptic hymns:
hymns in the holy liturgy is not accompanied by musical
instruments, a style which was known in the Coptic church
and spread all over the world by the name “Acappella”, the
style which Palysterina – a musician of the 16th century –
was famous for. Some contented hymns may be accompanied by
the cymbals and the triangle for the rhythm, and to announce
the joyful state that the church lives on that occasion.
these hymns may be presented with musical instruments
outside the holy liturgy, as David the prophet had said in
the psalms “Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet, Praise
Him with the lute and harp; Praise Him with the timbrel….
Praise Him with the stringed instruments and flutes” (Psalms
150:3,4). And “David and all the house of Israel played
music before the Lord on all kinds of instruments, made of
fir wood , onharps, on stringed instruments on tambourines,
on sistrums, and on cymbals.” (2 Samuel 6:5).
the prophet was keen to awaken his musical instruments to
begin praising with him so he tells it: “Awake, lute and
harp! I will awaken the dawn” (Psalms 108:2).
Testament, as well, announces that praising in heaven will
be ‘enlightened’ musical instruments, as Saint John the
Theologist had written. And I saw something like a sea of
glass mingled with fire and those who have the victory over
the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the
number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having
harps of God.” (Revelation 15:2).
explained the prohibition of using the musical instruments
in the New Testament in that the subjects could not afford
to buy expensive instruments, as the ones which were used in
the Old Testament, because the early churches, were always
moving from one place to another due to persecution,
therefore there was no time for developing the music or
training the musicians.
One of the
researchers gave reasons for not using the musical
instruments in the church in that the architectural nature
of the churches of the early ages, which were built
underground to escape from persecution, did not allow the
hymns to be performed except by human voices.
unreasonable that musical instruments, especially the rhythm
ones, could have been used by those persecuted and were
praying and worshiping while being threatened by death at
Matta Al-Maskeen asserts in his book “The Daily Praising”,
that the Copts had received the way of praising with the
flute from the Jewish hermits, who became Christians, in
their assemblies which were called ‘Aghaby’, and they
continued using it until 190 A.D when Klemundus the
Alexandrian stopped the usage of the flute and replaced it
with the cymbalon.
The coptic hymns
affected by the pharoanic hymns:
the Coptic hymn has a Pharaonic origin, as it is so natural
that the pharoahs, who were specialized in the Gods’ music
with its pharaonic secrets, when they became Christians
could not get rid of that music which lived in their being,
mixed with their life aspects and was stored in their
subconscious mind. And they, with the holy spirit that
filled them, started composing new hymns that may have
included certain Pharaonic themes or some musical forms that
were created unintentionally from the musical sentences
stored in the subconscious mind. And were sent to the
conscious mind when they matched the feelings and emotions
that were to be expressed. Then these pharoanic themes
merged with the new sentences to produce a new harmonized
musical fabric which the Holy Spirit dyes with a Coptic
opinion may agree with what was written by the great
scientist Al-Farabi in his famous book ‘The Great Musician’
when he asserted that music cannot be created from nothing.
It is known
that some of these hymns carry the names of ancient Egyptian
cities that perished long time ago. For example, the hymn ‘Singary’,
which is a name an Egyptian city in the north of the Delta
that dates back to Ramses the Second. Also the ‘Edribi’ hymn
‘Ke Eperto’ which is repeated many times in the Holy Week,
is named after a town called ‘Atrib’ which lies to the north
of Benha and had a cathedral with twelve alters.
the Phalerony in 297 BC. Who was one of the superintendants
of the library of Alexandria, assured that “The Egyptian
priests had been praising their Gods with the seven vowels
which they had been singing one after the other, and their
chanting using these letters produced beautiful sounds.” It
is clear from this that the “Millisma is a way of signing
that had been present during the pharaohs’ days and has
extended to the Coptic Church as a way of chanting and as
hymns in particular.
names of some Saints the history tells us that they are
among those who had put and composed Coptic hymns. For
example, Didemos the Blind and Saint Athanasios the
Apostolic who is said to have put the wonderful hymn
‘Omonogenis’ ‘O Only-Begotten Son’ which is chanted in the
sixth hour prayer on Good Friday.
text, Philo the philosopher had mentioned that the early
Christians took some hymns from Ancient Egypt and put
Christian lyrics to them. One of these is ‘Golgotha’ hymn,
which was sung by the pharaohs during the mummification
procedure and in funerals. And the hymn ‘Bek ethronos’ the
first half of which includes sad tunes that were chanted in
the occasion of the pharaoh’s death and the other half was
chanted with joyful tunes celebrating the enthronement of
the new pharaoh.
of both the Coptic
hymns and Hebrew hymns each other:
The Coptic and
Hebrew hymns were affected by each other. For instance, it
is written in the Book of Exodus “Now these are the names of
the children of Israel who came to Egypt; each man and his
household came with Jacob: Rueben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,
Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan, Naphtali, Gad and
Asher. All those who were descendants of Jacob were seventy
persons (for Joseph was in Egypt already)…. But the children
of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied
and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with
them.” (Exodus 1:1-5,7).
evident, from what was mentioned in the Book of Exodus, that
the people of the children of Israel with their twelve
tribes, had lived in Egypt and listened to the Pharaonic
hymns for four hundred and thirty years, the period they had
stayed in Egypt (Exodus 12:40).
during this period, six hundred thousand men apart from the
children from the people of the children of Israel who left
“Ramsis”, were able to memorize many of the Ancient Egyptian
affected by these hymns which lived in their being, and were
able to recognize their scales, rhythms, measures and
different forms, and left the land of Egypt, carrying them
in their feelings, memories and worshipping rituals.
other hand, we find that Saint Mark the Apostle had lived a
while among the tunes of David of Bethlehem, while they were
chanted in the Jewdishal Synagogues, and in the holy upper
room sung by Jesus Christ the son of David with the twelve
disciples repeating them after Him, when they had sung a
hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives. It must have been
that these hymns with all their hymnal details, were carried
by Saint Mark to Egypt, and that he had been repeating them
while he was on his way to Egypt, to help him overcome the
harshness of that long and weary path in which his shoes
were torn. It must have been also that when he founded the
Theological School of Alexandria, and made music by taught
beside the theological sciences, he taught these hymns and
put some of them in the holy liturgy, which he wrote, which
is considered the oldest liturgy the Coptic Church had ever
known. And from what was mentioned above, it appears that
the Coptic hymn and the Hebrew hymn were both mixed and
affected by each other