Church Readings

Man’s words proclaim his inner life, characteristics, personality, abilities and his gifts. Likewise church readings uncover her nature, thoughts, aims, and abilities.

CHURCH READINGS IN THE EARLY AGES

Jews used to pray daily liturgies besides the rites of the morning and evening sacrifices, especially on Saturdays and on feasts. The synagogue set certain readings especially for Saturdays.

We can summarize the contents of the daily Jewish liturgy in the days of Jesus Christ in the following points:

  1. The president of the synagogue chooses one of the people to read the “Shema,” i.e., the Jewish Creed which contains Deut. 6:49; 11:13-21; Num. 15:37-41, and the 18 blessings (On Saturday there are only 7 blessings).

  2. A reading from the Pentateuch (five books of Moses) in Hebrew and in Aramaic.

  3. A reading from the Prophets or other books.

  4. If there was a suitable person or persons to preach, he (or they) did so (Acts 13:15).

  5. The Christians who had Jewish origin participated in these Jewish liturgies till the year A.D 60 (Acts 20:16).

  6. The Christian Church inherited from the synagogue the readings from the Scriptures that were suitable to the Christian mind.

  7. In the second century, St. Justin stated that the church admitted readings from the Gospels and the apostolic writings.

  8. In the second century there were certain church readings especially for feasts of Christian Pasch and Pentecost. Afterward other readings were set as those of the feasts of martyrs and of Sundays. [Many of the church Fathers mentioned the use of the two testaments in the church readiness.]

  9. Before the Council of Nicea, the church had one “Lectionary” or more.

THE FEATURES OF THE READINGS IN THE COPTIC CHURCH

First: Church readings can be divided into two kinds, each one revealing a side of the church nature:

  1. Readings that present a general line throughout the year, starts with El-Nayrouz (the beginning of the Coptic year) and continue till the end of the year in a certain theological and spiritual manner. These readings throughout the whole year uncover the church curriculum and her spiritual ladder, and at the same time represent the church catholicity (universalism) and her unity.

  2. Everyday readings, according to the feasts of the saints and other circumstances. These readings show the distinctive nature of a day and the other. According to us, this represents the distinction between church members, and the variety of their gifts. This distinction and variety complement the catholicity of the church and her unity.

    We can call the first kind of readings: “The general line of church readings” while the other is called: “The special readings.”

Second: Church readings are considered as a part of church worship, these readings are recited with special tones (in Coptic) to declare the purpose of the choice of the church from these readings. Through church readings, worshipers offer to God hymns of love. In other words, church readings are prayers, through them we hear God’s voice and talk to Him secretly. These readings are a dialogue of love between God and His people, therefore there is no church worship without biblical readings. Church readings are used not only through the daily Eucharistic liturgy but also in evening (Vesper), and morning (Malin) offerings, also through different liturgies such as the funeral services. Even in the canonical hours, every time we pray, the Psalms are mixed with certain readings from the New Testament.

Third: Church readings in the Eucharistic liturgy are not set by distributing the chapters of the two Testaments throughout the year, but the church chooses by the guidance of the Holy Spirit certain chapters to present an integral spiritual and theological curriculum. This curriculum is in accordance with church occasions, hymns and rites throughout the year, aiming at the edification of the holy community.

Fourth: Besides the readings from the two testaments which are in accordance with the church hymns, there are other readings from the traditional and patristic writings, such as:

  1. The “Synixarum”: It contains the biographies of saints and God’s actions with the church throughout the ages.

  2. The “Difnar”: It contains doxologies to God who acted in the life of the saint whose feasts we celebrate. This book is no longer used in most of our churches.

  3. Patristic sermons like those of St. John Chrysostom. Today most of our churches suffice with a sermon preached by one of the clergymen.

CHURCH READINGS BOOKS

There are many “Lectionaries” that contain selected chapters from the Holy Bible, used in the Eucharistic liturgy, vespers and matins:

  1. General Lectionary: contains readings for Sundays and ordinary days throughout the year. It is divided according to the Coptic months.

  2. Lectionary for the Great Lent.

  3. Lectionary for the Holy Week (Paschal Week).

  4. Lectionary for the Pentecostal period (the period between Easter and Pentecost).

THE GENERAL LINE FOR THE GENERAL CHURCH READINGS

Besides everyday readings (special church readings of the Days), the general church readings through the Coptic year present an integral church curriculum as an evangelic, ascetic, theological and eschatological (heavenly) one and at the same time it does not ignore our practical everyday life on earth.

The general church readings are for the followings periods:

  1. From El-Nayrouz feast (the beginning of the Coptic Year) to the feast of the Cross (1:17 Tout): The readings of this period concentrate on joy, chanting hymns and the constant renewal; the first verse that is read in the eve of El-Nayrouz is: “Sing to the Lord a new song.” Truly, repentance is the way to the kingdom of God, but when repentance is mixed with hope, it is practiced through per petual inner joy.

    The analogy between El-Nayrouz (Feast of Martyrs) and the feast of the Cross. Using a joyful (Farayhi) tone throughout this period confirms the joyful life of the suffering church, for she joyfully bears the cross together with her Heavenly Groom.

  2. The preparation for Christmas (Nativity of Christ in CHURCH READINGS BOOKS There are many “Lectionaries” that contain selected chapters from the Holy Bible, used in the Eucharistic liturgy, vespers and matins:

    1 . General Lectionary: contains readings for Sundays and or & nary days throughout the year. It is divided according to the Coptic months.
    2. Lectionary for the Great Lent.
    3 . Lectionary for the Holy Week (Paschal Week).
    4. Lectionary for the Pentecostal period (the period between Easter and Pentecost).

THE GENERAL LINE FOR THE GENERAL CHURCH READINGS

Besides everyday readings (special church readings of the Days), the general church readings through the Coptic year present an integral church curriculum as an evangelic, ascetic, theological and eschatological (heavenly) one and at the same time it does not ignore our practical everyday life on earth.

The general church readings are for the followings periods:

  1. From El-Nayrouz feast (the beginning of the Coptic Year) to the feast of the Cross (1:17 Tout): The readings of this period concentrate on joy, chanting hymns and the constant renewal; the first verse that is read in the eve of El-Nayrouz is: “Sing to the Lord a new song.” Truly, repentance is the way to the kingdom of God, but when repentance is mixed with hope, it is practiced through per petual inner joy.
    The analogy between El-Nayrouz (Feast of Martyrs) and the feast of the Cross. Using a joyful (Farayhi) tone throughout this period confirms the joyful life of the suffering church, for she joyfully bears the cross together with her Heavenly Groom.

  2. The preparation for Christmas (Nativity of Christ in Keyahk 29): The church fasts for 43 days before Christmas, and presents readings which concentrate on “God’s friendship with man” realized by the divine incarnation.

  3. The correlation between the feasts of Christmas, Circumcision and Epiphany (The Baptism of Jesus Christ): The readings of these feasts announce that our Friend became like us, submitted Himself to the Law and was circumcised. He also entered with us into. the Jordan River, was baptized to lift us up to the spiritual circumcision, changing our friendship to Him unto the “Adoption to God”, that we might become “members of the household of God” Eph. 2:19.

    In other words, the “divine friendship” (Christmas) can be realized through two integral actions: descent of the Word of God unto, us (His circumcision like us), and lifting us up to Him by His Holy Spirit (our spiritual circumcision or our baptism). He became like us, subjected Himself to the Law which He issued, that we might become like Him, children of His Holy Father!

  4. “Jonah’s Pasch”: Our adoption to God is realized through “passing over” (Pasch), for we have to die with Christ, be buried with Him (as if we were in the belly of the great fish), that we might reign with Him and enjoy the new life [the word “Pasch” means “Passover”].

    The readings of the fasting and of the “Pasch” of Jonah represent a call to believers that they might read the books of the Old Testament in a new concept, through the events of the Christian Pasch, i.e., the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

  5. The readings of Great Lent , on Sundays and ordinary days in Lent. These readings, from the Old and New Testaments, have their particular features, for they urge us to accept the true and practical communion with Christ, our Pasch, who was slain for our sake.

  6. The readings of the Holy Week, i.e., the readings of the period from Saturday of Lazarus till Easter. These readings are considered the center of all church readings, for through them the church follows all the events of salvation hour by hour, to declare the mystery of the redeeming divine love from the Old and New Testaments, so that believers might live in these events with all their hearts and senses and lastly enjoy the delight of Christ’s resurrection

  7. The Pentecostal Period , with its readings and joyful (Farayhi) hymns reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, which in its essence is the enjoyment of communion with the Risen Christ, who is in heavens.

  8. The Feast of the Apostles (5th of Abib 12 July): It is the feast of preaching and ministering unceasingly, and the feast of the acceptance of the apostolic life.

  9. The Feast of St. Mary (16 Misra 22 August): It declares the glories that a believer might attain by his unity with the Glorious Christ, revealed in a unique way in St. Mary as the excellent member among the believers. It also assures the communion of saints.

  10. The preparation for El-Nayrouz: In the last two weeks of the Coptic year, church readings attract our sight and mind towards the events of the end of the world and Christ’s last advent. Church readings prepare the believers to sing: “Yes; Come O Lord Jesus.”

In brief, the frame of the general curriculum of the church is:

  1. It starts with the spiritual joy in the Lord together with the desire of the continual renewal, as a base for our spiritual life (Feast of El-Nayrouz till the feast of the Cross c.II September up to c. 27 September).

  2. This joy is based on God’s friendship and love towards men (Christmas or the Feast of the Nativity of Christ – 7 January).

  3. God’s love and friendship were realized through His participating in our nature, that we may also participate in Jesus’ sonship by the spirit of adoption (Feasts of Circumcision and Epiphany – 19 January).

  4. This sonship is realized by passing over from bondage through the Pasch, the center of the Old Testament (Jonah’s Pasch).

  5. The Old Pasch is a symbol of our True Pasch, the Crucified and Risen Christ (The Great Lent).

  6. We have to accept the practical communion with our Pasch by participating in His crucifixion so that we might attain the delight and power of His resurrection (The Holy Week).

  7. We have to accept the eschatological (heavenly) thought, that we might not miss the inner kingdom (The Pentecostal period).

  8. As we attain communion with God we must witness to Him by preaching (The Feast of the Apostles).

  9. Our communion with God leads us to the communion with our brothers and unites us with His saints (The Feast of St. Mary).

  10. Our experience of the communion with God and with our brothers inflames our desire for the Lord’s last advent, to enjoy the heavenly and eternal communion in the perfect glories (The end of the year).

Through the above mentioned summary we remark that the Coptic Church presents through the general readings an integral thought about God’s love and His redeeming work. It also presents our responsibility for the spiritual struggling, meditation on the heavenly glories accompanied by accepting sufferings joyfully, attaining the mysteries of the word of God together with preaching and witnessing, and attaining the communion with God and His son by His Holy Spirit through our communion altogether in Him.

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