1- The Spiritual value of hymnody
Hymnody in both Old and New Testaments:
St. Basil said: “Singing hymns is calmness to spirit, pleasure to the soul, and prevalence of peace. It calms the waves, silences the storms in our hearts, appeases the rage of the enraged, restores the debauchees, creates friendliness, expels controversies and reconciles enemies. For who can consider an enemy one who participated with him in singing praise before God’s throne?
Chanting hymns drives away the evil spirits and attracts the angels’
ministry. It is a weapon against the horrors of the night, and rest from the daily tedious fatigues. It is for the child a friend, a pleader and a protector; for man a crown of glory; for elders a balm1 of comfort, and for women a suitable ornament.
Therefore the church made hymnology part of worship to create fervor in the faithful, renew spiritual zeal in their hearts, refresh them and kindle the fire of the Holy Spirit in them to worship their redeemer.
The effect of chanting hymns evil spirits:
It is written in the biography of the great St.”Paula El Shamy”: [One day, while wandering in the desert of Jordan, the saint met the devil, and having bound him with the sign of the Holy Trinity, the saint asked him: Do you ascend unto heaven and hear the sound of chanting hymns? The devil said: No, for since we have fallen we could not return or attain the high places except once when Satan (Satanael) our leader entered with the angels into God’s presence. At that time, the Lord said to him: “from whence comest thou?” And Satan said: “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it”. Then he asked the Lord to permit him to lead Job into temptation, and the Lord permitted him. Ever since he could not enter into heaven another time. As for the angels, they do not utter but hymns and glorification.
From the biography of "St. Paul" we perceive that wherever there is chanting of hymns, there will be no demons; for they flee away from that place. Hymns are a proof of God’s presence, and wherever God is present satan cannot approach.
The effect of hymnody on the faithful:
Contemplating on hymnody, some said, [Navigators shout gladly when they lift up the anchors because they will sail and the ploughman whistles in the morning while driving a cow to the farm; and when the soldiers leave their beloved to go to the battle field they play their instruments melodies of joy and pleasure. Likewise the spirit of praise and thanksgiving does the same like those songs and music. If only we decide to chant God’s praise we will overcome many difficulties which cannot be overcome when we are in a
state of distress and anxiety. We will be able to perform double the work we do in case of distress.
The words of church hymns are but entreaties, supplications and praise brought before the Holy One to gain His blessing and gifts, to seek His pleasure, and to thank Him for His exceeding love.
With these words the hymnists’ hearts converse with the Lord, and on their wings the thoughts ascend high unto the heavenly places.
In this regard late Hegumen "Youhanna Salama" says: “ the aim of the hymns is to stir up the ardor of the faithful as the soldiers in the battle-fields are stirred by means of trumpets and flute and encouraged to face the terrors with steady mind and undismayed soul. For the faithful are surrounded by various enemies who watch to have a chance to hunt them. So, unless they are ready to face the spiritual enemies, their struggle and their patience will be in
Sound spiritual hymns have a great effect on the soul, for they go deep into the hearts stimulating within them due love to the creator for His rational creation. And because God is pleased with the hymns and songs composed to glorify Him in worship, He prescribed chanting hymns and praise songs in the various books of the Holy Scripture. When Moses and his people crossed the Red Sea, he sang praises to the Lord with the children of Israel (Exod 15). Those praise songs continued resounding high even unto heaven. They are still sung by whoever overcomes the beast, by those standing by the sea of glass, and those having the harps of God!
The greatest orchestra in the world:
David, whom God granted the kingdom and the prophecy, and who was the best of all in composing divine psalms and praise songs inspired by the spirit of the Lord in the Old Testament, compiled impressive melodies and appointed a huge number for singing in the house of God. For it is written in (1Chronicles 23:5), " ‘… four thousand praised the Lord with the instruments, which I made,’ said David." And David divided them into divisions.
It is evident from this verse how huge was the number of the players on the musical instruments; for the number of players in any great symphony orchestra does not exceed one hundred and twenty divided into four divisions: stringed instruments, wooden blowing instruments, copper blowing instruments, and harmonica.
It is also evident that though the musical instruments industry at that time was primitive, and cutting and forming metals and wood was to a great extent difficult, yet the verse here states that these instruments were made for praising. It seems that there were no instruments suitable for praising the Lord, so the hymnists invented those instruments to be of a different type from those of worldly songs. They certainly surpassed the worldly instruments since what is offered to the Creator must be much better than
what is offered to people.
Perhaps this conclusion is right, for "David" the sweet singer of Israel said in Psalm (151), "I was small among my brothers … my hands made a harp; my fingers fashioned a lyre." With such great patience was David, though king and prophet, wasting his precious time when making an instrument to praise God? Nay. For "it is good to sing praises unto our God".
May I see David before dying? When the Lord Christ visited the cave of St. Karass the hermit before his death in 451A.D, He asked him what he wanted Him to do for him before his repose. The holy Amba Karass Said: My God and Lord, I kept iterating the psalms of David the Prophet and Psalmist day and night, so if I would
find favor in Your eyes, let me be worthy to see David the Prophet while I am still in the flesh before my departure. Immediately the Good Savior commanded the holy Archangel Michael to bring David with his harp to play it before St. Karass. And Archangel Michael immediately brought David, who played his harp saying, "This is
the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it". Then our Savior sat down and said to St. Karass: Here is David the Prophet and Psalmist has come to you with what you have longed for in order to hear from you. And David the Prophet said to him: What hymn do you like me to chant to you? And what melody shall I play? Amba Karass said: “I wish to hear the ten strings together and the hymns with the tunes together”. So David the Prophet moved his harp playing, and raised his voice, saying “Precious in
the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. O Lord, truly I am Your servant, and the son of Your maidservant.”(PS.113: 15)
He chanted also Psalm 37:25, “I have been young, and now I am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken...” And while David was singing loud with his sweet voice and moving his harp, Amba Karass gave up the spirit in the bosom of our Lord savior Jesus Christ. And the Savior received the soul of the saint, kissed it and gave it to Michael the Archangel.
This is the influence of the hymnist on the listener: that the listener draws images in his imagination for the hymnist, expecting to see a face bright like an angel. But what if he finds him different; the face is not like that of an angel, and the conduct is not like that of David? Truly, a hymnist of this type; will be a stumbling block to whoever hears him.
Chanting God’s Praise in the lives of the father anchorites:
Hegumen "Samaan Al Soryany", in his book "The Father Anchorites" states that St. Ghaleon the anchorite said, […. I remained on the mountain, not knowing where to go and how to be saved from this temptation, so I opened my mouth and I chanted Psalm 17(18): “I will love You, O Lord, my strength …. the Lord is my rock and my fortress." I repeated this psalm thrice, so my fright calmed down and my heart became firm; I turned around
but I found no one. Then I chanted Psalm (6): “ O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, neither chasten me in your hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak; O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed….”
Then I lifted up my hands unto heaven praying: “ Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord.” I then moved to Psalm (19), “the Lord hear you in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend you; send you help from His sanctuary.”;
and Psalm (120) “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence comes my help. My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not suffer your foot to be moved; he that keeps you will not slumber ” Then I turned round and saw three monks in white clothes, reciting some parts of Psalm (98), “O sing unto the Lord a new song; for He has done marvelous things …”. Their voices were like angels’ voices. I knew the hymn they were chanting, so I chanted with them. However, I was on my guard, lest they be of the host of satan sent to destroy me, but I remembered that Satan cannot recite the Psalms of David the Prophet. And while
thinking, those people drew near chanting with good melody. I responded with the same. We stayed the whole night chanting the psalms of David the Prophet, responding to each other till the morning. Neither did they ask me about myself, nor I about themselves!
Only when we all sat down that I asked them and knew that they were monks from the Monastery of Amba Shenouda, and were wandering in the mount. Again about Amba Ghaleon the Anchorite, Amba Isaac the Abbot of the Monastery of Kalamoun, says, [No one in the Monastery was like him in reading and in memorizing the hymns and the psalms…. so I went to him, and said: “ Take young Moses the reader and instruct him in the church rituals, constitution, and hymns.” And he took the child, embraced him, and
said to him: “My son, receive from me the Spirit, which is within me, for on the seventh day I will repose.” So Moses received from him the Spirit, and grew in reading and memorizing hymns.
From the biography of Amba Ghalion the Anchorite, it becomes evident that:
1- Itirating Psalms delivers a person from tribulation and diabolic
2- The life of those anchorites is continual praise, and psalms
never quit their lips.
3- The hymns chanted by the three monks anchorites of the
Monastery of Amba Shenouda are the same hymns chanted by
St. Ghalion the Anchorite of the Monastery of Kalamoun.
4- The voices of those anchorites were sweet and similar to the
5- Satan cannot utter the psalms of David the Prophet.
6- Those father anchorites chanted hymns with the octave method,
because Amba Ghalion the Anchorite says: “I responded with
the same hymns. And whenever they recited a psalm I recited it
7- Those father anchorites were skilful in memorizing hymns, and
Amba Ghalion also. There was no one in the Monastery who
could read, or memorize, hymns and psalms like him.
8- Coptic hymns were handed down from one generation to
another, not only orally but also by the Holy Spirit who acts
always in the church, preserving her tradition. For
when Amba Isaac, the Abbot of the Monastery of Kalamoun
asked St.Ghalion to instruct young Moses in the church rites
and hymns, he embraced him and said to him: “My son receive
from me the Spirit that is within me, for on the seventh day I
will repose.” And immediately Moses received the Spirit from
him and advanced in reading and memorizing hymns.
The necessity of praising God:
When bringing up the ark of God from the village called Ba a-le to
Jerusalem, they brought it up with songs and hymns and playing of music on all kinds of instruments. And when King Solomon came to the throne of the Israeli Kingdom, he brought singers into the house of the Lord as in the time of his father David.
And in the time of King Hezekiah, Nehemiah and Ezra, the sons of Israel and their priests used the hymns of David in their worship. They used to gather together in the house of the Lord, and when beginning to offer the burnt offering, they chanted the song of the Lord with the instruments of David. They never ignored that.
In the New Testament the church followed this same sound system.
She introduced hymnody, praise, glorification, and singing to His holy name in His house. The purpose is to implant such religious facts in the worshippers’ minds. This, the church derived from His commandment in Psalm (148:12), "Both young men, and maidens; old men and children: let them praise the name of the Lord; for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth
The priests of both the Old and the New Testaments excelled in adhering to praise and glorification, believing that man, being composed of body and soul, is inclined to sing praise of his creator and his glories, not only with the spirits’ emotions but also with utterances of the mouth and sounds of the body.
What the Orthodox "Manar Magazine" wrote in this regard affirms the above, for it says, "the church hymnody on musical bases and with suitable melodies, harmony of tunes and voices, pleasant voices, delightful rhythm, serenity and veneration … all this makes hymns enter readily into the heart of the worshipper, move within him all the sacred and sublime qualities, and lift up all his emotions and thoughts and meditations towards the Lord invoking him to spiritual struggling. When the ears of the person, who stands praying with serenity and veneration, become delighted with such
impressive chanting, he will rise above all worldly concerns and attain thoroughly the heavenly places to be among its inhabitants, where there is no sorrow, no pain, no sighs but inexpressible joy and delight.
The sweet and perfect tunes of the praise songs create inexpressible pleasure within the performer, they comfort the soul which suffers under the worldly passions, casting away every distress and sorrow, giving it rapid and continual comfort, stimulating it to entreat God, and stirring in it the longing
for heavenly life. Such tunes make the worshipper glorify God, praising and giving thanks to Him for His great and splendid glory and for His deep benefits. The worshipper thus stands with eyes lifted up towards Him, who dwells in heaven conquering the pains of both the body and the soul, and casting away, the old corrupt man and putting on the new and renewed one, following in all this the commands, the laws and commandments of the Lord
The worshipper, standing with fear of God, listening to the divine well-tuned and impressive chanting and the harmonious praise hymns which delight the soul, becomes once moved and impressed, at another time crying with bitter sighs before the Crucified Lord over his sins, or rejoicing at conquering sin and death with Him who arose on the third day from the tomb.
Impressed by this wonderful chanting, the worshipper beholds with his mind how Hades was in pain and embittered when the Lord Jesus Christ prevailed over all its powers. This makes him feel the great joy of the redeemed who were released from captivity, and remembers the songs of the heavenly hosts to our Lord who conquered sin and Hades and destroyed by His death him who has the power of death (i.e. Satan).
The images in his mind pass successively: the fall of man ; the voice of Mercy calling him in Eden, so he cries, "Have mercy upon me, I the sinner”; the fearful voice of the Judge inflicting eternal suffering upon the wicked, so he sighs shouting, "Let it be according to Your mercy, O Lord, and not according to my sins"; then the pleasant and delightful voice of the Redeemer calling, "come to Me".
Church hymnody has great benefits and has the power to alter any bad inclinations to good. It gives the listeners or the performers contrition and awe, implants within the soul the spirit of virtue, love of goodness, and hatred of sin, softens the hard hearts, and lifts the soul up to God to chant with the heavenly host the praise of the Holy Trinity.
Congregational praise singing:
The congregational prayers and praise songs in the church are in
themselves a living and rational communion activated and given life by the Holy Spirit to make the church members, through them, one spiritual and harmonious body. The church is aware of this fact since the beginning, for the history of the solitary fathers of the 3rd and 4th centuries tell us that the law of common worship required them to meet on Saturdays and Sundays for praise and prayer the whole night i.e. "vigil". They end with the divine liturgy between
the third and sixth hour of the day during summer and winter.
And we read in (Acts 2: 46,47), "So, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God.”
And in the fathers tradition it is evident that the early fathers gave the ministry of prayers, vigil and praising a very high value in the church worship. They considered these as racing in the field, while the grace got in the sacraments they considered as the reward or prize.
This draws our attention to the fact that whatever prayer, praise or
struggle in repentance we offer to God is actually the work of His grace, being the fruit of the Sacraments, which sanctified our souls and washed our hearts and eyes. This would ensure that our prayers, praise, tears and repentance will be clear from any self-righteousness.
A contemporary father asserts the importance of chanting the psalms tuned with melody, not just reciting them, saying, "…for it is suitable to praise God with the poetic books; because they are composed in such a way that enables people to express their love towards God with all their power."
Besides, when tunes are added to words, they increase greatly their
spirituality, lifting them up above the sense of the word, above the literal meaning, and even above reasoning.
David the Prophet, the greatest psalmist knew this fact and out of his own experience he said in (psalm 138: 1), “Before the angels I will sing praises to You.”
The Psalms are indeed a model full of praises to God from an honest
heart overflowing with thanks and rejoicing. For this, the Book of Psalms has become the method of praising, prayer and ministry within and outside the church all over the world. What gives it this value is its being the beloved Book for the Lord Christ, from which He quoted and taught, and with which He prayed in the temple and praised in His Last Supper.
The words of these psalms were His last words on the cross "into Your hands I commit My Spirit" (Ps 31: 5 ; Lk 23: 46). The first chorus in the New Testament “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of olives” (Mk:14:26).
After the thanksgiving and the partaking of the heavenly mysteries, the hymn took a new form. It is well known that Christ memorized well the psalms, and the chorus of the disciples probably responded “Alleluia”. The psalms they used to chant were: (114) ; (115) ; (116) ; (117) ; (118). Perhaps the records and interpretations written down in the Jews’ Books give to these psalms a prophetic eschatological character. This is evident in the "Medrash," which is the book including interpretations for the Psalms and the other books of the Jews. the “Telmod of Babylon", and the "Telmod of Jerusalem"
under the following titles :
(Psalm 114:2), "Praising the Lord in the life to come".
(Psalm 114:9), " Zion in the last days" .
(Psalm 115:1) "Passions in the days of Messiah ".
(Psalm 116:1), "The Messiah era and the prayer of Israel for redemption".
(Psalm 116:6), "The salvation of the righteous’ souls from Hell".
(Psalm 116:9) "The resurrection of the dead and the coming age feast " .
(Psalm 116:13) "The Blessings of David’s banquet after the salvation feast".
(Psalm 118:7) "The Last Judgment".
(Psalm 118:10-12) "The war against Goug and Magoug".
(Psalm 118:15) "The beginning of the Messiah era".
(Psalm 118:24) "The redemption done by the Messiah".
(Psalm 118:25,26) "The chorus singing antiphon in the time of Messiah manifestation”.
(Psalm 118:27), "God giving the light of salvation.”
(Psalm 118:28), “ The future of the world".
So, the hymn which the Lord sang with the chorus of discipiles, on this basis, represents the true image familiar at that time. This reveals the sensitivity, inspiration and wisdom of the ancient wise
men of Israel in explaining and contemplating on the Psalms, for their hope in the redemption to come was powerful.
Amazing also is the interpretation in the "Medrash" of Verse (24) of
Psalm (118) "This is the day which the Lord has made", which the Church uses with its Known tune “Alleluia fai pe pi ..." (This is the day), that the day meant is "The Day of Redemption" or "The Lord’s Day".
It is portrayed as a play on the manifestation of the Day of Redemption, where the men of Jerusalem inside, and the men of Judah outside, forming a chorus responding to each other through the antiphon, while Messiah is drawing near to the doors of Jerusalem. Then both sides: from Jerusalem, and from Judah combine in praise: "Give thanks unto the Lord for He is good and His mercy endures for ever".
See how the Jewish Medrash has portrayed through this antiphon, long before the coming of the Lord Christ, this live scene representing the moment of His appearance.
The Continual Praise in worship:
A Hymn in the traditional Churches, particularly in the Coptic, is itself worship, whether one chants it loudly or chants it silently in his heart. Therefore the hymnody extends over a very long time in worship in the Coptic Church. The prayers of the priest are tuned, the call upon the congregation by the deacon is tuned, and the response of the congregation is also tuned from the beginning to the end of service.
The same applies to the lections :
The Epistles are preceded by a hymn, the Psalm and the Gospel are
chanted with a special tune. Through hymns the soul can express to the Lord all its feelings and emotions, and thus partakes of the Sacraments which the Lord has given us. This is the reason behind the importance of instructing the congregation in church hymns. It makes a believer firm in faith.
Moreover, whoever learns hymnody is considered a pillar in the church, a gifted minister of the holies, skilled in one of the church invaluable mysteries: "Praise of God". Therefore, in every generation, and in every place, God arranges for a leader who teaches hymnody to the congregation to enable them to take part in service. I often feel amazed at the words of St. John the visionary in the Book of Revelation: “I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne,
before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand, who were redeemed from the earth. These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being first fruits to God and to the lamb and in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the
throne of God.” (Rev.14: 2-5)
Hymnody, therefore, is an ecclesiastical mystery which unites the whole church in one body with combined movement and emotion.
Perhaps the words recorded by H.H. the saintly Patriarch Pope Shenouda III, in his book "The Release of the Spirit", affirm the importance of hymnody; for H.H says: “…. I looked, and behold before me a party of luminous angels! They lifted me on their wings upwards, and looking at the earth below me, I saw it becoming growing lesser and lesser till it turned into a bright dot in the open space …. Then turning around I saw many spirits gliding as I am in the endless space. Thousands and Myriads of Myriads of angels are there: Here are the six-winged cherubim and the fulleyed
seraphim, the voices of all rise praising in one musical wonderful tune “Holy, Holy, Holy". Here I could not keep myself from chanting unconsciously with them "Holy is the Father … Holy is the Only-Begotten Son … Holy is the Spirit". When I come to myself I hear an inaudible sublime tune that no ear ever heard before.
I immediately turned my face so anxiously towards the voice; and behold, from a great distance, a beautiful luminous city hanging in God’s Kingdom overflowing with praise and singing. Every tune I heard filled heart with joy, enraptured with anxiety!
2- Praise Songs in the Apostles’ teaching Hymnology or singing in the Church may be ascribed to the Apostles. This is evident from their Epistles, such as (Ephesians 5:19) "Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making
melody in your heart to the Lord." Therefore, early Christians used hymns and chanted them to the Lord in their religious meetings, and the congregation used to respond together to the priest.
St.Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage (200-258 A.D), mentions this
in his book on "Prayer", and St. Jerome (231–420 A.D) as well in his epistle to the Galatians. Afterwards a certain party was set for singing. Those were called "Chorus" or "Choir". Socrates, the church historian (+440 A.D), said that St. "Agnatius" who
was ordained Bishop of Antioch and martyred in 107 A.D, commanded the faithful to divide themselves into "two choirs" to sing hymns to the Holy Trinity. All the churches followed his example (Book 6 – ch.8).
In the constitutions of the Regional Council of Laodacia held in 264
A.D., it is stated that "No one may sing in the church other than the
canonical cantors who go up to the pulpit and sing from their books (a lecture on the ecclesiastical hymnody). The pulpit of the cantors was usually in the middle of church near the middle door of the sanctuary. Then two places were afterwards allocated for
cantors at the two ends of the sanctuary surrounded by fences. These still exist in the Old Coptic churches and they are called "the inner chorus and the outer chorus", referring to the names of those occupying them.
Ibn Al-Assal has set in the laws section a chapter for the duties of the Aghnostus (the Readers), the Epideacon (the subdeacons), and the psaltos (the singers).
And St. Gregory El-Agaeibi (the wonder-maker), Bishop of Caesarea, speaking about his master Origen, the Head of the Theological School of Alexandria (185–254 A.D), said that Origen, besides theology, taught them philosophy, physics, logic, engineering, mathematics, astronomy and music.
The church history proves that singing was used in worship since the Apostolic era. It is thus stated, “The faithful, standing behind a bishop or a priest -in case a bishop was not present- used to recite certain prayers then read parts of the Holy Scriptures. This was followed by holy songs sung by selected persons "the deacons" during the sacramental celebration of Eucharist (The Lord’s Supper). This is testified by the protestant historians speaking about the worship rituals and holy lections in the public meetings
in the churches of the first generation. These were followed by prayers they used to recite in the presence of the Bishop, which represented a great part of their public worship ceremony. Then songs were sung, not by the whole congregation, but only by certain persons during the Holy communion and the "agape".
On the worship rituals of the second generation, the Church History states the following: "The Christians met for God’s worship…and whenever they met some prayers were recited, the contents of which were stated by Tertullian in his Defence (section 39). Holy Scriptures were read, and short sermons on Christian duties were delivered in addition to some songs.
Finally comes the Holy Communion (the Lord’s Supper) and the “agape” offered to the congregation." In the Brief History of the Church of Christ, we read that early Christians used to recite certain prayers in their public worship. And St. Justin the
Martyr said “we, from all the nation, meet together on Sundays in one place.” This is repeated by others also, such as Plinos, the young ruler who said to the king “Christians are used to meet on a certain day forenoon to sing praise to Christ as God.”
A Greek Orthodox book entitled "A Pearl Precious on Church Condition" states that Saint Basil the Great wrote about what was happening in the meetings of Christians, saying “Custom running now in all God’s churches are consistent and in conformity with each other. People go forth to the house of God at night, and confess to Him in pain with contrite heart and consistent words. After prayers they stand for praising; sometimes they divide themselves into two parties and praise by "antiphon", another time they let one person start praising ‘individual singing’ while the rest follow
with responding tunes "Antiphon Chorus". Thus they pass the night
distributing praise songs, and at the meantime praying”.
The system which the church now follows in the daily "Morning Incense service" with its hymns as well as in the "Evening Incense service" with its hymns, is a genuine and a very old one. This system is included in the Didascalia "the teachings of the Apostles"; it says, “You, Bishop, should teach the people and command them to keep to the church every day morning and evening and never quit it. Command them to gather there in the defined hours so that the church would never be vacant nor the body of Christ be lacking its members … Meet every day, morning and evening, in
the Church to pray, and sing Psalm (141) (Let my prayer be set forth before You as incense) Do this in the evening, especially on Saturdays and on the Day of Resurrection (i.e Sunday). You should meet very often in the Church on that day to itirate glorifications to God.”
The Didascalia further warns the Bishop himself not to be involved in any other thing or neglect the church. It is thus stated: “If, while you are sitting, bishop, some honorable person of good appearance entered, whether a foreigner or a native, you have to continue speaking God’s word or listening to the cantor or reader. Do not stop the ministry of the word to flatter that person or invite him to a seat in the front. Be firm and calm, and do not stop speaking or listening to the reading or the psalmody. The brothers can receive him with the deacon’s permission.”
As for chanting hymns at the time of liturgy and offertory, the Didascalia says: “The Bishop shall begin the Mass Service with the Thanksgiving Prayer, then while the people are seated he teach them the words of the Holy Scriptures that would instruct them in what suits their life and enables them to be steadfast in faith. He shall reveal to them the way of piety. Then he sings the Psalmody (i.e. the Psalms tuned as hymns) with those who are gifted and are supposed to have received with understanding and wisdom
according to custom. The congregation at that time will sit aware, and listen to them in awe, following them solemnly. Then the priest holds the Bread and the Eucharist Cup, and the bishop takes the incense and walks around the altar thrice glorifying the Holy Trinity. The bishop then gives the censer to the priest who walds with it amidst the congregation, when they complete singing the psalmody, the deacon reads parts of the Epistles, part from the
Psalms, and a part of a chapter from the Gospel … etc. Mar Isaac, Bishop of Nineveh, asserts the importance of hymnody in spiritual vigil, saying, “For we know from the book composed by St.
Macarius that a beginner must not leave his cell at all during the week, nor visit his brother except on Saturdays when they leve their cells at supper time and cone to the community while fasting. The whole year, summer and winter, they used to come to the service on Saturday evening. After that they go to the dining room, and after having their meal they set to pray from Saturday evening till Sunday morning without sleep. They start the day with
the service of psalms, praise songs, lections and commentary on the
Scriptures. Then they allow the brothers to address their questions and listento the answers from the elders to learn from them. The Sunday Mass was always celebrated at the third hour of the day.”
Creatures singing God’s praise are closer to Him: St. Athanasius indicates that the angels are the most close to God, for
they always praise Him. St. Ahanasius says in this respect: “How dare the ungodly speak ignorantly what is not meet! They are but human beings unable even to describe what is on earth. Could they tell us what their nature is, if they are able to examine it? However, they dare with self-conceit, and without any fear, invent theories on things which the angels desire to look into (1Pet 1: 12) and which are beyond their intellect even with their excelling nature and sublimity! For what creation is closer to God than the
Cherubim and the Seraphim! Nevertheless, they do not even lift up their eyes to Him, nor touch the earth with their feet before Him, nor uncover their faces but on the contrary they cover them and praise Him with unmitigate lips. They do nothing else but praise the divine nature which is beyond description with the Three Trisagion Hymn.
The pleasure of praising with the Coptic hymns:
When we chant these Coptic hymns, we should remember that these were the same which the Lord Christ and His holy Disciples and Apostles had chanted, and that the holy fathers composed them inspired by the Holy Spirit, then our bodies will shudder. Our tunes will also aspire unto heaven, and we will feel hat they are completely different from any other tunes composed by the greatest music composer.
Coptic hymns and Psalms have a deep spiritual influence on all people. But, to have such effectiveness, hymns must be performed in a sound way, with the proper speed, the spiritual depth which they bear, and the awareness of their musical composition, as well as with the proper initiatory pitch. These hymns express very well the spiritual significance implied in the words. In other words they are composed in such a way as to express a certain spiritual meaning. It means that they were not hymns for certain words then quoted for other words.
These hymns have specific speeds, defined by the early Fathers
by the Spirit. These speeds can be measured by the number of
beats per minute. If these speeds are altered, the significance of
the hymn will materially change. In other words, making a
rapid hymn slow or the opposite, would deform the features and
the context of the hymn.
These hymns have determined pitches based on the tonic, and
any change in these tunes whether higher or lower transportation. An example is: “Golgotha Hymn” chanted on Good Friday is a serene and sad hymn expressing the events of the Lord Christ burial through a slow speed and a low pitch.
If we increase the hymn’s speed or raise its pitch, it will become a
harsh military march bringing the congregation away from the
crucifixion feelings. Another example is the joyful and cheerful hymn “Ebooro” full of happiness. The power and joy of this hymn are clear in its vivid speed and high pitch. If the speed is decreased and the pitch dropped, it will turn into a mere sad hymn which does not express the joys of “Ebooro” – the King of Peace.
Performance of these Coptic hymns needs a spiritual understanding of the meanings implied in each word, so that the Performance might be convenient to the meaning.
For more clarification, I quote here the words of Aristotle in his
“Eloquence” Book III, Chapter I: [Eloquence means that one knows
how to change the tone of his voice according to the feeling which he
wants to inspire; and how –if required- to give it power or gentleness or mildness; how to use he tunes whether sharp, rough or in between; and which harmony accords with each of these tunes. Actually, there are three things to be noticed: The space or extent, the harmony, and the rhythm. By these one can achieve success in competition.]
Therefore, I feel much depressed when I find some deacons in the
churches disort the spiritual and musical features of these hymns with their bad performance, bad memorizing, and changing the speed (often faster for lack of time), exaggerated change of pitch (mostly to the lower for fear of sharp tunes insome hymns that need a gift to perform), and sometimes changing pitch by a sudden drop while the hymn is at its climax. This in fact destroys the holy climax which the early fathers introduced to lift the faithful to the most sublime spirituality. This is mainly due to their inability or ignorance of the aim of the rising tune.
Such bad performance of hymns in some churches gave some people a bad impression about them. Therefore some people hate to listen to these Coptic hymns in spite of their exceeding beauty. Some others turned towards new songs to find some comfort in them.
Some deacons, not understanding well the meanings implied in these hymns, perform them in a boring monotonous way without
expressing what they imply of joy or sorrow, power or weakness,
confidence or dejection, love or hatred, pin or wholness, pride or
derision, power or humiliation, glory or disgrace … and all such
The gift of musical expression, composition, and change of tunes 10
“Accentazione”, whether by low performance “Piano”, or powerful
performance “Forte” …etc.,helps in understanding the meaning of the Coptic or Greek words included in the hymn.
Therefore, the priests and deacons who think that spirituality in prayer can only be achieved by weak, low, and sad voices in performance, are regetfully mistaken. Take for example the hymn “Thoak Ta Ti Goam” which means “Yours is the power, the glory, the blessing and the honor for ever”, could such a hymn be chanted with a weak and sad performance, whereas it bears words referring to power and glory, which fill man’s heart with joy and hope!
Through my study of a great number of Coptic hymns I found that they express the feelings and emotionsof the saints towrds their
beloved Lord Christ. And through such feelings, they became separated from reality and soared high in chanting their wonderful hymns even unto heaven. Through the tunes they translated and explained the meaning of the words. Perform them insuch a way that conveys the meaning of the words, and makes performance like an explanation of words instead of doing away with both tune and words by bad performance. Furthermore, proper Articulation of words has an important role in conveying the meaning of the hymn to the listener.