Fr Tadros Malaty on Liturgy and Life

“Liturgy does not mean some hours spent by believers – clergymen and laity – in participating in the Eucharistic liturgy, performing on vesper or matin or baptism or marriage celebrations etc., but it is in its essence the true communion with Christ. This liturgical life is not lived only when a believer participates in common worship whatever it is, but it dwells within his heart even when he is alone in his room. In other words “liturgy” is a life which the church practices, through which she acknowledges her nature, realizes her message and attains her own existence which is life and growth in Jesus Christ.”

Fr Tadros Malaty on Liturgy and Life

THE WORD “LITURGY”

The word “Liturgy” in classic Greek means “a public service undertaken on behalf of the people” it comes from:

  1. “Liaw,” meaning “People.”
  2. “Ergia,” meaning “work.”

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, this word means “the service of the altar,” or “the priestly service” Heb. 8:6; 9:21.

The church used this term since the apostolic age, to cover all that worship which is officially organized by her, and which is offered by all her members, or on their behalf. In the course of time, this term has come to be particularly applied to the performance of the service of Eucharist, although there are other liturgies as the liturgy of Baptism, liturgy of marriage etc.

LITURGICAL WORSHIP AND LITURGICAL LIFE

Liturgy does not mean some hours spent by believers – clergymen and laity – in participating in the Eucharistic liturgy, performing on vesper or matin or baptism or marriage celebrations etc., but it is in its essence the true communion with Christ. This liturgical life is not lived only when a believer participates in common worship whatever it is, but it dwells within his heart even when he is alone in his room. In other words “liturgy” is a life which the church practices, through which she acknowledges her nature, realizes her message and attains her own existence which is life and growth in Jesus Christ.

In fact, we use the word “liturgy” for common worship, because the believer participates in this worship with the members of the community. This membership is alive and active and it represents a part of his entity. He is a member even when he is alone speaking with God in his own room. The holy community is in the heart of the real believer, and the believer is within the heart of the church community. In other words, when a believer prays in his room, he realizes that all the church is within his heart, praying in her name, calling God: “Our Father” and not “my Father who art in heaven.” At the same time, when the community prays it endows its members, present and absent with love.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE COPTIC LITURGIES

  1. The Coptic liturgies are known to be not monopolized by clergymen. They are the liturgies of all the church, laymen and clergymen. The people participate in the hymns, and prayers. Therefore clergymen should pray in the language of the people, clearly and with a pleasant tone, as the people take their turn in participating. Here the “people” means all the congregation: men, women and children. The Coptic Church does not exclude children during the liturgy, and this is one of the resources of our church in Egypt, for even the child feels his positive membership and acknowledges his right in participating in church liturgies. The beautiful rites and heavenly hymns encourage children in worship without feeling bored, In spite of the lengthy services.
  2. The Coptic liturgies not only emphasize church unity, clergy and laity, young and old, men and women, but also aim at revealing that the heavenly life is near and realizable to us! All the Coptic liturgies have eschatological (heavenly) attitude. In the liturgies the church participates in the hymns of the heavenly creatures, its thoughts are attracted to acknowledge the hidden mysteries of heaven. For example, the liturgy of marriage attracts our thoughts to the heavenly marriage of our souls to Christ, and also to the crowns of the saints.
  3. The Coptic liturgies are correlated to the church dogmas and doctrines. Liturgies’ rites and texts instruct even children in simple ways about Church faith, her concepts and dogmas concerning:

    God; our relation with Him; our relation with the heavenly hosts and saints; our view of sanctity, of the world and our bodies, our struggles against the devil and his agent etc. Liturgies represent a school to the people, opening its doors to the children through its simplicity, and to the theologians through its depth.

    Coptic liturgies clarify church dogmas without the need of any theological discussions, and at the same time gives genuine theological concepts that believers experience during their worship.

  4. Coptic liturgies are correlated to the ascetic church life. Asceticism has its effect on our liturgies, as it appears in the long duration of the services and practicing kneeling during the services. Liturgies soothe and delight the ascetic person. For example, in the service of the Holy Week and Good Friday, although the believers fast for long periods and abstain from many kinds of food, they feel true consolation, which they rarely attain in other occasions during the year. The daily Eucharistic liturgies in Lent season grant the believers spiritual delight of particular character.
  5. Coptic liturgies are biblical. Every liturgy declares the word of God and the experience of the evangelic life. They include readings from the Holy Bible, the Old and New Testaments, especially the book of Psalms, Epistles of St. Paul, the Catholic Epistles, and the Gospels. They also present prayers and hymns quoted from the Bible, carrying evangelic thoughts. Thus we can say that liturgies are totally presented in the spirit of the Bible.
  6. Coptic liturgies touch the believers’ daily life and also their family life, for they are the “dynamic energy” which moves their lives. There is no separation between common worship and actual life. In other words, believers practice the common worship as a part of their lives as a whole.

    To explain the correlation between the liturgical life of common worship and the daily life for Copts, we here give some examples:

    1. The priest and the laity acknowledge the liturgy of Eucharist as a meeting at the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as an entrance to Golgotha, so that they all might sit under the Cross’ shadow (Cant. 2:3). The priest puts his hand on the “Lamb” (Holy Bread) and prays for his family, his spiritual children and for all the people. He prays for the repentance of those who stray away and for the solution to church problems and family disputes, and for those who are in trouble that God may intervene through His Divine grace. He also prays for those who are traveling, for the sick and for those who departed in the Lord etc.

      The Coptic people used to ask the priest to remember them and their problems on the attar of the Lord and they themselves participate with him in asking God. Thus, Copts find their comfort in the liturgy -of the Eucharist, as they find the precious Blood of Jesus Christ as the propitiation of their sins (I John 4: 10), and a source of their inner peace.

    2. Through the various liturgies believers acknowledge the motherhood of the church and the fatherhood of the priest as a figure and shadow of God’s Fatherhood. Therefore, Copts flee to the church as their own refuge in the important and trifle matters, in sadness and in their happiness, because of their trust in her and their love for her. For Example, when God grants a family a baby, the church prays a special “liturgy” for washing the babe on the eighth day of his birth. The priest, deacons, the family and their friends participate in giving thanks and praise to God, asking Him to act in the baby that he might grow in the grace of God as a saintly member of the church. When a person succeeds in any work usually he asks for giving thanks to God by praying a special doxology through or after the Eucharistic liturgy. When a person falls ill he asks for praying the liturgy of the unction. When a person dies the church prays the funeral service, on the third day prays a common prayer at his house to declare God’s consolation through the resurrection of Christ on the third day, and in every memory the priest mentions the name of the dead person in Eucharistic liturgy (the diptych).

Thus, the church does not interfere in the lives of her children but through love, participates in all their aftirs, that they might feel her motherhood and her sharing in their feelings…

THE RITE OF HEAVEN

God is Spirit, and His heavenly Creatures are spirits without bodies. Nevertheless, the book of Revelation tells us about a rite of heaven; for it has specific hymns (Rev. 4:8) and certain worship (Rev. 4: 10); there we find the 24 incorporeal priests with golden crowns on their heads and hold golden censers (Rev. 4:4). St. John also describes the heavenly Jerusalem, its gates, foundation, walls and temple etc.. (Rev. 21). Therefore, it is not surprising that the Alexandrian Church established her rites since her conception.

A RITUAL CHURCH

The holy Scriptures emphasize that our God is “not the author of confusion” I Con 14:33, hence He establishes His heavens with splendid spiritual rites. The church of the Old Testament carried out a rite which was “the copy and shadow of the heavenly things” Heb. 8:5. The word of God dedicated some books of the Old Testament to declare in detail and exactitude the rites of priesthood, sacrifices, the structure of tabernacle and its tools, and rites of worship. For God wants “all things to be done decently and in order I Cor. 14:40.

It is not in vain that the Lord in the New Testament when He was about to feed the multitude, said to His disciples: “Make them sit down in groups of fifty” Luke 9:14. He rather emphasized the necessity of order to grant His heavenly gifts. The Lord did not take a hostile stand towards the Jewish rite, but He subjected Himself to the Law with its rites; He was circumcised and entered the Temple to transfer the Jews to the spiritual rite with its heavenly concept.

However, He criticized the literality and the formality of rite. The disciples also followed their Lord’s footsteps and attended the daily temple worship (Acts 3:46), besides their meeting together to break the bread without attacking the Jewish rite. They sought its completion through announcing the mystery of the cross and the sacrifice of Christ. When they were dismissed from the temple and from the Jewish synagogues as individuals and groups, the church did not live without rite or order. On the contrary, the apostles emphasized the necessity of “order” and “decency” to the Church of God (I Cor. 14:40, 1 Thess 5:14; 2 Thess 3:6), declaring that orders and rites were handed out orally (I Cor. 11:34; Tit 1:5; 2 John 12:14).

THE AIM OF THE COPTIC RITES AND CHARACTERISTICS

The Coptic rite is not an aim in itself, that the Church practises it literally without understanding. It is rather the Church’s language, uttered by the holy congregation as a whole, and by every member, that they may enjoy the pledge of heaven through the rites. Therefore, St. Clement of Alexandria states that the church is the icon of heaven.

  1. Any rite in which the believer does not practise his communion with God the Father, in His Son by the Holy Spirit and has not the experience of the joyful evangelic life as a heavenly one, is strange to the Coptic Church. For example, the rite of the sacrament of holy matrimony in its prayers concentrates on the heavenly crown and the spiritual marriage between God and His saints. This can be understood if the couple practise this sacrament spiritually and comprehend that this marriage is an image of the greatest mystery: the Union of Christ with His Church (Eph. 5:32).
  2. The rite has its educational role, since the Coptic Church presents all the Christian dogmas, the concepts of faith, and the spiritual thoughts in very simple style. The child understands it, the theologian is satisfied with it, the priest who is burdened with pastoral work finds his comfort in it, and the spiritual ascetic finds it very nourishing to his soul. For example by making the sign of the cross children acknowledge the Trinitarian dogma and the divine incarnation, and through venerating icons they understand the extension of the church as the body of Christ.
  3. The Coptic rites is characterized by harmony and oneness of spirit. Thus the church building with its splendid rite is in accord with the liturgical rites so that believers live under the guidance of the Spirit of God in a joyful pious life.
  4. In the Coptic rite, the body shares with the soul in worshipping God, whether in congregational, familial or private worship. It is a sign of Church belief in unity of the human being as a whole without ignoring the role of the body in the spiritual life. In other words the church emphasizes the sanctity of the soul and the body together through the Holy Spirit of God.

    The Coptic rite which contains hymns, standing piously for praying, stretching hands, kneeling, offering incense etc. does not present restricted bodily movements, but it represents a support of the body for the alert soul. In a similar way, every evil bodily action is capable of destroying the soul and hindering her union with God.

    The rite is the language of man as a whole, which uses all man’s capabilities to express his innermost which common language can’t realize. Rite is an expression, which comes out of the body interacting with the depths of the inner soul.

  5. In the Coptic rite not only the whole body participates in worshipping God, but also the creation shares in glorifying the Creator. In other words, the believer, realizing the sanctity of the creation, appears before God offering incense, wood (icons), bread, wine etc. to God, declaring that all creation glorifies God. This concept is in accordance with the words of the “Psalmody”: [Praise the Lord from the earth... fire, hail, snow, clouds etc. (Ps. 148)]. Thus the inanimate creatures are not evil, nor do they hinder worship, but are good tools, which the believer can use them to express the sanctity of all creatures.
  6. We may state that rite is an integral part of Church life. It touches our worship, our faith, our spirituality and our asceticism, if it is practiced spiritually and with understanding under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If it is practiced as a duty or routine work, performed literally without understanding, it becomes an obstacle to the evangelic spiritual life. In other words, the rite is not mere order, an outer organization, or sets of laws that rule church life, but it is in its essence a living spirit we have received throughout the ages. The rite has its body, i.e., the visible order, and has also its spirit, i.e., the innermost thought. Whoever accepts the body of the rite without the spirit becomes a corpse, a burden, which should be buried. If we accept the body with the spirit we enjoy a life which has its effect on the congregation and on every individual…

ONE WORSHIPPING LIFE

In his daily life, conduct and worship, the believer bears an integral indivisible life, either life “in Christ” or “out of Christ.” When he enjoys his life “In Christ,” his fellowship in public worship is complimented by practicing his unseen private worshipping; as both represent one devotional life. In other words, sharing the church liturgies with the congregation, a believer fortifies his spiritual life when he goes into his private room and shuts the doors of his senses. Thus when he is among the group physically, his heart, mind and soul are at liberty in heavens meeting and conversing intimately with God as though the universe embraces none but them both. And when he enters into his private room, closes the outer door and pours forth in front of God in a true spiritual worship he holds the whole world -in his heart; I mean the whole human race praying for them and seeking their prayers on his behalf While he is in his room he feels he is inside the church that unites a host of spiritual militants with the victorious including the heavenly hosts.

In the light of this concept we cannot draw a dividing line that separates between church life and private worshipping life, because the church is every believer holding firmly together with his brethren in the One Head.

That is why in the present time, due to housing problems in Egypt, when a believer does not find a private room to pray in solitude, he stands or bows in prayer in the presence of the family members. He does not abstain from praying because he does not have a private locked room. His room is already inside him if he chooses to shut out his senses.

PRIVATE OR INDIVIDUAL WORSHIP?

Individuality is non-existent in our Church’s dictionary. The spirit of individuality and isolation has been eliminated in the human loving Christ, that we might live in the spirit of collective love even if we were in our private rooms. This I have clarified frequently while talking about monasticism and monarchism. Hence monasticism is not an inner isolation from the community, or a practice of individual life, but it is a unity with God, the Lover-of-mankind.

PRIVATE WORSHIP

In the Coptic Church, the believer practices many private forms of worships of which we mention:

  1. The Canonical Hours (the Agbia prayers): The early church took after the Jewish Church the system of dividing the days into hours of prayers. Many of the Copts pray Matins and Compline and some pray Midnight. When they have the chance they pray other prayers.
    We need to notice the following in the Canonical Hours prayers:

    1. Every prayer is called “song of praise,” as though the church is calling on her children to lead a life of joy if possible all the hours of their life, day and night.
    2. In every hour the church offers us the memory of a certain phase of God’s redeeming work. The “Matin” song of praise reminds us of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and our daily resurrection to begin a new life in Him. The Terce (praise of the third hour) reminds us of the coming upon the church of the Holy Spirit of God, the Giver of perpetual renewal and holiness. In the Text we remember the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, while in the None (ninth hour) we remember the death in the flesh of our Lord and the acceptance of the right hand thief, in Paradise. In the Vespers (sunset) we remember the removing of our Lord’s Body from the cross, giving thanks for concluding the day, and asking Him that we might spend the night in peace. In Compline we remember the burial of the Body of our Lord watching for the end of our sojourn on earth… yet in the three midnight prayers we await for the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    3. The hourly songs of praise begins with giving thanks to God after the Lord’s prayer, then submitting our repentance (Psalms 50 [51]), followed by praise with Psalms.


  2. Besides the prayers or the praises of the Canonical Hours the believer practices his private talk with God; one time praising, another time thanking and a third time contending and a fourth time asking and pleading. It is worthy of the believer to be openhearted. He would not focus in his prayers upon his personal needs but ask for all if possible: for his beloved as well as his antagonists, for his acquaintances as well as for strangers, for believers as well as nonbelievers.
  3. It is worthy of a believer also to practice “kneeling” (Metanias), as a sign of contrition and repentance. The believer trains himself to practice “kneeling” for the salvation of others.
  4. Preoccupation with God through the day, that is “prayer of calling Jesus’ name”. Which is called the “arrow prayer,” in which the believer cries out from moment to moment with a short prayer calling the name of our Lord Jesus Christ as an arrow to strike with, the snares of our enemy Satan. This action, simple as it is, has its own effectiveness in the life and worship of the believer.
  5. Praises, glorification and beatification: some believers practice church hymns daily or on feasts as a private worship in their bedrooms. Here we need to mention that some Copts prefer setting up a special corner for prayer. If this is not easy to do we find that many icons decorate their homes as a sign of their longing for holy life in God and fellowship with the saints.

Source: http://orthokairos.weebly.com/uploads/5/7/3/1/57311059/introduction_to_the_coptic_orthodox_chur_-_fr._tadros_yacoub_malaty.pdf