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OUR BEAUTIFUL AND SACRED COPTIC LANGUAGE – AND THE WOES OF SAMUEL OF KALAMOUN UPON US

September 9, 2012

Coptic children in prayer at church, raising arms in the traditional Coptic position of prayer; but what language?

In prayer, nothing can beat our language in its beauty and the sacredness of the atmosphere it creates by its ancient sound bites and tunes. It connects us to Christ better than any other language, while it joins us to the eternal community of saints – those anchorites, patriarchs, and holy men of which our Church is particularly rich, and who chanted their supplications to God in this same language. Since the days of Patriarch Gabrial II (1131 – 1145), Arabic, the language of our conquerors, crept into our ecclesiastical services, particularly in the last sixty years or so, with, I am sure, woes being passed upon us by the writer of the Apocalypse of Samuel of Kalamoun.[1]

As an example, I simply share with my readers this beautiful prayer which constitutes part of the chants of Agpiya.[2] It is chanted after the gospel reading of each hour:[3]

http://www.agpeya.org/tenoo-oasht.mp3

The Coptic script is as follows:

Transcriptively, it is:

Tenoo oasht emmok o piekhristos nem pekyot en aghathos nem pi epnevma ethowab je akee ak soati emmon nai nan.

Translated into English, it is:

We worship You, O Christ, with Your good Father and the Holy Spirit, for You have come and saved us.

What can compete with this sacred Coptic chant in beauty! No real Copt wants to use any other language in prayer. The argument against Coptic that the congregation no longer understands it is a lame one, for the emphasis should be on learning Coptic rather than abandoning it.

At the end, I just quote from Samuel of Kalamoun’s Apocalypse his condemnation of those who speak the language of the hegira (Arabic) at or near the altar:[4]

Woe! twice woe!  my dear children.  What can I say?  In those times the readers in the church will understand neither what they read nor what they say because they will have forgotten their language, and they will truly be unfortunate, deserving of tears, because they will have forgotten their language and will have spoken the language of the hegira.

But woe to any Christian who teaches his son, from his youth, the language of the hegira, so making him forget the language of his ancestors, because he will be responsible for his transgression, as it is written: ‘parents will be judged for their sons.’…

Woe, twice woe!  How great the misery!  how very grave the acts which will be carried out in those times by the Christians!  In recounting these things to you my heart has truly suffered, my eyes have poured tears and my body has trembled much.  Do you think that there is for the soul a pain greater than to see the Christians giving up their sweet language to take pride in that of the Arabs, as well as in their names? In truth I say to you, my children, that those who will give up the names of the Saints in order to give foreign names to their children, those who will act thus will be excluded from the blessing of the Saints; and whoever will dare to speak inside the sanctuary in the language of the hegira, that one will depart from the ordinances of our holy fathers…

And now I recommend to you, my dear children, and I humbly beg you to recommend those who will come after you until the end of the ages, to take perfect care of their souls and not to let a Christian speak the Arabic language in these places, because of this there is material for a great judgement:  many indeed will dare to speak the language of the hegira at the altar.  Woe, twice woe to these!  as I heard myself from an old man dedicated to the service of God, clothed with the Spirit, accomplished in holiness.  He answered me when I questioned him about the kings of the hegira: ‘Look, my son Samuel, and understand what I say to you:  At the time when the Christians will dare to speak the language of the hegira near the altar, by which they will blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and the Holy Trinity, in that time woe to the Christians, woe and seven times woe!’


[1] The Apocalypse is attributed to the 7th century Coptic saint, Samuel of Kalamoun (or Qalamoun); however, it is thought to have been composed later. Contrary to many papers, I believe it was written in the 13th century.

[2] Agpiya is the Coptic Book of Hours, and contains seven prayers in the day, largely based on the psalms.

[3] I am largely grateful to http://www.agpeya.org/index.html for this.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. mindthehat permalink
    September 17, 2012 6:56 am

    I hope one day soon all Copts will speak Coptic again.

  2. October 5, 2012 5:28 pm

    I am contemplating writing a research paper on the evolution of the Coptic language from Late Egyptian and Demotic to Coptic, with an emphasis on semantic shifts and the religious influences. Can you recommend any good books, or is there a Coptic centre in London I can liaise these queries to? Please feel free to contact me through my blog and delete this comment. Thank you. :-)

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      November 12, 2012 7:06 pm

      Hi Atreyu. Sorry for the delay in responding to you. I was waiting to talk to Ambrose who is expert in this field. He is happy helping you. He can be contacted at: ambroseboles@hotmail.com

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