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THE TIME FOR BAPTISM IN EARLY COPTIC CHURCH ACCORDING TO IBN KABAR

January 15, 2018

Coptic pope consecrating the myron

Pope Tawadros II cooking the Myron before consecrating it. The Myron is no longer consecrating at Alexandria and only on a certain date of the year.

 

From my previous articles on the subjects of the Lenten Fast and Baptism, we arrived at sufficient evidence to prove two assertions: that, one, the Lenten Fast in the Early Church lasted for six weeks only and that in the last week of Lent – that is the Pascha Week – according to the Egyptian tradition, baptism of children and new converts, the catechumens, occurred; and that, two, the ceremony of baptism in Early Coptic Church was carried out only once in a year, on a certain day and in a certain week, which was the Pascha week.

The exact day on which baptism occurred within the Pascha Week, the Day of Baptism, however, will need further clarification. In two previous articles, I tried to find the exact Day of Baptism:

First, in my article, The time for baptism in early Coptic Church according to Ibn Siba’a, we have seen that Yuhanna ibn abi Zakariyya ibn Siba’a, the 13thcentury Coptic theologian, wrote in his book, The Precious Jewel in Ecclesiastical Sciences (الجوهرة النفيسة فى علوم الكنيسة), wrote that baptism in the early Church was practised on a certain day, once every year. That day, he says, was “the sixth Friday of the Holy Fast”, by which he means Friday of the sixth week of the Lenten fast. As for the reason of choosing this day in particular, he writes:

[T]he reason for choosing that day specifically is that Christ’s crucifixion, his sufferings, his death and his entrance into the grave – I mean by his earthly element – was on Friday, the sixth day, in the six thousandth [year of Creation].  Therefore, the Fathers, Teachers of the Church, made it to simulate what the Lord Christ did in his entrance into the grave to release all who deserved salvation from the progeny of Adam. For that they arranged for baptism to be like the death of Christ on Friday, the sixth day in the sixth Friday of the Fast, in the six thousand Year of the World. They [the Fathers] made baptism release everyone who was immersed in it as the death of Christ for us has released us from the custody of Satan.[1]

Second, in my article, The Time for Baptism in Early Coptic Church at the Time of patriarch Peter I (300 – 311), I produced an earlier evidence than Ibn Siba’a’s that confirms the early Church of Alexandria did perform baptism on only one day each year, and sheds more light into this matter. I used the first part of History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Churchwhich was written sometime in the fifth century by a certain Menas the Scribe. In the Live of St. Peter I (300 – 311), we read the beautiful story of St. Marturia and her two children, Philopator and Eutropius, from Antioch of Pisidia,who lived at the time of Saint Peter I. This story confirms that baptism did occur in the Pascha Week but does not tell us which day. However, another source for the story of Madura and her two children, Brit. Mus. Ms. Oriental, No. 6783 manuscript,[2] titled by its translator, E. A. Wallis Budge, from Sahidic Coptic to English, The Encomium on Demetrius, Archbishop of Alexandria, by Flavianus, Bishop of Ephesus is very helpful. From this manuscript, we learn that Marturia and her children arrived in Alexandria on the fourth day of the Pascha Week, which is Wednesday and that baptism took place on the evening of Good Friday, by which is meant the evening preceding Good Friday day, according to the Jewish reckoning.

It seems then that all these sources agree that the Day of Baptism was Good Friday. But let’s now examine another source to check if it can confirm this. This time we rely on The Lamp in Darkness and the Explanation of Service (مِصْباح الظُلْمة وإيِضاح الخِدْمَة Mișbâḥ al-ẓulma wa-îḍâḥ al-khidma) by the 13/14th century Coptic scholar Ibn Kabar[3].[4] The evidence comes from Chapter 9 of his book – a chapter dedicated to the Myron (Chrism).[5] The Myron, which is special oil that is consecrated by bishops, is used in our Church, as in many other Christian denominations, in the administration of certain sacraments such as the Sacrament of Baptism and Confirmation. It is made of pure olive oil, balsam and several spices.  Ibn Kabar tells us that the origin of Myron goes back to the time when Christ was buried. After the Crucifixion, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea worked together to take the body of Christ from the cross, shroud him in linen cloth after anointing him with spices made of myrrh and aloes that weighed sixty pounds, and then intern him in a tomb.[6] This holy mix of spices, the Disciples took, and adding to it pure olive oil, prayed over it at the Cenacle[7], and made it to be the “stamp of baptism”. This Myron was distributed to all Christian groups that dispersed geographically in order to evangelise; and they used it to anoint those who believed and got baptised. And the Disciples commanded that the Holy Myron be replenished by adding to the remaining Myron more of the same ingredients, and also some of the bread that Christ had consecrated; and that that it should be repeatedly replenished, and be consecrated by the clergy, until the end of times.

But the relevant part in this chapter is when Ibn Kabar talks about the day when Myron was consecrated. We learn from him that, in Egypt, the ingredients of Myron were cooked and consecrated in Alexandria by the Coptic Patriarch, joined by the bishops from other parts of Egypt;[8] and that that its consecration occurred once every year on a certain date. That date, Ibn Kabar tells us, was the same Day of Baptism! This is the revealing paragraph:

And the Holy Myron continued to be exchanged in all places and replenished in this way, and cooked and consecrated on Friday, the sixth day of the sixth week of the Holy Fast, for it was the end of the Holy Forty Days; and it was the day on which the Lord Christ baptised his followers; and that day became the Day of Baptism and the Day of Joy. That day is the epitome of the sixth millennium in which God the Logos incarnated to save the race of men, and He freed Adam and his progeny from the slavery of Satan; and the sixth day on which He was crucified in, abolishing death by His Death, and giving us life by his Crucifixion.[9]

A24

Here we have, yet another Coptic source that confirms to us that the Day of Baptism in the Coptic Early Church was indeed Good Friday. We learn, from Ibn Kabar, that on this same Good Friday, Myron was cooked and consecrated too.

_______________________________________

[1] See: Jean Périer, Ibn Sabba, Yohanna ibn Abi Zakariya, La Perle Précieuse in Patrologia Orientalis. Tome 16, fasc. 4 (Paris, 1922); p. 671-2. Périer publishes only the first 56 chapters of the book of Ibn Siba’a (out of 115) in Arabic accompanied by French translation. The English translation here is mine.

[2] This manuscript was published and translated by E. A. Wallis Budge, in 1914, in his book Coptic Martyrdoms, etc., in the Dialect of Upper Egypt. The Coptic Sahidic manuscript was copied by one Victor Mercurius Eponuchos, a deacon from Esna, in Upper Egypt, in AD 1003.

[3] His full name is Shams al-Riʾāsa Abū al-Barakāt ibn Kabar.

[4] For more on Ibn Kabar, see Coptic Encyclopedia (1992), Ibn Kabar by Aziz S. Atiya.

[5] Ibn Kabar dedicates Chapter 15 to baptism but there is nothing there to help us in finding more about our subject. In Chapter 18 about Fasting, Ibn Kabar talks about the duration of Lent and talks about the week in which baptism took place; but since his talk about the duration of Lent is incorrect, we are not left any wiser by his talk on the week of baptism.

[6] On the Burial of Christ, and the roles of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, see: John 19:38-42; Matthew 27:57-60; Luke 23:50-56; Mark 15:43-46.

[7] Or the Upper Room, where Jesus had his Last Supper.

[8] From the consecrated Myron at Alexandria, Myron was distributed to other churches in Egypt.

[9] مِصْباح الظُلْمة وإيِضاح الخِدْمَة للقس شمس الرياسة أبوالبركات المعروف بابن كبر، الجزء الأول، مكتبة الكاروز، ١٩٧١؛ ص ٣٥٠-٣٥١.The English translation is mine.

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