The Value Of The Coptic Language

(Article Collection)

". . . I hope that you have developed your own library, and have some good books to read, for this is a useful and spiritual exercise.  I hope that you continue reading in the Coptic language.  You will have to repeat every quarter of the doxology several times until you learn it by heart.  You can learn little by little, for Coptic is an easy language, but it needs repetition."  - Pope Kyrollos VI, from his letters to his disciples

"to know two languages or three gives you a depth of perception of what the words mean, of what the thoughts mean, which one language cannot do to the same extent."  - Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

"The Coptic language is an integral part of the 'Pearl of great price' which we have received from our holy fathers.  We have inherited their love, faith, doctrine, the holy tradition and the beautiful Coptic hymns.  Because of the harmony and the spiritual depth of these hymns, one cannot eliminate them from the Liturgy nor replace them by translations.  The translations cannot hold the melodious and inspiring character of the hymns.

Therefore, it has become a necessity to learn and to encourage our children to learn the Coptic language so that they may appreciate the depth of these hymns.  This in turn will strengthen their relationship with God and the church that they may attain to the same spirituality of our holy fathers."

- Forwarding from Coptic Language Made Easy by St. George and St. Rueiss Church, Toronto, Canada



(by Deacon Hany N. Takla)
 The subject of Coptic and the Coptic Music in the Coptic Church has always been debated with regards to the future of the Coptic Church in America.  The views tended to be both extreme and lacking in depth, good-willed yet misguided.  They ranged from those that would give up any and every thing to bring people into the Church, to those that would not give up anything regardless of the outcome.  The first extreme lacks knowledge of, pride in, and respect for the Coptic Tradition and Culture.  The other extreme lacks Christian compassion at times.  The first would sacrifice the 99 for the sake of one and the other would sacrifice the one for the sake of the 99.  One would bring every one in while he has not enough to feed them, and the other would not let any one in lest his abundant riches be diminished.  As a result the people entering the home of the first will be like the seed that fell upon stony ground and those entering the other's home resemble the seeds that fell on the roadway.  The first will prosper for a short while, and the other will have no chance.  In either case the environment will not sustain newcomers.

 Let us put symbolism aside and look now at the relationship of Coptic to Coptic Music and what importance does it hold.  As most of us know, the Coptic Script was used by the early Christians in Egypt to bring Christianity to the Egyptian masses that mostly could not read or write.  By doing so, they allowed the Egyptian Christians to express their thought process and beliefs that have astonished the world to this day.  As a result, the greatest ecclesiastical musical tradition was born.  A tradition in its fully developed form has no equal, as attested to by those who studied it in depth.  This tradition integrated the feelings (tunes) and the thoughts (language)  of the Egyptians into a wonderful new language.  A language for the soul to address its creator.  A language that the Coptic language became its corner stone.  All who truly experienced it will know what is being talked about here.

 Let us now look into the importance of this music, or language of the soul, in regards to our Liturgical services.  No one can dispute that the tunes we hear in such services express the meaning of such services, even though the same words are sometimes used.  These services contain the Church wise guidelines for our interaction with God.  I even dare to say that 50% of the meaning that the Church  is conveying to us during these services is embodied in the music.  So we can all agree that to take away such important aspect of these services would severely limit their effectiveness.

 Now let us examine how the Coptic language relates to this musical tradition.  The language represents the consonants of the Coptic Music while the tunes are its vowels.  A rather inseparable relationship to insure its healthy existence.  It expresses its thoughts and beliefs in poetic form that matches the tunes that are used to express them.  In other words it is the best suited vehicle to convey these beautiful tunes and move the souls of its hearers.

 Looking at the state of affairs of this beautiful tradition, we see that its opponents has caused it to retreat from being a dominant part of the liturgical system of the church to a severely diminished role.  Its current strongholds became the liturgy, the hymnology, and the Passion week.  After we brought this tradition with us to America.  These strongholds came under further attack.  We see the limited role that the Coptic music has been relegated to.  The hymnology is being invaded and weakened as a result.  The last victim-to-be is obviously the passion week, truly the crown jewel of this tradition.  All this is being done to bring people into the Church, but who can bear to live spiritually in a Church with a healthy name and a weakened soul.

 We should all remember that our forefathers have entrusted this tradition of their forefathers to us to faithfully transmit it to our children in the best form possible.  We should not let our temporal thoughts and ideas be the judge for what to preserve from such tradition. If we detect elements contrary to the true spirit of our Church, then we should try to trace their origin and make sure of what it is we are pronouncing judgment over.  Regardless of our good intentions, we all will give an account for our actions before the throne of the Almighty.  May God grant us the wisdom to do what is pleasing to HIM.

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