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The Alexandrian Rite is the liturgical rite used by the Coptic Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo, and Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo churches, as well as by those churches' corresponding Eastern Catholic Churches.
The rite's Divine Liturgy contains elements from the liturgies of Saints Mark the Evangelist (who is traditionally regarded as the first bishop of Alexandria), Basil the Great, Cyril the Great, and Gregory Nazianzus. The Liturgy of Saint Cyril is a Coptic language translation from Greek of the Liturgy of Saint Mark.
The Alexandrian Rite is sub-grouped into two rites: the Coptic Rite and the Ge'ez Rite.
The Coptic Rite is native to Egypt and traditionally uses the Coptic language. It is used in the Coptic Orthodox and the Coptic Catholic churches. In the former, Arabic and a number of other modern languages (including English) are also used.
The Ge'ez Rite is native to Ethiopia and Eritrea and uses the Ge'ez language. It is used in Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo, Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo, Ethiopian Catholic, and Eritrean Catholic churches.
The main eucharistic liturgy used by the Coptic Churches is known as the Liturgy of Saint Basil. The term Liturgies of Saint Basil in a Coptic context means not only the sole anaphora with or without the relater prayers, but also the general order of the Divine Liturgy in this rite.
It begins with the dressing of the priest with vestments and the preparation of the altar, along with prayers of worthiness for the celebrant. At his point is chanted the appropriate hour of the Canonical hours, followed by the washing of the hands with its prayer of worthiness, and by the proclamation of the Nicean Creed.
Then takes place the elaborate rite of the choosing of the Lamb: while the congregation sing 41 times the Kyrie eleison, the priest checks the wine and chooses among the bread one loaf which will be consecrated (the Lamb). The Lamb is cleaned with a napkin and blessed with the priest's thumb wet of wine. Afterwards the priest takes the Lamb in procession around the altar and the deacon follows with the wine and a candle. At the altar, the priest, with appropriate prayers, blesses the Lamb and the wine, places the Lamb in the Paten and pours wine and a few water in the chalice (the chalice is stowed into a wooden box named ark on the altar).
The last part of the offertory resembles an anaphora: after a dialogue, the priest blesses the congregation and proclaims a prayer of thanksgiving, giving thanks to God for his support to us, and asking him for a worthy participation to the liturgy. Then comes the prayer of covering, said inaudibly by the priest, which has the form of an epiclesis, asking God to show his face on the gifts, and to change them in order that the bread and wine may became the Body and Blood of Christ. This text might come from an ancient anaphora or simply be a later High Middle Ages creation. The paten and the ark with inside the chalice are here covered with a veil.
Liturgy of the Catechumens
In the Liturgy of the Catechumens the readings from the New Testament are proclaimed. This portion of the Divine Liturgy was in the ancient times the beginning of the liturgy, and the only part which could be attended by the catechumens. This part is roughly equivalent to the Liturgy of the Word in the Western Rites.
It begins with a Penitential Rite in which first the priest prays inaudibly Christ for the forgiveness of sins (The Absolution to the Son) and then all the participants kneel in front of the altar and the celebrant, or the bishop if present, recites a prayer of absolution (The Absolution to the Ministers).
The reading from the Pauline epistles is preceded by the offering of incense at the four sides of the altar, at the iconostasis, at the book of the Gospel and at the faithful in the nave; in the meantime the faithful sing a hymn to Mary and a hymn of intercession. The Pauline epistle is followed by a reading from the Catholic epistles, and by one from the Acts of the Apostles. Another offering of incense is conduced (the Praxis Incense), similar to the Pauline incense except that only the first row of the faithful is incensed. A reading from the Coptic Synaxarium can follow.
After these readings, the Trisagion is sung three times, each time with a different reference to the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, thus addressing the Trisagion to Christ only. After the Trisagion follows a litany, the recital of a Psalm and the singing of the Alleluia, and finally the proclamation of the Gospel from the doors of the sanctuary. The sermon may follow.
Liturgy of the Faithful
The Liturgy of the Faithful is the core of the Divine Liturgy, where are placed the proper Eucharistic rites.
It begins with the prayer of the Veil, in which the priest offers the liturgical sacrifice to God. The Long Litanies follows, where all pray for the peace, for the ecclesiastic hierarchy and for the congregation. The Nicean Creed is proclaimed, the priest washes his hands three times and sprinkles water on the congregation reciting the Prayer of Reconciliation which is a prayer of worthiness for all who attend the liturgy. Next is the Kiss of peace during which the faithful sing the Aspasmos Adam (Rejoice O Mary) hymn.
The Anaphora is conduced.
The Egyptian (or Coptic) anaphora of Saint Basil, even if related and using the same Antiochene (or "West Syrian") structure, represents a different group from the Byzantine, West Syrian and Armenian grouping of anaphoras of Saint Basil. The Egyptian version does not derive directly from the latter and has its own peculiarities: its text is more brief, with less Scriptural and allusive enhancements, and it lacks well defined Trinatarian references,:113 which are typical of other versions and reflect the theology of the First Council of Constantinople of 381.
The structure of the Bohairic Coptic version used today in the Coptic Churches can be summarized as follow:
- the Opening Dialogue
- the Preface, praising Father as Lord and everlasting king, as creator of heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them (quoting Psalm 146:6), and as Father of Christ by whom all things were made.
- the Pre-Sanctus, praising the Father on his throne of glory and worshiped by the Angelic hosts, so introducing the
- the Sanctus, conducted without the Benedictus,
- the Post-Sanctus, recalling the whole history of Salvation, from the Original Sin to the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection of Christ up to the Last Judgment,
- the Institution narrative,
- the Anamnesis, referring to the Passion, Resurrection and Second Coming of Christ,
- the Oblation, offering to the Father the Eucharistic gifts,
- the Epiclesis, asking the Holy Spirit to come and to sanctify and manifest the gifts as the Most Holy. The Holy Spirit is then asked to make the bread the Body and the chalice the Blood of Christ,
- the Intercessions, praying for the participants to become one single body, for the Church, for the Pope of Alexandria and for all the ecclesiastic hierarchy, for the town and the harvest, for the floodings, for the living, for who have offered the Eucharistic gifts, for the saints - naming Mary, John the Baptist, Saint Stephen, Saint Mark and Saint Basil. Then the diptychs are read, followed by the prayers for the dead,
- a prayer for the fruit of the Communion and the final doxology.
The 7th-century Sahidic Coptic version found in 1960 shows an earlier and more sober form of the Bohairic text: the manuscript, incomplete in its first part, begins with the Post Sanctus, and is followed by a terse Institution narrative, by a pithy Anamnesis which simply lists the themes and ends with the oblation. The next Epiclesis consists only of the prayer to the Holy Spirit to come and manifest the gifts, without any explicit request to change the gifts in the Body and Blood of Christ. The intercessions are shorter and only Mary is named among the saints.:112
After the Anaphora
After the anaphora takes place the consignation, i.e. the moistening of the Lamb with some drops of the consecrated Wine, which is show to the worship of the faithful. The Fraction of the consecrated Lamb ensues, during which the priest says a prayer which varies according to the Coptic calendar. All of the congregation stands and prays with open hands the Lord's Prayer.
To be prepared for partaking of the Eucharist, the faithful bow while the celebrant says in low voice the prayer of submission, then the priest and the participants offer each other a wish of peace and the priest inaudibly prays the Father for the forgiveness of sins (The Absolution to the Father).
The Elevation is similar to that in the Byzantine Rite, with the celebrant who raises the portion of the Lamb engraved with a cross (the ispadikon) crying: "The holy things for the holy ones". The priest makes a second consignation and puts gently the ispakidon in the chalice (the commixture), then he recites aloud a Confession of faith. The partaking of the Eucharist follows, first the Body of Christ given to the celebrants, to the deacons and to the faithful who approach the sanctuary without shoes and then the Blood of Christ in the same order. Psalm 150 is sung in the meantime. The distribution of the Eucharist ends with a blessing with the Paten.
The dismissal rites include The Prayer of Laying the Hands and the final blessing.
The Alexandrian Rite is observed by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the Coptic Catholic Church. The cycle of canonical hours is largely monastic, primarily composed of psalm readings. The Coptic equivalent of the Byzantine Horologion is the Agpeya.
Seven canonical hours exist, corresponding largely to the Byzantine order, with an additional "Prayer of the Veil" which is said by Bishops, Priests, and Monks (something like the Byzantine Midnight Office).
The hours are chronologically laid out, each containing a theme corresponding to events in the life of Jesus Christ:
- "Midnight Praise" (said in the early morning before dawn) commemorates the Second Coming of Christ. It consists of three watches, corresponding to the three stages of Christ's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane ( Matthew 25:1-13 ).
- Prime (dawn) is said upon waking in the morning or after the Midnight Praise the previous night. Associated with the Eternity of God, the Incarnation of Christ, and his Resurrection from the dead.
- Terce (9 a.m.) commemorates Christ's trial before Pilate, the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
- Sext (noon) commemorates the Passion of Christ.
- Terce and Sext are prayed before each Divine Liturgy.
- None (3 p.m.) commemorates the death of Christ on the Cross. This hour is also read during fasting days.
- Vespers (sunset) commemorates the taking down of Christ from the Cross.
- Compline (9 p.m. – before bedtime) commemorates the burial of Christ, the Final Judgment.
- Vespers and Compline are both read before the Liturgy during Lent and the Fast of Nineveh.
- The Veil is reserved for bishops, priests and monks, as an examination of conscience.
Every one of the Hours follows the same basic outline:
- Introduction, which includes the Lord’s Prayer
- Prayer of Thanksgiving
- Psalm 50 (LXX).
- Various Psalms
- An excerpt from the Holy Gospel
- Short Litanies
- Some prayers (Only during Prime and Compline)
- Lord Have Mercy is then chanted 41 times (representing the 39 lashes Christ received before the crucifixion, plus one for the spear in His side, plus one for the crown of thorns)
- Prayer of "Holy Holy Holy..." and Lord's Prayer
- Prayer of Absolution
- Prayer of Every Hour
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