Our Coptic Church has a very rich musical heritage, for music has its deep effect on the soul, as mentioned before. Saint Paul said; “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).
Music is used, since old, to move the believers’ desires and emotions for praying and worshipping.
When one hears a sad hymn or song, it moves the tender emotions, thus, elevating the human feelings, and subliming the human thought. This causes one to come to one’s self – wake one’s senses, and remember the Lord and seek repentance and reform.
By the same token, the joyful tones-the festal hymns, gives one’s soul peace and spiritual happiness.
This is the nature of the Church hymns and songs, which present special words with theological meaning, and specific dogma, for certain occasions .
Music and songs affect the believer; where the tone of music affects the intuition, while the meaning affects the mind and thoughts.
The Coptic Orthodox Church has been blessed by this wonderful treasure and precious gift, not only for the Church but for the whole Christendom.
We feel proud in the different Ecumenical councils; whether it be the Middle East Council, the African, or the World Council of Churches, as all members appreciate highly our hymns and songs, which carries an authentic and true theological teachings .
It is of vital interest that our children and youth learn the Church hymns and the many replies of the Divine Liturgy, so they will not feel strangers in their Church.
For when they participate they become part of the Liturgy, interacting with the words which have been divinely put , knowing the Church theology and dogma, through the Church rites and the beautiful tones and tunes.
Composition of Church Hymns
The words carry a deep theological, dogmatic, and spiritual meanings. Looking at the Four Canticles (Ode), the Psali’s, the Theotokia’s, give us an assurance that the holy Church uses it in:
- Presenting Theology and Dogma to the believers
- Explaining it in suitable words,
- Using words to give precise meanings,
- Pointing its importance for salvation,
- Composing a tune which fits the meaning, reciting it .
As for the Doxologies, meaning glorifying God in the life of the martyrs and saints, it is to attract us to their lives, so they can be our guide, source of strength, and intercessors, through the poetic words and its tunes.
The hymns and songs of the Divine Liturgy, whether it be the Priests words or the deacons response along with the congregation, it has its theological depth, dogmatic meanings, biblical evidences, and intuition ..which prepares the believers for partaking of the Body and Blood of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, leading us throughout the path of life into the Kingdom of Heaven .. to Eternity.
As for Passion Week, The Holy Pascha Week, with its rich readings, and expositions, it all invites us to feel sorry and be deeply saddened for our sins caused our Redeemer to suffer on our behalf. It also calls on us to have hope and rejoice for the glorious act of Redemption , which our Lord offered to us through the Cross .
As for the month of December, better known in the Coptic calendar as : The Month of ‘Kiahk’, were the believers stay up late in joy, were its prayers prepare us for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ ‘in our hearts’, celebrating The Glorious Nativity.
Also the other Church events, such as; Baptism, Matrimony, Funerals, etc. were the Church teaches the believers the deep meaning of its teachings, along with the spiritual and intuitive effects, accordingly.
We Must be Alert
Non Ecclesiastic chants and songs are superficial in the meaning of its words, compared to the rich level of the Church hymns and the Psalmody. These type of chants or songs have to be checked before publicizing it.
Those who use it and listen to it have no sense for the Coptic music beauty, and degrade their sense of listening by their ears by stooping low to replace a seven star music, down to a one star or even no star!
These chants and songs do not coincide and/or coordinate with our rich; heavenly music expressing theological, dogmatic and musical heritage.
Using the ‘dancing music’ of the world, to compose these chants are not spiritual, but fleshly, the least to say. This type of music is not to be used in the Church.
Not any one should compose chants and songs and deliver to the public … This type of songs have no theological or dogmatic depths in its meaning, beside the weak wording of the composure.
Utilize the musical and vocal efforts of the youth by teaching them the rich and satisfying Coptic heritage, and presenting it in the various occasions, in a spiritual manner, and a humble and edifying way, pleasing the people and to give the youth satisfaction.
Praising in the Coptic Church
The nature of chanting and praising in the Coptic Orthodox Church, as delivered to us from the early fathers, is by VOCAL MUSIC only, meaning the human voice is the source for depicting the Church’s rites through its Liturgy, prayers and praises.
As Ms. Margaret Duke wrote in her book; The Coptic Church, 1978, that;
The human voice only offers glory to God.
She also said that the instruments stands between God and man.
The ‘cymbals’ and the ‘trianto’ are allowed to be used in Church only to control the tune.
As these instruments are used calmly and in a quite way, the beauty of the hymns prevail .
Some prefer not to use these instruments during Great Lent.
As for Passion Week, their usage are forbidden, for the reverence and awe of the occasion.
Nowadays, the Church uses the ‘cymbals’, known in Greek as ‘Kimvalon’, while in Arabic they mistaken it for ‘timbrel’.
The word ‘cymbals’ was mentioned in Psalm 150 twice; Praise Him with pleasant sounding cymbals. Praise Him, upon the cymbals of joy.
The cymbals in the old, are huge and heavy, and causes a loud sound when used to play music constantly. Which proves that it was used only to control and adjust the beginning of the chant or when needed to change tunes, to alert the chanters to harmonize their voices.
They are kept in our Coptic Monasteries.
May the good Lord grant us to "sing unto Him a new song" (Psalm 149:1), and chant with understanding, from the depth of the heart in the spirit of prayer and worship. May He accept the service of praising, which is for the Seraphim, from our mouths as a sweet savor before Him.
Through the intercessions of our blessed Mother of God, the holy Virgin Mary, and the great chief of the heavenly hosts Archangel Michael, and our beloved Evangelist St. Mark the Apostle, martyr, and beholder-of-God, and our beloved father, the great among the Patriarchs H.H.Pope Shenouda III, and his partner in the Apostolic ministry His Grace Bishop Serapion. Amen.