OUR COPTIC HYMNS
Why Coptic Hymns Are Important To Us
Our church has been entrusted with this great heritage of music, which was preserved by Dr. Ragheb Moftah in the U.S. Library of Congress. Now, it is cherished in the hearts and tongues of the cantors, who continuously chant them in Coptic Churches, like ours, all over the world.
Coptic hymns are essential to any Coptic church. It binds together the Church's tradition, rites, worship and spirituality, in a global manner. The Coptic Church has always used music as major form of worship, we believe music is the language used by the Seraphim in heaven and therefore, as humans on earth, we use it to praise God. It is the language of the soul as prayer is the language of the heart. St Augustine says, "There is no emotion of the human spirit which music is incapable of expressing".
Coptic hymns are ancient but are still alive and appeal to both the simple and the sophisticated. It offers joy, peace, stimulation and fulfillment to those who take interest. Other forms of music can run out of fashion with time, but Coptic hymns have proved the test of time, and have provided the Copts with an everlasting means of praising God.
The English musician Professor Earnst Newland Smith visited Cairo in the winter of 1927 to see Mr. Ragheb Moftah the Egyptian researcher. The English musician listened to the entire range of Coptic music and documented it in 18 volumes. He states:
"What we understand today as oriental music appears simply a degradation of what was once a great art. This music which has been handed down for untold generations within the Coptic Church should be a bridge between the east and the West and place a new idiom at the disposal of Western musicians. It is lofty, noble and great art especially in the element of the infinite, which is lacking today. Western music has its origin in ancient Egypt". He also says, "Give me the voice of Ceruso singing the Coptic hymns and I shall destroy the walls of Jericho."
Coptic Hymn History
A brief background on the history of Coptic hymns and its preservation through the Cantors of the modern age. Written by Albier Gamal Mikhail, and translated by Bishoy K. R. Dawood, edited by Alexander A-Malek.
It is acknowledged that the hymns of the Coptic Orthodox Church date back to the early period of the Ancient Egyptians. Today, Coptic music is considered to be one of the oldest musical genres alive. Coptic music is not transcribed, but rather passed down orally from generation to generation.
Prior to the ordination of Pope Kirollos the fourth, known as the ‘Pope of the Reformation,’ upon the throne of Saint Mark the Apostle, there was a possibility of the complete loss of many Coptic hymns, as the Church experienced a period of weakness.
However, the ‘Pope of the Reformation’ commanded a talented cantor, Mo’allim Tekla, to compile and compare all Coptic hymns, as well as to pass them down to others, in the hope of preserving the Heritage of the Church. So Mo’allim Takla, travelled around Egypt - from North to South, and from East to West - to gather all hymns and compare them. This zealous cantor was later ordained a priest. Soon after, he diligently handed down this great treasure of hymns and rites to seven Church cantors.
Later came the era of Pope Kirollos the fifth, who cherished the hymns of the Church and was skilled in chanting them. Through this great leader came the period of the flourishing and spread of Coptic hymns in Egypt. This was accomplished through the efforts of Mo’allim Mikhail Girgis Ghabrial el-Batanouni, who received the hymns through the hands of two of the seven Church cantors trained under the guidance of Mo’allim Takla. These two cantors were Mo’allim Morkos and Mo’allim Armanious. Later, Mo’allim Mikhail received a variety of hymns from Mo’allim Salieb. Mo’allim Mikhail was an expert in Coptic hymns, and knowledgeable in Church rites, in addition to being skilled in the languages of Coptic and Arabic. He was also the distinguished leader of cantors in the Great Cathedral, and was appointed to be the first instructor of hymns in the Clerical College by Archdeacon Habib Girgis.