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NOTES CONCERNING THE MELODY “I PRAISE THE VIRGIN” (Amdah fil batool)
This song is indeed flawed. Raising the Virgin Mary in status that is almost equal to God, if not equal, is truly evident in this song. Let us examine some of the lines that are in this song that reflect this:
“Through your Son, our Lady: Cause of salvation: We reached the goal: And you brought us joy
Your rank is up high: And great is your glory: The Lord honored you: O, Aaron's censer: Many praised you: You're the cause of all joy: You comfort everyone: Who's sorrowful and humble
Moses and Daniel: Said many parables: And you fit all that: Mysteriously and more: You caused the world to shine: O, the pride of faith: All the creatures were free: Because of you, Mary”
Is Christ not the cause of our redemption, the joy in our salvation? Is He not the one who set mankind free from the bondage of sin? I find it interesting that this is made in reference to the Holy Virgin. Additionally, the Church is very particular in its hymnology, selecting the words to be used with the utmost care. It is through hymns that the people of the Church learn much about the beliefs of the Church. The people of the congregation assume that all that is presented to them is accurate and something that they should incorporate into their beliefs as they progress in Orthodoxy. Once we begin mixing inaccuracies in with true, Orthodox teaching, we lose this. Heretics are excommunicated over a single word, a word that represents a mindset that is incongruous with proper Orthodox teaching. How is it that we have allowed the songs to find their ways into our Church, with little or no regard to the words being presented, having the congregation stray away from the true faith without their realizing it?
Surely, there are parts of this song which are not inaccurate, but we must not mix accurate teachings with inaccurate opinions. If I take a glass of water, I can see through the glass clearly, as it has no impurities. If I take the glass of water and add just a bit of coloring dye, the water immediately reflects this murkiness. You may still be able to see through, but not as clearly. Over time, more and more of the dye is added, and we lose the clarity that was initially present.
This is not a matter of compromise; Orthodoxy is not a matter of compromise. Chanting a hymn in English or Arabic rather than Coptic is a matter of understanding, but none of the teachings of the Church are affected in this. Singing a song that does not reflect the teachings of the Church, but allowing it to remain because 1.) the people like it, 2.) it draws people to the Church, 3.) those in higher positions of authority allow and accept it... these are not acceptable reasons. Indeed, Church Fathers have written on issues such as these, in which people would suggest something that would allow for the population to grow in number while making a sacrifice or two in terms of proper Orthodoxy, and the Fathers stood firmly against this.
This problem carries over for so many of the songs, or as they are referred to in Arabic, "taraneem," that are now being sung in the Coptic churches. It is with great caution that we must examine these songs. Even one word in a song, if it is wrong, may be detrimental for the individual. Just because a song speaks about things of the Church does not mean it is from the Church; just because it has a catchy tune or because it makes me feel good does not make it acceptable.
I will not discuss the feeling of Coptic hymns being "boring" beyond saying that it is in them that we find our true faith, the instruction of our Orthodoxy, and they are not intended to be "boring" or "entertaining."
I pray that we take a more active role in preserving our Orthodoxy, not taking for granted the Pearl of Great Price that has been given to us by grace.
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Can we talk about the refrain for a moment?
The whole refrain is below.
Your love embraced me ,
O pride of nations,
Moses saw you O Mary,
Surprise and marvel.
And the lamps are bright,
With golden crosses,
O Mary Moses’ dome
O Aaron’s censer.
(Sabani hobek, ya fakharel-rotab, Mosa ra-a-ki ya Mariam, ‘agb men ‘agb. Wel-anadeel faddah be-tedwi, wel-solban dahb, ya obbet Mosa ya Mariam, ya shoriet Haron.)
The following parts may be added to the refrain:
يمكن أن تضاف القطع الأتية للمرد:
+ Oh what a wonder,
My mind is amazed today,
In a sealed door,
With the Child inside.
(‘agabee ya oom, tah ‘a-lee el-yom, fe baben makhtoum, we sabee gowah.)
+ Oh Virgin,
Oh my Lady,
Through your love,
I am living with God.
(Ah ya ‘adra ah, ah ya-siti ah, ana fee hobek, mash-ghol ballah.)
+ And my praise to the Virgin,
Filled my heart with joy,
And those who praise her always,
Their hearts rejoice.
(Weda madhe fel-batol, zad albo farah, welle yemdaha ‘ala tool, albo yen-sharah.)
First of all, as far as I can remember, none of these verses are found in the old Kiahk Psalmody book by Claudius Labib. (I'm not sure about the first verse. But I am 100% sure that the remaining 3 verses are recent additions (less than 10 years). What happened to keeping our tradition? Why are we adding verses out of the blue? And if we are to add verses, shouldn't they make sense?
What are these verses trying to say? Only the first 2 lines make sense. What does "Moses saw you, O Mary, surprise and marvel" mean? Is Moses surprised and marveled that he saw St. Mary? Or are we surprised and marveled that Moses saw St. Mary? And the actual correct translation is "Moses saw you, O Mary, surprise from surprise". So we can't rely on the Arabic for clarification.
Then we go to the next line, "And the lamps are bright, with golden crosses". What are we talking about? What lamps? What golden crosses? The context moved from Moses and the burning bush to lamps and crosses with no transition. Are the lamps and crosses related to Mary at all?
And the next part should be translated, "O Mary Moses' tabernacle, O Aaron's censer", not "Moses' dome". This only shows how book after book we copy mistakes without questioning the context. This line only tells us that the subject of the verse is directed to St. Mary. But what is the whole verse saying?
And the "new" additional verses are obviously misplaced. They neither follow the Arabic style, nor do they make sense. The entire original Kiahk Psalmody is written in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), with a very clear, poetic style. But these verses are written in colloquial, vernacular Arabic, with no style. The grammar is clearly lacking. For example, "fe baben makhtoum, we sabee gowah", is literally translated "in a sealed door and child within". One has to fill in the proper grammar and correct the propositions and verbs.
Then there's the most ambiguous, incoherent verse of all: "Ah ya ‘adra ah, ah ya-siti ah, ana fee hobek, mash-ghol ballah". This verse is obviously written by farmers. It is literally translated, "Ah Oh Virgin, Ah O Lady Ah, I am in your love, preoccupied dates". There is neither grammar or any coherent thought in this verse.
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“Zephaniah proclaimed: That Jesus will appear: As rain and dew: While her Virginity is sealed”
There are 5 instances of Zephaniah's prophecy in Kiahk Praise. 4 say, "He will appear as dew and rain". As you stated, it probably comes from Hosea 6:3, "Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” Notice there is no mention of the Lord's birth, nor reference to the Virgin. This verse seems to be a reference to the Lord's coming in general. The chapter in Hosea is about repentance.
Now look at Ezekiel 1:28, "Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking." This verse directly speaks of the appearance of the glory of the Lord, which can be understood as Christ's Incarnation. Again no reference to the Virginal birth or the coming of Jesus as implied in the Kiahk Psalmody.
The "prophecy" becomes more obscure in the fifth reference found in the Thursday Kiahk Madeha, "The Burning Bush". In this medeha, Zephaniah (or Sophonios) says, "He will come as rain without cloud." This is clearly not mentioned in Hosea 6:3. In fact, there is no mention anywhere in the Bible about rain without cloud. There is mention of clouds without rain in Jude 1:12, "They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead." The chapter is talking about hypocrisy. Again, nothing to do with Jesus' coming.
I checked the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, which ironically only exists in Coptic. There is no mention of rain at all. Neither is there any mention of the Lord coming as rain without cloud in any pseudo-epigraphic apocalypse texts of the Old or New Testaments. And there is no mention of the Lord coming or appearing as rain without cloud in any other Coptic liturgical, or hagiographic texts that I can find.
So we're back to where we started. We have ambiguous texts only found in Kiahk praise that seem to have no biblical or patristic origin. The only logical conclusion is that modern, apparently uneducated, overly simple, anonymous hymnographers confabulated "prophecies" from an unknown prophet about Christ's birth.