Attending a Vespers and Tasbeha Service

edited December 1969 in Non-Orthodox Inquiries
Hello my Coptic friends,

I posted a thread on here about a year ago entitled "Sundry Questions about the COC" if any remember. It didn't go over too well, and there was a bit of arguing and mistaken opinions, but my view of the OO Church has evolved since then thanks to OO and EO discussion groups on Facebook.

The reason I'm posting is because this Saturday I will be attending a Vespers and Tasbeha service at St. Mark's in Scottsdale, AZ. I am doing a project for my Cultural Anthropology class which requires a "cultural experience", so I decided I'd much rather spend that experience in Church, and it's an opportunity to finally visit a Coptic Church. I've already asked permission from Abouna Marcus to visit seeing as my visit is somewhat secular.

According to Abouna, the service will begin with the Hours at 6, followed by the Vespers praise, then the "rais[ing of] the Vespers incense at 7", and finally Tasbeha. I was wondering what I should expect during these services. What is the "raising of the Vespers incense"? Is there any Church etiquette I should be aware of aside from standing on the right side of the iconostasis and taking my shoes off?

Thank you and peace to you in Christ,


  • - I would dress appropriate....semi-formal is good since it's only Saturday night.
    - You are not really going to be standing in front of the iconostasis directly but i would say the seats for man from the beginning of the church till right before the chair that face the middle sanctuary door...that's if the church has seats.
    - The prayers would probably begin with Agpeya prayers or just the Vespers praise. It's all hymns, the priest is not needed to be there for that. I hope someone is providing a book or they have ppts on screen for you.
    - After the Praise, the Raising of Incense begins and it is really what it sounds like, incense everywhere:
    --The Priest is need for the service.
    --Starts with the Thanksgiving prayer followed by the verses of cymbals by deacons and in the meantime the priest goes in the alter and raises incense, does a procession and goes out again before the altar with the censer right after or waits till deacons are done chanting.
    --The litany of the Departed is prayer followed by the doxologies of saints. In the meantime, the priest does a procession around the Altar and the entire church.
    --After is the Intro to the orthodox Creed and then the Creed. The priest comes out again to prayer the O God have mercy prayer with a cross and 3 candles in his hands, crossing the ppl in the 4 directions.
    --After the litany of the gospel is prayer with the censer followed by the Psalm and Gospel.
    --The Priest may say a word here or after the service.
    --The Gospel Response is chanted. The priest may say some more litanies followed by absolutions and the conclusion.

    The Midnight Agpeya prayers is prayer followed by the Midnight praise......which is just all chanting.

    This was a very quick summery...enjoy and let me know of you have any specific questions.
  • Mikhael,

    What tradition do you come from? Is it EO? Are you Greek, Antiochian, OCA?

    I am asking because it will help me bridge for you some of the terminology and ritual similarities that may otherwise be lost on you just because we might call things differently, or they may have evolved differently in our traditions.
  • [quote author=RamezM link=topic=14715.msg166496#msg166496 date=1384387663]

    What tradition do you come from? Is it EO? Are you Greek, Antiochian, OCA?

    I am asking because it will help me bridge for you some of the terminology and ritual similarities that may otherwise be lost on you just because we might call things differently, or they may have evolved differently in our traditions.

    I am EO, originally Antiochian, but I'm going to a Romanian parish at the moment.
  • First of all, your Sundry Questions thread last year was beneficial. I actually learned a lot researching for answers to your questions. Don't think it didn't go over well. It went exactly how God wanted it to go. (I think)

    Secondly, I'm glad you're using a secular project to learn about Coptic spirituality. I guess it's not really completely secular as nothing in our Orthodox lives really is exclusively secular.

    Finally, let me just say that you should worry so much about proper Coptic etiquette. You'll soon realize that there is no real Coptic etiquette. Like all other cultures, all Coptic idiosyncrasies and nearly identical to any other Orthodox culture. You will pick up little things just by attending. There is no official or unofficial etiquette rule book or catechesis. Just come with an open heart. From your comments last year on the Sundry question thread, I know you will.

    And if you still have Sundry questions, go ahead and ask. I'm sure I personally will receive a spiritual blessing from it. I will leave the Comparative liturgical details to our expert Ramez. Trust me, he is really, really knowledgeable. He will show you how to view Coptic liturgical services through common Eastern Orthodox terminology and services. 
  • just stand up for the gospel (as you are a Christian).
    nothing else needed.
  • Hi Mikhael,

    Let me run through the evening with you and I will try to point out similarities with the Byzantine rite as much as I am aware. Since the priest said there will be praying of Hours until Tasbeha, I will try to cover all this ground:

    1- Hours:

    Since it will be Saturday night, that means praying 9th, 11th, and 12th hours. These are basically the same as 9th, Vespers and Compline in the EO tradition, and I am sure you are familiar with the basic structure of the hourly prayers (psalms, Holy God, troparia, Who at all times and every hour...etc). The weird thing will be that Copts have essentially 2 vespers prayers a day. One is part of the Book of Hours, and it can be prayed anywhere by anyone...the other is the Vespers service that is prayed in church with incense, ritual, clergy...etc. They are not alternative (as the EO full vespers, or reader's vespers) but they are both parts of the daily cycle if everything is done. So the first confusing terminology to get over is that the Hours are all finished including compline and including what we call 11th hour or vespers, though that is just a reader's prayer, not a full service. As others have commented, you are probably not going to see the priest during the Hours. The prayers are contained in a book we call Agpeya. The prayers themselves share a great deal with the Byzantine hours, such as Our Father, some of the Troparia for the hour, the Trisagion, repeated Kyrie Eleysons, and the prayer "Who at all times and in every hour...etc".

    2- Vespers Raising of Incense:

    This is the service of Vespers that more closely resembles the Byzantine Vespers, with incense, hymns for the day, antiphonal singing....etc. It will take about half an hour, just like a typical Byzantine Small Vespers. You will recognize some elements, such as the priest offering incense over the altar and going around, the singing of antiphonal songs for the saints, "Grant O Lord", intercessions, The Trisagion, and a veneration of the cross and gospel book at the very end by everyone. However, you will not see some of the more prominent elements in EO vespers, such as "O Gladsome Light", or the singing of Lord I have Cried to name a couple. Another feature of Coptic vespers that you typically don't have in EO vespers is the reading of the Gospel, which occupies the latter part of the service and even has its own Small Entrance, although done with much less fanfare.

    3- Tasbeha:

    This is perhaps the longest of the elements you mentioned. It is roughly equivalent to a Sunday vigil service and can take around 1.5 to 2 hrs depending on the singers. This is a service that again does not involve the priest, the altar, incense...etc, but is essentially just a sung service by chanters all throughout centered around 4 Canticles (The song of Moses, Ps. 135, The Song of the Three Youths, and finally the 4th Canticle is Ps. 148-150, which I believe is a Ainoi at the end Orthros in the EO rite). These 4 basic canticles are surrounded by other poetic compositions and songs on the same themes and thus can take up to 2 hrs to perform, although typically in parishes they will sing mostly faster melodies and there is a lot of people participation in this popular service.

    I hope this helps. I tried to stick to the basics of comparison rather than outline the entire service. Feel free to ask questions, and remember that this site has the text in 3 languages for all these services.
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