St. Ephraim's Prayer in the Coptic Orthodox Church?

edited December 1969 in Coptic Orthodox Church
I have another question regarding Coptic Orthodox practice during Lent.

Do you all recite "St. Ephraim's Prayer" during weekday services inside of Great Lent?

In case you don't know how it works, something like this happens during any one of the weekday services during Lent (Matins, Liturgy, Vespers, Compline, 3rd and 6th Hour):

The celebrating Priest will stand at the royal doors, facing the high place of the sanctuary and say:  "Oh Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk", and then make one prostration.  Then he will rise and say, facing the same way as before, "But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to thy servant," making another prostration.  He then gets up and finishes with, "Yea, oh Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art thou unto the ages of ages, Amen," and then make one final prostration.

As an addition to one's personal prayer at home, it is sometimes prescribed to do the above, followed immediately by making the sign of the cross and praying, "Oh God, cleanse me a sinner" and bowing to touch the ground, 12 times.  Then after those 12 bows are done, to recite St. Ephraim's Prayer all the way through with just one final prostration at the end.

Do any of you do this who are in the Coptic Orthodox Church?




  • Arsenios,

    Although revered and a Saint in the Coptic Orthodox Church. St Ephraims prayer is not recited during the weekday services during lent. Prostrations are however done during Matins raising of incense and penitent prophecies from the Old Testament are read. The Writings of the Fathers are however read during the services of Pascha week.

  • Arsenios,

    Meghalo is correct, but I would question why he calls the matins OT readings "penitent". He is perhaps judging from the church atmosphere at the time of reading, where the sanctuary curtain is closed and most lights are turned off. However, this has nothing to do with penitence per se. The reading of OT passages was more common throughout the year in the early Church, before the canon of the NT was complete and a NT lectionary was well-developed. I am sure you are aware that in the Eastern Orthodox rite, OT passages are prescribed during Orthros for certain angels' feasts and other times. Over time, the OT readings gave way to NT readings, while OT readings remained around only in Lent and Holy Week. This was for two main reasons.

    1- Lent initially was a period of catechism for people seeking entry into the Church and who were to be baptized close to Holy Week, or even in the Paschal vigil. Since many of these catechumens were Jewish in background, particularly in Alexandria which always had a large Jewish community, it made sense to retain the OT readings during this Lentent catechetical season and to make it part of their instruction, showing them how the OT prophecies about Christ and the Church were fulfilled.

    2- Generally, more solemn seasons such as Lent and Holy Week tend to retain older practices and rites, as other seasons begin to drop them. In other words, if OT readings were more common once in the Coptic church and they begin to be slowly abandoned, it makes sense they would remain in Lent and Holy Week a testament of older practice. This is a general trend in liturgical evolution that Anton Baumstark first noted in his seminal work Comparative Liturgy, and can be seen in many more rites across Christianity.

    Finally, let's not forget that attribution of authorship of certain liturgical prayers to specific saints is almost never certain. Was the St. Ephraim Prayer found in any of the writings of St. Ephraim? If not, then whether the Coptic church venerates St. Ephraim or not may have nothing to do with whether we use this prayer or seems to be a unique Byzantine tradition.
  • ramez m, this is very interesting.
    could you give me details of books and sources on liturgical development?
    i only have 'the study of liturgy' by jones, wainright and yarnold', which mainly relates to western european catholic and anglican churches, and i haven't seen anything about orthodox litugical development in english.

    i could then order books or read on line and learn more about this.
    i have read iris habib al masry's history of the coptic church (which was very, very interesting), but not any other major works.
    thanks for sharing
  • I haven’t read it but I heard Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s books on the Liturgy are fantastic and very Orthodox.

    In Christ
  • Dear Mabsoota,

    The answer to your question is rather difficult for many reasons. First, if you are looking for books about liturgical development or history in the Coptic church specifically, I am afraid the answer is that very little has been written in English, and nothing comes to mind that is comprehensive and not focused on very limited topics. Another problem is that almost anything written specifically about Egypt addresses the period of 3rd to 5th cent, and does not venture much into Post-Chalcedon.

    Regarding Fr. Alexander Schmemann, that's whole different category of writings. This is more accurately Liturgical Theology, not history. It focuses on the theological and spiritual meaning of the liturgical life in a very broad sense. His books are amazing indeed, and full of depth, more than what you'd find in any (and I mean ANY) Coptic author of the modern era.Of course being a member of the Eastern Orthodox church, Fr. Schmemann speaks mainly from his own ritual tradition, so whenever ritual details are meditated upon, they will be somewhat different from what you are used to, and you might need to know a bit about Eastern Orthodox rites. It will also not help you at all if you are only interested in how the Coptic liturgy developed, as this is not the area of interest of his works. Nonetheless, I can't recommend his works enough to bring anyone's understanding of the place of the Eucharist, the church, and worship in our life, which I think ultimately is more important on a basic level than delving into details of liturgical evolution. His favorite books for me are Of Water and the Spirit, and For the Life of the World, and The Eucharist, all of which were required reading in seminary.
  • Thanks, everyone, for all your replies.  :)
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