Original Rite of Raising of Incense

I was recently listening to a talk by Abouna Athanasius El-Maqari and he was saying how the daily office of Vespers and Matins was prayed in Church with raising of incense by the priest (and this included what we have separated out of it in the Agpeya and their respective praises). I am wondering what exactly was the outline of the original Coptic Rite?

For example for Vespers:
Was it thanksgiving, verses of the cymbals, psalm 50 and other psalms (including Ni-ethnos and fourth hoos), psali and theotokia and conclusion, gospel of compline/Vespers and their respective troparia, and then litany of the departed, graciously accord O Lord, Trisagion, Doxologies, Intro & Creed, Litany of God have mercy (With Kyrie Eleison), Litany of the Gospel, Gospel of the Day, the three major litanies and then Absolution?

Just wanted to know how off my guess here is to the original outline, and whether it is possible to revive this outline back into the Church,



  • The Coptic Orthodox Divine Office
    By Fr Robert Taft, S.J. in "The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West:The Origins of the Divine Office and Its Meaning for Today" 2nd Revised Edition (Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1993) 252-256

    i . The Monastic Horologion
    The present Coptic Horologion has eight hours: morning prayer, terce, sext, none, eleventh hour (vespers), and compline, plus two hours that are apparently later additions: the "Prayer of the Veil," and a midnight hour comprising three nocturns. Both of these additional hours repeat psalmody already distributed throughout the other six hours. The Prayer of the Veil, a doubling of compline, appears first in Abu'l-Barakat ibn Kabar around 1320, exists only in Arabic sources (a sure sign of its late origin), and is composed of elements from the other hours. It is used only in monasteries.

    With the exception of these two later additions, the structure of all these hours is the same:
    Fixed initial prayers
    Twelve psalms (ideally)
    Gospel lesson
    Troparia (poetic refrains)
    Kyrie eleison (41 or 50 times)
    Our Father
    Dismissal Prayer of Absolution
    Final Prayer
    Variety among the hours is minimal. Morning prayer has the Great Doxology (Gloria in excelsis), as one would expect, and the creed. Other hours also have certain minor peculiarities, but the basic structure is the same. So apart from the later addition of seven further psalms to the original twelve at morning prayer, and some variety in the final prayers, this is the structure of all the traditional hours from morning prayer to compline.

    The refrains or troparia are a later addition of Palestinian origin, and if we prescind from them we see an office that is almost pure Cassian.

    ii. Cathedral Remnants
    But in addition to this monastic psalmody we find other services, the Offering of Incense morning and evening, and the threefold Psalmodia of the night, the morning, and the evening, which contain elements apparently of cathedral provenance.

    The Offering of Incense is as follows, with the variable or proper parts in italics:
    Fixed introductory prayers
    Praise of Mary
    Supplications to the saints
    Prayer of Incense
    Incensation of the altar, with short intercessions
    Great Intercession
    Our Father
    Praise of Mary
    Doxologies (poetic refrains)
    Incensation with prayers
    Blessing with candles and cross
    Solemn Kyrie eleison (litany)
    (OT lessons and litanies at Morning Offering of Incense on certain fast days)
    Prayer of the Gospel
    Psalm verse
    Gospel lesson
    Incensation and short intercessions
    Prayer of Absolution to the Son
    (Reading of the synaxary at Morning Offering of Incense)
    Veneration of cross and gospel
    Final blessing
    This office contains what seems to be the debris of older cathedral services.

    Even more significant in this regard is the so-called Psalmodia, which refers not to biblical psalmody but the sung office, a term akin to the Greek asmatikos or old sung cathedral office of Hagia Sophia in Byzantine parlance. This Psalmodia has never been subjected to thorough scholarly analysis, and poses numerous problems, but the cathedral elements in its structure are particularly evident in the Psalmodia of the Evening and in the Psalmodia of the Night. The former is rarely celebrated today, but when done it comes between compline (and the Prayer of the Veil in monasteries) and the Evening Offering of Incense. It has the following elements (the variable proper parts are italicized):

    Psalmodia of the Evening:
    Fixed initial prayers
    Ps 116
    Hos (ode) 4: Pss. 148-150 with alleluia
    Psali (poetic refrains) of season or feast and day
    Theotokia (Marian hymns) of the day
    Lobsh (crown) of the Theotokia
    Hymn from the Difnar (antiphonary)
    Conclusion of the Theotokia
    The much longer Psalmodia of the Night, sung between nocturns and the morning office, comprises:
    Psalmodia of the Night:
    Fixed initial prayers
    Invitatory versicles (chiefly psalmic)
    (Resurrectional praises on Sundays and in Paschaltide)
    Hos (ode)
    1) Ex 15:1-21 with Psali (poetic commentary on the ode)
    2) Ps 135 with Psali
    3) Dan 3:52-88 with Psali of the paschal mystery and Psali of the ode (on the three youths in the furnace)
    Litany of the saints
    Doxologies of the feast or day
    Hos (ode) 4) Pss 148-150 with alleluia after each verse
    Psali of the feast or day
    Lobsch (crown) of the Theotokia
    Hymn of the day from the Difnar (antiphonary), with its Tarh (response)
    Conclusion of the Theotokia
    Concluding litany
    Our Father
    Dismissal Prayer of Absolution
    The Psalmodia of the Morning, which follows the morning office of the Horologion, is made up of only a couple of poetic pieces and can hardly be called an office at all. The Psalmodia of the Evening and of the Night seem to be the remnants, in the first case, of cathedral lauds, and in the second, of lauds again, this time preceded by elements of the old Sunday Resurrection Vigil as reconstructed by Mateos.

    As for cathedral vespers in the Egyptian tradition, evidence of it can still be found in Ethiopian vespers, which is of Egyptian provenance at least in part; Winkler has identified the residue of an old cathedral vespers in the Coptic Evening Offering of Incense; and Ugo Zanetti has recently found in a fourteenth-century manuscript at the Monastery of St. Macarius in the Wadi an-Natrun a Byzantine-type cathedral evensong or "Prayer of the Eleventh Hour according to the Use of Cairo." Other manuscripts at St. Macarius have the psalter distributed in the Byzantine manner, including the invitatory Ps 103 and the select vesperal psalms of Byzantine Sabaitic cathedral vespers: Pss 140, 141, 129, 116.

  • Not sure if the above helps.
  • edited March 2015
    It kind of does, but my main question is how was it that the Hours of Vespers, Compline, Vespers Praise and Vespers Raising of Incense were all one service at one point? If someone wants to do all these three in one service, how would they go about that?
  • In monasteries (specifically St Mary and St Moses Abbey Texas, the "early service" (rather than saying "the midnight praise" is as followed):
    - The midnight prayer (with the 3 watches from the agpeya)
    - The midnight praise as we know it today, ending with the litany
    - The Absolution of the Priests
    - Matins agpeya prayer
    - The morning doxology
    - Matins raising of incense

    What currently is done for "the evening service" is:
    - The Vespers, Compline and the Veil Agpeya prayers (you also add the hours that were not prayed int hat day's morning liturgy--the ninth on Saturdays for example)
    - The vespers praise as we know it
    - Vespers raising of incense. 

    What i may think has happen, and this is just a speculation, is that the Vespers praise was first considering that it starts with Niethnos teero which is really the first psalm of the Vespers prayer. Any other hours that were supposed to be said before vespers agpeya prayer would be said before the vespers praise, then the raising of incense, then Compline
  • minatasgeel, that is more or less contemporary practice even though not all of that might be done (Vespers, Compline and more often than not Vespers Praise are left out).

    I am asking what would the service of Vespers Raising of Incense look like if it is done in the original rite (which included the service of the Hours of Vespers and Compline, and the Vespers Praise all in it)?
  • edited March 2015
    Hey Katanikhoros,

    That's a great question and has an interesting story. As usual, the quote from Fr. Robert Taft, while correct, is not very detailed and lacks a lot of specialized evidence (and that's expected, because he is not a Coptologist or a Coptic liturgist). There is not one single "old rite", but lots of varied evidence across centuries and theories of how to make sense of it all. Instead of trying to explain all the evidence here in full, can I suggest you read an article I wrote on this a couple years ago? This was presented at the St. Shenouda the Archimandrite Coptic Society annual conference. The article was subsequently published in the society's journal Coptica. Here is a link, if you are interested:

    I'd be glad to answer questions after you read the article. Have fun!
  • edited March 2015
    Thanks Ramez,
    that was a very interesting article to read. The part written by Abul-Barakat is what Abouna Athanasius El-Maqari describes in his book as the old rite for raising of incense (however here he focuses on Matins) saying:
    1. Prayer of Thanksgiving
    2. Prayer of Incense (Made inaudible by Verses of the Cymbals in 15th century)
    3. Come Let us Kneel, Pauline Epistle & Faith of the Church, Psalms of Matins (I suppose including Psalm 50) and Gospel of John
    4. Beginning with Morning Doxology from 'O True Light' followed by 'You are the Mother of Light' till end of 'Your mercies', the conclusion of Adam Theotokias on Adam days, or Batos Doxologies (not sure what these are) concluding with 'Our Lord Jesus Christ', the conclusion of the Batos Theotokias on Batos days.
    5. Priest then raises incense around the altar and church while the congregation says the Praise of the Angels: "Glory to God in the highest"
    7.Intro to Doxologies is sung, then Psali and Theotokia of the Day
    8. Intro to Creed, Creed, Litany and Kyrie Eleison
    9. Litany of the Gospel, then Psalm and Trailer ('Tawaf'), Gospel and its Response, Synexarium
    10. Major Litanies, Lord's Prayer, and Absolution

    This order seems strikingly similar to the Bright Saturday order that is still used today.

    Would this work for a similar outline for Vespers?
    1. Prayer of Thanksgiving
    2. Verses of the Cymbals
    3. Psalm 50, Compline Psalms (including Psalm 116 [Ni-ethnos], 129, 140, 141), 148, 149, 150 as Fourth Hoos (with 'Al el 3asr'), Compline Gospel and Troparia and Theotokion
    4. Litany of the Departed
    5. Graciously accord O Lord
    6. Psali and Theotokia of the Day
    7. Trisagion, Lord's Prayer
    8. Doxologies
    9. Intro to Creed, Creed
    10. Litany for Mercy and Kyrie Eleison (3)
    11. Litany of the Gospel
    12. Psalm and Trailer
    13. Gospel and Response
    14. Synexarium
    15. Three Major Litanies
    16. Lord's Prayer
    17. Absolution

    This seems like the most plausible way to hybrid both the Horologion, Vespers Praise and Raising of Incense into one Service that seems compatible with what is already done in Bright Saturday and what Abul-Barakat has described. I have seen in other manuscripts other interesting prayers (Like Prayer of Isaiah) used in both Matins and Vespers which may be a remnant of some of the other local cathedral traditions that were existent in Egypt.

    Let me know what you think
  • Are the verses of cymbals as old as the 15 century? I never thought so, or the verbal handing down was rather inefficient!
    oujai khan ebshois
  • I know this is kind of outside the topic but what do you guys think of praying Liturgy without matins? Have you experienced this? As far as I know, they are separate but we have become so accustomed to doing this. I curious as to how Matins became so linked to the liturgy...
  • @Amoussa01, this is always done in Texas Monastery on fasting days....Midnight Praise followed by Matins, and then the liturgy is around 12 noon starting with agpeya hours. 
  • I bring this up because I know of a church that does not pray matins prior to liturgy. That is not exactly breaking the rules though is it?

  • Nope ^, they are separate services.
    In fact Agpeya before the Liturgy is a recent addition as well from last century.

    Often Liturgy began straight with the Offertory (while singers chanted Alleluia Phai Pe Pi).
  • I really hope there will be English translations of Abouna Athanasius El-Maqari's books one day. Hopefully like in SVS Press.
  • Dear Katanikhoros,

    You are right that this Abul-Barakat's Matins/Vespers description is strikingly similar to Bright Saturday. There are also services throughout the year in which Psalm 50 comes right after the Verses of the Cymbals (Laqqans, and so forth), surely a sign of an older practice in which Horologion psalms were prayed.

    Details aside, I think you are mostly correct in your reconstruction, although I don't think all of these elements were part of any one rite, for example verses of cymbals (in my understanding) replaced the psalms and other praise elements. Fr. Athanasius analyzes this development in his book step by step, but of course all this is tentative. Also, in my article, I stress the source of any given information because I don't want to give the impression that vespers was practiced this way everywhere in our church up to a certain point. All we know is that Abul-Barakat describes vespers as such. For all we know, this may have been a very local practice in Al-Muallaqa church at his time, or even an ideal representation of what this priest thought should be done...the possibilities are endless, especially without a lot of other supportive evidence.
  • Based on prior discussions on the forum I have understood that agbeya prayers started to recently receive more emphasis than was the case previously. Can someone please explain to me how this came about?
    oujai khan ebshois
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