Origins and development of the Coptic liturgy

I am a scholar of the Alexandrian fathers and early liturgy. For my present work I would be grateful to hear from anyone who knows about when the Alexandrian liturgy was translated into Coptic, and about its subsequent development. I am assuming that there was a Coptic translation in use by the third century, because of the number of Copts who converted to Christianity at that time. Thank you to anyone who can point me to relevant sources about this subject.


  • There's a curious observation made my Dr Hany Takla in a paper entitled "The Coptic Christian Heritage: History, Faith and Culture":

    "Liturgical texts that have survived are scarce and mostly in the form of prayers and bilingual Sahidic– Greek lectionaries. Apparently, Greek was the predominant language in the Church of Alexandria’s liturgy at least till the tenth century."

    From: "Coptic Literature: Copts writing in their own tongue" in "The Coptic Christian Heritage: History, Faith and Culture", edited by Lois M. Farag (New York: Routledge 2014)

    Maybe Dr Hany's paper has some references which could help in your research.
  • Thanks @cyril,
    This surprises me, and I will follow it up!
  • Eshpheri,

    There are a few things you are asking all at once and I think it is prudent to separate them.
    1. The development of the Alexandrian liturgy and the liturgical studies on the Alexandria rite are grossly neglected in liturgical studies. The scarce evidence we have focuses is empirical at best now. Therefore, you will find theories like Hany Takla's, but for the most part these theories are not very developed. This means what little is discussed on an Alexandrian rite is not developed because we just don't have much evidence yet. Ramez can talk about this better. 

    2. Secondly, you need to be specific about your definition of the "liturgy" and subsequent development. Liturgist agree there are some core elements that define a liturgy (for example, the epiclesis, the use of specific liturgical language and formulas, etc) but then there are very location specific elements (the pre sanctified liturgy, the types of offices like the Agpeya, the prevalence of monastic vs cathedral liturgy, and of course local language, architecture, icons, etc). 

    3. Language of the Coptic liturgy:
    It is no doubt that the evidence we have from the Shenoutean corpus suggests a very heavy use of Greek alongside Sahidic Coptic. Many remnants survived into the Bohairic offices we now have. Nonetheless, the liturgy in the format we have now clearly shows affinity to the 18th and 19th century. Before that we have very different formats. We know that Gabriel VII Ibn Turiak standardized the liturgy and we know some development happened from the 12th-15th century. But the descriptions of liturgical rights in Ibn Kabar, Ibn Sabaa, and other medieval Arabic sources describe similar core liturgical elements and many different specific elements. No one has really done a critical analysis of the development of the entire Coptic liturgy. I will look for specific references if I can. Ramez is our specialists in liturgical studies.

    I will pm you to discuss how we can corroborate on certain projects on the development of the Coptic liturgy.
  • Dear Eshpheri,

    Feel free to shoot me an email ([email protected]) and I will try to share with you as much as I am able. Looking forward to our conversation.
  • Dear Remnkemi,

    Thank you very much for your observations. I have realised that liturgical studies on the Alexandrian rite are grossly neglected! For my period it is particularly difficult, because about the only source that seems to remain is Strasbourg Papyrus Graecus 254. So I wasn't really hopeful of getting more information about the early liturgical development. But I am grateful for your willingness to help, and I have emailed Ramez. 
  • @cyril
    Thank you Cyril. I have been in touch with Dr Hany, and it seems that what he was referring to was the prevalence of Greek over Arabic, not the prevalence of Greek over Coptic.
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