Praises Explained

H.G. Abba Hedra, Bishop of Aswan

Saint Basil the Great said that the work of praising attracts the service of the angels because this is part of their job and they come closer to those who do the same as they.

Little of the Coptic congregation hears about psalmody (Arabic: tasbeha) and far less know it and memorize it. The truth is, however, that many of the youth in these days have started to work hard to learn it and do it well. And we see this rise in our beloved church and we hear about it in many cities and in the monasteries and outside of the borders of Egypt.

The psalmody is a deep spiritual monument based in the order of the Holy Liturgy. It was placed through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is clear from the words of the psalmody, which are taken from the Holy Bible, the Book of Psalms, and from the accurate and deep theological understandings. These understandings can be found in either the theotokiat or the Psalis (which make up the psalmody), or from its tunes which move the emotions and stays in the sky of the spirit. Thus, bringing a person closer and closer to God and helping him easily towards the life of meditation in His characteristics and works. And in order for us to enjoy more the prayer of praise, we must explain it and know its order.

Psalmody starts with the prayer of the psalms of the midnight hours which are found in the Agpeya (the book of prayers). Then follows the tune of "Ten Theno�" (sung in a long tune) then it is completed normally. "Ten Theno�" is composed of the parts said in the midnight prayers and those which are said after Psalm 50 (Have mercy upon me O God). "Ten Theno�" mean "Let us rise o suns of light that we may praise the Lord of powers."

After this, "Tennav" is sung, which means "Let us look at the resurrection of Christ." And it is said from the feast of the Resurrection and during the 50 days after it, then after that only on Sundays until the end of the month of Hatour.

Then the beginning of psalmody comes with the first "hos" (canticle). The word hos means praise. The first hos consists of the praises of Moses and we can find it in the book of Exodus chapter 15. "And it was said when he and Israel crossed the Red Sea, they were saved from the hands of the Egyptians." This was the cause of joy and praising to all the congregation. It also symbolizes every person who has come out of the strict slavery of the devil and from the bondage of this hard world. He (anyone doing the psalmody) thus praises with Moses saying, "Your right hand O Lord is glorified with power, Your right hand my Lord has defeated Your enemies."

Following the first hos, the "Lobsh" is sung. The Lobsh is an explanation or a praise about the previous hos, and it is a poetic piece to be sung in a long hymn and a beautiful melody. Then follows the second hos which consists of Psalm 135. In the second hos we thank God for He is good and beneficient and the Doer of great wonders, we meditate on all His creation, we thank Him for His creation, and we say "for His mercy endures forever." This phrase is repeated after every verse of the Psalm. Following the second hos is another lobsh with its beautiful, easy tune and whose beginning verse is, "Let us thank Christ our Lord with the psalmist David the prophet."

The third hos is the praise of the three saintly youths [Prayer of Azariah], which we find in the "Apocrypha" which are mistakenly called the "lost books." And in it the three youths ask all the creation to join with them in the praise of God and the blessing of His Mightiness. For example it is sung, "Praise the Lord you rain with the dew," "Praise the Lord you clouds and wind," "Praise the Lord you whales." So how does the creation that is without thought, praise Him, while the creation that has a mind, that was created to praise God, stands silent? "Let us praise Him and exalt Him above all forever," ("Hos erof ari ho oo shasf sha ni eneh.") This is the phrase sung after every verse.

Following the third hos comes the "Vatos Psali" for the three saintly youths. All its words are in the Coptic & Greek languages. This psali (hymn) has a charming tune. It does not differ in its meaning from the meaning of the hos itself. Following is another Greek piece for the three saintly youths, "Tenen", which is sung only during the month of Kiahk. And then follows another praise for the three saintly youths, sung in a long and meditative tune, "Tenoweh ensok khen pen heet tirf," meaning, "We follow You with all our hearts."

Proceeding these hymns is the commemoration of the saints. When we have become involved in praising God and glorifying Him, we have the participation of the victorious church with us. It is the souls of the saints who have preceded us to the paradise of joy, that come to support us and to accompany us in our continuous struggle against the world, sin, and the weaknesses of the body. So we ask from their love and their aid to remember us before the Throne of blessing with a stronger intercession. So we say, "Intercede (or pray) on our behalf that the Lord may forgive us our sins." This last phrase makes us feel how sinful we are that we may learn the life of humility. It is also a deep theological order in our Coptic Orthodox Church, which teaches us the intercession and prayers of the saints. We also notice the difference between an intercession and a prayer request. The intercession is specified for Saint Mary, the heavenly hosts, John the Baptist, and the 144,000 evangelical martyrs. This is due to the high level at which they are and because they have special favor before God. The prayer request is specified for the rest of the martyrs and the saints. This part of the psalmody is called the commemoration of the saints (in Arabic: "magmaa").

After the commemoration of the saints, come the Doxologies (from the Greek word doxa, meaning glory). The Doxologies are the hymns in which we honor the Virgin Mary and all the saints. We remember also their virtues and their struggles in their spiritual lives and this is also in conjunction with the teachings of the church and the Holy Bible where the Lord said, "Honor those who honor Me." We also gain the blessing and help of these saints when we remember them in our praises. Usually we sing the Doxology of the Virgin Mary and after that we pick the various Doxologies according to the various feasts of the saints and of the saint of the church or the monastery or whichever we wish from other Doxologies.

After we have gained blessing from the victorious church and the heavenly hosts we return once again to praising God that is sweet and blessed in the mouths of this saints. This is in the fourth hos, which is composed of three psalms. Their numbers according to the Coptic translation are 148, 149, and 150. And these psalms express the state of joy, victory, and rejoicing from all the heart and from all the soul.

All that has been mentioned here is set and is sung every day in the psalmody without change. Starting from "Ten Theno" (Rise up o sons of light) until the end of the fourth hos. These are sung the same set way in every prayer of the midnight praise.

Then we come to the Psali, which changes every day. There are seven Psalis, and each day of the week has one psali specifically for that day. The word Psali means hymn and, in the Psalmody, is organized around the name of the Lord Jesus, which is always repeated in almost every paragraph (verse). Sunday has two Psalis. The first psali is a hymn for the Virgin Mary and the second is about the name of the Lord Jesus. Thus we say at the end of the first stanza, "My Lord Jesus help me" and in the second paragraph, "My Lord Jesus Christ help me." And these two phrases are repeated until the end of the Psali.

For the Psali there is an ending, which is a beginning for the Theotokia in itself. In the days of the "Adam", "Lipon anshan tho ooti" is sung, which means, "And also if we meet for prayer let us praise the name of the Lord Jesus." And in the days of "Vatos", the ending of the Psali or the beginning of the theotokia is "Eshop an shan erepsalin" and it means when we sing hymns let us say with� "O Lord Jesus Christ create mercy with our souls" (have mercy on our souls). Adam refers to the days Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Vatos refers to the days Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Then comes the theotokia which is a Greek word meaning, " The mother of God" for the word "Theo" means God and "tokos" means mother. And in these "theotokiat" are all the symbols and allusions which are in the Old Testament about the Holy Virgin Mary. And in them also are the deep theological understandings about the truth (essence) of the Godly incarnation which is beyond comprehension and the human mind and about the nature of the holy birth of our Good Savior our Lord Jesus Christ of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary.

For each day of the week, there is a specific theotokia. Also the way or tune of singing the theokiat in the days of Adam is different from the tune of the Vatos days. So is the case with the Psalis as well. The theotokiat ends with the lobsh which means praise, as we said earlier, with a different way than that of the theotokiat with the exception of Sunday which does not have a "lobsh" but there is a replacing piece instead. And this piece is "Nem ghar nen nooti" which means, " Who in the gods is like You O Lord�" This piece is sung in the fifty days after Easter, then only on Sundays until the last Sunday in the month of Hatour. And before we say the end of the theotokiat, "Nek nai o panooti" which means, "Your mercies O my God are countless" is sung in the days of Adam or "O pen chois Isos Pichristos," which means "Our Lord Jesus Christ" which is sung in the days of Vatos. Before this ending, the "Antiphonarium" of the day is read and in it is the shortened story of the saint of the day in which the psalmody is done and it has a Coptic beginning that is specified to it, then the saint story is read.

And after the ending of the "theotokia" we say, " We magnify you o mother of the true Light�" until the end and the creed also in full. After that we ask for God�s mercies and we say, "Kirie eleyson" meaning "Lord have mercy" along with the different requests for our bodily, psychological, and spiritual lives and with the proclamation of our faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ the Rock of the ages. At its end we pray, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth�" until "Our Father who art in heaven." Finally the morning psalms are recited with their praise as an introduction to the morning raising of incense.

With the ending of this psalmody O blessed loved ones we would have obtained great blessing and strength for our spiritual lives and joy and consolation and gladness that only those who have experienced it can know its meaning. We call all in the love of the Lord Jesus that they may have the life of praise which the fathers have instituted by the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our Coptic Orthodox Church whose love runs in our veins and with every beat of our hearts.
To our Lord is all glory and honor now and forever. Amen.