St. Shenouda Coptic Newsletter

Volume 1, No. 2 January 1995

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A Difnar Hymn on the Nativity

Introduction: The Difnar is a collection of commemorative poetic hymns in Bohairic Coptic, arranged according to the Coptic Year. Each commemoration usually has two hymns. They are labeled Adam and Batos. These labels refer to the time of the week when each is to be used. This book is mainly based on the Coptic Synaxarium which is an Arabic work, compiled sometime during the period 1175-1250 AD. This would place the Difnar compilation to sometime between the last quarter of the 13th century and the last quarter of the 14th. The text given below is that of excerpts from an Adam hymn on Nativity (Kiahk 29). It has the added feature of being acrostic or arranged according to the Coptic Alphabet. Each verse has a repetitive refrain which is written in full after the first verse and abbreviated after the succeeding verses. The manuscript, containing the text, was discovered and published in part by H.G. Evelyn White among the fragments he found in the Monastery of St. Macarius in Wadi 'N Natrun. This publication is available in the Coptic Library of the Center, "The Monasteries of the Wadi 'N Natrun, Part I - New Coptic Texts from the Monasteries of Saint Macarius" New York 1934, Reprint. 1973, pp. 7-8. The text is given here with folio numbers or identification of missing text supplied by the editor. Also the translation is modified from that given by the editor.


+ The same again "Adam"

+ Come all today: O peoples of the earth: behold this mystery: that unto us God is born: from the Virgin: without human seed, in order that He save us. Let us praise Him: with the Angels, in this holy, heavenly hymn: "Glory be to God in the highest: and peace on earth: and goodwill among men": for He came and saved us.

+ Bethlehem of Judea: rejoice joyfully: for it has sprung forth in it: namely the Sun of the Righteousness: who is Jesus Christ: the Word who took flesh: Mary gave birth to Him: while being a virgin. Let us praise Him: with the Angels: ...

+ Every Scripture which is written: The ones whom they foretold them: namely the prophets: concerning the coming of Christ: They are completed today: in Bethlehem: the city of the king David: He was born unto us in it. Let us praise Him: with the Angels: ...

+ David the prophet: exult with us: "The beauty of His fullness: the one from Zion: He shall come namely God: declaringly: The Lord of the powers: in a sound of trumpet. Let us praise Him: with the Angels: ...

+ When it came namely a decree from the king: that the whole universe: be called in to be enrolled: and every one: go to Bethlehem: in order to write his name: and the name of his father. Let us praise Him: with the Angels: ...

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St. Shenouda's Writings (2)

Introduction: The following text is a continuation of the translation from an Arabic sermon of St. Shenouda that began in the vol.1 no.1 issue of the newsletter. It is a sermon read during Lent in the Coptic Church. The original Arabic comes from the Paris Ms.P.Arabe 4761, preserved on microfilm in the Center Library under No. CML 1592.

Text: ..But they (his family and relatives) also rejected him saying, "We cannot go with you as we are waiting for our messenger who is going to ask us to go with him as he did with you." So the man started blaming his mother saying, (15v) "How is it that you, my beloved mother, carried me inside of you for nine months and raised me for months and years, and now you are going to leave me alone with this messenger who accepts no bribes. And how is it that you, my beloved wife, with whom we became together one body and one soul, and you my beloved children who are the closest to my heart, would abandon me and let me go alone and make the grave my home. You, my relatives and beloved ones. How can you not be of any help when I go to stand in front of the king who called me." So as the man lost his hope in his two friends, he came to the third one with whom he had very brief relationship, and the man said to him, (16r) "My friend, I have no right to ask you anything as I have done so little to our friendship and I was always indifferent about loving you. But there is a fearful and frightening messenger that came and wants to take me to the king, and I am greatly troubled and in a big fear to stand before the king." And this third friend who represents the good deeds which the man did during his lifetime answered saying, "Do not tremble or be fearful, I will go alongside you to the king and defend you, and all what comes upon you from hardship I will bear instead."

So, when he heard this, the man became in great sorrow and dejection, and blamed himself deeply for his shortcomings and indifference over the years in knowing this good friend and strengthening his relationship with him. And then the man asked this friend saying, "Can you let this frightening messenger (16v) go and leave me here so that I can do the best I can for you and spend my time, thoughts, and efforts to become your companion and stop caring about my other friends who are of no good, love, mercy, or help to me. Because I was in great fear, but now I am in peace and tranquillity due to your presence." And this merciful friend answered him saying, "That can never be, anyone who gets called, this messenger will not have pity, mercy, or sorrow for him, not even for a minute. So your request is out of the question, go and I will be with you."

So now my brethren who are gathered in this holy church, have you heard that nothing will do anyone good, not his money, his children, nor his family, but only your good deeds in front of God.

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Some Preliminary Thoughts Upon the Historical Reconstruction of the Person of St. Shenouda

Whether a Copt, a philologist, or an ecclesiastical historian, one will undoubtedly come across the larger than life figure of the 'Archimandrite of the whole world'; St. Shenouda of Atripe. He has long been hailed as the most prolific Coptic writer ever. However, there remains a lukewarmish tenor to his personality which makes him impalatable for many scholars; that being his alleged violent personality (throughout this article I will be using the word "violent" loosely). One cannot help but feel a sense of disappointment upon hearing that the 'great ascetic' was a man prone to such temperament; surely nothing can be farther from the Christian ethos than such inclinations! This image of St. Shenouda as a tyrant troubles me. Being a Copt, I already have certain preconceived notions about the saint. However, my dissatisfaction with this conclusion is not due to this fact, but stems from my belief that this scholarly conclusion is too simplistic. Usually this is but a voice pleading for someone to search deeper for the underlying truth.

The charges of violent behavior, force us to make a closer examination of the personality of St. Shenouda. When we try to comprehend him, we are faced with a strange dichotomy which outlines two polar personalities; one of a tyrant who is capable of violence at the drop of a hat, and the other of a charismatic monastic shepherd. We are then left with the dilemma of trying to make sense of him given these two extremes. How can we reconcile these two views? First, I believe, we must discern the problem which, thus far, appears to be the result of an ahistorical examination of the person of St. Shenouda.

The 'great ascetic' was many things to many people; to the monks he was their apa, to the historians a Coptic monk, and to the Copts, their beloved saint. While all these aspects do play a role in the formulation of our understanding of St. Shenouda, it is important to realize that he was 'first and foremost' an Orthodox Christian. Thus while debating whether he was a saint or a tyrant, it is important to keep in mind that the criterion we should be using in drawing any sort of conclusion is that of the ideal which he was attempting to emulate; i.e. Christ/Christianity. Whether or not he lived up to this ideal determines, in effect, his saintliness or lack thereof.

The negative charges against him stem from the notion that some of his actions were violent and that violence is evil. Still, we must now ask the obvious question; is violence, in and of itself, evil? . . . Was David wrong in killing Goliath? Was Christ wrong in using a whip to clear-out the temple? Surely a list of similar questions can be extended over several pages. However, the fact remains that such acts were, and are not condemned. As a matter of fact "we not only acquit them [the persons committing these acts] of blame, we revere them for these very things, since God praised them on their account." (Chrysostom, On the Priesthood 1.8) We are now left with the question; "how can we determine an act to be good or evil?"

We must realize that Christianity is indeed the religion of love and peace, however, it does allow for acts of violence as long as they do not stem from vices and they bare fruits of virtue. The great Chrysostom himself had similar notions which he expressed in his On the Priesthood. When commenting on deceit, the Patriarch of Constantinople stated that it was not bad or evil as long as it was not "applied with a treacherous intention" and resulted in the correction of "the faults of the spirit." (On the Priesthood 1.8) The point which the golden-mouthed is making concerning deceit, and I concerning the actions of St. Shenouda, is simply that no action is good or bad in and of itself but is labeled so by the use of a complex mechanism in which the intentions of the doer are measured against the intentions and the will of God. Thus, in attempting to evaluate the life and person of St. Shenouda we must not only consider his actions but his motives as well. Consequently our major task is to discern the root of his actions; do they stem from malice, or from love? Were they those of a tyrant or of a shepherd attending to his flock by the available means?

It is still early in my investigation, however keeping in mind what I have stated concerning the tolerance of non-malicious "violence" in the Christian framework, at this early stage it appears that for the Archimandrite corporal punishment was but a means to an end. A means which did not necessarily carry the negative connotations we associate with it today. I am especially swayed by such statements from his writings as the following:

But I (Shenouda) say to you that like the Lord God had done cruel deeds in the ancient times, from the man who had become disobedient in the Paradise and from the angels who had renounced their rank and from the water of the Flood, even to the fire that had come from the heaven upon the people of Sodom and Gomorra and from the Pharaoh and his army whom the sea had covered, even to those whom the earth had swallowed and all the others because of whom God had done cruel deeds even to the last times when the Lord of Glory, Jesus, thus also God-fearing people do cruel deeds in strifes and quarrels, and skirmishes, and reproofs, and curses, and blows, and garment-rending, and weeping, and also many words from God in the teaching of the Scriptures, wishing that others would repent . . . [Ms. I.1.b 710 trans. by Alla Elanskaya The Literary Coptic Manuscripts in the A.S. Puskin State Fine Arts Museum in Moscow, 299-300 .]

These have been but preliminary thoughts upon a subject which I, and hopefully others, will research in the future. It is a project whose final goal is to establish a truly historical account of the personality of the Saint. An account in which we do not judge his actions by our sense of morality but by that of his religion, time, and social setting.

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The Horologion (Agbeya) of the Coptic Orthodox Church

The Horologion, commonly known as the Agbeya, is the book that contains the seven canonical hours of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The term Agbeya comes from the Coptic word 'ajp' which means hour. Beginning in the 4th century, the Agbeya was recited by monks only; it was not until much later that it was adopted into the Church, and eventually utilized on a personal basis.

The Seven Canonical Hours

This office was prayed between the twelfth and midnight hour. It was originally not prescribed, but actually recited by some of the monks in the Monasteries of Wadi 'n Natrun. The term veil, meaning covering, was used to symbolize the night which covers the earth. (Burmester, O.H.E., "The Canonical Hours of the Coptic Church", 98)

The Structure of the Agbeya

In the final form of the Agbeya, each hour consists of the following:

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A Visit from a Christian Scholar

On Friday November 4, 1994, Dr. Scott Carroll, upon an invitation from the Society, conducted a presentation at St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church. The presentation was commenced by an introduction of Dr. Carroll by Mr. Hany Takla of St. Shenouda Coptic Society.

He introduced his work by telling the audience that the inspiration for his work is our Lord Jesus Christ. Then, Dr. Carroll discussed the Scriptorium's unique collection of early Christian artifacts. Among those were the following:

He then showed slides for the site of his upcoming excavation of St. John the Short Monastery, which was abandoned in the 15th century. It is located in Wadi 'n Natroun next to St. Bishoy Monastery. There were approximately 200 structures buried under the sand, one of which was a large church. The location of the structures was identified because of the sand dunes formation and the broken pottery vessels scattered in the sand. Next to the Monastery grounds is a cemetery where it is believed that a large number of monks are buried.

The biggest problems that Dr. Carroll faces are from the farmers on the outskirts of the property. The farmers have encroached onto the property and cultivated on top of the structures and some even ride their tractors on top of the dunes which may destroy the underlying domes.

He plans to start work in the winter of 1995, and hopefully continue for several seasons. Dr. Carroll also hopes to build a museum for the Coptic artifacts found there

All in all, the presentation was very educational and inspiring to the Coptic community in Southern California, especially the large number of youth that attended.

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1. Coptic Microfilm Library (CML)

Our acquisition of microfilms of Coptic manuscripts has continued during the first quarter of our fiscal year. We are awaiting the arrival of microfilms of 21 Coptic and Arabic manuscripts from Oxford as well as 17 Coptic and mostly Arabic manuscripts from the Mingana Collection through IDC of Leiden. Also we have 8 Coptic codices on order from The Cambridge University Library. This group includes several fragments from St. Shenouda Monastery collection. More acquisitions from the Vatican, Paris, London, Manchester(?), as well as Oxford are being planned for later in the year.

2. Coptic Library

Several volumes of Coptic and Arabic texts and studies are on order from Louvain. Later this year, we will make available at the Center our extensive collection of Articles and Offprints dealing with the various branches of Coptic Studies.

3. Slides/Photo Collection

This year we came in contact with Mr. Paul Kuiper of Hood River Oregon. He studied photography under the famous Ansel Adams. He informed us that he had a collection of color slides that he took of Coptic sites and events in 1971. We are in the process of purchasing a copy of the slides as well as an electronically-stored copy on computer CDs. Please contact us as soon as you can if you are interested in having a copy. This will cut down the production costs of course. The collection of slides for the sites is roughly 500 slides, including 100 slides on the 6th century monastery of St. Simeon in Aswan. We are also working with him on producing some of these images on Greeting cards. Samples of these are already available at the Center.

4. Computerization in the Center

Computer work is an essential part of our activities. Currently, the Coptic Bible is being actively worked on. Several volumes in that series, of the New Testament, are in the late text preparation stages. They include parallel columns of Bohairic, Sahidic, Greek, and King James versions. We were hoping that by this time a computer network would be installed at the Center, however it was not to be yet. However, we upgraded the main PC by adding a CD drive and more RAM memory.

5. The Sixth International Congress of Coptic Studies

The International Association of Coptic Studies (IACS), in their latest newsletter, set the date for the upcoming Coptic Congress. It will be held in Munster, Germany, during the period of July 20 through the 26th. The early announcement was a call for Papers to be presented by the IACS members. The Congress deals with all branches of Coptic Studies. Several members of the Society are planning to present papers during the Congress. The papers will cover subjects like History, Liturgy and Hagiography. We hope that many more of our youths will give this some serious consideration. The Society is ready to assist anyone with subject selection as well as research material to facilitate their active participation in the Congress. More details will be provided in the future.

6. St. Shenouda Coptic Symposium

In September '94, we made an informal proposal to Prof. Samir Khalil to come to the US in late August or early September of 1995 to participate in a conference of Coptic Studies that we are planning in preparation for the Coptic Congress. His answer was favorable. So barring any unforeseen delays we will, God's willing, go ahead with organizing it. It will be located in Los Angeles and will cover all branches of Coptic Studies, including Christian Arabic literature of the Copts.

7. Coptic Classes at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)

UCLA is currently offering an 8-unit course in Coptic (Sahidic). We were informed by the Instructor, Prof. Antonio Loprieno that all interested Copts are welcome. This is a great opportunity to get a taste of scholastic Coptic. The course will run from Jan. 95 through March 95. Moreover, he is ready to work with any Copt that decides that he/she wants to pursue Coptic Studies as a major or a minor by tailoring an appropriate curriculum. This would apply for Graduate as well as Undergraduate students. There are several Copts enrolled at UCLA that registered for the class, as well as other students in the Center that will be auditing it. Also, at least one perspective graduate student in History will hopefully be able to take up Prof. Loprieno's offer in the next school year.

8. Coptic Scholarship Fund

With the growing interest in pursuing Coptic Studies academically, the Society is looking into establishing a scholarship fund to help in part as well as encourage such aspiration by our youth. The matter is being studied now to establish rules and guidelines for establishing such scholarships. Our limitation of course will be a financial one!

9. Cataloging of Coptic Manuscripts at the Oxford Bodleian Library

In October '94, the Society submitted an application to the Oxford Bodleian Library for permission to catalog the Coptic manuscripts in their possessions. Such manuscripts are truly in need of a comprehensive catalog to facilitate their use by scholars and all who are interested in Coptic Studies. The request was made in the name of Hany N. Takla, the Society's president. Currently, the Library is reviewing our proposal which included the president's CV and samples of his publications in the field of Coptic Studies. The reply may take a few months, but we are hopeful of a favorable one.

10. Publications

In your hands right now is the second issue of the St. Shenouda Coptic Newsletter. We have committed ourselves to its quarterly appearance in October, January, April, and July. We are also working on resurrecting the Annual Bulletin, which came out ten years ago with a special issue on the Martyrs and Martyrdom of the Coptic Church. With the level of activities at the Center it became essential to publish the Bulletin again. We invite all those interested in Coptic Studies to contribute their work to us by July 1995, to allow for publication by October. A style guide for authors will be furnished upon request from the Society.

The Coptic Bohairic Dictionary is finally in the late stage of preparation. All the Bohairic entries were recorded, subentries were cross- referenced, and the entries referenced to Crum's Dictionary . We still need to do some work on the Greek-Loan words, which no single published work has treated adequately so far. An abridged edition of it was prepared electronically by Dr. Maged S. Mikhail of Encino, CA. We hope this will be made available soon. Also during the span of this fiscal year (ending September) we are planning to publish a Grammar Book of Bohairic Coptic, based on the classes taught at the Center. All of course are dependent on God's will and man's willing effort. The first is always there but the second is not as readily available.

11. Classes

The Society is conducting its usual Introductory Bohairic class, which has approximately seven participants. This in addition to the Coptic Translation class and the Manuscripts Workshop. The times for these classes are Sat. 6-7:30 p.m. for the Introductory Bohairic, Sun. 6-7:30 p.m. for the Translation, and Fri. 7:30-9 p.m. for the Workshop. All the classes are offered at the Center. Also, two of the Center's staff members have taught similar introductory classes in their local churches.

The Society also offered a 2-hour special seminar on the subject of how to use the manuscripts in research. This was held on November 13, 1994 from 4-6 p.m. As a result of this, 6 different projects, dealing with manuscripts, were inaugurated. Hopefully you will see some of the fruits of these projects in the upcoming issues.

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You are Visitor number to Newsletter V.1-2 page since March 18, 1996

Prepared by Hany N. Takla. Last Update 3/18/96

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