“May the Lord bless your work so that it would serve a large number of His people.” These words were written by Pope Shenouda III, who passed away last 17 March after more than
40 years of papacy, during preparation for the first Euchologion—one of the chief liturgical books of the Orthodox Church—in the sign language for deaf and mute people.
Taking three years to see light, the book has become an important reference for deaf and mute people and the volunteer workers who serve them in Orthodox churches. With the purpose of helping deaf and mute people follow Holy Mass, the new Euchologion was prepared and printed by Father Shenouda Yaacoub who, along with his wife Cecil Samuel, is responsible for serving the deaf-mute at St Mark’s Cathedral.
The current patriarch, Pope Tawadros II who was seated last November, also reviewed the book which was published under the title The Holy Euchologion, translated into sign language for deaf and mute, and encouraged those who take it upon themselves to prepare such special books, urging them to circulate it all over the Egyptian parishes.
Unable to read
Watani asked Fr Shenouda about this pioneering experiment. “We were dealing closely with deaf people and found they were unable to follow Holy Mass, and unfortunately many of them were also unable to read and therefore could not follow the Euchologion in Arabic. The alternative was to translate all the prayers of Holy Mass and the Agpiya, (a Coptic word meaning “Book of Hours” which cites the prayers of Matin, the hours, Vespers and Midnight) into sign language and print it in a special book for deaf people so they could follow the prayers just as others do.
“The new 320-page Euchologion was signed by the late Pope Shenouda in January 2009 before it went to print,” Fr Shenouda says. “That is why, when it was printed, the dedication was to His Holiness Pope Shenouda III.”
Fr Shenouda says that they are now endeavouring to print other liturgical books in sign language.He told Watani they were working on unifying sign language to include Arabic, Church and colloquial Egyptian Arabic in one unified sing language. “
First deaf graduate
Tamer Bahaa’ Eddin Ibrahim, the first deaf man to attend university in Egypt, says that some may wonder why books are being transliterated into sign language for deaf people when they are supposed to be able to read and write. “But in spite of there being schools for education of the deaf in Egypt, unfortunately there has been a decline in the level of education,” he says. He adds that universities often turn away deaf people.
“Seventy-five per cent of deaf people can’t read or write well, even after graduating from deaf schools.
“When I reached school age my parents insisted on teaching me to read and write after witnessing the severe ignorance of those who graduated form the schools for the deaf-mutes, and not only that, but the harshness with which the deaf-mutes were treated in schools,” Ibrahim told Watani. “My father used to use magazines and newspapers to tempt me to read, and would use my elder brother’s school books. By persistence I learned Math and drawing, but could not master the Arabic language: for me it was just letters I didn’t fully understand. So my father had no choice but to enroll me in the deaf-mute school to complete an education that had started with self-effort.”
9 January 2013