Today Copts all over Egypt celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. The joyful event comes after the melancholy of Holy Week during which prayers feature the fall of Adam and accordingly all humankind, and the need for the Divine Promise of Salvation and Redemption. The week climaxes on Good Friday with the commemoration of the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ. The full-day prayers end at sunset with the burial of Jesus; an icon depicting Christ being placed in the tomb is smothered in sweet smelling spices and rose petals then wrapped up in an altar napkin and placed on the altar till the midnight Mass on the Eve of Resurrection Day.
The midnight Mass of the Resurrection proceeds to the Bible readings on the Resurrection, and before the Gospel from St John is read, the congregation sings the praise: “O all heavenly host, sing praises to our Lord and rejoice with us today. The Lord has risen from the dead, fulfilled the prophecies, became the firstfruit of those who slept, and gave us eternal life.” The priest/s enter the sanctuary and the drapes are pulled shut. The lights of the church are put out. Inside the sanctuary the priest unwraps the burial icon and three times chants “Christ arose”; every time the head deacon responds “Truly He arose”. The head deacon then twice chants the verses from Psalm 24: “Lift up your heads o ye gates, even lift them up ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in”. The priest asks from inside the sanctuary: “Who is the King of Glory?” The reply by the head deacon: “The Lord strong and mighty; the Lord mighty in battle”. At this point all the lights are lit, the sanctuary drapes are pulled open, and the procession of deacons and priest/s carrying the icon of the Resurrection starts in the sanctuary to the joyous praise “Christ arose, truly He arose. With death He conquered death, and to those in the graves he granted everlasting life. Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit from this time forth and for evermore.” The procession goes three times around the altar then descends to the church nave for three rounds then back into the sanctuary for a final round. The praise “Holy is God, holy is the Almighty, holy is He who does not die, He who rose from the dead have mercy on us” is chanted in the joyful melody mode, and the liturgy is resumed leading up to communion.
The congregation then heads home to feast upon all the goodies they had given up during the eight-week fast which preceded Easter.
Happy Shamm al-Nessim
Easter Monday marks Shamm al-Nessim, the spring feast that goes back to ancient Egypt. Egyptians love to celebrate the day out of doors, in the gardens or on the Nile banks. They eat the traditional salted fish, onions, eggs, lettuce and chickpeas; and indulge in games, singing, and dancing.
When Christianity became the dominant religion in Egypt during the first centuries, Copts found that Shamm al-Nessim came during Lent, a period that lends itself very poorly to celebration. They thus moved the date of the spring feast to Easter Monday; the tradition persists to this day.
12 April 2015