Tuesday 11 September 2018 coincides with 1 Tut 6260, the first day of the Egyptian New Year, and 1 Tut 1735, the first day of the Coptic New Year.
The Egyptian Year has been calculated by Egyptologists according to ancient papyri and manuscripts, whereas the Coptic Year is the same Egyptian one but belongs to a calendar that is dated back to the first year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, AD284. Diocletian was notorious for his persecution of Christians. Egypt, having embraced Christianity at the hands of St Mark the Evangelical in the first AD century, had its more than fair share of martyrs who would die rather than abandon their Christian faith. So many martyrs fell that Copts decided to start their calendar with the year Diocletian ascended the throne of the Roman Empire.
The Egyptian calendar is solar-based; the first day of the year begins with the appearance of the star Sirius on the horizon at sunrise. The year is divided into three seasons of four months each, based on the annual Nile flood and consequent agricultural activity: the inundation, cultivation, and harvest seasons. Each of the 12 months is 30 days long, and a ‘short’ month of five days in a simple year and six days in a leap year finishes off the year. The months are named after the ancient Egyptian gods. It continued to be in use till the mid-19th century when Khedive Ismail, Egypt’s ruler, abandoned it in favour of the internationally used Gregorian calendar. Egypt’s farmers and peasants, however, continue to use it to this day since it is closely related to their main activity of agriculture. And the Coptic Church uses it as the base of all its liturgical services.
Coptic Church Mass includes prayers and supplications specific to every season of the Egyptian year. During the inundation season the Church prays: “Bless the waters of the River this year; let them rise as is appropriate; let the face of the earth rejoice; take care of us humans, and save our cattle”. For the cultivation season, the prayers go: “Bless the plants, grass, and crops this year; let them grow to fruit bountifully; have mercy on the creation of Your hands and forgive us our sins”. And during the harvest, which coincides with the windy season of sandstorms in Egypt, the Church prays: “Bless the winds of the sky and the crops of the field … give tranquillity to the world and a good mood to the wind.”
To celebrate the New Year, the refrain sung to each verse of Psalm 150 which is chanted during communion in Holy Mass says: “Bless the crown of the year with Your goodness, oh Lord.”
The Coptic New Year Day, the first day of the calendar of the martyrs, is celebrated as the Feast of the Martyrs. It is a Coptic tradition to eat red dates which are then in season; the red symbolises the spilt blood of the martyrs, the white heart of the date represents their pure hearts, and the hard stone reminds of their solid faith.
11 September 2018