5 September 2010
Next Saturday, the Coptic Church celebrates the beginning of the 1727th year on the calendar of the martyrs. The calendar is an extension of the ancient Egyptian one which was intricately connected to the annual Nile flood and the agricultural cycle. The year was divided into 12 months of 30 days each, plus a “small month” of five days in a simple year and six days in a leap year. There were three seasons: the inundation, the cultivation, and the harvest season. To this day the Coptic Mass includes prayers for the good Lord to bless the Nile waters, the ‘ploughing and cultivation’, and the air and weather, said in their respective seasons.
The calendar of the martyrs began in 284, the year the Roman emperor Diocletian sat on the throne. Diocletian was famous for his harsh persecution of the Christians; in Egypt thousands were martyred for their Christian faith, prompting the Egyptians to use the date as the beginning of their calendar.
Copts celebrate in their churches where they chant: “Lord, crown this year with your good blessings”. They eat red dates, which are in season; the red symbolising the martyrs’ blood, the white inside the martyrs’ pure hearts, and the stone their solid faith.