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The rite of the Feasts of the Cross (17 Thoout and 10 Paremhotep).
In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:8). St. John Chrysostom comments on this, saying that St. Paul ìdesires for us to celebrate the Cross because “Christ is the Passover and has been sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). The Cross is the altar on which the Son was sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins. This is the sacrifice whose aroma the Father has accepted on behalf of humanity. The sins of humanity have indeed been forgiven through the sacrifice of the Cross.
Through the Cross, Christ descended into Hades to save those who departed in the hope and faith of a resurrection to come. St. Basil the Great mentions this in his liturgy (according to Coptic Tradition) when he writes, “He descended into Hades through the Cross.” By the Cross, the gates of Paradise were opened, as spoken by the Lord: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). The Cross is the power of Christians. It may appear to be a sign of weakness, but on the contrary, it is truly a mighty power; a power able to defeat Satan and abolish sin with glory. St. John Chrysostom writes: “The thief did not believe when witnessing the raising of the dead by Christ, nor the calming of the waves or the casting of demons. Rather, he believed while seeing Him nailed on the Cross, as He accepted upon Himself insults, spitting, mockery and suffering.
Because of this inherent power of the cross, the Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates two feasts dedicated to the Cross. The first is on 17 Thoout and the second on 10 Paramhotep.
On 17 Thoout, the Church commemorates the discovery of the Holy Cross, the cross on which Christ was crucified, by Queen Helen – the mother of Emperor Constantine. It was on this day that she ordered the Cross to be dug from under the rubble of Golgotha in the year 326 A.D.
The celebration on 10 Paramhotep commemorates the appearance of the Holy Cross during the reign Emperor Hercules (Heracle). Upon defeating the Persians and forcing them out of Egypt, a prince stole the Holy Cross from its Church as his army returned to Persia. The prince hid the Cross in a box, dug a deep hole, and kept the Cross in it. When Hercules heard the news, he gathered his army and headed to Persia, defeating them once again. He was successful in finding the Cross, and returned it to Constantinople in the year 629 A.D.
It is important to note that the feast on 17 Thoout is three days long, while the second feast of 10 Paramhotep is celebrated on that day only. Furthermore, if any of these feasts were to come on a Sunday, the readings for the feast are read instead of those assigned for that day, as the Feast of the Cross is treated as one of the major feasts of the Lord.
As for the rite of the Feasts of the Cross, the prayers are all chanted in the Palm Sunday (Sha’aniny) and the joyful tunes. “Avashk” is used when applicable, including Sunday Liturgies. During the Vespers and Prime Raising of Incense, the Verses of the Cymbals are chanted in the joyful tune, and the verses specifically for the Feast of the Cross are chanted immediately after the Adam or Watos Introductions. The Doxologies are chanted in the Palm Sunday tune, beginning with the Doxology of the Cross. After the priest prays V] nai nan , the congregation chants Kuri`e `eleycon three times in the major tune, while proceeding around the altar and the church’s nave three times. Next, the Hymn of the Cross Etauen ni`cqai is chanted, followed by the Exposition of the Cross, which is then interpreted in the common tongue. The Response of the Exposition, `Ebolhiten pef`ctauroc is then chanted. In the Vespers Raising of Incense, after the Litany of the Gospel is prayed, the Psalm is chanted in the joyful tune. The Gospel is read, and then the Gospel Response, `Ftai`yout gar , is chanted. As for the Prime Offering of Incense, the priest prays the First Gospel Litany, then the procession of the Cross begins, during which twelve readings from the Gospels are read, and a Gospel Response is chanted after each reading. After the procession, the Prime Gospel Litany is prayed, the Psalm is chanted in the joyful tune, the Gospel is read, and the Gospel Response is chanted. The prayer ends with chanting the Concluding Canon of the Passion (Pascha) Week or the concluding canon specific to the Vespers and Prime offering of incense.
The Divine Liturgy begins with the Canonical Hours of the Third and Sixth Hours. Then, ==A=l @ vai pe pi is chanted. Following the Servant’s Absolution, Tysouri is chanted, and then hymn Vai etafenf is chanted. The Hiten is then chanted with the addition of the verse for King Constantine and Queen Helen, which is to be said before the verse for the saints of the day. The Praxis Response for the Feast of the Cross is chanted. Upon completion of the reading of the Synexarium, the hymn Etauen ni`cqai is chanted, and is followed by the Mehayar of the Feasts of the Cross. Afterwards, the Trisagion is chanted, then the Litany of the Gospel is prayed, followed by the Psalm in the Singary tune.The Psalm response is then chanted in the long tune. After the reading of the Gospel, the Gospel Response for the Feasts of the Cross is chanted. In the Divine Liturgy, the Adam Espasmos and Watos Espasmos for the feasts are chanted, and the Fraction prayer specifically for the Cross is prayed. During communion, Psalm 150 is chanted in the Palm Sunday tune, with no response. The prayer ends with the Concluding Canon of the Passion (Pascha) Week.
May the blessings of the Holy Cross be with us all. Amen.
Mikhail, Deacon Albair Gamal, The Essentials in the Deacon’s Service, (Shobra, Egypt: Shikolani, 2002), p.196, 197. Translated from Arabic by Bishoy K. R. Dawood and Ragy Sharkawy, edited by Peter Fanous and Mena Rizkalla.