Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!
A blessed and fruitful fast, filled with spiritual and physical nourishment from our Lord, to you all!
Holy Week in the Coptic Orthodox Church is filled with beautiful hymns that lead us through the events recorded in the gospels. The hymns of the Holy Paskha are emotionally evocative, expressive, and comforting. They truly create a spiritual environment befitting the passion of our Savior. In preparation for Holy Week, I thought it fitting to take a deeper look into several aspects of these masterpieces.
Disclaimer: The study of the hymnology in our Church is a growing field and therefore the information I present regarding the hymns may be incomplete. I will include whatever I have about the specific hymns, but my resources may be limited at some point or another. If you have more research I would be glad to share it if applicable!
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!
Almost every occasion in the Coptic Orthodox Church has a melismatic hymn specific to that celebration. For the feast of Palm Sunday, our fathers have left a masterpiece for us. Eulogimenoc is one of the most popular hymns in the church, known for how exuberant and gripping it is. This beautiful chant sets the tone for the rest of Passion Week by gathering the entire congregation together. However, there is much more depth than what meets the eye!
The earliest textual evidence of the hymn available to me, as of now, is found in “Mesbah el Zolma.” A Lamp in the Darkness is a 13th-14th century document written by Ibn Kabar, who was a priest of the “Hanging Church” and at one point in his life, a scribe for the government. He is considered a major source in the history and rites of our Church. Ibn Kabar mentions the hymn’s use on Palm Sunday here:
It is important to note that we do not have much textual evidence of the rites and hymns of our Church from the 7th century until the 13th century or so, as a result of the Muslim conquest of Egypt. So even though this is the oldest evidence we have, the hymn itself may have existed before the time of the textual evidence. We do not have any information to push us towards either position on this matter.
The next mention of it is in Pope Gabriel V the 88th Patriarch of Alexandria’s “El tarteeb el taqsy” meaning The Ritual Order.
Pope Gabriel, however, mentions the hymn in the rite of the Holy Matrimony! He writes in the early 15th century: “It has become tradition, that after midnight and matins prayers, the groom comes from his home, with his family, friends and acquaintances, as well as the priests of the church of which he seeks marriage, to the door of the church, with the deacons, carrying candles and cymbals. And if anyone knows the hymn of the groom let him say it, and it is, Eulogimenoc o er,omenoc matatic taxic aggelon. Allylouia Allylouia ke Allylouia. They chant it while at the door of the church.” The corrections on the bottom of the same page have the text written as, Eulogimenoc o er,omenoc kata tic taxic aggelon. Allylouia Allylouia ke Allylouia. In my limited knowledge of Greek, the translation would be close to, “Blessed is he who comes according to the rank of the angels.” More research needs to be done to find out what happened to this wedding version of the hymn.
We now chant this hymn on Palm Sunday during Vespers, Matins, Liturgy of the Word and the Distribution of the Holy Mysteries if need be. We also chant it during the entrance of the Pope, Metropolitan or Bishop into the church.
Let’s begin with the text of the hymn itself. For the purposes of this article I’d like to focus on the Palm Sunday text and split it into 3 sections. The first two are written in Greek and the last section is in Coptic.
Eulogimenoc o er,omenoc@
Blessed is He who comes
en o nomati Kuriou@ palin en o nomati Kuriou.
in the name of the Lord; again in the name of the Lord
Wcanna tw Uiw Dauid@ palin tw Uiw Dauid.
Hosanna to the Son of David; again to the Son of David
Wcanna en tic uyictyc@ palin en tic uyictyc.
Hosanna in the highest; again in the highest.
Wcanna bacili tou Icrayl@ palin bacili tou Icrayl.
Hosanna to the King of Israel; again to the King of Israel.
Teneryalin enjw `mmoc@ Allylouia Allylouia Allylouia.
We praise saying: Alleluia Alleluia Alleluia
Piwou va Pennou] pe@ palin piwou va Pennou] pe.
Glory be to our God; again glory to be to our God.
“Let us also do likewise, and let us sing hymns, and give up our garments to them that bear Him.”
St. John here calls us to participate with those who received our Lord with praise, and to sing hymns to the King of kings. Thus, while we are commemorating the events of our Lord’s life on earth, we are also partaking in his life through the liturgical celebrations. It is of utmost importance that we practice this concept each time we attend the liturgy. It is not a remembrance alone, but rather a practice and an involvement. I cannot conclude that the author of the hymn wrote this due to Chrysostom’s statement, but we can see similarity between the spirit of the patristic fathers and that of the authors of our liturgical praises.
Although only one style of this hymn is most commonly said, there are about 4 or 5 recorded renditions, each differing based on geographical location and oral tradition. I would like to discuss each of them separately and will begin with the melismatic hymn.
The Great Eulogimenoc
The melismatic hymn is, in its most common form, an elongation of the tune of Section 1 of the text. The melisma itself is segmented into 10 pieces. To make learning the hymn easier, Deacon Ibrahim Ayad described each piece, explaining which ones repeat and which ones are different. Below is the recording and the transcription of what he says regarding the hymn:
First Part – repeats twice
Second Part – also repeats twice
Third Part – different from the second and also repeats twice
Fourth Part – No repetition – different piece
Fifth Part – Combination of parts 2&3 (only one repetition of each segment)
Sixth Part – repeats twice – different piece
Seventh Part – no repetition – includes segment of part 4 – different piece
Eighth Part – same as the fifth part
Ninth Part – same as the sixth part – no repeat
Tenth Part – different piece.
Cantor Mikhail Girgis
Along with the audio recording there are the musical notations that Ernest Newlandsmith put together for Dr. Ragheb Moftah. It is important to note that for this specific hymn the notations do not fit Cantor Mikhail’s recording 100%. For example, some repeats are skipped, etc. This is one of the things that shows us that Cantor Mikhail recorded hymns several times and in various ways.
Cantor Tawfik Youssef
Cantor Farag Abdelmessih
Cantor Gad Lewis
Cantor Zaher Andrawis
Cantor Amir Saleh
The Higher Institute of Coptic Studies, Cantor Fahim Girgis, and Cantor Sadek Attallah never recorded this melismatic hymn (to my knowledge). There is one difference I would like to comment on, and that is at the final transition in the end of segment 10 in the melisma. Both cantors Mikhail and Tawfik end the word palin one note earlier than Cantor Farag, who then taught it to Cantors Ibrahim, Gad etc.
Cantor Habib Hanna El Mirahem
Moawad Dawoud Abdelnoor (St. Mark’s Alexandria) – NOTE: These are also the Alexandrian Gospel Responses on Palm Sunday
Sobhy Kolta – Gospel Responses
Cantor Nagy Mousa
I personally found this amazing! Both Cantor Habib and Mr. Moawad continued using the tune of the 10th segment of the melisma as the tune for the rest of Section 2 of the text. Mr. Moawad also says the Alleluia of Section 3 in that melismatic tune.
Another interesting point is that the 10th segment of the melisma begins with an extension of the previous word (e.g. Kuriou palin) as do the rest of the verses of the hymn even in its short tune (Dauid palin @ uyictyc palin @ Icrayl palin).
Cantor Latif Farag Gad (Recorded for Cantor Wissa Attia Ghabrial) – this is a funny one!
Cantor Latif does not continue the rest of the hymn in its entirety. Notice how he says the second Hosanna in Coptic and not in Greek, along with the pronunciation of the word nyet[oci.
Cantor Wadea Elkommos Matta – incomplete recording
The Short Eulogimenoc
This more common rendition of the hymn also contains 10 segments of musical repetition that extends over sections 1 and 2 of the text. Section 3 usually begins with a retardando, or a slowing down of the tempo.
Notations of Ernest Newlandsmith for Dr. Ragheb Moftah
Cantor Ibrahim Ayad
Cantor Tawfik Youssef
With Moharraq Monastery Chorus
Cantor Fahim Girgis
Solo – Occasion Tapes – pardon the bad quality on this one
Solo – St. Basil Liturgy Tapes – Papal entrance
Cantor Sadek Attallah and Cantor Bibawy
Cantor Farag Abdelmessih
Higher Institute of Coptic Studies
Notice in this rendition that there is no retardando in the beginning of Section 3 and that there are differences in Allylouia. Many of the old books didn’t include Piwou va Pennou] pe, or if it was mentioned it may not have included the repetition palin Piwou va Pennou] pe, so it is interesting to see that that section also has some musical variation as well. You may also notice that many of the cantors of upper Egypt do not extend the last syllable of the word in the previous stanza but rather go straight into the next word. There are exceptions, but more than one cantor chanted these variations so it seems to be tradition in Upper Egypt.
Cantor Wissa Attia Ghabrial
Cantor Habib Hennawy
Cantor Thomas Agaiby (Instrumental)
Cantor Wadee3 Elkommos Matta
Different Musical Tradition
There is also another oral tradition of the hymn also present in Zinneya Village in Luxor. That village is the only place in Egypt that still speaks and uses the original coptic pronunciation. In this tradition of the hymn you can see that the word Wcanna is repeated 3 times before continuing tw Uiw Dauid. The reason I am noting this is that in the notations of the Great Eulogimenoc it also repeats that word 3 times.
Fr. Daniel – Priest of the church of St. Pakhomios
Seeing how deep this hymn is in its history and its musical tradition, one can lose himself in meditation through it. If I may, I would like to share what I tend to pray for myself during the chanting of this hymn.
Lord Jesus reign over my life and my heart. You did not reject the people of Israel, knowing that they would later give You up to crucifixion, but accepted their praise. You used children, infants, and even the lowest of the animals for Your glory. Therefore, do not reject me Lord. Declare my depths as Your kingdom and come take Your rightful place within me. As You announced the restoration of Israel by coming as their King, command change and repentance in my life. Save me from myself, from this world, from the snares of the enemy awaiting me. Rejoice in the King who has come in the name of the Lord to save his people!