The Service of the Psalmody or simply Psalmody, also understood as psalm singing, is a unique collection of Scripture passages from the Holy Bible, which are chanted. In Coptic Orthodox Tradition, the hymns of the Psalmody have been collected together in a book known as the Psalmodia. The Scripture passages, which make up the Psalmody, are taken from a selection of the Psalms and other passages, primarily from the Old Testament, which contain prayers of praise known as canticles. These Psalms and canticles have been augmented by meditations and summaries and have been set to special tunes and rhythms some of which are chanted quickly and others are extended to emphasize the prayer of praise and meditation. We understand from history and tradition that our ancient Egyptian forefathers in their ritualistic and religious practices used these tunes.
Thus, praying the Psalmody is not only a prayer of praise, rich in Holy Scripture and meditations, it also provides a unique window into the religious experience of ancient Egypt, as the same unique music remains part of the worshipper’s prayer of praise to God today as it did in millenniums past. Scholars maintain that, “… the musical tradition has continued unbroken from its beginnings to the present day [and consider] it a living link between the past and the present.” They believe that, “… Coptic music must be sung in the Coptic language if it is to express the spirituality of the ancient church … [and not] lose their genius and character, especially where extensive vocalize is concerned.” (The Coptic Encyclopedia – Volume 8, pages 1730 and 1731 respectively)
Explanation of the Midnight Psalmody
The Midnight Psalmody begins by Agpeya prayer of the Midnight Hour. Then the litanies of the First Watch are prayed in the chant Tenqhnou (Ten-theeno), meaning, “Arise O children of light.” This marks the invitation for the worshipper to rise and praise the Lord of Hosts, that He may grant us the salvation of our souls.
Starting right after Resurrection and throughout the fifty days of the Pentecost, and later only on Sundays until the last Sunday of Hatoor, the chant Tennau (Tennav) is said. This praises resurrection as the basis of our faith and is therefore known as the Hymn of Resurrection. It also glorifies St. Mary.
This is followed by the First |wc (Hoas), which is the praise of Moses the prophet and the people of Israel after they crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 15). In it, the Church declares that it is living in the faith of salvation, fleeing from the cruel slavery of Satan and crossing the Sea of the world.
The First Hoas is followed directly by the Second Hoas only on Sundays; on all other days of the week, it is followed by the Gospel of Departure (Luke 2:29-32) and sections 7, 8 and 9 of the Sunday Theotokia. The Gospel goes hand-in-hand with the First Hoas speaking about the desire to depart in triumph after witnessing salvation. Then the three sections of the Theotokia explain the relationship between Christ the Savior and our human race through His incarnation from the Virgin Mary. The Second Hoas is then said, which is Psalm 135. In it, we give thanks to God for His enduring mercy and for His triumph and salvation. The refrain, “For His mercy endures forever” is repeated 28 times.
The Third Hoas is then said followed by Ariyalin (Aripsalin). This is the praise of the three saintly youth who were thrown inside the fiery furnace. This represents the Church leading the whole creation to praise Almighty God – for the Son of God is in its midst preserving it and protecting it from the fire of temptation and the furnace of the world. During the month of Kiahk, the marvelous chant Tenen (Tenen) is added that praises the three saintly youth. This is followed by Tenoue\ `ncwk (Ten-ou-eh en-soke), The Commemoration of the Saints and The Doxologies. All these have different tunes based on five ecclesiastical seasons: Annual, Kiahk (Advent), Lenten, Palm Sunday and the Glorious tune.
The Fourth Hoas is then said, which is Psalms 148, 149 and 150. In the first Psalm, the whole universe praises God its Creator. In the latter two, the worshipper glorifies God and praises Him.
Next, we pray the Daily Psali and Theotokia. Each day of the week has its own Psali, which is a rhymed hymn for our Lord Jesus Christ, and a Theotokia, which is a hymn of glorification to the Mother of God.
The Antiphonarium is then read, which is a brief story of the Saint of the day. This is followed by the Conclusion of the Theotokia according to the day; whether Adam (Adam – Sunday, Monday and Tuesday) or Batoc (Vatos – Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday). The introduction to the Creed, We Magnify You is then said, followed by the Creed, We Believe In One God, then the litany of Kuri`e `ele`hcon (Kirie eleyson) and finally, Holy Holy Holy Lord of Hosts. The priest then prays the Absolution for the Midnight Hour.
After conclusion of the Midnight Psalmody, and directly before Matins, the Morning Hour is prayed from the Agpeya followed by the Morning Doxology and finally the Conclusion of the Adam Theotokia.