The Heritage of the Coptic Orthodox Church

2 - Vespers Alleluia

Bishoy K. R. Dawood
May 18, 2011

Contemplations on the Vespers Alleluia - Alle el-Asr.

Introduction

The hymn “Alle el-Asr” is chanted during the Sunday Vespers Praise, usually during the month of Koiahk and during the Great Lent, but it is also possible to chant this great hymn annually. The hymn is the last verse of the Fourth Hos, which is translated from Coptic to mean:

Alleluia! Glory is to God!

The hymn itself consists of 8 parts. Each part is a section from other common hymns in the Coptic Orthodox Church, which I think have an important place in this hymn of “Alle el-Asr.” This meditation will focus on each individual section and illustrate the relevance of these sections to the hymn.

May Christ our Lord give us the mind and soul to think, understand, and contemplate upon the Church’s hymns, through which we come into unity with Him. Amen.

Part 1: The Three Types

Alleluia! Glory is to God!

There are three types of praying, and three types of chanting hymns - the first is the individual level, the second is the communal (church) level, and the third is the cosmic level, and they are all necessary in our spiritual life.

Within the individual level, we praise and glorify God at all times in our minds and in our hearts. We chant what we memorized anywhere and everywhere, whether we are working or playing, socializing or sitting quietly, without distractions, in individual contemplation. Thus, by chanting this hymn in the individual level, we are able to affirm the glory of God at all times in our daily life.

In the communal level, we come together as one Body in Christ, and together in unison (that is, with one voice) chant clearly, with understanding and with rhythm. In the church, it is not suitable to pray in the individual level, for that is not its place and time.

However, we get together, stand together, chant together, and are held together as one single group, as our Fathers teach us, to bring to life the fact that we are all one. For this reason, we avoid dialogue unnecessarily, so that we do not lose the spirit of harmony with one another. When we are gathered as the members of Christ in the church, the Holy Spirit guides us in our chanting, as Origen said: “Our minds cannot chant and hymn the Father in Christ with proper rhythm, melody, meter and harmony in the church, unless [through] the Spirit, who searches all things, even the depths of God…” (On Prayer, II, 4). Thus, by chanting this hymn in the communal level, we become one Body in Christ.

In the cosmic level, we chant with all the angels of heaven and the saints, and even with the whole of creation, and with one voice together proclaim and declare the glory of God.

How beautiful it is to chant to the Lord: at every time in our hearts and minds. How lovely it is to join the whole of creation and chant to the Lord: “Alleluia! Glory is to God!” Still, how magnificent it is to chant in unison to the Lord as a church: “Alleluia! Glory is to God!”

Part 2: Praising Through Chanting

Alleluia! Glory is to God!

As human beings, created in the image of God and in the image of the whole of the Creation of God, we possess a spirit and a body, respectively. We have the gift and ability to unite both the spiritual and material separate worlds into one whole. This we do through praising, thanksgiving, and sacrificing. This we do for the glory of God.

In all our praises, we affirm that God is glorious, and we praise Him for all of His Love, His mighty acts of salvation, and His works of Creation - all of which really show us His glory.

Our action in this world is to pray and to praise without ceasing. Let us, through this hymn, remember our true role in the world, and sincerely strive to chant with all our hearts and understanding, with good rhythm and one voice, as the Fathers have taught us.

The angels praise with us, and the Creation rejoices at our chanting. When we find ourselves united to God through our chanting, when we hear the angels praise with us, and when we witness the joy of the Creation, we know that, truly, glory belongs to the Lord.

The Jews of old worshipped, glorified, and praised You with a song of joy saying “Alleluia” in the Temple, for they beheld Your glory hidden within the Holy of Holies, and heard Your Word speaking from between the two Cherubim…. We, too, O Lord, behold Your glory in the Creation, and hear Your Gospel daily. For this reason, we join our Fathers and the angels of heaven chanting: Alleluia! Glory is to God!

O Lord our God, You created us through Your Love as liturgical animals. In this way, You gave us dominion over Your splendid Creation; You gave us a spirit, Your very own image, and so we are like the heavenly. You sent us Your Son, so that we may gain Eternal Son-ship with You and be one with You and the Son. You glorified Yourself among us, so that we may continue to glorify and praise You now and forever.

You created our very nature, O Lord, in order to praise You along with all the angels of heaven, and for the sake of the creation, which cannot praise You without us.

Amen, amen, all the glory belongs to You, O our Lord and God.

Let this, our chanting, be a minute gift of praise for Your Love and Glory. Let us pray and confess Your glory, O Lord, and may Your praise continually be the pleasure of our mouths and the delight of our hearts, as our father St. Augustine of Hippo said:

‘You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised’ (Ps. 47:2); ‘great is Your power and Your wisdom is immeasurable’ (Ps. 146:5). Man, a little piece of Your creation, desires to praise You, a human being ‘bearing his mortality with him’ (2 Cor. 4:10), carrying with him the witness of his sin and the witness that You ‘resist the proud’ (1 Pet. 5:5). Nevertheless, to praise You is the desire of man, a little piece of Your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising You, because You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You” (St. Augustine, Confessions, I: 1).

Part 3: Contemplations On The Hymn

Alleluia! Glory is to God!

1) The hymn “Alle el-Asr” begins with Alleluia, and the last letter, “a,” is a melismatic tune, exactly as that in the melismatic, slightly joyful tune of “hos erof,” which is the last verse of the Third Hos.

In the hymn “hos erof,” we announce to Your entire Creation to rise and praise You, O our God, in beautiful, melodious tunes. With the same tune as that of “hos erof,” we begin our praising and glorification in this hymn, “Alle el-Asr,” which we offer to You, our Lord, our Creator.

We begin with this blissful tune with a remembrance of our state “in the beginning” - that is, the state of Your marvelous Creation before the Fall of Adam and Eve. Our state in the beginning was joyful because we were blessed with Your image, and lived in Paradise, but it was not a perfect life. For this reason, the tune is pleasant, as a posse to being joyful.

Even with this sort of joy, we are aware that everything that You made, O our Father, with Your beloved Son and the Holy Spirit, describes Your magnificence and wisdom, for this we glorify You in our hymns.

Worthy of glory and praise, are You, O our God, Lord of Saba-outh! How great is Your Creation, which You completed in six days. The Creation is filled with Your glory and honour, and every little intricate detail in this Creation describes the glory and wisdom that is Yours. Is this not what the six-winged Seraphim and the countless-eyed Cherubim reveal to us, when we hear them chant with one voice to You, O Lord, shouting and proclaiming: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Saba-outh, heaven and earth are full of Your holy glory and honour.”

You, our Creator, created everything in harmony and peace - the angels praise You continuously, the stars and planets in their cycles make harmonious music to proclaim Your wondrous work, and accompanying them are all the animals and life on the earth that describe Your Wisdom. You created us in Your image and likeness, without knowledge of evil, but with freedom of choice. You loved us, for we are Your own. We praise You, for we are Your servants, and You are the Lord of all lords and King of all kings.

Alleluia! Glory is to God!

2) The “a” of Alleluia, after the “hos erof” part, enters into the mournful trisagion of Holy Pascha Week, also called “agios el-hazaynee.”

O Adam! Why have you chosen to fall away into darkness and the shadow of death? Your desire to break your will from God and not being steadfast in the Lord’s will caused you to fall into sin.

O Eve! Why did you yearn for the fruit of knowledge of evil and good? Is not the Lord your delight, your right source of knowledge, wisdom and truth?

In the beginning we were created good, but now sin entered the world and reigned over it. Praising God ceased, for the care of Man was only in the things of the world - our desire is the world and all the lusts that are in it.

Without life in You, O our Lord, we are living in sorrow, in pain, and in death. Yet, even if we fall, we are assured of rising again, and for this reason You sent Your prophets, who encouraged us to have faith in the one who will defeat death and sin. Truly, glory belongs to You, O Lord, who never forgets us nor forsakes His own!

Even if we have fallen through the deception of the devil, even if we see suffering around us in the world - disasters, wars, poverty, disease - and even if we live in all kinds of evil, we will still continue to glorify Your Holy Name, O Lord, and still give thanks to You! For we know that evil is the absence of the Good, which we cause to be absent by our own free will. However, You created everything good, You are in everything and above everything. You gave us hope through Your love. Your glory fills everything, O Lord our God.

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory. No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11 NKJV).

O Lord our God, how great are all Your works, full of wisdom and beauty! You gave us, O Lord, the gift of intelligence and knowledge, so that we may create and make the world beautiful and useful to our lives. All of this You gave us and provided for us out of Your own will and through Your own Love. You did all of this so that we may glorify You.

Still, humans have chosen a different path. They utterly forgot You, O our Lord, and preferred to serve the created rather than the Creator. They glorify their own wisdom, they glorify their own understanding. They honour science and technological advancement. They concern themselves with money and economics, growth and development. They give glory to themselves.

They are all self-seeking… all their words through which they try to glorify themselves and others is vanity. All glory that is not directed to You, O Lord, is vainglory.

“Ever since the creation of the world, His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things He has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honour Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles” (Rom. 1:20-23).

O our Father in heaven, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

O our Master and our God, preserve our faith and hope in You, and may we continue to glorify You forever and ever, for all true glory is Yours - Yours alone! Let our chanting be a proclamation of Your glory that defeats all evil, and may our salvation from all evil and death be our firm faith, our strong hope, and everlasting love.

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

Alleluia! Glory is to God!

3) This is followed by parts of the annual Praxis response.

The annual Praxis response begins with a special verse of blessing to our Mother the Virgin Mary. In the same way, the tune of the Praxis response is implemented in this hymn, “Alle el-Asr,” which we offer to our Lord through the intercessions of the Virgin.

Rejoice, O Virgin Mother, for the Father looked upon you and chose you, and through you the only-begotten Son was incarnate for our salvation from sin and death, and the Holy Spirit descended to sanctify you.

Through one man, Adam, sin entered the world; but through one Man born of you, our Lord Jesus Christ, the shedding of His Blood paid our depts. Through one man, Adam, death reigned over us; but through the power of Christ death was destroyed, and we rose in victory.

Adam was saved because of your choice to accept the conception of the Son of God in your blessed womb… Eve rejoiced at the true Son promised to her, who would trample on the head of the serpent.

Blessed are you, O Virgin, the second Eve. Remember us in your intercessions before your beloved Son.

Glory is to you, our Saviour and our King, our Lord Jesus Christ, our hope and salvation, with Your good Father, and the Holy Spirit. Glory is to the one God. Amen. Alleluia!

Alleluia! Glory is to God!

4) Again, the hymn resumes with the slightly joyful “hos erof” tune, as in the beginning of the hymn.

How awesome and full of glory is Your love for us, O our Lord Jesus Christ! You are the King of glory, whom the angels praise and adore; yet You chose to humble Yourself for my sake, a sinner. Again, we chant the pleasant “hos erof” tune, commemorating Your Incarnation for our salvation, which caused joy to our hearts, but also remembering Your humble and poor life, full of suffering.

You humbled Yourself not only to the point of becoming a slave, but to the point of becoming sin to carry off our sins on Your shoulders; to the point of becoming a curse by hanging on the wood of the cross as a criminal; and even to the point of death, through which You destroyed Death, which reigned over us. All of this because of Your love for me, O my beloved Lord!

Glory is Yours, my Lord Jesus Christ, now and forever! Alleluia! You have truly provided salvation for me, Your poor servant. You became man, so that I might become one with You; You were crucified to shed Your holy Blood to wipe off my sins; You rose in glory, and became the first-fruits of the resurrection. All this for me, a sinner!

Glory is to God! Amen, alleluia!

Alleluia! Glory is to God!

5) The words “pi-wou fa pennouti pe” begins with a link, a joyful tune that is particular to the hymn of Alle el-Asr.

“Glory is to God” is the essence and purpose of our chanting, O Lord. Through this joyful tune, we confess Your resurrection, through which we too have the hope of rising in glory, just like You. We believe that our material bodies will rise like Your body and be transformed into a spiritual body, so that this corruptible body will put on incorruption and that this mortal flesh will be immortal.

Your resurrection, O Lord Jesus Christ, gave us a new life in You. We live in this life with the hope of rising from the dead and living a pure life with You and in You, unlike the pagans and the atheists, who have no hope.

Amen, amen, we proclaim Your glory, O our God and Saviour.

Alleluia! Glory is to God!

6) The words “pi-wou fa pennouti pe” continues to be chanted with the melistmatic tune of “arihoo-o chasf,” which is the last verse of the Third Hos.

After Your glorious Ascension, Lord Jesus Christ, You sent us the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit who comforts us and guides the one, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Orthodox Church, which You have established by Your Blood.

Through the Holy Spirit, we are born again in the Church. In the Holy Spirit, we receive the mysteries of salvation through the Church. In the Holy Spirit, the two were made into one - that is, the heavenly and the earthly were united once again. In the Holy Spirit, we are united with You, O Lord Jesus Christ, and are comforted, because we know that You are with us, and we are aware of Your holy presence in us, in our hearts.

With all this comfort and happiness, we joyfully chant to You, O our God, in the Holy Spirit and through the Church, “Pi-wou fa pennouti pe” - “Glory is to God!”

Amen! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Glory is to God!

7) The hymn ends with the part of “outi pe,” which consists of parts of the melismatic “anok pe pikoji,” which is the introductory hymn of the Bright Saturday Midnight Praise.

We are victorious over death and sin, O Lord, because You defeated death by the crucifixion of Your Flesh, and wiped away sin by the shedding of Your Blood. In the end of days, You will come again in a fearful Appearance, but we will have no fear, because we have been waiting for You while praising You - we do not have fear, but we set our hope in You; we do not have fear, because we love You, and perfect love casts out fear.

Like David the Psalmist in his Psalm (151), our “hands made a harp,” and our “fingers fashioned a lyre,” ready at all times to praise and glorify Your holy Name forever and ever. Like David the Psalmist, we are joyful at slaying the Philistine (that is, the devil) through You. The devil has no part in our life with You after our resurrection.

How pleasant it is to be with You again, O Lord. The martyrs bear their afflictions, the saints carry their cross; but You O Lord are just and wise and loving, so You wipe away all our tears! We live joyfully in Your presence in the heavenly Jerusalem, where there is no sun and no moon, for Your glorious light shines and keeps the city bright at all times.

Our very own resurrected bodies shine in Your glory, the 24 priests get off their seats and worship You, the cherubim bow down to You, the seraphim declare Your triple-holiness, and we join the archangels and angels in their praise and glorification, saying: “Alleluia! Glory is to God!”

So be it forever, amen. Alleluia!
Maranatha! O Lord, come!

Alleluia! Glory is to God!

8) The hymn ends with a short solemn tune.

The Eighth Day, O Lord, is our infinite life with You. We end our hymn of glorification with a solemn tune, keeping in mind the awe and wonder that we shall see in the Kingdom of God, in the Lord’s Day - the Eighth Day. This is the day of our true rest - it is greater than the Sabbath, because we rest in You; it is greater than the Sabbath, because on Sunday You rose from dead and granted us our resurrection from the dead. It is, as our Fathers teach us, the “Perpetual Sabbath.”

We shall be in Your presence and see You, and so we shall continue to praise You without ceasing. How great is the Eighth Day, O Lord! How great! Glory is truly Yours, for, beyond doubt, You love us. Alleluia!

The Eighth Day is, in truth, the Lord’s Day. It is life in Christ forever and ever.

ì... The Lord’s Day… the Eighth and eternal Day, [was] consecrated by the resurrection of Christ, and [is] prefiguring the eternal repose not only of the spirit, but also of the body. There we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise. This is what shall be in the end without end” (St. Augustine of Hippo, City of God, Book 22, Chapter 30).

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We thank You, O our compassionate King, for You have granted us to pass this day in peace, and brought us thankfully to the evening, and made us worthy to behold the light until sunset. O God, accept our glorification, which we have now offered You…. Ascribing glory unto Your holy Name, in all things together with the Father who is incomprehensible and without beginning, and the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, Who is equal with You both now and forever and unto the age of all ages. Amen (The Absolution of the Eleventh Hour).