The Heritage of the Coptic Orthodox Church

Interview with H.G. Bishop Mattaous

Bishoy K. R. Dawood
May 15, 2011

An interview with H.G. Bishop Mattaous when he visited Albair's house in Mississauga, ON, in November 2004. The interview is in Arabic, and the English translation is provided here.

Duration: 17:27 · Filesize: 3.99 MB
Download: mp3

English-language Transcript/Translation

Albair: Say in Arabic.

Alex A-Malek: Can you give us, the choir, a word for our benefit in the upcoming year, for our service.

(laugh)

H.G. Bishop Mattaous: In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Before I begin to answer this question, I would like to record my thanks to the choir in the Church of the Virgin Mary and Saint Athanasius in Mississauga. The choir’s productions are good, and are done by people who are considered specialists and knowledgeable in the rites [of the Church]. This is something that gives me joy, for in the lands of immigration there is this willingness of holding on to the spirit of the Fathers, all that is old, all that is accurate, and holding on to the hymns of the Church. This is something we admire, and hope that it spreads to all the churches in the lands of immigration. What I really want to say to the choir, and to any other choir, is that it is important to be united with each other, that there should be love for each other, that there should be obedience to the one who is leading the choir, and of course before that an obedience to the priests of the churches, and… a love for the rite, but without fanaticism for the rite. Because love, despite the importance of the rite, is more important than the rite. And… as someone once said, there are certain melismatic notes for a hymn, but God considers the melismatic notes of the heart, the beats of the heart, more than the notes of the hymn. This means we pray with the spirit before praying with our opinions – this is missing a note, this is an extra note… If this causes a problem, one would prefer love and peace to the rite and all those things. The rite, as one of the fathers once said, needs studying – it needs people who can sit down to find out what is new, find manuscripts that have not been in use yet… [studies] in the Liturgy, even the history of the rites themselves, since many people do not know about the history of the rites – when they were made, when this hymn was composed, when did Praise begin… These things you will find people getting their researches out for us…. It is also said that when the larynxes are united, and one hymn comes out of it, this unity of the larynxes and the voices unites the hearts also. That is, just as one voice comes out of us, in unison, in time we become one…. The rite unites us, makes us love one another, teaches us the spirit of being in a group, the spirit of obedience – there is no one who comes out with himself with a different note, destroying the harmony of the Church. And we should research – the more we research, we’ll find nice things in the rite. Thanks is due, of course, to the priests of your church, who gave you this opportunity to research and produce and live the seasons – be it Kiahk, Passion Week, and so on. This is something beautiful, and I would like to see it in every church I visit, either in Egypt or in the lands of immigration. And thank you.

Albair: Merci, Sayedna.

Albair: There is a question here about the Liturgy of Saint Gregory [the Theologian]. There is a part in the response of the congregation, “We worship Your holy Body, and Your precious Blood. Lord have mercy.” In the old Euchologions, where there are some big things, this response is not found. And in most of the teachings of the cantors, this response was not there. But some new, small Euchologions add this response. What is the opinion of your grace on this matter?

H.G. Bishop Mattaous: I, of course, prefer to cling on to the old Euchologions, which are more correct, bigger, trusted. Whereas these small Arabic Euchologions – something for the market like that – are in simple words, not careful… I also like to go according to the section… the Euchologion does not have “We worship Your holy Body, and Your precious Blood.” After the [priest] says “You, who gave to His holy Disciples,” the congregation respond with “Lord have mercy” right away. So we should go according to the section, even if we don’t understand its meaning and its wisdom, until one day, with research, we’ll know the wisdom behind it.

Albair: Also, in this section, we’re not told that the congregation prostrates or the deacons prostrate. There is nothing that says there is prostration at this point. This is unlike the Liturgy of Saint Basil, where there is prostration and we say “We worship Your holy Body…”

H.G. Bishop Mattaous: Yes, since it is not in the original section. Yesterday I also wondered [in the Liturgy], did Albair teach them to say it that way?

Albair: (laugh)

H.G. Bishop Mattaous: After I said my part, I heard them say that “We worship” part. If I were in the monastery, I would have scolded them!

Albair: (laugh). Thank God, our priest is a witness.

H.G. Bishop Mattaous: Every Euchologion or every Liturgy has its own flavor. The Liturgy of Saint Gregory has its own flavor. We find the Liturgy of Saint Cyril completely different – the litanies first and the epiclesis in the end – it has its own flavor… You’ll find that in the Liturgy of Saint Basil, the epiclesis comes first then the litanies, but the Liturgy of Saint Cyril says everything first, even the Commemoration of the Saints, the heavy parts, then the epiclesis, followed by the Fraction and communion. So every Liturgy has its own flavor, so we shouldn’t mix them together.

Albair: What is your grace’s opinion on this: we know that for the Liturgy of Saint Cyril – the Coptic, not the Arabic – Mo’allim Mikhail passed down only three hymns (three parts) for it. As for the remaining parts, nothing is passed down. But some parts we can assume their hymns, like the Commemoration, where the hymn will not be different; the litanies, their hymn will not be different. So, something like the work of Fr. Mattias, which tries to make the whole of the Liturgy of Saint Cyril again so that even these three parts do not get lost. If there is no one praying the Liturgy of Saint Cyril in Coptic, even the three parts we have will get lost. So, what is the opinion of your grace? Is this good, or are there people with different opinions – so that the other side is also known – who object to someone who is inventing a part, put a hymn, or adjusting a hymn to Liturgy of Saint Gregory, when the hymn may not be from the Liturgy of Saint Gregory at all? So, what is the opinion of your grace on this matter?

H.G. Bishop Mattaous: There are hymns that are chanted in the hymn of the “atika.” I’m not sure, but it was done by the faculty of hymns in the Institute of Coptic Studies. This is something official, not a personal endeavor… It is a good attempt, for sure. But it is very long. 

Albair: Yes, 5 hours beginning from the Reconciliation.

H.G. Bishop Mattaous: If it was a little less than this, it would have been acceptable.

Albair: The litanies could have been chanted in the short version, rather than the longer one.

Samuel: What is your grace’s opinion on recording some hymns with musical instruments only, on the basis that the hymn will be memorized by the people later on, and the following step would be to learn the hymn itself? What is your grace’s opinion on this matter? Things like the attempts of George Kirollos, who plays the ‘ood, and the individual in Alexandria, who did some work of the same sort. What is your grace’s opinion on these attempts, and they are widely available in bookstores in Egypt?

H.G. Bishop Mattaous: I don’t see it as something wrong. I find a lot of people listening to spiritual songs in their cars, at least to avoid sleeping while he is driving.

Albair: And it’s better than listening to anything else.

H.G. Bishop Mattaous: Better than listening to anything else.

Fr. Domadios: But he cares to listen to the tones, he might find something different.

(laugh)

H.G. Bishop Mattaous: Well, these are things for entertainment, like listening to it in the car while driving. It’s calm music, just like classical music – Beethoven and so on. This will not affect our rites, ever. Many times it’s just for listening to some music. Personally, if I listen to something that I don’t know, it might make me learn it. But hymns without words is just music, I would listen to it to give me joy. This is my opinion, and God knows the truth!

(laugh)

Ragy: This is a question on the rites and the decisions of the Holy Synod. If there is a change in a rite, what is the process that is underwent, and how is the decision made?

Albair: How is it implemented as well? How do the Churches know? It comes up once in the Keraza magazine, and whoever receives it knows it and whoever doesn’t receive it doesn’t know. There are many priests who do not know the decisions of the Holy Synod. How does the Holy Synod provide the decisions to all the Churches to be implemented? And if it wasn’t implemented, is there anything that may cause them to implement them, or is it whatever the person wills to do and leave it at that? That is, they do whatever they want to do, and we do whatever we want to do?

Ragy: And does this affect the unity of the Church?

H.G. Bishop Mattaous: No, of course there is in the Holy Synod a committee for the rites, where we discuss some issues and we make decisions through the Synod. In the Synod, we present these decisions, and if everyone agrees, it is approved, and H.H. the Pope agrees to the decision. The important thing is that this decision comes out right away in the Keraza magazine. After that, a book is published with all the decision since the time of our Pope, and it goes through different editions with the years. This book has the decisions of all the meetings – concerning the rites, the monasteries, the laypeople, the service, everything. After every few years, we publish a new edition and add the new decisions. So, whoever doesn’t get the magazine can find the decisions in the book. I think this book is given out for free to all the priests. That is, after the book is out, the bishop will say who he is and how many priests he has, and orders the books for them. It is also available in the bookstores.

Albair: There is, in fact, on the Internet, on the website of Pope Shenouda, copticpope.org, there is all the decisions of the Synod in Arabic, up to the year 1995 or 1998, something like that.

H.G. Bishop Mattaous: Yes. Like Anba Armia, for example, is responsible for the media, so he places these decisions on the Internet. But we look at the book, really, since it has all the decisions in it. Thank you all…

Albair: Thank you very much, Sayedna.