Anaphora normally used in the Coptic church, and one of the three retained in Coptic service books when others were abandoned in the Middle Ages. The expression “Anaphora of Saint Basil” is used to designate either (1) that anaphora within its strict limits (from the dialogue introducing the eucharistic prayer to the concluding doxology before the preface to the Fraction), or (2) that anaphora together with other prayers, or (3) the entire eucharistic liturgy of the Coptic church from beginning to end, with the Anaphora of Saint Basil and the prayers used with it inserted in their proper places within the common order, which also supplies the prayers not proper to the other Coptic anaphoras, of Saint Gregory and of Saint Cyril.

The anaphora in the strict sense, like that of Saint Gregory, but unlike that of Saint Mark/Saint Cyril, is not of Egyptian but of Syrian origin, with Syria taken broadly enough liturgically to include Cappadocia if need be. It has the structural components of Antiochene anaphoras like that of Saint James, and differs structurally from Byzantine and Armenian anaphoras—themselves strongly influenced by Syrian usage—in only a few details. With the Antiochene Syrian anaphoras, but not those of the Byzantine and Armenian rites, it shares the distribution of roles between priest, deacon, and people in the intercessory prayers after the epiclesis, and the acclamation of the people, “We show forth Thy death, O Lord . . .” after the institution narrative. Its eucharistic prayer, especially, is similar to the longer one in the anaphoric part of the Byzantine Liturgy of Saint Basil.

In assessing the textual relationship of the two, scholars differ in their opinions. Of those accepting a direct relationship between the two, some hold the older view that the Egyptian anaphora is an abridgment of the Byzantine one, reworked in conformity to traditional Egyptian usage, while many accept the view of H. Engberding (1931, pp. lxxiii-lxxix) that the Egyptian text is closer to the original, while the Byzantine text is an expansion of the original one, with additions showing a taste for theological speculation based on biblical passages. Engberding has even suggested Basil the Great as the author of the theological expansions, and a more thorough of the same thesis has been attempted by B. Capelle in his appendix to J. Doresse and E. Lanne (1960). One can be impressed with the arguments for Basilian composition of the longer Byzantine anaphora while remaining skeptical about its being an expansion of a shorter and older anaphora whose primitive text is more faithfully retained in the Egyptian Saint Basil; the verbal similarities between the two have not been explained to everyone’s satisfaction.

While the Egyptian Anaphora of Saint Basil in the strict sense is fundamentally Syrian in both composition and structure, with some Egyptian retouching, the Basilian formulary (Anaphora of Saint Basil in the second sense given above), outside of the properly anaphoric section, includes a few Syrian prayers borrowed outright for use in a structural order, which is Egyptian. A prayer of the veil that can easily be as the first prayer of the formulary is taken from the Syrian Liturgy of Saint James.

In the Syriac tradition a prayer of the veil is the first element found in an anaphoric grouping, but while in the structure of a Syrian liturgy it is actually said immediately before the historical beginning of the anaphora in the strict sense, in the Egyptian order it finds its place immediately after the prayer following the Gospel. Between it and the beginning of the anaphora proper, several other prayers intervene in the Egyptian order, and the placement of a prayer of the veil at the beginning of the Egyptian anaphoric formulary is probably due to imitation of Syrian formularies, without such imitations leading to alteration of the Egyptian order of service.

The structure of the Coptic common order of service now joined to the anaphoric formulary to form the Anaphora of Saint Basil in the widest sense (the third sense above) is peculiar to Egypt. Although most of its components can be found elsewhere in another structural order, some are specifically Egyptian, for example, the reading of four passages from the New Testament (from Saint Paul, the Catholic Epistles, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Gospels), the absolutions before the prayer of incense preparing the readings and after the prayer of inclination following the Lord’s Prayer, and the homologia (a confession of faith in the presence of Christ’s body on the altar and in the mystery of His saving actions).

The fraction of the consecrated bread takes place before the Lord’s Prayer, as in the West and East Syrian rites, but actions that would naturally follow (a consignation and commiction) are postponed until after the elevation following the Lord’s Prayer with its embolism and prayer of inclination. The lack of ancient textual witnesses to the common order makes it impossible to trace its history, but its prayers can be presumed generally to be Egyptian compositions. Its regular integration with the Egyptianized Syrian Anaphora of Saint Basil in order to constitute the full text of an ordinary Coptic liturgy was a practical step, as that anaphora became the one normally used in the Coptic church.

Greek texts both of the anaphora with its properly associated prayers and of the Coptic common order have survived. There is some reason to think that a recension of the Greek text, at least from the prayer of the veil, was also used in the church of Alexandria until its local usages gave way to the integral observance of the Byzantine rite. In the Coptic church, the Greek text, which may have been used only in particular circumstances, has not been used for centuries, with Coptic and, increasingly Arabic, being the only liturgical languages retained. Some short Greek elements have been retained in the Coptic text, especially in parts reserved to the deacon and the people.


  • The Greek text is in E. Renaudot, Liturgiarum orientalium collectio (2nd ed., Frankfurt and London, 1847; repr. Franborough, 1970); also in Anton Hänggi and Irmgard Pahl, eds., Prex eucharistica (Spicilegium friburgense 12, Fribourg, 1968), pp. 347- 57, only the anaphora in the strict sense); and in William F. Macomber, Orientalia christiana periodica 43 (1977):308-334 (with the common order).
  • For a list of service books containing the Bohairic and Arabic texts printed before 1961, see H. Malak in Eugène Tisserant, Vol. 3, pp. 6-8, 27 (Studi e testi 233, Vatican City, 1964). A fourteenth-century Arabic text has been published by Khalil Samir in Orientalia Christiana Periodica 44 (1978):342-90. An important Sahidic witness has been published by J. Doresse and E. Lanne, Un témoin archaique de la liturgie copte de S. Basile ( de Muséon 47, Louvain, 1960), which can be supplemented by fragments published by P. E. Kahle, Bala-izah (Vol. 1, p. 404, London, 1954) and by H. Quecke in Orientalia 48 (1979):68-81.
  • Translations in English are found in John, Marquis of Bute, The Coptic Morning Service for the Lord’s Day (3rd ed., pp. 46-134, London, 1908); The Coptic Liturgy, authorized by H. H. Abba Kyrillos (Vol. 6, pp. 57-117, Cairo, 1963); Fayek M. Ishak, A Complete Translation of the Coptic Orthodox Mass and the Liturgy of St. Basil (Hong Kong, 1974). translations are found in Notre messe selon la liturgie copte dite de saint Basile Grand (Cairo, 1963), Italian in Guida facile per seguire la Messa di rito alessandrino copto (Vatican City, 1956), and Latin in E. Renaudot, Guida facile, etc. (Vol. 1, pp. 1-25 [of the Coptic recension] and Vol. 1, pp. 57-86 [of the Greek text], the anaphoric part of the latter being reprinted in Hänggi-Pahl, Guida facile, etc., pp. 348-58).
  • Studies on the subject are O. H. E. Burmester, “Rites and Ceremonies of the Coptic Church, Part II” (The Eastern Churches Quarterly 8 [1949-1950]:1-39) re-edited in Burmester, The Egyptian or Coptic Church, pp. 46-90 (Publications de la Société d’Archéologie Copte, Textes et documents 10, Cairo, 1967).
  • Others are H. Engberding, Das eucharistische Hochgebet der Basileiosliturgie (Theologie des christlichen Ostens 1, Münster, 1931) and Habib Iskandar Masiha, Sharh wa-Tafsir al-Quddas al- Iilahi (2 vols., Cairo, 1965-1966 and 1977).