The Coptic term apa is interchangeable with the Arabic abba, which occurs in Semitic languages, including Syriac, Aramaic, and even Hebrew, all meaning “father.” This is a title of reverence usually preceding names of persons in the church hierarchy. Historically the title is extended to the names of secular martyrs as well. It is also inspired by the opening of the Lord’s Prayer, and its Latin equivalent of pater appears in the Latin Vulgate, originally in the Coptic apat/r (apater) or apa pat/r (apa pater).
Sometimes it is also cited in Coptic as anba (anba) or ampa (ampa), which is generally used in modern Arabic with the names of bishops, archbishops, and patriarchs, such as Anba Shinudah. Derived from it is the word abuna meaning “our father” which is used in addressing a priest or a monk. The word apa is widely quoted in the SYNAXARION sometimes as apou (apou; Arabic, abu), and the APOPHTHEGMATA PATRUM where it also occurs as abba (abba) or abbac (abbas).
The term became firmly established in the Coptic lives of Saint Pachomius in the fourth century and was transmitted to medieval Europe in the Latinized form of abbas, from which are derived the terms abbot in English and abbé in French. Its Greek equivalent appears in the New Testament in three places: Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, and Galatians 4:6. The Orthodox Ethiopians still call the head of their church ABUNA (our father).
The feminine occurs as ama (ama) or amma (amma; mother) as the title for nuns. The term papa (papa) or with the definite article ppapa (ppapa) is the equivalent of the Greek p£paj (papas), signifying priest.
- Crum, W. E. A Coptic Dictionary. Oxford, 1939.
- Dupont, J. Le Nom de l’abbé chez les solitaires d’Egypte. La Vie spirituelle 77. Paris, 1947.
- Lefort, L. T. Les Vies coptes de S. Pacôme. Lausanne, 1943.
- Pelleccia, G., and G. Rocca. Dizionario degli Istituti de Perfezione. Rome, 1947.
AZIZ S. ATIYA