Consecration, in general, is an act by which a thing is separated from a common and profane to a sacred use. Church consecration is a rite performed by the bishop or the pope in order to implore God’s blessing on the new church. This rite occurs also in other Eastern and Latin churches. The rite of the consecration of a church is known only from late manuscripts. The most ancient of these dates from the 12th century in the Monastery of the Syrians. Another manuscript dates from 1307 and is preserved in Selly Oak College. This rite consists of five major parts:
- Vespers, which is the Prayer of Thanksgiving, followed by Psalms 121-151 and readings from the Old Testament and the Apocalypse;
- consecration of the church, offering of incense, chants, readings from the Pauline Epistle, the Catholic Epistle, the Book of Acts, the Gospels (four Gospels), and three intercessions;
- introductory prayers;
- consecration of the altar and unction of the altar; and
- prayers of thanksgiving
This is followed by (6) Eucharistic liturgy. Although the manuscripts are of late dates, several allusions can be found to this rite in the more ancient literature. The Antiphonarion of Hamouli, preserved in the Pierpont Morgan Library (dated 892-893 a.d.), mentions a local tradition for the consecration of the Church of Kalamon, and alludes to several themes that occur in the rite of the consecration of the church.
The first two parts evoke the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10), the third mentions the testament (Exod. 19:10-11), the fourth is a comparison between the Jewish priesthood and Christ (Heb. 9:2-14), the fifth and sixth quote are from the Theotokia of Sunday, the seventh quotes Matt. 16:13-19, and the last part is the Prayer of Solomon (II Chron. 6:12).
In the life of Samuel of Kalamun, written in the seventh or eighth century, there is an allusion to the consecration of his church using the same themes as the rite of the consecration. The book of the history of the consecration of the sanctuary of Benjamin, written probably by the seventh century and known only from a manuscript of the 14th century, gives some details about the consecration of the altar with Myron oil, the Alleluia, and the use of Psalm 83. (Note: Myron oil is the holy oil used to consecrate altars, churches, and icons. It is also used for the sacrament of Baptism.)
In the questions of Theodore to the patriarch (seventh century), the latter made allusion to the consecration of the Temple of Solomon while speaking about the church. There is another rite for reconsecration of churches and their altars to be used when they have been defiled or polluted by infidels or heretics.
Editions include Horner’s The Service for the Consecration of a Church and Altar According to the Coptic Rite (London, 1902) and Burmester’s The Egyptian or Coptic Church Detailed Description of Her Liturgical Services and Rites (Cairo, 1967, pp. 236-250).