the prayer of the first hour is performed according to the rite of the Passover with readings from the four gospels and the prophecies, followed by sermons that are relevant for this hour. In the third hour, black veils are hung on the iconostaces and on the doors of the sanctuary. Seven censers are also hung upon the door of the iconostaces. The icon of the glorified crucifixion is placed outside of the sanctuary, signifying that Christ had been crucified outside of the city. The icon is surrounded by aromatic herbs and flowers.
The readings of the hour (and each hour) include prophecies, gospels, sermons and the hourly commentary, followed by concluding prayers. During the sixth hour and after the reading of the prophecies, the congregation chant, “To You is the power and glory.” Censers are prepared by the priests who offer incense before the icon of the crucifixion, in accordance with their ranks.
The gospel is then read in a sorrowful tune. The Pauline text of this hour is from the Epistle to the Galatians which begins with, “I should not boast of anything except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .” (Galatians 6:14).
Some chant this Pauline in a combination of sorrowful and normal melodies; however, this is incorrect. Following the Pauline, the congregation chant the “Agios” of crucifixion three times in a long tune. This is consistent with what is performed in the Greek Church. The stanza of the Sext [sixth hour] as in the Horologion [Agbiah] is also chanted. Following this, a psalm and gospel is chanted, after which a sermon appropriate to the hour is given with the hourly commentary, and the hour concludes with supplication prayers and the “Agios” of crucifixion chanted in the short tune.
The congregation are seated during which the confession of the thief on the cross, “Remember me O Lord,” is sung in Greek and Arabic. After each stanza, the cantors respond to the reader in two choirs, one in Coptic and the other in Greek. When the confession is completed, the congregation chant the hymn of the repentant thief: “Blessed are you Demas the thief more than anybody.” The Paralex is also sung, which begins, “It happened when they crucified our Saviour. . . .” The candles and lamps are put out during this hour until the ninth hour, to represent the darkness in all the land that is recorded in the gospels.
If time permits, a homily of Bishop James of Sarug on the confession of the thief and his entrance to Paradise with the Lord, as well as other homilies and sermons focusing on the gospel accounts of the Crucifixion, may be read for the edification of the believers.
Following this is the None [ninth hour]. Prior to chanting the psalms, some stanzas from the Book of Hourly Prayers [Agbia] are chanted in the usual tune.
According to tradition, the prophecies and gospels of the 11th hour are to be read by the eldest deacons; the Gospel of John (19:31-37) read by the archdeacon. Following the 11th hour are the prayers of the 12th hour. All the readings of this hour are done by the priest, and the Gospel of John (19:38-42) is read by the patriarch if he is present, or the bishop of the diocese, and the archdeacon reads the Arabic version.
The custom in the Hanging Church [Al-Muallaqah] in Old Cairo, is that the patriarch should read the Cathedra [ambon] and that the tubh [supplications] is read. The cross is then raised as the congregation chanted “Kyrie Eleison” [Lord have mercy] 400 times: 100 times whilst facing east, 100 times whilst facing west, 100 times whilst facing north, and 100 hundred times whilst facing south. The chant is said in the tune of Passover. Following this, the clergy and the congregation face east and continue with a further 12 Kyrie Eleison chanted in a long tune of great melody.
The canon of the cross, “By Your Cross . . . ,” and “They Nailed You to the Cross . . .” is then chanted. Following the recitation of this hymn, the patriarch or the highest ranking priest reads the first three psalms, after which the congregation depart the church in peace. The patriarch places the cross in a piece of cloth to symbolise the burial of the body of our Lord. The cross is placed amidst much aromatic herbs and rose petals to symbolize the anointments that are placed on the body during burial.
The whole Book of Psalms is read by the priests who begin and the deacons who follow. At Psalm 148, the highest ranking priest reads the last three psalms, and the patriarch or the bishop read Psalm 151 [in Coptic], followed by the archdeacon who reads the Arabic version. Following this, the Book of Psalms is placed in a silk veil.
The deacon holds it to his head, and together with the other deacons, proceeds around the church with candles whilst chanting “Lord have mercy” in the tune of Passover. It is better to sing, “Let us praise” until the procession deacons return back to the place where the highest ranking priest is. The cantiques are then read one after the other.
In Upper Egypt, all the cantiques are read by the archdeacon. In the churches of Old Cairo, the archdeacon reads them in Arabic. Ibn Kabar then provides a detailed description of the rite of the Passover in the Monastery of St. Macarius.
According to the linguistic study of Anton Baumstark, the hymn of Demas the thief, “Remember me, O Lord, when You come in Your kingdom” dates back to the seventh and eighth centuries.