Liturgy of the Monastery of al-Muharraq

The Monastery of al-Muharraq has special peculiarities in its liturgical practice.[1] For example, the term used there for ‘hymn’ is different from all other manuscripts: luhunat, rather than alhan. There are even differences in the musical instruments, as the monks of the Monastery of al-Muharraq use, in addition to the traditional naqus (or daff) and the triangle, another instrument called the cymbal (sanj) (Moftah, Robertson, and Roy 1991).

This monastery was the only one to survive throughout the Middle Ages in Upper Egypt. Some of its monks were learned people, such as the monk Iqluda (Claudius), who was the brother of Patriarch Gabriel IV and took part in the consecration of the myron in the year ad 1374 (Youssef and Zanetti 2014: 22).This monk ordered the copying of important manuscripts, among them the Philocalia (Khalil 1993) and the interpretation of the Apocalypse by Ibn Katib Qaysar (Ms 52 Theology—Monastery of St. Antony, dated am 1117 (ad 1401); the manuscript was copied in the of the Monastery of St. Antony).[2] Another example is the monk Girgis, who was the abbot of the Monastery of al-Muharraq (Anba Gregorius 1968: 194; Dayr al-Muharraq 1990: 119) in the late eighteenth century and copied the critical edition of the four gospels of Ibn al-‘Assal,[3] now preserved in the Coptic Museum (62 Biblica).[4] (This means that the readership in the monastery was able to appreciate such an important book.)

There are also some oral traditions that have never been recorded before, and that are unique to this monastery. Among them, we can mention that when the priest blesses the people, he turns to his left (which is the right of the altar); the same can be said for the opening of the curtain of the altar, which is also done from the right.[5]

R.F.G.Viaud studied the procession of the and noted several peculiarities, such as a station near the tomb of Musa or Salome (Viaud 1967-68).

In a previous article I highlighted the importance of the doxology of the consecration of the sanctuary of the church of al-Muharraq (Youssef2009b). In this chapter I will highlight some other texts related to the monastery:

  • the tarh of the consecration of the church of Qusqam (tune Batos and tune Adam)
  • the Arabic tarh for the same occasion
  • the synaxarion (the Upper Egyptian version commemorating the consecration of the church of Qusqam)
  • psalis, tune Batos and tune Adam
  • of an abbot of al-Muharraq

The liturgy in this monastery is characterized by four features:

  1. A local hagiographical tradition through adding the names of many local saints to the memento sanctorum, such as Hermina, Isidore, and Sana.
  2. The presence of the Holy Family in the place. This is represented by the cult of 6 Hatur, where there is a special rite unique to the monas­tery, the Feast of the Entry of the Holy Family into Egypt, and special stations in the rite of Palm Sunday. The consecration of the Church of the Virgin Mary on 6 Hatur has a special rite in the Ethiopian Church. For this feast, the Anaphora of the is used (Daoud 1959: 98).This liturgy is used only three times a year.The two other occa­sions are 26 Ba’una, the consecration of the Church of the Virgin in Philippe, and 16 Misra, the ascension of her body. The service on 8 Ba’una marks the consecration of the Church of Mahama—a Lower Egyptian counterpart to the feast of 6 Hatur in Middle Egypt.
  3. The rite for the Nile. This rite is performed on the Feast of the Cross, 17 Tut, when the priest offers incense at the highest point reached by the flood.
  4. Survival of the Greek language. The region of Asyut in general and the Monastery of al-Muharraq in particular preserved the Greek language for a long time. The manuscripts of the Basilian anaphora in Greek came from the Asyut region, from places such as Abnub and Asyut itself (Budde 2004: 85-88).There is also an ode of Kiyahk (Youssef 2013), and another hymn for the eve of the Nativity, in which there are stanzas in both Greek and Sahidic; it begins with “Your Star Appeared” (Youssef 2012). This hymn is attested in Manuscript 106,“Liturgy.”This manuscript contains the narration of the rite of the consecration of the myron that took place under the patriarchate of Gabriel IV, who was, before his ordination, a monk from the Monastery of al-Muharraq. His brother was also a monk from the same monastery (see above) (Youssef and Zanetti 2014).

Hymn for the Eve of the Nativity

It is important to mention that the hymn, “Your Star Appeared,” suits the context of Nativity Eve, rather than the consecration of the myron. Matthew chapter 2—the visit of the Magi to Christ—is read at the Feast of the Nativity in the Coptic Church and this hymn is the last to be sung during communion on the Eve of the Nativity, as preparation for the con­gregation for the advent of Christ, as if the Magi were advancing toward Bethlehem. The ideas treated in this hymn resemble those of the Nativity hymn composed by Romanos Melodos (Youssef 1998—99).

O.H.E. Burmester was the first to attract the attention of the scholarly world to the importance of this manuscript in his pioneering study on the Turuhat (Burmester 1938: especially 175). We will study Manuscript 323 Lit. Coptic Museum (fol. 161), which contains the of 6 Hatur and the Arabic tarh.[6]

Ms 323 Lit. (Simaika and ‘Abd al-Masih 1939: 84, no. 171). Consecration of the Church, 6 Hatur: Coptic Text

Consecration of the Church, 6 Hatur: English Translation[7]

(italics indicate Greek loan words in the Coptic text)

The sixth day of Hatur, the consecration of the church of Qusqam, tune Batos.

Truly I advance to ask the king David about the honor of this holy place of the God-Bearer Mary, in order to inform us about the glory and the honor of this great place where God dwelt with His mother the Virgin.

David the psalmist said: “How amiable are your dwellings, O of hosts our God.”[8]

Let us rejoice with the heavenly beings on that holy day, and let us praise with the choirs of saints,

Proclaiming and saying: “This is the gate of the into which the righteous shall enter.”[9] This is the gate of heaven.

This is the true church of the angels and Christ consecrating it with His sublime hand,

after the name of the God-Bearer Mary the Virgin, the pure bride, the pride of all the virgins.

Through her is the salvation of our father Adam from the transgression which he dared (to do).

It is worthy for us, people, the sons of the Orthodox, to praise with David the king, the praiser.

“The queen stood at Your right, O King, in clothing wrought with gold (and) adorned in variegated manner”[10]

Pray to the for…

And also the Adam tune:

Our Jesus came to the mount of Qusqam with His mother Mary and his disciples

And the holy angels and the Cherubim and the Seraphim and the Apostles

And the patriarchs and the prophets and the might of heaven were assembled to Him

And our Jesus started the consecration of the holy sanctuary, Jesus, our Lord, started with the consecration of the holy sanctuary. And they brought to Him a table, a chalice, and the instruments of the altar.

Jesus rose and blessed the house and signed it with His holy hand.

And our Jesus lifted His hand and blessed it and gave thanks. He consecrated the church and its all instruments and the altars.

When the service was finished, Our said: “Blessed are those who come to this holy place.

And whoever will change anything in this place will be bound by the word of God.”

Arabic tarh

When our Jesus Christ was born from the pure Mary, in Bethlehem, Magi came to Jerusalem when the star appeared to them. When Herod was informed and wished to kill Him, think­ing that He was a worldly king, Herod searched for the Child to kill Him. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, ordering him to take the Child and His mother and to go to Egypt. Joseph did according to what had been ordered by the angel of the Lord and took the Child and His mother and came to Egypt and from there to Qusqam.

They dwelt in it till the death of Herod, and the angel of the ordered Joseph to return back with the Child and His mother to Jerusalem. When the Lord accomplished His economy on the earth and was baptized, chose His disciples, did miracles, was crucified, and was buried and rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven, He sent His Holy Spirit upon His pure disciples on Pentecost. He sent them to preach His glorious name in the whole world and made the nations return to the knowledge of the truth. Afterwards, our Savior assembled with His pure mother and His disciples in this pure mount and consecrated the house wherein He dwelt with His pure mother Mary on that holy day which is the sixth of Hatur.

Let us rejoice, be happy and glad, O all faithful, for this is the day of the Lord, and let us say with the psalmist David: “This is the gate of the wherein the righteous shall enter.” Truly, my fathers, this holy house is like Jerusalem. This is the house of the Lord wherein He dwelt in this expatriation. This is the harbor to those who will take refuge in it. We, the poor sinners, we beseech the merciful Lord, through the intercession of His pure mother, Mary, to have mercy upon us and forgive us our sins and to order our Eves to what pleases His goodness till our last breath.


It is important to highlight the terms of consecration: while the title bears ATIACMOC (consecration), in the rest of both texts we have XlfOAONIN (ordination). The first term is used in other texts such as in the Sahidic Antiphonarion (Cramer and Krause 2008), or the Bohairic text of the con­secration of the sanctuary of Benjamin (Coquin 1975b: 72,11.12,26; 112,1. 7; 114,1.7; 164,11.19-20; 168,11.4,16; 170,11.1,12; 172,1.27; 174,1.1; 176, 1. 6). This means that the author of this text wrote at a time when Coptic was not used as an everyday language.

While the psali Batos stresses allusions, especially the psalms, the psali Adam highlights the liturgical aspect, showing not only the consecra­tion of the church but also consecration of all the hturgical instruments of the altar. The text clearly expresses the prayers of thanksgiving and the sign of the cross. The same wording also occurs in the Synaxarion.

The Synaxarion

Text (Forget 1963: 92)

On that day also the Christ assembled with His disciples in the mount of Qusqam and consecrated the sanctuary and the church with His pure hands. He signed the Church and the altar in the name of the Virgin Mary, His mother, and by the hand of the angels Michael and Gabriel. Our good Saviour consecrated the vessel of water according to what was testified by father Theophilus, the patriarch, and the father Cyril. And this place will not perish till the end of ages according to the promise of our Jesus Christ. May the intercession of all be with us! Amen.


The Basset edition omits the italicized text (Basset 1907: 255 [179]). It seems that the consecration with water was a practice of Upper Egypt (cf. Coquin 1993b: especially 50 n. 61). The text refers to the patriarchs Theophilus and Cyril.

While the short text of the Synaxarion contains several details about the source of this text, Theophilus and Cyril, and a local practice about the consecration of the church, the psalis do not give any extra information regarding the consecration of the sanctuary, and even the name of Qusqam is not mentioned.

The Psali


Here in full is the text of the psali, both the Batos and the Adam sections (Filotheus al-Maqari 1913:125-35).


This psali is anonymous. I did not find any link to the monastery of Qusqam (al-Muharraq); moreover, the compiler used ready-made text from previ­ous liturgical texts:

The psali of Sunday for the Virgin is attributed to John, bishop of Asyut, Manfalut, and AbuTig in the fifteenth century (Youssef2003;Youssef2008), which means that this psali was written after that date. The text:

Grammatical inaccuracy:

The Adam section provides no better information:

The psalis for the consecration of the sanctuary of Qusqam are of a late date, as is apparent from:

  1. the use of other liturgical texts
  2. no allusion to the vision ofTheophilus or any patristic text
  3. no geographical data (compared with the psali of the entry of Jesus to Egypt)
  4. the many grammatical inaccuracies

There is a Psali Batos for the Feast of the Arrival of the into Egypt, where we read:

However, the mention of Qusqam is absent from the Antiphonarion of Upper Egypt (Cramer and Krause 2008: 319).

of an Abbot of al-Muharraq


I have identified so far three manuscripts from the monastery of al-Muharraq that are kept in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France: Paris Arabe 4779,4780, and Paris Copte 123.1 have already published the doxology for 6 Hatur con­tained in Paris Copte 123 (Youssef 2009b).The manuscript Paris Arabe 4779 (Troupeau 1974:30) (fol. 75v—77r), which was copied in the Monastery of al- Muharraq by the monkYuhanna al-Adimidi during the reign of Abbot Bulus al-Dalagawi (later commemorated as a saint), contains a for 28 Baba. This biography differs from what is reported by Anba Gregorius:

On this day also reposed our virtuous father Hegumen ‘Abd al-Malak. This father was from the city of Asyut and when he was aged fifteen years old in the house of his father, his soul renounced all the delights of this perishable world and he aspired to the monastic life. So he abandoned the world and took refuge in God and became a monk* in the monastery known as al-Muharraq .. .This father was interested in building the monastery and restoring the manuscripts by his own hands as he was a scribe.

In the beginning of his abbotship he built a beautiful church in the monastery named after the great saint George and he accomplished it perfectly. (Anba Gregorius 1968:335—36; here and below, the asterisks mark the end of a page in the manuscript)


It is amazing that Gabriel IV, the first patriarch consecrated from the mon­astery of al-Muharraq, who reposed on 3 Bashans, is not mentioned in this Synaxarion (i.e., Paris Arabe 4779) (Khater and Burmester 1970: fol. 239r, 136 (text), 234 (translation)).

Two abbots bore the name of‘Abd al-Malak; one was from Asyut (ad 1772—1808) and the other one from Hur (ad 1838—66) (Anba Gregorius 1968: 193—98; Dayr al-Muharraq 1990: 109—14). Our text was copied during the abbotship of the successor to the latter. The text uses a far past tense, hence the former is being spoken of.

On this day the Savior assembled with this disciple in Qusqam and performed the first liturgy according to what was witnessed by Saint Theophilus and Saint Cyril. It was a great day with the assembly of our Lord* with his mother and his disciples, and he consecrated this place with his sublime hand, to whom is the glory forever and may his mercy endure for eternity. Amen. (6 Hatur, fol. 84v—85r)

The Sahidic version of the Synaxarion according to the manuscript Paris Arabe 4869 commemorates on 20 Kiyahk the martyrdom of Elias, bishop of al-Muharraq during the time of Arianus. His body was hidden until the time of our father Constantine bishop of Asyut, so his body was translated to Asyut, and when Qusiya (al-Muharraq) was rebuilt, the saint appeared to a merchant asking him to return his body to Qusiya. When the mer­chant arrived in Asyut, he took the body and nobody prevented him, as the saint had promised. According to the Synaxarion, his body is kept in the Monastery of al-Muharraq (Forget 1963: 345—47).

This brings up several points.

  1. The chronology. The foundation of the monastery belongs to St. Pachomius or his immediate successors (Meinardus 2002:156). (This theory is confirmed not only by tradition, but also by the location of the monastery.) It is known that Pachomius came into contact with Christianity in the year ad 312 and he was baptized later, which means after the Great Persecution (Veilleux 1991).
  2. In the Pachomian order, we do not find any bishop as an abbot. Pachomius himself refused the priesthood. So, how can the mention of a bishop of al-Muharraq be accurate?[11]
  3. The Life of Abba Hermina (around the fifth century) (Muyser 1943) narrates that this saint visited the relics of Elias, which were in Qusiya. It is worth mentioning that the of Abba Hermina is on 2 Kiyahk and the commemoration of Elias is on 20 Kiyahk.
  4. Constantine, bishop of Asyut (early seventh century) (Coquin 1981; Garitte 1950), mentions in his second encomium on St. Claudius that thieves went to the sanctuary of Apa Elias in the city of KIDC. However, given the context of this text, this city should be identified as Qusiya (Godron 1970: 644 [222]-645 [223]).
  5. The History[12] of the Patriarchs (Atiya, ‘Abd al-Masih, and Burmester 1959, vol. 2, pt. 3: 228 (text), 362 (translation)) mentions, in the elev­enth century, “In Qusqam [are the relics of] Abu Halis the martyr.”[13] It is worth noting that Yuhanna Ibn Said al-Kulzumi, while talk­ing about the Holy Family in Egypt, mentions “Kuskam,” and the mountain of “Ishnin” and “al-Muharrakah” (Atiya, ‘Abd al-Masih, and Burmester 1959, vol. 2, pt. 3: 361 [translation]).
  6. We can see that EEas of Muharraq is not mentioned in either the oral or the written tradition of the monastery, but he is linked mainly to Qusiya; the amalgamation of Qusiya and Muharraq led to confusion.
  7. The Monastery of al-Muharraq possesses an additional Est of saints commemorated in the monastery who are related to other mon­asteries of the region: Isidorus and Sana (18 Baramhat) (O’Leary 1937: 160, 257), Olympious of Caw (30 Tuba),[14] Macrobius of Dayr al-Ganadla (Coquin 1991a), Dioscorus and Asklepios (Aesculapius) (O’Leary 1937: 124—25; Coquin and Martin 1991e), and Hermina (Coquin, 1991b).

Youhanna Nessim Youssef

[1] I would to thank all who helped with this chapter, especially Gamal Hermina for the manuscript from the Coptic Museum, and the monks of al-Muharraq Monastery, Fr. Angelos, Fr. Beniamin, Fr. Ammonius, and the other monks.

[2] I would like to thank my friend Jacob Askern for this information.

[3] For this edition cf.Wadi 2006.

[4] Simaika and ‘Abd al-Masih 1939: serial number 35; Graf 1939: no. 16.

[5] I would like to thank Fr. Beniamin al-Muharraqi, who drew my attention to these traditions.

[6] Simaika and ‘Abd al-Masih 1939: 84, no. 171; not in Graf.

[7] All English translations are by the author.

[8] Psalm 84:1.

[9] Psalm 118:20.

[10] Psalm 45:9.

[11] Only in the early twentieth century did Pope CyrilV ordain some abbots as bishops.

[12] For the sources of this part of the history of the patriarchs, cf. den Heijer 1989: 142-43.

[13] There are other Eliases, but, according to the context, the one of Qusiya is meant here; cf. Papaconstantinou 2001: 89—91.

[14] For the Synaxarion of Upper Egypt, see Coquin 1978:361; Lefort 1950.