A hymn in praise of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God (Greek, theotokos), that celebrates in plain and simple language the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and His miraculous nativity. They are used both in the Canonical Hours and in the service of PSALMODIA, of which they are an essential part.
In the canonical hours, two Theotokia are regularly sung during the third, sixth, and ninth hours, and may or may not be sung during Vespers and Compline. As to vespers and compline, the Theotokia texts are sometimes given in both Coptic and Arabic. The text in some recent Arabic editions of the Ajbiyah (Book of Canonical Hours) differs from the Coptic and is probably of modern compilation. In the prayer of the veil, the text, if given in the Coptic Ajbiyah, is the same as the second Theotokion of compline.
In psalmodia, the Theotokia consist of seven sets of metrical hymns, one set for each day of the week, with each set followed by a LOBSH (crown, consummation), which serves as a conclusion. Each Theotokion is preceded by its PSALI (short hymn), which varies for each day of the week.
During the month of Kiyahk, the monasteries and a few city churches sing the prescribed sets of Theotokia daily. But in most churches, since it is not easy to assemble a congregation every night, it has become the custom to sing the seven sets of Theotokia (plus the Lobsh, Psali, and Arabic Tarh [explanation] assigned to each Theotokion) together with the Four Odes (hosat, sing. HOS) on Saturday night. This practice has given rise to the Arabic ecclesiastical idiom SAB‘AH WA-ARBA‘AH (seven and four) referring to the seven Theotokia and four odes.
[See also: Music: Description of the Corpus and Musical Practice.]
- Burmester, O. H. E. “The Canonical Hours of the Coptic Church.” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 2, nos. 1-2 (1936):78-100.
- . The Egyptian or Coptic Church, pp. 96-111. Cairo, 1967.
- . The Horologion of the Egyptian Church, Coptic and Arabic Text from a Mediaeval Manuscript. Cairo, 1973.
- O’Leary, De L. The Coptic Theotokia. London, 1923.
- . “The Coptic Theotokia.” In Coptic Studies in Honor of Walter Ewing Crum, pp. 417, 420. Boston, 1950.
EMILE MAHER ISHAQ