Nocturnal prayers or services on the eve of the Sabbath in preparation for the Sunday eucharistic celebration, including Easter. In the monasteries, it became a daily practice for the midnight offices. Vigils were observed on special occasions, such as at times of affliction or persecution and on momentous occasions in the church, such as the election of a new patriarch.

Vigils are more or less the order of the day in Coptic monasteries, though habitually they are left to the individual monks in their cells. Anba Bishoi is known to have had his hair tied to a ring in the ceiling of his solitary chapel (still to be seen in his monastery in Wadi al-Natrun) so that when he dozed in the midst of his nocturnal vigil, he would be awakened by the pull at the top of his head. Associated with the vigil is abstinence, which is a penitential practice implying refraining from one or all categories of food for a given period.


  • Baumstark, A., and O. Heiming. Nocturna Laus: Typen frühchristlicher Vigilienfeier und ihr Fortleben vor allem im römischen und monastischen Ritus. Münster, 1957.
  • Callewaert, C. “De Vigiliarum Origine.” Collationes Brugenses 23 (1923):425-66.
  • Gastoué, A. “Les Vigiles nocturnes.” Science et Religion 295 (1908).
  • Leclercq, H. “Vigiles.” In Dictionnaire d’archéologie et de liturgie, Vol. 15, pt. 2, cols. 3108-13. Paris, 1953.


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