Sacraments

Baptism is normally performed on infants: at 40 days for boys, 80 days for girls. It may also be performed on a special occasion or at a special shrine, as in pilgrimage to a monastery. Prayer of purification of the mother begins the rite, along with an initial anointing of the candidate outside the baptistery. The candidate (or a representative) renounces Satan and makes a profession of faith. Special prayers follow for sanctification of the water in the font. Triple immersion in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit follows. A prayer for de-sanctification of the water is recited and the water is carefully poured out.

Confirmation follows immediately after baptism. Thirty-six signs of the cross are made with holy oil on various body parts. The newly baptized person receives communion from the priest.

Repentance is initiated by confession of sin in front of a priest, in church or at home. A prayer of absolution follows a laying-on of hands. Acts of penance usually include fasting, prostrations and prayers. A special Rite of the Jar was performed in the past (until the nineteenth century) for readmission to communion of an apostate or one who fornicated with non-Christians.

Marriage, at present, includes two separate events: engagement and the marriage ceremony. At the engagement in the bride's home, the priest blesses the marriage contract, recites special prayers, blesses the couple, and places rings on the right hand of each party. The marriage ceremony consists of a service of betrothal with three sacramental prayers and a service of crowning.

Five holy orders are consecrated: reader, subdeacon, deacon, priest and bishop. The patriarch consecrates the bishop, who ordains all others.

Anointing of the sick, in its traditional form, used to require seven priests. One priest is now sufficient, although seven prayers remain in the rite. The sick person makes a confession of sins and is anointed with special oil, as are all others present. It can be performed on any day of the week, as needed, and there is also an annual public rite on the Friday before the Saturday of Lazarus, which precedes Palm Sunday.

At the Eucharist, those who will receive communion must have abstained from sexual relations for two or three days and fasted from midnight. The leavened, Eucha-ristic bread (qorban) is prepared in a special shape and stamped with a cross pattern. Mass is celebrated by one priest with one deacon (or more) and is chanted. Evening and morning prior to Mass must include the appropriate prayers for canonical hours, as well as the evening and morning incense offering. Rites of preparation at the beginning of the Mass include the selection of a loaf and procession of gifts around the altar. Liturgy of the word includes selections from Paul, the Catholic Epistles, Acts, lives of the saints, Trisagion (chanted), and the Gospel. Three Eucharistic anaphoras are in use: St. Cyril (rarely celebrated; mainly in Lent), St Gregory Nazianzus (Feasts of Nativity, Epiphany, and Easter, at night) and St Basil (most often). The anaphora of Basil used by the Copts has distinctive features. The preface is underlined by statements from the congregation: 'amen' and 'we [or I] believe.' The words of institution are also accompanied by the assertions 'we believe', etc. The priest dips his finger into the blood/wine and makes the sign of the cross over the chalice and twice over the body/bread. The loaf is divided leaving the four central, stamped squares (despotikon) intact, surrounded by twelve pieces representing the Apostles. Small bits of each piece (pearls) are used for communion.

Men receive communion at the entrance to the sanctuary, having removed their shoes. Women receive communion in their area of the church. The body/bread is placed directly in the mouth by the priest; the blood/wine is received from a spoon. After each element, the mouth is covered with a cloth to avoid any accidental loss. The prayer of thanksgiving and the inclination are followed by sprinkling the altar and congregation with water used in the Mass. Blessing and dismissal are followed by distribution of the eulogia, the bread prepared but not selected for the service, to the congregation.

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