The Praise of Seven and Four (The Praise of the month of Kiahk)
By: Fr Tadros Malaty
The month of Kiahk is a holy month, the Coptic Church focuses on it, because it is the month of praise that prepares us to celebrate the glorious birth (Kiahk 29). It is renowned for a special praise that the church experiences in a special and unique Kiahk tune, that the believer might feel that they are in heaven participating with the angels in their praises.
This praise is called seven and four, and it is beautiful both in spirit and tune and fills the heart with joy and happiness. It is called by that name because it contains, in its Kiahk Sundays’ praises, the seven different Theotokias (blessings for the mother of God) for the seven days of the week, and the four daily canticles (praises) with its Kiahk parts, and they are all prayed in one night. Originally, they were divided among the days of the week, as was practiced in the old days, and as still practiced now in the monasteries and some of the churches.
Seven: are the seven (Theotokias), which is plural for the word (Theotokia), which is a word originating from the word Theotokos; the special title of the virgin Mary, meaning “mother of God” and its Greek meaning is “Carrying God” to emphasize that the Child born of her is the incarnate Word of God. It is also comprised of seven Psalis (praises for the Lord Jesus), with their praises and expositions.
Four: are the four Hoses (canticles) which is plural for the word (Hos), which is a Coptic word meaning “praise”. A Psali is chanted before the canticle (Hos) and is followed by an exposition or explanation. It is worth noting that the tune of the Adam Psali in the month of Kiahk follows the tune of the praise for St. Anthony “In the church of the firstborn”, but the tune of the Watos Psali follows the tune of “The burning bush seen by Moses”.
The Psalis of the first, second, and fourth canticles are in the Adam tune. The Psali of the third canticle (Hos) is in the Watos tune.
The four canticles are:
The first canticle (Hos): it is the praise of Moses the prophet and all the people after crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 15). This praises symbolizes the praise of those who are saved in heaven, for God saved them and crossed with them from the world to heaven. The church placed it in the daily praises as the “first canticle”, to emphasize to her children the importance of the praise for God and continual thanksgiving for His saving deeds with us, for He grants us daily victory over the devil and his armies; not through our human strength, but through His grace in us. It is also of note that Moses and all the people did not utter praise except after being baptized through crossing the Red Sea and seeing the wondrous salvation of God. Likewise, in baptism, we are buried with our crucified Christ and are raised with Him in the new life, and afterwards our inner tongues are unfettered to praise the Lord and offer Him thanks.
It is a delightful praise, the Christian chants it daily when he sees sin falling under his feet through the Cross, and as St. Athanasius the Apostolic says [we sing with Moses … and praise in song, when we see the sin in us cast in the sea, while we cross to the dry land.
The second Canticle (Hos): it is Psalm 135 in the Septuagint translation (136) “Thank the Lord”, and it is the praise of thanks that the church offers to God for His love, Who saves and strengthens us. The first church habitually prayed with this psalm, and it still praises with it in the daily praises. In the story of the life of St. Athanasius the Apostolic, where the people remained in a vigil of prayers and praises under the Pope’s leadership, the soldiers surrounded the church and attacked it, but the congregation was reciting this psalm with a thundering voice, repeating “for His mercy is forever” 26 times. The Pope remained on his chair until the congregation left and the pope disappeared in the darkness, and retreated to his friends without being harmed.
Those who study the Talmud perceive that repeating the phrase “for His mercy is forever” 26 times in this psalm resembles the 26 generations from creation to the delivery of the law in Sinai.
The mercy of God is shone in the following:
- He is the unique and wonderful God [1-3].
- Creator of everything for the sake of man [4-9].
- The Caretaker of His believers with a strong hand [10 – 24]. Giver of victory over the hosts of the darkness, and as He is in heaven, He is occupied with us while we are still on the earth.
- His care encompasses the earth and heaven [25 – 26], for He loves all His creation, especially the sentient.
The third Canticle (Hos): it is the praise of the three young saintly youth which is recapped in that the king ordered them thrown in the fiery furnace and despite the fire never burning out, it did not harm them in any way. It was recorded in the Additions to Daniel (Septuagint Translation).
The church chants the praise of the three saintly youth in the vigil of seven and four, the vigil of bright Saturday, and indeed every day.
The chanter cries out to humanity saying: “every breath praises the name of the Lord”, for He cares for every creation that has breath. Truly, man is the harp of peace that praises his Savior or his Jesus Who shines in him despite his presence in the furnace of tribulation. He loosens his bonds as He did with those youth; and his perishing is glorified in the works of God (Review the account of those youth in the book of Daniel).
This praise reveals to us these noble spiritual meanings:
- Inner peace does not mean eliminating tribulations and suffering from us. It, however, means the presence of God with us in the midst of the flames of the world. The proper understanding of tribulation in Christianity is that it is not resolved by its elimination, but, rather, that the Lord accompanies us while passing through tribulation and carries the cross with us; meaning the everlasting presence with us.
St. Stephen the first martyr was being stoned, his bones crushed and his flesh torn apart from the stones, while he was witnessing the Son of man standing on the right hand of the Glory. He was gazing into heaven and was not concerned by the stone or the stoners.
- The flames of the world are necessary to test the church (the church as a unit, of which we are members). However, God the compassionate and merciful is standing in the midst of this furnace (the formidable tribulations), and changes the fire to cold dew.
- This praise combines in one scene, the church’s presence in the painful present time (the furnace) and her presence in the joyous eternity (the Son of God present in the midst of the furnace). “The Lamb that is in the midst of the throne with care for them” (Rev 7:17). She is in the fire of this world while in the presence of God and enjoys the promise of eternal joy.
The fourth Canticle (Hos): it is the words of the three psalms (148, 149, 150) and they are all about praise, and the praise is the work of the angels and the continual work of the church in heaven and work of the saints, the creation of both animals, plants, and elements. God is glorified in an unrivaled image in His saints so we say (praise God in all His saints). The praise starts with a hymn that we pray daily. It is the hymn (Ten Thino) which means “Arise O children of the light to praise the Lord of hosts”. Here we see the church urging us to remain vigil, which is an illustration of standing in the light of the Lord Christ, to praise the Lord of hosts, for in His light we see the light. Here, the words of St. Paul the Apostle is befitting: “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober… But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation (1 Thess 5:5-8).
Humanity often creates choruses or bands for singing whether in the world or in religious groups. We, however, have not heard of a chorus called for praise as was mentioned in Psalm 148. This chorus encompasses the sentient creation that fears God, as well as the non-sentient, and even the elements; it encompasses immeasurable groups. They all feel indebted to the Creator who cares for them, and they all proclaim their awe and love for this wonderful Creator.
This psalm reveals to us everything and everyone’s dedication in glorifying God, every being according to their capabilities and gifts. The heavenly and heavenly ranks witness to Him with their holy, joyous heavenly lives. The sun witnesses to God with the glory of her rays, as well as with her heat for the service of the plants, animals and humanity, etc…. The moon, with its shining light serves the night and the planets in the beauty of their countenance witnesses to God; the greatest artist. This is what is seen, but what is unseen is greater. When the chanter tastes the sweetness of praise, he calls all the heavenly and earthly creation for praise:
- The heavenly [1-6], starting with the angels, the heavenly bodies, and then the clouds.
- The earthly [7-10], whether from the depths of the seas and oceans, or the heights of the mountains, the winds, or the fruitful trees.
- Humanity: man was created in the image of God – male and female – therefore they need to praise God more than all the rest!
When we enjoy salvation, we realize all the more the exceeding love of God for us, and we praise him exceedingly.
In Psalm 149, when the chanter sees the Word of God coming forth for salvation, he calls the church of the New Testament for praise with a new song, where the heart and mind resonate, and the group of those who fear the Lord become a joyous and praising host, playing musical instruments that are not outward, but man himself becomes a spiritual harp upon which the Spirit of the Holy God plays.
- We praise Him in the house of the Lord [1-4]. Praise pleases the Lord, and gives His people beauty [3; Ps 147:1].
- We must praise Him at home . Even when we are asleep, when we awake, and during illness.
- We praise Him on the field of the Holy war [6-9]. The Word of God is our sword (Eph 6:17; Heb 4 – 12). Praise is an incredible weapon for victory over the enemy.
Psalm 150 is a call to praise for the Lord. The word “praise” is used here 13 times.
- Where do we praise God? Locally and globally, in the sanctuary and in the heavens , wherever we are present.
- Why do we praise Him? For His works with us and for His Person. The more we know Him, the sweeter His praise becomes.
- How do we praise Him? With sound (mouth) as well as musical instruments which symbolize our members, nay, even all our carnal and spiritual being.
- Who praises Him? Every being that has breath , and even the creation that has no breath (148: 7-9). Therefore, we, humanity need to praise Him. The breath of our life is from Him (Acts 17:25), hence we ought to use it to praise His name.
The breath is the weakest thing in us, yet we are able to consecrate it for the greatest act that we offer, which is praising God!
St. Clement of Alexandria explains Psalm 150 which the church chants during communion from the Holy Mysteries in a beautiful symbolic way, in which he presents the risen church to her Groom, risen from the dead, as a living musical instrument, upon which the Holy Spirit plays to produce a sweet praise of love. He says:
[In the Divine service, the spirit sings…
“Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet”, because with the sound of the trumpet, He raises the dead.
“Praise Him with the flute”, because the tongue is the flute of the Lord.
“Praise Him with the harp”. Here, we mean the mouth, which the Spirit moves as the string.
“Praise Him with trumpets and dancing”, referring to the church that contemplates the resurrection from the dead during the fall of the thrashes on the skins (symbolizing the dead).
“Praise Him with strings and organs”. Our body is called an organ, its nerves, the strings that the Spirit hits, and it gives harmonious bodily sounds.
“Praise Him with pleasant sounding cymbals”: the tongue is called a cymbal because it creates sound through the lips.
Therefore he cries out to humanity saying “every breath praises the name of the Lord” because He cares for every creation that has breath. Truly, man is the God of peace.