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Beginning to the Doxologies

Raising of incense prayers start with the priest uncovering his head (by taking off his black turban), worshiping at the altar step, then making matanoia (matanowa) to the assisting priests (if present) and another one to the deacons and the congregation. Afterward, he opens the altar door and prays the Thanksgiving prayer before the altar door (not inside the altar); the place where the deacons stand.

It is important to note that all the prayers, except the Offering prayer, are prayed before the altar door. The only time the priest ascends to the altar is when he offers incense (as is done during the Offering prayer) and goes around the altar.

The word shourya (shūra) literally means the altar of Ra as the Egyptians used to offer incense to Ra and the Copt word was then used in the Church to refer to the censor used in the Christian worship. Also, in the Old Testament, God ordered to have an altar dedicated for the incense and its place was outside the Holy of Holies (Exodus 40:5) which is now where the deacons stand. Therefore, it is very important not to put away the censor inside the altar once the priest is done with it but to have it outside the altar door as God had commanded. Also, it is equally important to leave the coal to be burnt completely as it is a sacrifice to the Lord.

After the Thanksgiving prayer, the priest ascends to the altar, with his right foot, and kisses it and puts three hands[1] of incense and prays secretly (with the deacon standing inside):
  1. A prayer to the Son if vespers or to the Father if matins,
  2. The prayer of peace,
  3. The prayer of the Fathers, and
  4. The prayer of the Assemblies
  5. During this, the congregation sings the Verses of Cymbals[2].
Once the priest completes the prayers and the procession around the altar three times he kisses the altar descends with his left foot and his face towards the East. He then gives the altar three hands of incense and one hand to the priests, if present, and another to the deacons.

Then, the priest prays the prayers of the sick, the travelers, the reposed, and the oblations according to the following:
 Matins Monday - Friday Prayer of the sick and the Travelers
 Matins Saturday Prayer of the Reposed
 Matins Sunday Prayer of the Sick
 Vespers All Days Prayer of the Reposed

Notes:
  • The Prayer of the Oblations is prayed whenever the oblations are ready and the liturgy will be prayed. During fasting, the liturgy is prayed at a later time during the day (usually at the sixth or at the ninth hour) and the matins is prayed earlier. That is why the prayer of the oblations is not prayed in the matins prayer during the fast days. 
  • The prayer of the Sick during the weekdays (Monday - Friday)[3]
  • The prayer of the reposed is prayed on Saturday during Matins because on Saturdays we remember our Lord in the tomb.
  • The prayer of the reposed is prayed on Saturday during Vespers because during vesper the sun sets and this reminds us of the end of our life here on earth.
  • The prayer of the Travelers is prayed during the weekdays (Mon - Fri) because the Church prays for the safe return of her children to their home from their places of work.
  • The prayer of the Travelers is not prayed on Sunday, because no work should be done or conducted on this day and all the believers should be in the Church.
 
After this the congregation prays:
  • Let us praise with the angels if Matins and Graciously accord to us if Vespers
  • Holy God Holy Mighty Holy Immortal
  • The Introduction to Doxologies "Hail to you"


[1] Before the use of a spoon, the priest used to put the incense grain in his hands and then into the shura.
[2] The original rite was to wait till the priest completes the prayers inside the altar, then the congregation sings the Verses of Cymbals.
[3] However, the practice today is to pray the matins prayer as part of the liturgy and is prayed at the sixth or the ninth hour along with the liturgy. Thus, the oblations are usually ready and the prayer of oblations is prayed.