Introduction to the hymn
“Je Peniot” is a short hymn that is chanted as the Gospel response on Saturdays and Sundays of the Great Fast. It is also chanted as the gospel response during Funerals. Its tune can be best described as ‘encouraging’ and its words are drawn from the words of the Lord’s Prayer, which Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to pray when He said, “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father…” (Matthew 6).
The full hymn in Coptic is as follows:
|Je Peniot et khen nee fee owee: maref tovo enje pekran: mar-es ee enje tekmet ooro: je vok pe pee o-oo sha nee eneh.|
|Je ef esmaro oot enje Efiot nem Epsheeree: nem Pee epnevma ethowab: Tee etrias et jeek evol: ten oo osht emmos ten tee o oonas.|
Significance of the hymn
It’s noteworthy that the Church has chosen these words for us to chant immediately after the Gospel, when our attention is at its peak. Prayer and Fasting go hand in hand and is the overall theme of Great Lent. During the fraction of this fast, we hear the power of Fasting and Prayer: how they are behind all the great works from the Prophets to the Apostles.
We gain insight into the selection of this hymn as the Gospel response for the Great Fast in the Gospel of Preparation Sunday. In this reading, our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us:
“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place;” (Matthew 6:6)
With the selection of this hymn, the Church instills in us three key actions to take while fasting:
- “Go into your room” – that is to say, during the time of fasting, set aside time for God. “Go in your room” means we need to create a center from where we can solely concentrate our hearts and focus on God.
- “Shut your door” – that is to say, shut out the earthly thoughts, cares, and lusts. In so doing, we open our hearts to that which is from the heavens.
- “Pray to your Father” – this is the core message of the Church to us. This is why the first thing we chant after hearing the Gospel (God’s message for us) is “Our Father” or “Je Peniot.”
This is the journey we take and are reminded of during the entire Great Fast – through the very last day of Lent and until the Glorious Feast of the Resurrection.
Contemplation of the hymn
Below are translations of a few key words of the hymn from Coptic to English:
“Je Peniot” = Our Father
“Nee fee owee” = Heaven
“Tekmet ooro” = Your Kingdom
“Pekran” = Your Name
“Sha nee eneh” = Forever
Notice that this hymn is only a short portion of the full Lord’s prayer. The full words of the hymn in English are: “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, For Yours is the Glory Forever.”
Why do we only chant these 3 lines from the Lord’s Prayer? Where is “Thy Will be done” or “Forgive us our trespasses” or “lead us not into temptation”? As with the other hymns in the church, this is no accident. The Church is purposely sending us a message in the choice of the words and tunes. In this case, the Church is teaching us to focus less on ourselves and our requests: “Give us… lead us not into… deliver us…” Instead, we are to focus more on God’s name: “hallowed be Thy Name” and ask for His Kingdom “Your Kingdom come” and glorify God: “for Yours is the Glory forever.” This echoes the message from the Gospel of the 1st Sunday of Lent: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), which is in the same chapter where Our Lord teaches us how to pray. The Church in its wisdom is reminding us of this instruction. It reinforces this instruction by instituting these words as the weekend gospel response.
Musicality of the Hymn
The theme of the first four weeks of Great Lent revolves around the struggle that we must endure. The theme of the first week is “Preparation for Procession.” During this week, we read passages from the Holy Gospels that focus on rejecting evil, submitting, and pursuing perfection and the Kingdom of Heaven. These readings help us to prepare, not only for this great fast, but also for any spiritual endeavor that we wish to pursue. Together, they act as a set of guidelines that aim to lead us to eternal life with God. The scheduled week concludes on Sunday, where we appropriately read Matthew 6:19-33 – “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In the beginning of the hymn, the church is raising our eyes to heaven, where these treasures are, as the tune of the hymn leaps during the word “Peniot”. This same leap is repeated throughout the hymn. The next time is during the word “fee owee” – which is the Coptic word for Heaven. We also hear that same leap in tune as we glorify God’s name with the words “maref tovo” (Hallowed) and “pekran” (Your Name). Every time the tune rises, it is the Church encouraging us during the time of our fasting, repentance, and sorrow, to look up to Heaven and glorify God’s name.
The climax of the hymn comes during the word “mar-es” (come), referring to God’s Kingdom. This is the crescendo of the entire hymn and is consistent with the theme of Coptic music: where tune is used to highlight the significance of the words. We are at the peak of our intercession with God during these words: “Your Kingdom COME.” Our biggest request: for God’s Kingdom, and for Our Lord Jesus Christ’s Kingdom to dwell in our hearts, is manifested in the climax of the hymn. The Kingdom of God, where we want to dwell in eternity, starts here on earth in our hearts, as our Lord Jesus teaches us, “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). We are asking for this with these words – let your Kingdom come into our hearts that we may experience it here on earth and eventually in Heaven. With this ask, we again see the importance of Our Lord’s instruction to “close our door” or shut out the earthly that we may focus on the Heavenly.
Even during the Great Fast, when we’re naturally tired and low on energy, the Church uses this strong tune, full of power and energy, excite us in seeking God’s Kingdom.
In the concluding paragraph of the hymn: we end with a practical exercise: “Blessed be the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Perfect Trinity, we worship Him and Glorify Him.” The Church has us exercise what we just prayed – to glorify and worship God. The ending of the first paragraph of the hymn “sha nee eneh” (forever) is connected immediately without pause into the next part “Je ef esmaro oot” (We worship). Therefore, we immediately apply what we prayed in the first part of the hymn.
The tune at the very end of the gospel response “ten tee o oonas” (glorify Him) is a portion of the musical ladder not at all present in the rest of the hymn; it’s one full step higher. It’s as if the hymn concludes by telling us that we have been here on earth, but with fasting and prayer, we are now transported from the earthly (low) to the Heavenly (high).
This hymn is also the gospel response for funerals. The Church arranged this in order to highlight to the relationship between fasting and death.
In Fasting we put to death the lusts of the flesh and the cares of the world, and we look up and say, “Our Father who art in heaven.” In death, a person has nothing to do except cry out to his/her Father in Heaven. In both fasting and in death, our soul ascends, leaving the earthly behind in order to experience the heavenly.
During the Great Fast, let us do all we can to “go to our rooms, shut the door, and pray to our Father”. Let us leave behind the earthly and materialistic thoughts and let us raise our eyes and our hearts to our Father in Heaven, until we join Him in the Heavenly Kingdom.
“In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
Source and where to go to learn more:
- “Behind the Hymns” Aired on March 6, 2015. SAT7 Production. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/CIBJOqCoF3A