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Coptic Calendar

The Coptic Calendar of Martyrs

Coptic Feasts & Easter Calculations | Quick Facts | Historic Origins | Relevant Resources

The purpose of this page to clear up few questions that some might have regarding the calendar system that the Coptic Orthodox Church follows.

To learn about the historic origins of the Coptic Calendar please read the article below tracing the Coptic Calendar to the ancient Egyptians.

We have put up a page that calculates the date of all major Coptic feasts including the Orthodox Easter for any year after 1902 A.D. and also calculates a few other Church feasts. Also on this page you will find some very useful links regarding the controversy of the use of different calendar systems.

The Coptic Orthodox Church uses the Old Calendarist approach in determining the dates of Easter and the other Church Occasions that are dependent on the date of Easter. If you are interested in studying more about the Coptic Calendar and the difference between this Calendar and the Western or New Calendars, follow this link to other relevant resources.

Coptic Feasts and Easter Calculations

The following is will calculate the date of the Coptic Orthodox Easter in addition to all major fasts and feasts of the Coptic Church for the given year.

  Between 1902 and 2037


Quick Facts

The Coptic calendar has 13 months, 12 of 30 days each and intercalary month at end the year of 5 or 6 days depending whether the year is leap year or not. The year starts on 11 September in the Gregorian Calendar or on 12th the year before (Gregorian) Leap Years. The Coptic Leap Year follows the same rules as Gregorian so that the extra month always has 6 days in year before Gregorian Leap Year. The names of the months and their starting dates are as follows:

Some Historic Aspects on its Origin

The Feast of Neyrouz marks the first day of the Coptic Calendar known as the Year of the Martyrs "ANO MARTYRUM, A.M." Its celebration falls on the 1st day of the month named Tut, the first month of the Coptic year, which usually coincides with the 11th day of September.

The Coptic calendar, the oldest in history, originated three millennia before Christ. The exact date of its origin is unknown. It is believed that Imhotep, the supreme official of King Djoser C.2670 BC. had a great impact on the construction of the calendar.

Historically, ancient Egyptians initially used a civil calendar based on a solar year that consisted of 365 days only, without making any adjustment for the additional quarter of a day each year. However, in the mean time, they knew an astronomical calendar which is based on an astronomical concept namely the heliacal rising of a bright star called Sirius "Canis Major, the Dog Star" at the dawn of the eastern horizon. The day on which the heliacal rising of Sirius occurs marks the first day of the year. Sirius or Spdt in ancient Egyptian is characterized by high luminosity and is a member of the constellation Canis Major. It lies about 8.6 light years from earth. The first day coincides with the arrival of the highest point of river Nile flood at Memphis, south west of Cairo, the capital of Egypt during the early dynastic period of the old kingdom.

Discrepancies in year length underwent complex calculations considering stellar, solar and lunar cycles. Ancient Egyptians realized that the helical rising of the star Sirius, or Sothis, coincides with the new year's day of the civil calendar precisely every 1460 years. A cycle that is known as the Sothic cycle. A record exists by the 3rd century A.D. grammarian Censorinus that in A.D. 139 the first day of the Egyptian Civil Year coincided with the helical rising of Sirius, marking the end of a Sothic cycle. This phenomenon was celebrated by issuing coins on the back of which appears the Greek inscription A ION, indicating an end of an Era. Egypt then was under the Roman Rule of Emperor Antoninus Pius. The notion of eternal time was personified and deified. A relief of the deity Aion was found in Oxyrhnichus , present day el-Bahnasa in middle Egypt. This notion, found its way into Persian Mithraism and into Gnosticism.

Similar sightings were recorded in the 7th year of the reign of King Senuse'rt the third (1878-1841 B.C.) of the third Dynasty. The dating of the event was the 16th day of the 4th month of the 2nd season. Discrepancies between the yearly Stellar cycle and Solar cycle were realized along the course of centuries or millennia. The difference is very slight, however, along the course of time it became visible and chaotic. The following ancient Egyptian interesting stories i illustrate the resulting effect of the widening gap. A record from an inscription from the reign of King Amenemhet the 3rd (1842-1797 B.C.) describes a visit of his treasurer Harurre to Serabit elKhadem, in Sinai, to extract turquoise ore in the third month of what was, according to the civil calendar, winter. The fact was, according to the inscription, the weather was that of high summer. Harurre describes how he and his men suffered badly from the mountains that brand the skin with the intense heat. The civil calendar, then, was out of phase with Solar cycles by about seven months. A papyrus of the Ramesside period describes in the 13th century B.C. "Winter is come in Summer, the months are reversed, the hours in confusion".

It should be noted that ancient Egyptian Civil Calendar relates to regal years of each king and their Dynasties. By counting forwards and backwards the chronological order was then related to three helical risings of the star Sirus mentioned above. By the year 664 B.C., the beginning of the 26th Dynasty (Saite Period) Egyptian chronology became more accurate. However, in spite of the stories mentioned above, the subdivision of the year into three seasons based on the regular River Nile flood and agricultural activities namely, inundation of the river Nile "Acht", sowing "Bert" and harvesting "Shemmo", remained accurately observed along the millennia. This subdivision possibly occurred during the Ramesside period of the 19th Dynasty.

The Coptic Year is the extension of the ancient Egyptian civil year retaining its subdivision into the three seasons, four months each. This subdivision is maintained in the Coptic Calendar. The three seasons are commemorated by special prayers in the Coptic Divine Liturgy.

Deacon Dr. Medhat R. Wassef
of St. Mark Coptic Church, Jersey City, NJ

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