The Coptic year is the extension of the ancient Egyptian civil year, retaining its subdivision into the three seasons, of four months each. The three seasons are commemorated by a special environmental litany in the Coptic Liturgy, which changes with each season. Coptic years are counted from 284 A.D., the year Diocletian became Roman Emperor, whose reign was marked by tortures and mass executions of Christians, especially in Egypt.
The reign of Emperor Diocletian was considered to be one of the hardest times that the Coptic church faced and became known to believers as "the era of martyrdom". Hence, out of honor for the martyrs of the church, a Coptic year became referenced with the abbreviation A.M. (Anno Martyrum or "Year of the Martyrs"). The abbreviation should not be confused with the same abbreviation used for the unrelated Jewish year, Anno Mundi ("Year of the World").
The Nile-flood season is from Paone 12 - Paope 9 (June 19 to October 19), during which the prayer of supplication for the water is recited in each Liturgy. The start of month of Thoout, which is the beginning of the new Coptic year, falls in the Nile-flood season; therefore, the Coptic New Year was referred to as Ni-Yarouou (Lit. the rivers, or rather the feast of the rivers).Basilios, Archbishop. “Fasting.” Claremont Coptic Encyclopedia, Claremont Graduate University. School of Religion
Ni-Yarouou, now known as Nairouz, is a feast where martyrs and confessors are commemorated within the Coptic Orthodox Church on the First of Thoout or September 11 (September 12 as of 2019) of each year. The word “Ney-rouz,” thought to be of Persian origin because of its traditional use in Iran, was originally derived from the ancient Egyptian word Ni-Yarouou which was adopted by the Persians during their occupation of Egypt. Ignorant of the Persian language for the most part, the Arabs confused the Egyptian New Year's celebration “Ni-Yarouou” to the Persian celebration, Nairouz, and hence the name Nairouz stuck on for centuries to come.“The Coptic Syndrome of Trying to Find Coptic Origins to Arab Words”, Dioscorus Boles on Coptic Nationalism, September 14, 2015
Christians have a glory and a beauty and a heavenly wealth which is beyond words, and it is won with pains, and sweat, and trials, and many conflicts, and all by the grace of God
St. Macarius the Great
Out of love for the martyrs, the church marked the first day of the Coptic calendar to begin on August 29, 284 A.D, which is the First of Thoout. The year of an event is referenced by the number years from the year of the martyrs to the date of the event. For example, in 2019, the Feast of the Apostles was on July 12, 2019 AD or Epep 5, 1735 AM, and the Coptic New Year was on September 11, 2019 or Thoout 1, 1736.
A new year in the Coptic Orthodox Church is a time of renewal. We celebrate this renewal by praising the reposal of the saints and rejoicing in their entry into the eternal life. The church reminds us of the martyrs who died for Christ and to set them as examples for us to live by in the new year, as role models in our spiritual struggle.
St. John Chrysostom expresses the blessing of the martyrs of the church in such a manner:
“The death of martyrs is encouragement to the faithful, daring of the Church, confirmation of Christianity, destruction of death, proof of the Resurrection, mocking at demons, condemnation of the devil, teaching of true wisdom and a pious way of life, instillation of disdain for present material benefits and the path of striving for the good to come, comfort in the face of the misfortunes which befall us, an inducement to patience, instruction in courage, the root and fount and mother of all blessings…The blood of martyrs nourishes the Church much much more than the moisture of dew brings gardens in bloom.”
Let us start the spiritual journey of another Coptic year, with all of its seasons, struggles, and spiritual practices with a renewed and inspired heart. Rather than only admiring them, take the lives of the saints who persevered and died for Christ as motivation and inspiration for you to fight the good fight throughout your spiritual journey on Earth. Beyond inspiration, get familiar with the saints of the church by building a close relationship with them as helpers and supporters that walk with you day-to-day in your spiritual path.
The joyful tune and hymns of the New Year are used from the day of the feast to the start of the three day Feast of the Cross. Then the joyful tune continues to be used for the three day Feast of the Cross, but with the hymns of the Cross.
Vespers & Matins
After the priest prays the prayer “God have mercy upon us” with 3 candles, the bodies of the martyrs are covered with spices, they are carried for a procession around the church, and the congregation sings their venerations.
The spices, procession, and venerations may also be performed during the liturgy after the reading of the Synaxarion.