The Coptic Church has survived through centuries of difficulty in great part because of its ability to adapt. Should its clerical leadership devise alternate means of administering the Eucharist, its own rich past shows how this rite has changed over time and how different approaches might protect the health of clergy, parishioners, and community without compromising its core beliefs.
At the heart of such debates, past and present, is the tremendous influence of Pope Shenouda and the many meanings of belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt. In order to chart this history and offer insights on its contemporary significance, we begin with the challenges faced by early Copts in North America and then outline the changing nature of Coptic diasporic communities as a consequence of rising immigration from Upper Egypt, following the 2011 revolution.
I try to explain that Copts are not Western Christians lost in the Middle East, or living relics of “one of the oldest Church in the World.” At the same time, I don’t want to minimize the violence and discrimination Copts suffer. It is an exercise at equilibrium which is sometimes difficult.
On the surface, St. Athanasius comes across as a figure of resistance, keeping the faith against unfaithful emperors and heretical Christians. Yet, much of his legacy is missing from such accounts and may be revealed in the nuances of his story. One piece of his legacy that I aim to highlight and to show as relevant to Copts today is his responses to calls for unity; when he chose to join hands and when he chose to walk away.
From July 13-16, St Athanasius College (SAC) and the University of Divinity (UD) co-hosted an international symposium themed COPTS IN MODERNITY in Melbourne, Australia. The symposium focused on the history of the Coptic Church and community between the 18th and 21st centuries. Below are my thoughts, and some highlights. of the discussions we shared day-to-day.
I have learned a lot about servant leadership, and now practice it as the operations director of SALT, a non-profit missionary organization founded in 2012 in Minnesota. Today, SALT develops youth through mission work and helps them to understand their role as leaders. We help them to recognize that, as “the salt of the earth,” God has equipped them with unique talents and gifts to influence the world around them; whether on a local or international scale, by adopting a missional mindset to serve others.
In this episode, Joseph Youssef (PhD candidate in Anthropology, University of Toronto) kindly shares his history and his experiences with us, as an Egyptian immigrant to Toronto and an anthropologist of Coptic monasticism in Egypt and its diasporas. His fascinating research sheds light on the pitfalls of mythologizing and romanticizing monks. Rather, as he argues, we must understand their humanity and appreciate how modernization continues to affect their spiritual lives.
To paraphrase St. Athanasius, fourth century bishop of Alexandria, Christ became human so humanity can become God. This essential point marks how all humans can be united in endeavoring for unity and prosperity. My understanding of this contribution by St. Athanasius to Christian theology is vital to my own growth and continues to inform my holistic approach as a chaplain.
Since I was the first to go into Philosophy and Religion, I was usually labeled as different, liberal, often controversial, and sometimes idealistic. That certainly affected my faith and spiritual life in Orthodoxy. I began to gravitate toward the friendly environment of free inquiry and understanding of faith in the academic context of theological education.