Great Lent officially began on Monday, March 7th for those following the old calendar. Easter will be celebrated on May 1, 2016. I thought you might enjoy a little insight into the Coptic Orthodox Church which is Egypt's largest Christian denomination and one of the oldest churches in the world.
What is the Coptic Church?
St. Mark the apostle and author of the New Testament Gospel of St. Mark, brought the gospel to Egypt via Alexandria in approximately 42 AD. Out of Egypt's current population of 90 million people, 10% to 15% are Christians. The Coptic Church is headed by a Patriarch, the current one being Pope Tawardros. It is a liturgical, apostolic church and core belief is centered in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Egypt has many non Coptic Christians but ultimately, they can trace their faith to a Coptic relative. The Presbyterian Church was one of the first to have missionaries in Egypt in the late 1800's. Since it was forbidden to convert those of the Moslem faith to Christianity, they converted Copts. The western church was appealing to many in the study of the faith and the Sunday school, etc. Since the early 1900's, the Copts have established many seminaries, a vast Sunday school program and excellent publishing houses with vast reading sources (both in Arabic and English).
Handstitched art from Egypt
The Coptic Church in North America
The first church in North America was established in 1964 in Toronto, Canada, followed by St. Marks Coptic Orthodox Church in Jersey City, New Jersey and then the church in Los Angeles. Today, there are many churches spread throughout Canada, United States, Mexico and many foreign countries.
The Copts are the fathers of monasticism started by St. Antony the Great in the late 3rd century. Back in the late 1970's St. Antony's Monastery was established in Newberry Springs, CA. The choice of this area is pretty amazing in that it is located in the Mojave desert; a beautiful but barren landscape. Much like the monastery settings in Egypt. The monks there have worked very hard throughout all these years and a couple of years ago St. Moses the Black church was completed. It's beautiful inside and features classic Coptic architecture.
Outside view of St. Moses the Black Church
Language in the Coptic Church
Originally, Coptic* was the language used in the church since the church's foundation was long before the 7th century introduction of Islam and the use of Arabic. Today, the church liturgy is still a mixture of Coptic and Arabic. And, in America, it is a mixture of Arabic, Coptic and English (if you attend an English service). And, a few parishes are strictly English which are highly popular with the younger people and their children. *My father-in-law knew and spoke Coptic in addition to Arabic.
Book of Divine Liturgy showing English, Coptic and Arabic
There are many things I could share about Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox (which the Coptic Church is considered) theology as there are so many facets to the faith. The Coptic Church is an apostolic church and follows the teachings of the early church. There are seven sacraments, the priests can be married and prayer and fasting are an important facet of the faith. The Copts follow the old calendar (Julian) for feast days and also have their own calendar in conjunction to using the modern calendar (Gregorian) for business. The Coptic calendar begins in 284AD and is known as the Year of the Martyrs. In this year, Roman Emperor Diocletian killed over 1 million Christians for their faith. Currently it is year 1732 (+284 = 2016) in the Coptic year.
Divine Liturgy book
Coptic art can take many forms such as icons, textiles and manuscripts to name a few. Below is an example of a modern piece of Coptic art; the Coptic cross which has been made with pieces of straw. Coptic icons written in the Coptic style differ a bit from their Eastern Orthodox icons. You can see the icons on the iconostasasis (altar) depicting the Lord's Supper, The Virgin Mary, Jesus's baptism and others.
Depiction of Coptic cross made of straw on a black cloth background
Interior of St. Moses the Black church showing icons on iconostasis
I hope that you have enjoyed this little insight into Egypt's oldest faith. And, I thank you again for your friendship and kindness in visiting Lilly My Cat. I hope to share with you some crafty ideas next time.
Wishing you all the best,