Photogeniks is the name used by a Philippine photographer in Flicker. One of his works is a series of fascinating photographs that capture the Coptic Baptism by Immersion of a child of one of his Coptic friends. Baptism in the Coptic Church has always been through using the mode of immersion rather than sprinkling or pouring of the holy water. Photogeniks gives his work the title “A baptismal ceremony for an Egyptian child at a Saint Mark’s Christian Coptic Orthodox Church.” He does not locate the church; and I don’t think there is a Coptic church in Philippines. Here is what he wrote as a matter of a prologue to his work:
While holding under the arms, the High Priest faced the baby towards the West. The child was then immersed into the baptismal font and lifted three times to complete the ritual. In a small but crowded room, I decided to use my 24-50 zoom, rapidly firing as the rites progressed.
There are four major parts: (1) Woman’s absolution (2) Renouncing Satan (3) Liturgy of Baptism and (4) Baptism by Immersion (and discharge of water). These photographs will cover mostly the last part.
As a backgrounder, the woman is required within 40 days after her delivery to come to the church with her baby boy to ask the priest to baptize him (80 days for female child). This period should not be exceeded for any normal reason otherwise the parents would be deemed to have sinned against their children. Before administering the Sacrament, the priest must have fasted for at least nine hours. The Sacrament of Baptism is granted only once in a person’s lifetime. When both male and female children are presented for baptism, the male child is baptized first.
The Baptistery must be furnished and clean. Removable of shoes before entering is required. On the eastern wall of the Baptistery must be placed an icon of the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist, and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove. Near the Baptismal Font should be placed the oils used in the Baptism as well as the red ribbons and the special crown that will be thereafter conferred on the baptized. Also within reach are the ritual books and the cross specified for Baptism. A table must be placed in the Baptistery with a clean cover for the child to lie down during the anointing of the Holy Myron. The baptized person is signed with 36 crosses of Myron. The first procedure performed by the priest is the prayer of absolution of the woman which signifies permission of entry to the church.
Coptic Baptism – 1st Immersion
Coptic Baptism – 1st Immersion: This photograph showed the priest gradually dipping the child into the water – the first of three immersions until the child became completely submerged – while saying: “I baptize you … (if the baby’s does not have a Christian name, the priest must give a name from the Holy Bible, or a saint’s name) … in the name of the Father…”
It was a defining moment as the anxious mother of the child could only clasp her hands tightly in muted prayers that all would turn out well for her child. Except for the cadenced sound of the priest as he uttered his supplications, the silence was “deafening.”
Coptic Baptism – 1st Lifting
Coptic Baptism – 1st Lifting: He lifts the child from the water and breathes unto him….
Coptic Baptism – 2nd Immersion
Coptic Baptism – 2nd Immersion: … he then immerses the child again, saying: “And the Son…” — this is the second immersion…
Coptic Baptism – 2nd Lifting
Coptic Baptism – 2nd Lifting: Then he lifts the child from the water and breathes unto him again…
Coptic Baptism – 3rd Immersion
Coptic Baptism – 3rd Immersion: … he then immerses the child for the third time in the water while saying: “And the Holy Spirit” – this is the final immersion…
Coptic Baptism – Final Lifting
Coptic Baptism – Final Lifting: I readied my shot for the lifting of the child after his third and final immersion, and this photo was the result. It now hangs in the living room of my Egyptian friend’s house in Cairo.
A vintage engraving of a Coptic maiden (Koptebmädchen) from Ferdinand Hirts Geographische bildtafeln, Vol. 3, which was published in 1884.
It is interesting to observe her dress and what she wears on her head, in addition to her jewellery. The colour, however, does not reflect the colour of the Copts. Copts are usually paler than this.
A vintage engraving of a Coptic scribe (Koptischer Schreiber) from Ferdinand Hirts Geographische bildtafeln, Vol. 3, which was published in 1884.
The reader will see that the scribe is wearing a dark dress with a dark turban, which were imposed on all Copts by the Muslim authorities to signal them out for ridicule and discriminatory laws. The reader will also note that this distinction in the code dress, called Ghi’yar, came to an end by the British occupation of Egypt in 1884. The engraving most probably was made just before that happened.
David Rumsey Map Collection have interesting maps of Lower and Upper Egypt that were created by the English cartographer, Aaron Arrowsmith (1750–1823), in 1807. They were drawn from various documents; and although from the 19th century, they are still relevant and provide the reader with much useful tool. The reader can access them below:
Previously, I wrote What is culture? What is Coptic culture? And what is the threat to Coptic culture? The reader can return to it for a detailed study of the meaning of culture. Today, however, I would like to give a simple definition of culture and civilisation: culture is what makes our minds, and civilisation is what is made through our minds. The two are linked, and the link is our mind.
One has to avoid mixing brain and mind here: mind is taken in this context to mean the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought. What gets into the mind of a man, of beliefs, values, knowledge and feelings, makes him: they determine how he thinks, behaves, acts and reacts. They, too, through man’s mind, create his own civilisation: how he lives, what he does, what he creates, what rules he follows and enact. When we talk about folks, one considers the common things that create the collective mind of the group; and a folk’s civilisation is what is created by them through that collective mind. Within that collective culture and civilisation, however, one finds sub-cultures and sub-civilisations by smaller groups and even individuals, but the collective mind of a people or nation that is produced by their culture and through which their civilisation is created is the most powerful.
All individuals, groups and nations have their unique culture and civilisation – whether it is high or low culture and civilisation is a matter of judgment.
Bear this simple definition in mind, and it will enhance your understanding of humans and their societies.
 Oxford English Dictionary.
I simply share with my reader this impressive photo of a Coptic man with a cross tattoo on his right wrist. I am not sure who is the photographer and the photo’s date but I think c. 1950.