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THE TERRIBLE BUT HEROIC DISTINCTION OF THE COPTS: BEING THE MOST REPEATEDLY AND CONTINUOUSLY PERSECUTED BODY OF CHRISTIANS ALL DOWN THE AGES OF HISTORY

November 29, 2020

Walter Frederic Adeney (London Stereoscopic & Photographic Co. Ltd., date unknown)

The Copts are distinguished by a terrible but heroic reputation, and that is being the most repeatedly and continuously persecuted body of Christians all down the ages of history. These are not my words, but the words of the English biblical scholar and Church historian, Walter Frederic Adeney (1849 – 1920). Adeney was a Congregationalist (a Protestant branch) minister famous for writing many books; but perhaps his greatest book is The Greek and Eastern Churches,[1] which was published in 1909, covering the history of the Eastern and Oriental Churches, including the Coptic Church.

The book is extensive, made of 634 pages, and comprised of five divisions, with each division subdivided into many juicy chapters. His review of the Coptic history is excellent, although one does not necessarily agree with all he has written.

Adeney writes, inter alia, about the suffering of the Copts throughout history, and what he has written drew my attention. I simply reproduce it below:

“The Church in Egypt has the terrible but heroic distinction of being the most repeatedly and continuously persecuted body of Christians all down the ages of history, from the second century almost to our own day. These much tried people endured at least their full share of persecution under the Romans during the two or three centuries when Christianity was always illegal and at intervals fiercely assailed. Neale says that the Dominitian persecution does not appear to have reached Egypt, but that possibly there was some persecution there under Trajan. But the first persecution of which we have any information is that under Septimius Severus, which was concentrated with exceptional severity in this province, when Leonidas, the father of Origen, suffered martyrdom, a persecution to which the romantic story of Potamiciena belongs. Till this period the history of the Church is a blank. The Decian, which was the first of the really great persecutions deliberately designed to destroy Christianity on lines of seriously planned State policy, fell with exceptional force on the Christians of Egypt. Then many fled to the desert, only to be seized as slaves by the Arabs. The Diocletian persecution was also severely felt in Egypt. In the year 311, Peter the bishop of Alexandria was beheaded without a trial by order of Maximin. So effectually were the horror and the heroism of this persecution branded into the memory of the Church that the Copts named the new era of Diocletian “the era of martyrs.” Of course Egypt shared in the quiet of the breathing time under Galienus’s edict of toleration, and in the peace of the Church that came in with the edict of Milan. But this peace proved to be disappointing and delusive. Persecution soon revived in new forms, now claiming Christianity itself as an excuse for harshness to Christians. The Arian heresy first appeared in Alexandria, and the worst of the consequent troubles were felt in that city, under the infamous rule of George the Cappadocian, whom Constantius forced on the Church, ordained, as the impartial pagan historian Ammianus says, “against his own and the public interest.”[ Amm. Marc. xxii. 11] Athanasius tells us that “virgins were thrown into prison; bishops were led away in chains by soldiers; the houses of orphans and widows were plundered,” etc.[De Fuga, 6] According to Sozomen, George “imprisoned and maimed many men and women,” and was “accounted a tyrant and became an object of universal hatred.”[Hist. Eccl. iv. 10] It is difficult to be very severe on the murderers of such a tyrant. They were pagans—not Athanasian Christians, as the Arians tried to show.

Arianism was suppressed; but new heresies disturbing the peace of the Church brought their train of troubles to Egypt. After the severance of the Monophysite party from the Greek Church, the imperial displeasure made life so hard for the Copts that they were ready to welcome the Arab invasion as a relief. But it was not long before they became the victims of Mohammedan persecution. With every change of masters they have hoped for better times; but whether under Arab, Kurd, or Turk, the Christians have always been the sufferers from each new invasion and fresh conquest of Egypt, in additional exactions, restrictions, wrongs, and insults. This went on until modern Europe interfered with Egyptian affairs, and, last of all, England brought equal justice to all classes and freedom in religion for all faiths.”[2]

I find myself in total agreement with Adeney: The Coptic nation, in my opinion, has suffered throughout history more than any other nation on earth. I know it is controversial but I think it is true. The writer does not want to minimise the suffering of other nations though.

Although Adeney ends his passage with a happy note, that Coptic persecution ended under the British control of Egypt, it was not the end of Coptic persecution in history: the Copts are still a persecuted nation up to this very day.


[1] W. F. Adeney, The Greek and Eastern Churches (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909).

[2] Ibid, pp. 556-558.

THE MWCCE ONLINE LECTURE SERIES NO. 2: ARIETTA PAPACONSTANTINOU – FORMS OF LIFE-WRITING IN COPTIC LITERATURE

November 25, 2020

MWCCE is an Online Lecture Series (given the collective title of “Material and Written Culture of Christian Egypt”) jointly organized by the Göttingen Academy project Digital Edition and Translation of the Coptic-Sahidic Old Testament and the Seminar for Egyptology and Coptic Studies at the University of Göttingen. The lectures are delivered monthly by renown Coptologists across the world.

All lectures are held on Zoom. If you would like to attend, please send an e-mail to Alin Suciu to receive the invitation link and password. The Waiting Room will be opened 15 minutes before the lecture starts.

On Coptic Nationalism Journal welcomes these series of monthly lectures on Coptic culture.

The second lecture was delivered on 18 November 2020 by the Greek Professor Arietta Papaconstantinou, University of Reading, UK, and is titled “Forms Of Life-Writing In Coptic Literature”.

The video is not yet available.

NOTE. Next MWCCE lecture (Lecture 3) will be delivered on line on 16 December 2020 by the Italian Professor Paola Buzi, from the Saoienza University of Rome, under the title: “From This to Turin: The Eighth Century Papyrus Codices Preserved in the Museo Egizio”.

THE MWCCE ONLINE LECTURE SERIES NO. 1: ALBERTO CAMPLANI – THE PATRIARCHAL INSTITUTION IN EGYPT AND ITS IDEOLOGY BETWEEN DEMETRIUS AND ISAAC: OLD AND NEW DOCUMENTS

November 25, 2020

MWCCE is an Online Lecture Series (given the collective title of “Material and Written Culture of Christian Egypt”) jointly organized by the Göttingen Academy project Digital Edition and Translation of the Coptic-Sahidic Old Testament and the Seminar for Egyptology and Coptic Studies at the University of Göttingen. The lectures are delivered monthly by renown Coptologists across the world.

All lectures are held on Zoom. If you would like to attend, please send an e-mail to Alin Suciu to receive the invitation link and password. The Waiting Room will be opened 15 minutes before the lecture starts.

On Coptic Nationalism Journal welcomes these series of monthly lectures on Coptic culture.

The first lecture was delivered on 21 October 2020 by the Italian Professor Alberto Camplani, Sapienza University of Rome, and is titled “The Patriarchal Institution in Egypt and its Ideology between Demetrius and Isaac: Old and New Documents”. The reader can watch and listen to Campalani’s lecture below:

THE MWCCE ONLINE LECTURE SERIES ON MATERIAL AND WRITTEN CULTURE OF CHRISTIAN EGYPT

November 25, 2020

MWCCE is an Online Lecture Series (given the collective title of “Material and Written Culture of Christian Egypt”) jointly organized by the Göttingen Academy project Digital Edition and Translation of the Coptic-Sahidic Old Testament and the Seminar for Egyptology and Coptic Studies at the University of Göttingen. The lectures are delivered monthly by renown Coptologists across the world.

All lectures are held on Zoom. If you would like to attend, please send an e-mail to Alin Suciu to receive the invitation link and password. The Waiting Room will be opened 15 minutes before the lecture starts.

On Coptic Nationalism Journal welcomes these series of monthly lectures on Coptic culture. We shall add all lectures to our site, month by month.

COPTIC REVIEW OF THE DECEIT, AN ENGLISH NOVEL BY TOM KNOX: INTRODUCTION

November 25, 2020

Front cover of The Deceit

I am not a fan of English novels, particularly modern ones. There are thousands of them in each bookstore, and I usually pass them without paying much attention. Since I had been young, when I was reading widely indiscriminately various works of literature, from every nation, I fell in love with the Russian literature, and found what I wanted in them. They are not written just for fun or for readers who want to lazily kill time, or are looking for suspense or romance. Russian literature is about the deeper meanings of life, and they make you think and contemplate, and wanting to alter your soul to a better one. Russian literature makes all other literature second-rate.

But that does not mean all non-Russian literature does not match Russian literature at all – some are highly artistic, in the way Leo Tolstoy defines art. Those are beneficial to read. But I am always interested to read other kinds of literature, of whatever nation, even when they are second or even third rate, if they touch on Coptic themes, or include Coptic characters. I always want to see what the novelist perception and presentation of the Copts. And recently, I have obtained a copy of The Deceit, a 2013 novel by Tom Knox, an English journalist of Cornish roots, whose real name is Sean Thomas. He has written several novels, including The Genesis Secret, The Marks of Cain, Bible of the Dead, and The Babylon Rite. Only The Deceit deals with Coptic characters; so I decided to read it decided too that I give a summary of each chapter as I get on, with a focus of course on the writer’s depiction of the Copts. In this way I hope to carry the reader with me as read The Deceit.

Knox chooses Deuteronomy 26:8, “And the LORD brought us FORTH out of EGYPT, with a mighty hand” as epigraph to his book. It’s intriguing to find out why he has chosen this verse, but it made more interesting for me to find out. In his both Author’s Note and Acknowledgements he tells us that he has drawn on many real, historical, archaeological and cultural sources for his book, but he particularly mentions works of black magic. Perhaps connected to his interest in magic, he brought the Copts into it, for there is no doubt that the ancient Egyptians were masters of magic, and the interest continued within some Coptic circles even after the Egyptians adopted Christianity. Akhmim, the largely Coptic town until the nineteenth century draws his attention, and so he writes, “The little town of Akhmim is possibly the oldest inhabited site in Egypt. Regarded as the cradle of alchemy, and as one of the birthplaces of Gnostic and Coptic Christianity, Akhmim also, enjoyed a reputation as being home to the greatest magicians in Egypt. Despite its extraordinary history, Akhmim has never been properly excavated by archaeologists.” Akhmim is the birthplace of my grandparents, and The Deceit became more interesting for me to read.

Knox used Ancient Christian Magic, Coptic Texts of Ritual Power by Marvin Meyer and Richard Smith to know about Coptic magic; but he also visited Egypt several times and met with Copts across Egypt, poor and rich. Of the poor Copts he mentions the Zabaleen (garbage collectors) in Moqqatam at the outskirts of Caro. It appears that his visits were made in 2011 during the turbulent period of popular revolt at Tahrir Square, and across all Egypt, that ended the political regime of President Mubarak, a period which resulted in greater power to the Islamists and increasing animosity towards the Copts.

The author Tom Knox (Sean Thomas)

It’s interesting to read that Knox dedicates his book to “the nuns of the fourth century Coptic monastery of Tawdros, near the Valley of the Queens, Luxor”. This is the monastery of the Saint Martyr, Theodore the General (also, Tadros or Tawdros) which has a few Coptic nuns in it, and is situated in the West Bank of Luxor in Upper Egypt, about a kilometre away from Medinet Habu where the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III is to be found.

In the next part, we will start our reading of the book together.

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WHAT HAVE THE COPTS DONE TO HELP THE POOR ETHIOPIAN IN THEIR HUMANITARIAN CRISIS?

November 22, 2020

WE MUST EXTEND A HAND OF HELP TO OUR ETHIOPIAN BRETHREN AT THE HOUR OF THEIR NEED

Ethiopia is in civil war. The central Ethiopian government is at war with the Ethiopians in the Tigrayan region, and this war is unfolding before our eyes as one of the major humanitarian crises that are witnessed by the world of today. We see the suffering of the Ethiopian refugees who are escaping the war and massacres and fleeing to Sudan as refugees. And the news T.V. bulletins are full of painful stories. The images of suffering men, women and children prick the conscious of the word, and are reminiscent of the suffering of Ethiopia in the 1983-1985 famine. And the situation is bound to get worse with the forces of the central government announcing that it will soon surround Mikelle, the Tigrayan region capital, a city with half-a-million inhabitants, with tanks and shell it with artillery. As the spokesman for the Ethiopian army has said, “There will be no mercy.”

The Tigrayans, as most Ethiopians, are Orthodox Christians. Since 1959 their Church has been independent, but before that it was headed by the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria. Even now, the Ethiopian Church considers the Church of Alexandria as mother Church. The relationship between the Copts and the Ethiopians are deep. So, what have we done, as people and Church, to help our Ethiopian brothers and sisters in their humanitarian crisis?

During the 1980s famine, the world was not yet so connected, but now we know of the Ethiopians’ misery better. Also, in the 1980’s, the Coptic Church was still relatively poor. Now, the Coptic Church is much richer, and has branches across the world.

But do we see any help coming to the Ethiopian refugees from the Copts and their Church? No, not so far.

This is a call for the Copts and their Church to extend a hand of help to their Ethiopian brethren at the hour of their need.

LANGUAGE IS AT THE HEART OF WELSH NATIONALISM, AND SO IT SHOULD BE AT THE HEART OF COPTIC NATIONALISM

November 16, 2020

I have written before about Welsh nationalism and how we can learn from it, and one of the important lessons that we can learn is the important of language in forming the consciousness of a nation. Truly, language is the soul of the nation. The Welsh language has always been central to the call of Welsh nationalism, and they worked tirelessly until they secured the tools and mechanisms to save the language from extinction. If there is anything that can demonstrate the Welsh nation’s interest in their language, it is their national anthem. Below are its translated beautiful lyrics:

The old land of my fathers is dear to me,

Land of poets and singers, famous men of renown;

Her brave warriors, very splendid patriots,

For freedom shed their blood.

Nation, Nation, I pledge to my Nation.

While the sea [is] a wall to the pure, most loved land,

O may the old language endure.

GERMANY CHARGES EGYPTIAN WITH SPYING FOR THE EGYPTIAN REGIME WHILE WORKING IN MERKEL’S PRESS OFFICE

November 16, 2020

NEWS (AP, DW, Euro News)Monday, 16 November 2020. Today, the German Federal Public Prosecutor issued a statement (“Charges brought on suspicion of intelligence agent activity”, which the reader can access it here) in which Germany brought charges against an Egyptian-German man (known simply as Amin K) of spying for the Egyptian regimes of Mubarak (1981 – 2011) and al-Sisi (2013 – ) while working for the press service of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The Egypt-born suspect had been employed at the press service since 1999, most recently working in the visitors’ service of the German Federal Press Centre, in charge of communicating on the activities of the chancellery.

Amin K is accused of transmitting “information to the Egyptian General Intelligence Service” (GIS), for years (since July 2010) by taking advantage of his privileged position.

“The accused wanted to help the Egyptian intelligence service by sending it his observations on how the media dealt with domestic and foreign policies related to Egypt as well as the general news situation,” the prosecutor’s office added. In 2014 and 2015, the individual also unsuccessfully tried to recruit a source for the Egyptian secret service by providing GIS employees with the necessary contact. In exchange for the information provided, the suspect hoped to receive preferential treatment from the Egyptian authorities. In particular, his mother would have been assisted in asserting her Egyptian pension rights, prosecutors say.

__________

In July 2020, the German Federal Ministry of the Interior published a report called “2019 Annual Report on the Protection of the Constitution (Facts and Trends)”, which the reader can find here. In the report, the German Internal Intelligence sates that both the Egyptian Foreign Intelligence Service (GIS, جهاز المخابرات العامة) and its Internal Intelligence Service (NSS, قطاع الأمن الوطني) are active in Germany. These two Egyptian secret services aim primarily to collect information on opponents of the Egyptian regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi who live in Germany. Much of their activity is directed towards the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned in Egypt since 2013; however, and the Copts need to take notice here, they do not only target the Muslim Brotherhood: all opposition against the authoritative military regime of General al-Sisi are fair game. The definition of opposition, as it is with all dictatorial regimes, is elastic and loose, and includes people from all political, ideological and religious backgrounds, from the right to the left – and that includes the Copts (the German report expressly mentions the Christian Copts who live in Germany as target of spying by Egypt’s regime). In fact, the Copts in Germany, and the West in general, have been a target for Egypt’s spying agencies since the days of Anwar Sadat (1970 – 1981) who saw the activities of the Copts of the Diaspora for religious freedom and human danger as a threat to national security. The Copts must be sure that this situation still exists, and that Egypt’s embassies and consul general services are hubs of information collection. This must not scare the Copts, but should make them careful and reluctant to pass information; and, better still, report all suspect spying activity against their own people or their host countries to the authorities of the countries in the west in which they live in freedom and security which Egypt had failed to provide them with. We must not collaborate with this foxy-wolfy dictatorial regime.

We had written about the German Interior Ministry report and the police investigation that followed it back in July 2020. The reader can review what we had to say, here.

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WE PRAY FOR ETHIOPIA

November 16, 2020
A priest on his way to church in Tigray by Philip Lee Harvey

Ethiopia is dear to the Coptic nation – our historical and religious links are strong and deep; and we cannot forget that, in our national need, when Muslim rulers oppressed us, Ethiopia often hurried to assist us. It’s no surprise that we love Ethiopia and that always pray for her peace and prosperity.

Ethiopia these days is threatened with worsening civil war as its political differences have created conflicts, and its conflicts are being dealt with by violence rather than discourse. I do not want to get involved in the political differences between the federal government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigrayan TOLF: I do not claim to know the full details, or to be in a position to judge. But I condemn the violence as the method to solve Ethiopia’s political problems; I, most of all, condemn the hate and the massacres that are driven by it. Much is being done in Ethiopia these days which is contrary to human values and the Christian faith which is followed by the majority of Ethiopians.

Ethiopia’s conflict is not just internal – it threatens to suck in external players, such as Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt. And these will undoubtedly be encouraged to do so, if they are not already interested in sowing conflict in Ethiopia and weakening it, by other players in the wider region and beyond who are keen about controlling the horn of Africa and its strategic geo-political position. We cannot say much about these beyond condemnation; but we can say something about the apparent joy expressed by some in Egypt for Ethiopia’s present difficulties: the Copts, however, will not share in the gloating about Ethiopia’s bad luck. In fact, we shall pray and work for Ethiopia – for its peace and for prosperity. Ethiopia is not an enemy – Ethiopia is a dear friend!

LEARNING FROM THE WELSH NATIONALISTS

November 10, 2020

The Copts in their struggle for autonomy and the preservation of their culture and language can learn a lot from the Welsh nationalists. Reading about the history of Wales and its struggle for autonomy within the United Kingdom is illuminating.

The Welsh, who constitute a small national minority in the UK, amounting to less than 5% of the population (around 3 million inhabit Wales out of 65 million who is the total population of the UK), and mainly populating the country of Wales, are a different race from the English, as they belong to the Celts. The Celts settled in Wales in 600 BC, after arriving in Britain from the Continent. In their new home, however, they were not to be left in peace, as they were invaded by the successive waves of invasions of Britain that arrived from Europe, including the Romans, the Danes, and the English, but they fought bravely for their independence. The English, however, were able to subdue Wales at last in the thirteenth century and rule the Welsh, and seeing to it that Wales forgets its identity and culture. The Welsh Church was made subject to the English Church, and the Welsh language was suppressed and English was introduced with an effort to assimilate the Welsh people. The Welsh, however, proud of their language, fought all efforts at anglicisation. They realised that to keep their Welsh culture alive, they must possess political autonomy. The Welsh, therefore, starting from the nineteenth century agitated for Home Rule. This was expressed in different ways: some wanted complete independence from the UK while others asked for regional autonomy. And the methods they employed took different forms, but their activity was mainly non-violent and constitutional.  

The Welsh struggle has now attained its goals by gaining full regional autonomy and the recognition of Welsh as an official language now, protected by law that promotes the language. Today, nearly 900,00 (around 28%) of Wales can speak Welsh, and Wales can be reassured that the Welsh language will not die.

But in this article, I would like to draw the attention of my fellow Copts to a story that shows how the Welsh were driven by the duty they saw in the need to continue their struggle in the face of opposition and against all the odds. Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, was formed in 1925 to carry the national struggle for autonomy and the saving of the Welsh language. One of its greatest leaders was Dr D. J. Davies, who joined Plaid Cymru shortly after its foundation and contribute enormously to its political programme. In 1924, Davies was studying in Denmark at the Vestbrik Folk High School. Davies at that stage saw the Welsh struggle for autonomy as hopeless case against so great foe as the English, who ruled the mighty British Empire. But the principal of the school, Gronvald Nielson convinced him that it was his duty to fight for his nation regardless of the chances of success. P. Perrestford Ellis in his Wales, A Nation Again! The Nationalist Struggle for Freedom tells us the story:

His [Davies] mind turned to Welsh nationalism when Gronvald Nielson, the principal of Vestbrik, told him: ‘Your country is ruled by England. Your duty, young man, is plain. You must go back [to Wales] and make her free.’

            ‘But we could never succeed,’ replied Davies. ‘England is so strong and we are so weak.’

            ‘The path of duty is plain,’ replied Nielson. ‘You must tread that path. That is the important thing for the human being – not whether you succeed or fail, but to do what is morally right.’

To do what is morally right is the most important duty. This is what we must believe in. The Muslims of Egypt are dominant in Egypt, demographically, politically and economically; they are so strong and we are so weak. However, a man who believes in his duty, does not decide on his actions based on whether he would succeed or fail – he leaves Providence to decide the outcome. He must tread the path of duty whatever what. This seems to me what the Copts must do – our duty is plain.      

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