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July 10, 2019

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The Washing of the Feet: Will a person who insists on being addressed by his pompous honorifics be able to wash feet? So won’t the man who is hiding behind in the shadow.

Modern Copts are afflicted by honorifics. This was not the case in the past. We used to be an egalitarian society, and if we used honorifics in old days we used them sparingly, and used simple forms, not the pompous ones that we use now, and with much subservience and hypocrisy.

I shall write about this subject in a few articles. A ‘honorific’ is a title used to confer or convey honour[1] or a title given to someone as a formal way of showing respect for the position that they hold[2]. Honorifics are used by many societies particularly that are, or have been historically, class-ridden. The addresser will use the honorific to pay respect, or otherwise they will be in trouble, and the addressee will expect to be addressed in the honorific, or else he will put the addresser in trouble. But, Christians are supposed to be brothers. They are expected to treat each other as brother to brother, with neither the addresser feeling inferior nor the addressee demanding to be addressed in honorific to make him feel superior and happy. Jesus told us, addressing the multitudes and his disciples:

The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.[3]

But the Copts of today, afflicted by Arab and Muslim culture, use a wide plethora of honorific, appropriately and inappropriately, and those who are not addressed in honorifics will get cross and demand to be elevated to a higher position through a title. Many would insist on others addressing them in honorifics, even when those who are addressing them are deemed to be relatives or friends; and are keen to attach their titles to their names whether in speech or in writing. So, we witness the proliferation of titles such as “ya basha (Oh, Pasha)”, “ya bey (Oh, Bey)”, “sa’adtak (Your Happiness)”, “ma’aleek (Your Highness)”, “sa’adt al bey (The happiness of the Bey)”, “bashmohandis (Chief Engineer)”, “mohandis (Engineer)”, “diktoar (Doctor)”, “mo’allim (Teacher)”, “ustaz (Teacher)”, “ghodsak (Your Holy)”, “ghadastak (Your Holiness)”,  “sayyidna (Our Master)”, etc., etc.

Honorary academic titles, such as ‘doctor’, ‘engineer’, teacher’, are alright to use under certain circumstances, when the addresser and addressee are in a professional relationship, and in official encounter, such as between a patient and his doctor, a customer and her, e.g., washing machine engineer, and a pupil and his teacher. Outside these circumstances, particularly in families and in between friends, or when members address each other in groups that deal entirely on different matters, the use of them is inappropriate. When an addresser talks to an addressee in oral encounters or in writings, such as in official letters, it is appropriate to use titles such as Mr, Dr, Mrs and Miss. Also, religious dignitaries should always be addressed respectively, using the simple title “abi (My Father)”, as the Copts used to do in the past. We still use the word but in its plural form, “abuna (Our Father)”, which is an innovation of modern times. It is also appropriate that we use simple polite titles when addressing our parents, or relatives, or elderly people. But these are not really honorifics if we take the meaning of honorific as “conveyance of honour (تشريف)”.

Excessive and pompous honorifics are harmful to societies – they promote subservience and hypocrisy on one side, and arrogance and cruelty on the other. In the last analysis, they reveal insecurities in both the addresser and the addressee. Egalitarian societies treat each other in brotherhood and on an equal footing: they give no honorifics inappropriately, and they demand none of them. Pompous honorifics are not for free people who treat each other as equals in dignity. A free man addresses another free man by their first name, except in professional and official relationships, and in doing so they do not convey a lack of esteem, courtesy, or respect.

Those who demand to be addressed through their titles have a big problem – what I call the horrific honorific syndrome. The Copts should avoid that; and Coptic nationalists shall fight it, and work towards an egalitarian culture, away from Arabic and Islamic culture. Our fathers were egalitarian, and so should we be.

Note. I use ‘addresser’ here to mean the person who confers honorific on the other (whom I call ‘addressee’).


[1] Merriam Webster Dictionary.

[2] Macmillan English Dictionary.

[3] Matthew 23: 2-12 (KJV).

7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2019 6:36 am

    “Egalitarian society”? Hogwash. Egalitarianism is a Western, liberal heresy. That is not to say that there isn’t a problem with people demanding to be labelled by their honorifics, sure. But to say that “our fathers were egalitarian” is a monstrous lie.

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      July 11, 2019 6:44 am

      There is a difference between being egalitarian and egalitarianism. To be egalitarian is to believe that all men in society are equal, and shoukd be like brethren. Yes, our society in the past was egalitarian in belief and largely also in practice.

      • July 11, 2019 6:55 am

        Your definition hides important distinctions. For instance, what do you mean by “equal?” If we mean that we all have equal dignity as human beings and image bearers before our Maker, then of course we believe in equality. We are a fundamentally Christian culture, and this is basic Christianity. As a consequence of our status us image bearers, we are all entitled to equality before the Law; we should neither receive special treatment for being wealthy nor pity for being poor.

        But it is disingenuous to use the term equality in the current cultural milieu without careful qualification. Westerners and Western liberals in particular mean something altogether different, and I suspect you are one of them. Are you saying that any kind of rank is wrong? Are you saying that there is no such thing as an honourable person and dishonourable person? A respectable person and a scoundrel? Shall we rid ourselves of all governers and rulers? Shall we refuse to “honour the Emperor,” so to speak?

        Jesus’ actions are so striking to us not because all people are equal in honour and rank, but because they are *not.* Jesus treats people with love *despite* the fact they are particularly worthy of ridicule and scorn. We should do likewise. But we ought not pretend that all men are equally valuable, equally honourable, and equally respectable. They are not.

      • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
        July 11, 2019 7:02 am

        Clearly you do not understand my article and clearly you are a defender of the use of honorifics. Being egalitarian is not about treating others equally under the law but treating each other beyond that as brothers and sisters, and not use or demand the use of pompous titles when addressing each other except in official and professional encounters.

  2. July 11, 2019 7:20 am

    You do not understand my response. At least, you appear to read much more into my response than I actually wrote. Perhaps it’s a communication issue.
    I actually agree with you on the demanding of honourifics, although I don’t think it’s inherently wrong for them to be used. What matters is the spirit in which they are used. If I use an honourific in order to give a friend of mine appropriate honour for their achievements and corresponding status, then I don’t think that’s bad. I actually think that’s respectful, and fosters a healthy community. Of course, the moment honourifics are demanded, we are dealing with a spirit of pride and arrogance, and I think you’re right to point this out as an error.

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      July 11, 2019 10:37 am

      Honorifics should neither be demanded nor given lavishly. And a person not addressed in an honorific should not only not demand it but should also not feel offended by it. There is nothing more beautiful than being addressed by one’s first name, or so I think.
      Bottomline, use professional and official honorifics but only simple ones, not pompous and flowery titles that degrade both addresser and addressee.

      • July 13, 2019 1:28 pm

        I’m not especially opposed to that point of view. But I don’t necessarily think that there “is nothing more beautiful than being addressed by one’s first name,” and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a society that codifies someone’s achievement and corresponding status by how they refer to them. Neither do I think there’s anything wrong with a society that separates your achievement and/or status from how you’re addressed (like the anglosphere). One is more hierarchical and one is more flat, but both have very little to say about the bonds of brotherhood in that society. Western society might not have much in the way of honourifics, but neither does it have even a semblance of brotherhood. Coptic society might have loads of honourifics (especially in Egypt proper), and there may even be abuses of honourifics, but there is also true brotherhood there. I’m not trying to disagree with everything you’re saying–I’m just offering a counterpoint to your particular set of emphases.

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