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WORLD COPTIC CONGRESS

January 1, 2018

Helwan

The heart-breaking mourning of the families of the Coptic victims who were massacred by the Islamists in Helwan on 29 December 2017

The massacres of Copts by the Islamists in Egypt, and the persecution, intensify. The Coptic situation has never been worse than what it is now under the government of President Sisi. Since the era of the Mamlukes of the pre-French Campaign we haven’t seen anything like this. Even at the days of the Muslim Brotherhood under Morsi we witnessed nothing like it. President Sisi and his government stand accused of impotence in protecting the Copts – nay, it stands accused of encouraging, and colluding with, the attacks on them, their worship-places, residences and work-places through an alliance with the extremist views of al-Azhar and the Salafists.

Naturally, under such conditions, the Copts will ask how they can protect themselves and force the Egyptian government to undertake its duty in bringing the anti-Coptic situation in Egypt under control. One of the legitimate ways to do so is to mount international pressure on the government to realise its duties. Egypt is a member of the international community and a member of the United Nations; and under international law it has duty to stop the anti-Coptic propaganda and protect the Coptic citizens. We, therefore, do not see any wrong in bringing world pressure on it to do its job.

But, one of the reasons this is not happening is the weakness of the Coptic movement in the Diaspora. The Copts now have communities all over the world, spreading from Japan to the US. There are many Coptic activists – leaders – who work to help their brethren in Egypt; however, they represent a divided leadership, and are infective working individually. Further, there is no one organisation to represent them, and their communities.

It is about time to create a world organistion to coordinate the efforts of all Coptic leaders and to make them focus on shared objectives. We suggest the formation of a World Coptic Congress – an international federation of Coptic communities and organisations run in a democratic way that acts as the diplomatic arm of the Copts outside Egypt.

It is a high duty.

 

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FURTHER EVIDENCE THAT COPTS OF ALEXANDRIA HELPED IN THE DECLINE OF COPTIC LANGUAGE AND AIDED THE SHIFT FROM COPTIC TO ARABIC

December 26, 2017

In a previous article, I wrote about the contribution of the Copts of Alexandria to the decline of the Coptic language and language shift from Coptic to Arabic. There, I used evidence from Abu al-Makarim the 13th century Coptic historian. In his book, The Churches and Monasteries of Egypt (تاريخ الكنائس والأديرة), Abu al-Makarim tells us that all churches in Alexandria used Greek language in the liturgy and not Coptic, except one church: the church known as Al-Gamja. This insistence by the Copts of Alexandria on using Greek rather than Coptic in the liturgy, even after the collapse of the Byzantine Empire and the decline of Greek language, as I have said in the article, has contributed, in my opinion, to the decline of Coptic at least in Alexandria and its environs.

Now, I would like to share with my readers another piece of evidence on the same matter: it seems that the people of Alexandria – both clergy and laity – were so stubborn in retaining Greek as the official, ecclesiastical language of the Liturgy that they made it a precondition on the prdination of any patriarch-elect. We find in the invaluable book, al jawharah al-nafisa fi ulum al-kanisah (The Precious Jewel in Ecclesiastical Sciences), by the 13th century Coptic historian, Yohanna ibn abi-Zakariyya ibn Siba’a, that after the laity had elected a man to be ordained a patriarch, he was taken from Cairo/Misr to Alexandria for the official ordination ceremony. Alexandria was the site for ordination of a patriarch for he was but the bishop of Alexandria in the long line of succession to the throne of Saint Mark the Evangelist. This was done at the Church of Saint Mark known as ‘The Gamja’. Before he was ordained, however, and as he was put in chains,[1]āhl thaghr al-iskandaria” (the people of the port of Alexandria) would obtain a written pledge from him that he would not “change the tongue of their rûmi (Greek) language which they had taken from Mark the Evangelist.”[2]

What does that mean? It means that the Copts of Alexandria resisted the ‘Copticisation’ of Liturgy, and most likely all prayers, in the churches of Alexandria, and preferred to stick to a foreign language on the excuse that they took it from Saint Mark. Clearly, they regarded Greek, and not Coptic, as their language. Greek perhaps was the language of the Alexandrians in the first seven centuries of our era when the official language of the state was Greek; many Greeks resided in Alexandria; many Egyptians became culturally Hellenised and spoke the language; and churches remained mainly in the hands of the Melkites (Royalists) after the Chalcedonian schism in AD 450. This state of affairs, however, did not last for long following the Arab occupation of Alexandria in AD 642, wrestling it from Byzantium: Arabic became the official language of the state, increasingly replacing Greek in administration; and most churches, which had previously been in the hands of the Melkites, were handed over to the Copts.

There is no doubt that the bulk of the followers of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which took over the churches previously in Chalcedonian hands, were of Egyptian stock and spoke Coptic, rather than Greek, as their mother tongue. With the collapse of Byzantine authority in Egypt, Greek was gradually abandoned and forgotten. This means that the Alexandrians, who attended church, could not comprehend the Liturgy and other prayers.  This discordance between language used in the churches of Alexandria (Greek) and language spoken outside it (Coptic) preceded the later discordance that was observed in the same settings between Coptic and Arabic. There is, however, a fundamental difference between the two situations: in the former, there was foolish adherence to a foreign language and reluctance to adopt the national language; whereas, in the latter, there was a foolish abandoning of the national language and a rush, sometimes eagerly made, to use a foreign language – the language of those who oppressed us and occupied our country – in church matters.

But how did the obstinate retention of the Greek language in Church services by the Alexandrians contribute to the decline of Coptic? The answer is obvious: the Alexandrians denied the Coptic language its rightful place in being the language of the liturgy. Coptic, and not Greek was the national language of the Egyptians. Retention of Greek at the expense of Coptic meant prevention of the Copts from using their national language in their churches in Alexandria, even when the Egyptians had forgotten Greek. It is not so much that the Copts were praying in a foreign language – for Greek despite its superiority to Arabic was just another foreign language – that they did not understand but the fact that they were prevented from learning their language and promoting it in the environs of Alexandria. It ghas not been studied properly, but there are some signs that the Arabisation of the Copts started at Alexandria before even in Cairo and Misr. I will leave talking about this to another article; but, here, I would like to suggest that the prevention of Coptic from taking its rightful place in the churches of Alexandria has led to the Copts adopting Arabic earlier than Copts elsewhere in Egypt have.

 

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[1] It was customary to chain the patriarch-elect until his consecration as many would try to escape, preferring a quiet life of solitude.

[2] Ibn Siba, Yuhanna ibn abi-Zakariyya ibn Siba’a, al jawharah al-nafisa fi ulum al-kanisah; ed. and annotated with a Latin translation by Vincentio P. Mistrih, O. F. M., as Pretiosa Margarita de Scientiis Ecclesiasticis (Cairo, 196); pp. 234-5.

MY RITUAL TO CELEBRATE THE COPTIC LANGUAGE NATIONAL DAY

December 17, 2017

CLND

Today, the 17th of December, I celebrated the Coptic Language National Day with this simple ritual:

I placed bitter on the tip of my tongue, tasted it and then, turning my head to my left shoulder, made a gesture of spitting it out. I, then, took a mouthful of pure bee honey, swallowed it; and while turning my head to my right shoulder, I uttered the following words: I shall never abandon you, my sweet Coptic language.

The bitter could be any of the known bitter herbs, ranging from chamomile to horseradish. The bitter represents the Arabic language which was forced on us, and now we reject it with a spit; the pure bee honey represents our sweet Coptic language that we are resolved to revive.

Had I been with a similar-minded group today, I would have given a toast in honour of the Coptic language.

This is my simple Coptic Language National Day ritual. Rituals go a long way to enforce beliefs and dramatize events. A ritual like this helps in strengthening our resolve to revive Coptic. I am, therefore, not embarrassed of sharing it with you, and hope all of you will repeat this ritual with me next year.

THE COPTIC LANGUAGE NATIONAL DAY

December 17, 2017

Today, the 17th of December is the Coptic Language National Day. It is also the Feast of Saint Samuel of Kalamoun, the 7th century Coptic saint to whom the Apocalypse of Samuel of Kalamoun is referred. The Apocalypse was composed in a later century but it is likely that it has a nucleus that goes back to Saint Samuel. In the Apocalypse, Saint Samuel laments the decline of Coptic to the advantage of Arabic, and issues woes after woes upon those Copts who enable that shift. Saint Samuel’s feast is a pertinent day to celebrate the Coptic language and to resolve to revive it.

We are in the business of reviving it as a national language for the Copts!

HOW DO WE KNOW THE EXACT DATE MARKING THE BEGINNING OF THE ARAB INVASION OF EGYPT – EGYPT’S BLACK DAY

December 12, 2017

In the middle of the seventh century, the coastal Coptic town of Hrinokorura (or Rhinocolura) in Sinai, known to Arabs as al-‘Arish (العَرِيْش), represented the first town on the north-eastern borders between Egypt and Palestine; and its border was marked by the little valley of al-‘Arish that was reached from the east by crossing a torrent-bed that marked the frontier.[1]

As we are told in Arab sources, ‘Amr ibn al-‘Asi, the emir at the head of the invading Arabs, was not supported by his Caliph, Omar ibn al-Khattab, in his endeavour to invade Egypt. While ‘Amr was enthusiastic, Omar was hesitant and lacked confidence in ‘Amr. In a meeting at al-Jabyah, near Damascus, the two leaders met in the autumn of AD 639, while the siege of Caesarea by the Arabs was still on-going. There, ‘Amr succeeding in convincing Omar of the ease with which Egypt could be occupied. However, it seems that Omar’s doubts and his lack of confidence in ‘Amr intensified afterwards; and after ‘Amr had marched his troops towards the Egyptian border,  Omar sent him a letter that reached him while he, and his troops, were still at Rafah inside Palestinian land, over 45 km away from al-‘Arish. The letter ordered ‘Amr to return back if by the time the letter had reached him he was still within Palestinian borders; however, if he had already crossed the Egyptian frontiers, he should proceed. But ‘Amr, cunning and designing, knew the content of the letter; and, therefore, he did not open the letter and read it to his troops until they had arrived in ‘Arish. He, therefore, took the appearance of not being disobedient to the Caliph.

We don’t know when that exactly happened, but we know from the ninth century Arab historian, Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, in his Futuh Misr (Conquests of Egypt), that ‘Amr and his troops celebrated Eid al-Adha (Muslim Day of Sacrifice) in al-‘Arish on 10 Zhu al-Hijja 18 AH, which corresponds to 12 December 639 AD.[2] This, Alfred Butler finds as a credible, settled date that fits so well with other known dates.[3]

Arab feet might have touched the land of Egypt first time, marking the beginning of their invasion of Egypt, a day or two before that Eid al-Adha; however, the 12th of December in the year 639 AD is the only date we can strongly associate with the presence of the invading Arabs in Hrinokorura; and, therefore, it is appropriate to take as the date in which the Arabs entered our sacred land to occupy. That 12th of December was our Black Day.

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[1] Today, al-‘Arish borders the Gaza Strip and Israel.

[2] For more on this, read: Alfred J. Butler, The Arab Conquest of Egypt and the Last Thirty Years of the Roman Domain, first published in 190; Special edition for Sandpiper Books Ltd., 1998; pp. 195-198.

[3] Ibid; n. 2; p. 198.

EGYPT’S BLACK DAY – THE DAY ARAB OCCUPATION OF EGYPT STARTED

December 11, 2017

BD

THE COPTS AND THE GUARDIAN ANGEL: THE EVIDENCE FROM SAINT PAPHNUTIUS

December 10, 2017

GA

Guardian Angel, using the Byzantine art of iconography[1]

In a previous article, I talked about the belief of the Copts in a guardian, personal angel who accompanies the individual all his life from birth to death; and on that occasion I used evidence from Saint Anthony the Great no less, but it seemed like it was the only occasion in Coptic literature in which the Guardian Angel is mentioned.

Looking for other sources for the belief in the Guardian Angel, I subsequently found much evidence. In the Life of Onnophrios, the Anchorite, by Apa Papnoute (Paphnutius), which is told in a Sahidic Coptic text published, with English translation by Budge in his Coptic Martyrdoms,[2] we are told how Onnophrios (Un-Nefer, or ‘Beautiful Being’) had been living a coenobitic life in the Thebaid before he moved down to live in the monastic community of the Scete. One day, the thought of leaving the coenobitic life to become an anchorite in the inner desert, living a life of, prayer, fasting and suffering in the wilderness, came into his mind; and, consequently, “a great ecstasy seized me, and I became like those whose minds are snatched away into another world. And I rose up and took a few bread cakes to eat whilst journeying to the place where God should enable me to reach.”

The place which God enabled him to reach was a hut which lied over four days walk into the inner desert. In his journeying to that destination, we are told that the Guardian Angel of Saint Onnophrios guided him. As Onnophrios left the Scete monastery, he looked and saw a being of light before him, and he was afraid, and thought that he would be turned back. But that being, seeing that Onnophrios was afraid, was quick to reassure him, saying:

“Fear not, for I am thy angel who dwelleth with thee, and who has been with thee from thy childhood.”

Here we have another evidence of the belief of early Copts in the concept and existence of the Guardian Angel. In the previous article on the subject, I mentioned the lack of artistic evidence, in Coptic icons and murals, of the Guardian Angel; but the absence of evidence does not always prove the non-existence of it. I suspect that one day we will find evidence of the Guardian Angel in a Coptic piece of art.

Considering that the concept of the personal Guardian Angel is biblical,[3] it is hardly surprising that the Copts did believe in the concept like other Christians of old churches. It is a shame that we don’t hear much about the Guardian Angel in the teaching of the Coptic Church or find Coptic art interested in the subject. There is a huge potential for the development of a beautiful art if Coptic artists embraced the concept of the Guardian Angel.

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[1] By Monastery Icons.

[2] Coptic Martyrdoms etc, In Dialect of Upper Egypt, E. A. Wallis Budge (London, 1914).

[3] See: Matthew 18:10, Acts 12:1-10, Psalm 91:11.

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