Thursday, February 14, 2008

Visit to the Coptic Cathedral

Greetings again. Last evening (February 13th) I attended the monthly audience given at the Coptic Cathedral by their "pope". He is pictured here (at the left) with other bishops of this Egyptian Orthodox expression of the Christian Church. (Coptic and Egyptian are both words used to describe the Christian Church in this place from ancient times. If you want to read more about its history, you can go to the web site "Christian Coptic Orthodox Church"). A visiting German pastor had met a Coptic Bishop from Germany on his trip here and we had special front row seats and an English translation to help us appreciate the evening even more.

Some estimates place the number of Coptic Christian in this predominately Muslim country at about 10% of the population. In Cairo, they are clustered around the cathedral (a short walking distance from the seminary where I serve). The picture to the right is of a portion of the youth choir which sang for the people assembled (I would estimate the number was about 800 present). Their "pope" is a very charismatic leader and we could see this in the way the congregation responded to him. There was a need for security guards. mostly to handle the press of those who wished to get close to him. He took time to greet each of the choir members personally and to bless the small children who were brought to him.

The first part of his audience was to answer questions that had been submitted to him. The questions ranged from the meaning of St. Valentine's day (He answered that Christians do not set aside only one day for loving others) to the possibility of a divorse (not permitted) or an abortion, which the husband wanted, ("If the man is intelligent to help produce a child, he should be responsible enough to raise the child".)

He also touched on the connection of the Coptic Church to "evangelical" practices. He took several minutes to teach why his church practices full emersion in baptism (Part of this is to symbolized the dynamic of moving from death to new life), and to counsel a couple where the wife is evangelical that the children should be raised to participate in the litutgical life and devotional life of the church, including the observance of saints' days and periods of fasting. And, I would say that all of his instruction was gentle and filled with humor and humanity.

His homily talked about the importance of discipline and dedication in this season. He particularly talked to and about the clergy and the teachers of youth taking their responsibilities seriously in how they prepare the congregations for Lent and Easter and how they should frequently visit the people in their homes to encourage and to exhort them in the Christian life. In my class on the history of Christianity since the coming of Islam, there are many examples of bishops who were less than who they were called to be, but clearly this leader lives out his calling in a humble and loving way. Peace, as you continue your Lenten journey.

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