Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Greetings again from Cairo. We are still preparing for the fall term which begins the end of September. Some things happening in the meantime are:

The arrival of a Biblical scholar, Willem de Wit, from the Netherlands to help teach masters' students,
The 9th Annual Congress of Coptic Studies (15-20 of September),

The arrival and settling in of the Peter Johnson family (He is the new regional rep. for the ELCA)

And a chance for me to do some travelling and visiting with colleagues from the seminary. Thus begins my story and brief reflection about art in this place over the centuries.

I have become more fascinated by the art of all cultures in these last few years, and coming to Egypt exposed me to some of the treasures from this place. In a visit to the Egyptian Museum shortly after my arrival I came across a small section devoted to portrait-paintings from the Greco-Roman period. Thus begins my story. The first picture is not from Cairo, but of a fresco now in Naples which comes from the ruins of Pompeii. Few of these still exist due to the ravages of time and tragedy. This one gives us a glance into the life of a simple baker family, their appearance and their dress. Note how the couple faces us and how prominent the eyes are depicted. They seem to be looking at us, or maybe a little beyond us. Fresco painting was popular for walls and ceiling. It involved mixing the pigment of the paint powder with the wet plaster as it was being applied. It remains a method in many parts of the world. I remember being fascinated with the frescos of Diego Rivera and other Mexican artists of the 20th century.

Another method employed from ancient times to depict images was through mosaics, the insertion of many tiny painted tiles onto a ceiling, wall or floor surface. These often retained their color for centuries because they had been baked into the surface. The sheen remains. An example of this is from the entrance to a Coptic Church of St. Mina, on the outskirts of Cairo. Some friends and I were there to witness a Coptic wedding. The mosaic of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus seemed to sparkle in the later afternoon sun.
Notice too that their portrait presents them as facing directly toward us, yet we will soon see in a close up of the face of Mary that the gaze is much like the one of the couple in the fresco above. This illustrates how the Christians adopted some of the features from past art.

Another method of portrait painting which was very popular is the Greco-Roman and early Christian period in Egypt evolved from the wooden masks which were put in the coffins of the Egyptian pharoahs and other nobility from ancient times. This method, called "encaustic painting" involved applying the paint with hot wax to a wooden surface. It allowed the details to remain rich and vibrant over the centuries. Many of these masks, uncovered by treasure seekers from the West as early as 1615, became very popular in Europe during the 19th century. Again, the gaze or stare of the woman is a very striking feature of the painting. How she appeared in life was to be remembered as this "mask" was placed on her body in the tomb.
Now compare her with the close up of the mosaic face of the Virgin
from the front of the Church of St. Mina. To me the same emphasis on the eyes (perhaps showing more compassion), and the gaze which seems on the one hand to be directed toward you, the viewer, and yet in some way beyond you. Art historians have suggested that the Christians during these early centuries wanted to portary its saints as real people, living normal lives and relating to us, and yet with a gaze that stretches beyond the chances and changes of this age to a new life and anticipates a world which await those who trust in the Lord.
More information about the school and its activities will follow soon. Hope you are well. Roger Rogahn

Friday, August 8, 2008


Greetings again from the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt, where I will be serving as an ELCA Missionary directing the Master's Program. Immediately after my return here in early August, the faculty retreat was held for the coming year. Pictured is one of the planning sessions of the five day retreat, when we were together in a suburb of Alexandria, Egypt.

Many topics were covered:

- the opening of a distance learning center in southern Egypt, where there has been significant
growth in the past several years. The seminary wants
to be more available to the pastors and lay leaders in their ministries and to become even more sensitive to the challenges of parish ministry in the 21st century.

- a review of the curriculum and a standarization of requirments for all seminary courses in the program to train pastors (i.e. how much reading is required, how many papers, etc.). This is particularly important because the seminary employs several part-time teachers and all need to be on "the same page".

- the faculty includes mostly Egyptian teachers and is supplement by teachers and other staff from North
Americans, who received their financial support from the Presbyterians and Mennonite communities world-wide. Dr. Darren Kennedy has just been awarded his doctorate from the University of Edinburgh and his spouse Elizabeth is writing her thesis at the same school. She will return to teaching Hebrew at the seminary this fall. Dr. Dustin Elingston teaches New Testament courses. The Rev. Brice Rogers heads the Development Department at the Seminary. (The Seminary still receives the majority of its financial support from ouside of Egypt, but this is changing as the visits by seminary personnel to Presbyterian churches in Egypt encourage each congregation to have a "Seminary Sunday", and receive an offering to support its work. Ms. Elaine Pequegnat, a Canadian, teaches English at the Seminary.

All are deeply committed to their ministry. Classes begin the last week in September.

The seminary community held its own version of the Olympics, which included water sports and track events.
(I placed last in the competition in the water balloon

toss). It was nice to have many of the families of the faculty be with us for the five days of the retreat. It was held in a Christian community, away from the traffic, the noise, and the smoggy skies of Cairo. Now it is back to work, preparing classes for the fall, dealing with registration issues, (it looks like we we be receiving at least six new students, including a visiting student from Norway - I am still waiting for the TOEFL - "english competency test" for others - a score of 500 is required), and the opportunity to welcome a new Biblical scholar from the Netherlands.

But more about that in my next report which should come about the end of this month. Stay well and cool.

Thank you for your support and prayers. In Christ, Roger Rogahn