Sunday, May 31, 2009

Graduation # 140

Welcome to the graduation ceremonies for the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo! Last weekend in one of the larger Presbyerian churches in Cairo students of the divinity program, of other special programs, and of the master's program which I direct were honored by their friends and family, and the entire Presbyterian community in Egypt. It was a joyous event as you can imagine. To receive a bachelor of divinity degree at ETSC one takes a full range of classes in Hebrew, Greek, Biblical studies, Church history and theology and the practical skills necessary for serving the Presbyterian Church of the Nile. This study periord lasts for four years, and each summer in-between students are assigned to ministry locations (hospitals, camps and parishes) for pratical experience and evaluation. One year after graduation and service in a parish, they become eligible for ordination.

Many of the young men will take positions in Upper Egypt, at sites with a church builidng and a small community of believers, but who have had only lay elders as leaders for several years because of the shortage of pastors. Some will marry as they do this. (I remember that it had been the tradition in the past of our Lutheran church in the United States that seminary students often delayed their marriage until after they had been ordained, or would find a spouse among the members of the first parish they served). The seminary continues to be supported by the church within Egypt, but also by the gifts of Christian abroad, both with cash and with the "endowing" of chairs for professors who teach at the seminary. The position I have held here for two years is a type of endowed chair (providing the total resources for a professor to serve at the seminary), which is part of the commitment of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Interviews are under way to bring a new director to Cairo in August of this year. I will assist in the transition period.

You have seen each of these four graduates of the master's program before. Next to me is Wagdy, who wrote his thesis on the changes in the public involvement by the Presbyterian Church of the Nile during the early years of Egyptian independence under President Nasser. Wagdy shows by reviewing the articles and editorials in the semi-official synod newspaper, el Hoda, how the church leaders
ceased to speak out on issues of justice and equality, fearing that the new government would suppress and persecute the church. They became more focused solely on "spiritual" issues, as Wagdy describe this era.

Rania completed her work on the Intertestamental citations of the concepts of the "Messiah" and "Son of God" which were joined together by the writers of the synoptic Gospels to describe Jesus. She had Willem deWit, our Biblical teacher from the Netherlands, as her advisor. Both she and Wagdy will spend a fall semester as guests of Princeton Theological Seminary in the United States, thanks to a generous grant from an alumus of that institution.
Not pictured is our graduate John Daniel Nathan who will continue to be the teacher of Greek to divinity students at ETSC. He write his thesis on the uses of the Genative Absolute verb tense in Greek, as it appears in the Gospel of Matthew. Magdy, next to him, completed his dissertation on the " Influences of the Evangelical on the Coptic Church in Egypt". Since its coming here in the 1850, the Presbyterians from the United States have presented challenges to the Egyptian Orthodox Church, the church which has the tradition of being founded by St. Mark, the Gospel writer. Education through schools and cirriculum, the distribution of the Van Dyke Arabic Bible and other printed materials, and the concept of lay leadership in the church were some of their areas which stimulated the Coptic Church to respond. Magdy will continue in his occupation as a civil engineer here is Cairo.
Musa Kody wrote his thesis on Ephesians chapter two, and how the grace proclaimed by St. Paul needs to be taught in its clarity in the comptemporary society of the Sudan. He will return there to be reunited with his family, (a son was born during this school year whom he has not yet seen), and to teach at the Nile Theological School.

We wish them all God's speed and blessing. I will write more about my transition soon. Roger R.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Women in Egypt Today

Greetings from Cairo. This is our last week of classes. Second year students are working to finish their dissertations in time for them to be reviewed (and approved) for graduation the end of this month. The class I am teaching in Christianity in the Middle East is studying the dynamics after Christians were tolerated and then took control of the state goveranace in the later Roman Empire. Sometimes their zeal to "purge" society of pagan influences reached beyond legal limits and passed to the hands of violent groups.
Our first picture is of a neo-platonic woman scholar who lived (and died) at the beginning of the 5th century CE. She died at the hands of a Christian mob. Her name was Hypatia of Alexandria. This image is part of a large fresco by the Italian Renaissance artist Rafael. He places her among the philosophers of the ancient world in The School of Athens, which can be seen in the Vatican in Rome. She is significant because she shows the intellectual level of some women in the period of the late Roman/early Christian empire. She also illustrates what some Christians did who felt it their "duty" to eradicate the last vestiges of pagan philosophy, and philosophers.

You can read more about her and how she became something of a cult figure in Europe at the time of the Enlightment. She even has a lunar crater named after her, recognizing her achievements in philosophy and astronomy. She was part of the cultural achievement of Alexandria during this time. She died because people felt that she was interfering in the political matters between the civil prefect of the city and its patriarch, Cyril. She has been portrayed as the epitome of "vulnerable truth and beauty."

Our next picture brings us up to the present, and captures the image of a woman walking through the central court at the al-Alzar mosque and madrasa (school) in Islamic Cairo. This place has been the center of Muslim activities since the 12th century. You can see that she has on the traditional head scarf and long robe that many women in Egypt still wear when they are out in public.
This serves to introduce us to the theme of women in contemporary Egyptian society. Dr. Hoda Awad, an Egypian scholar who is on the board of directors of our seminary and also has been a very helpful member of the graduate studies committee while I have been here, has written a thoughtful and frank assessment of the legal status of women in Egypt, and possibilities for "reform and social inertia' at the present time. If you would like me to e-mai you a copy, I would be happy to do so. She often appears regularly on Egyptian T.V. to comment on national and international topics.

The article she wrote is too long and detailed to review here. She does trace the efforts to reform the laws in Egypt during the 20th century, even with the resistance of many traditional forces in the Islam community. She points out that Egypt has been more progressive than other middle eastern lands in its efforts to secure justice for women within the home and in public space. She asks the question at the end: can the "issue of women's equality be achieved by presidential decrees, inserting new constitutional articles, or should it be supported by the civil institutions, professional syndicates, political parties, non governmental organizations, intellectuals, and by the large popular sector?" These are questions yet to be answered here. I thought you might be interested in this topic. You can writre me at with comments, or to request a copy of the 21 page article.
My last picture shows a sign outside the railway station in Minya, a city in upper Egypt I visited at Easter. It shows people who are victims of domestic violence, abuse or persecution, and calls on them and their families to report such crimes to government officials. I may have some time to research this and other topics about Egyptian society as my activities at the seminary wind down in June. (I am returning to California in late June and will be happy to arrange to visit with your congregation).
My term with Global Missions ends the middle of August. Then I plan to settle again in southern California and be available for long term interim work).
Until my next blog which will picture our graduation ceremonies at the end of June, this is Roger Rogahn signing off.
Peace and justice.