American Orthodox Church of Alexandria: What’s in a Name?


Update 5/5/15:

Link below to AOCA slides no longer working. Here is a working link to the PDF (click here)

Update 5/1/15:

Here is the latest on this endeavor, and it appears that the most substantive change will be language, while all other cultural aspects will remain mostly intact. Was hoping for more, particularly when it comes to the manner of singing hymns. Nonetheless, may God bless the bishop and all the servants in this attempt to reach more people.…/embed_code/…/7KdpbppPbbuKC7

Original Post:

H.G. Bishop Youssef has announced his intention to establish mission churches in his diocese, and the latest I have heard is that His Grace has settled on the name, “American Orthodox Church of Alexandria” [although I have also heard the title “American Coptic Orthodox Church” as well]. The plan is to start by setting up 8 mission churches and assign priests for all 8 in 2015. The overall goal is to diminish Coptic/Egyptian/Arabic cultural distractions and to supplant that with cultural supplements that are amenable to the American population. (For more on this from H.G. Bishop Youssef, see this mostly English language clip [with English subtitles when needed] of His Grace speaking about his intentions in November 2014 in Titusville, FL; click here if you want a direct link). Many people love the idea, yet most of us are concerned about its execution for various reasons. The name itself tells us a lot about how people feel regarding this news. Reaction to the name usually falls into two groups:

  1. Coptic Modernists. Why keep the name Alexandria in the title if the intention is to keep Coptic/Egyptian/Arabic culture out of the new mission churches?
  2. Coptic Traditionalists. Why are they taking away the name Coptic? Even if you take away culture, why would you remove yourself from being associated with the Coptic church? And are you really going to erase everything “Coptic” from the church?

Both camps often have very strong, opposing (and on rare occasions hostile) feelings about the other. Here are some things to consider about the currently proposed name of the new mission churches that will comprise the American Orthodox Church of Alexandria:


Unlike other countries where its population is predominated by a particular ethnic group, the United States is an “immigration country” filled with a population of diverse and mixed ethnic ancestry, beliefs, and traditions. Most of our unity resides in achieving one overarching goal: the pursuit of happiness. Aside from that, what makes up American “culture” with which we can supplement our new Orthodox mission churches? It will be hard to find anything that applies to everyone completely, but there are some major threads of unity that one may attribute to Americans as being part of our culture. The English language is one piece of it, but there’s a lot more. For example, Americans typically don’t wear galabeyas (long tunics found in Arabic culture, which the priests wear as well), but rather are accustomed to pants, shirts, etc. Our radios blast certain common styles of music. Americans play guitars, drums, and pianos/keyboards, not Ouds (Middle Eastern lutes) and tablas (Middle Eastern drums). It’s easiest though to be fixated on the English language, but if we are to really make the American mission churches truly American, why not look at the rest of the Coptic Church’s cultural elements and assess what we want to import and what we want to leave behind?

  • Hymns: Let’s pretend we keep all the words of the liturgy and most of the hymn texts intact; why not change all of their tunes? Shouldn’t the priest hymn his prayers differently? How so? Would it be the way Catholic priests hymn their prayers? Or the way the Eastern Orthodox priests chant?
  • Instruments: While most Orthodox, particularly the Eastern Orthodox, are adamantly opposed to the inclusion of instruments (and the Coptic Church’s use of cymbals and triangle would be a big no-no among many other Orthodox jurisdictions), will we allow a guitar, drums, violins, flutes, an orchestra, an organ, or what? And if we do it, I hope that we don’t have these people facing the congregation, so would they face the east, or be hidden somewhere, or positioned on the side of the church?
  • Dress: Will priests wear pants and shirts like the Catholics? What about church vestments? Will they change? How about the dress code for the laity? Will it be less strict or more strict or just leave it up to them?
  • Beards: Will priests have beards? Probably yes, but how long? The new modern “short” cut, or the traditional Old Testament prophet look?
  • Coptic art: You know, the icons are adopted from ancient Egyptian cultural practices; do we modify this? Do we have more European-looking icons? Will we make the images look realistic or will we follow the iconography rules of the Coptic church?
  • Architecture, interior design, and church items: Truth is, much of our architecture, interior design, and even the items we use in church have a cultural component. The iconostasis, is it going to be designed according to a more American style? Do we want all that wood inlay design with Coptic crosses, or would we want something more aligned with modern American design? What about the crosses we use in church, or the images on the curtains, or even the shape of the church building itself?


This is the part of the title that everyone agrees about, at least in name, although I have my concerns about how much this will be kept intact in substance. We might not all agree about how much culture to strip away and add to the new mission churches, but we all want the Orthodox faith (and that can be a problematic definition on its own) to remain strong and steadfast. My concern is if we adopt too many things from “American” non-Orthodox churches (because of a desire to make our new mission church feel right at home) that we may unwittingly also dilute authentic Orthodoxy and the depth one can find in its rich history. As H.G. Bishop Youssef said in the above-linked video:

“We cannot make American [Orthodox] spirituality by taking this from Evangelical and Protestant churches and call this American [Orthodox] spirituality. That is very dangerous and very risky. American [Orthodox] spirituality is the work of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church of the people who live here in America.”

We may say we want to keep the “Orthodox faith” when in fact what we are doing is giving people an “Orthodox lite” version of the faith… Christianity, but not as hard as traditionalist Orthodox Christians practice it. I hope that to never be the case. For a great article by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick (from the Eastern Orthodox Church) on this subject, see the following: “Is Orthodoxy ‘Christianity, only tougher?'”

“OF ALEXANDRIA” [and/or “COPTIC,” if that’s what is decided to be placed in the title]

This is the part of the title that is quite problematic for many Coptic modernists, and it saddens me for that to be the case. In my humble opinion, this title is NOT cultural, but rather jurisdictional. It is not a mark of ethnic limitation, but a title of ecclesiastical PRIVILEGE. Or, at least, that’s how we should view it. If I were to guess, I would think that many of those who have issues with this word likely have little knowledge of the history and significance of the Church of Alexandria in the scheme of Christianity. I won’t belabor you with a thorough history, but here is why this part of the title is the most meaningful to me. When Christianity started, there were certain main cities where a bishop was presiding over, and which cities became the main centers of the majority of all Christians in the world.

In the beginning of Christendom, those centers were Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and then later Constantinople. These cities were headed by a bishop, but eventually their territory expanded and other bishops were ordained to serve in that territory, and all of those bishops reported to one father and archbishop. So, for example, the bishops in cities throughout Egypt began to report to the archbishop of Alexandria, who was called Papa (father), or Patriarch, and from there the term “patriarchate” was established, which referred the territory or jurisdiction that the archbishop of the main city was covering. By the time of the Council of Nicea, you’ll see Canon 6 refer to this sort of arrangement:

“Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges.”

It is a historical fact that the Christian world viewed Alexandria and Rome as having primacy among all patriarchates. Often you’ll find that Rome was given primacy, and Alexandria followed right afterward. When Constantinople came to become more significant, those three patriarchates yielded the most collective influence over all Christendom than the rest of the patriarchates. By referring to the American Orthodox mission churches as being “of Alexandria,” they are retaining the privilege of ascribing to the historical significance of the Alexandrian patriarchate. This title also serves to define the ecclesiastical “chain of command” as going from their priest, to their diocesan bishop, to the Pope of the Church of Alexandria. Look at some of the beauty of the contributions and history of the Church of Alexandria:

  • The Patriarch of Alexandria lead all of the first three seminal councils of the church.
  • The deacon and later Pope of Alexandria, St. Athanasius, kept the entire world from referring to Christ as being lesser than the Father and being simply the first of many creations by God. He defied Arius and freed us from such heretical thought.
  • The whole world decided the date of Easter (the Feast of Resurrection) based on the advice given by the Pope of Alexandria in the first few centuries of the Church. And thus, because the Egyptians were so good at understanding the calendar, the Church of Rome and ALL Christendom relied on the Pope of Alexandria to send a homily and letter each year to all the patriarchates (including Rome) to provide a spiritual message related to the feast of Resurrection, and to inform everyone when the date of Resurrection was to be celebrated.
  • Great lent as we know it today was due to the suggestion and direction of Pope Demetrius of Alexandria. Before his contributions, all we had was basically holy week.
  • Monasticism credits its roots in the spirituality and example set by an Egyptian known as St. Anthony the Great. Other monks also helped pave the way for all monks and nuns today, including the Egyptian saints Macarius the Great and Pachomius. Many famous saints and theologians were influenced heavily by the Egyptian desert and its spiritual prowess, including St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great.
  • The martyrs offered by the Church of Alexandria were an exceedingly great number and exuded tremendous faith and witness for Christ, as attested to by the early Christians Bishop Eusebius and Scholar Tertullian,
  • Often, whenever a problem came up, the Church of Alexandria would step in to help manage the situation. Such was the case when Christians who offered something to idols were being told by some priests that they must be re-baptized instead of just repent. The Pope of Alexandria stepped in and convinced Rome and all others that this was erroneous.
  • The Catechetical school of Alexandria influenced or yielded some of the most prized theologians and saints of our Orthodox history, including Origen, St. Gregory the Miracle-Worker, St. Basil the Great, St. Didymus the Blind, St. Dionysius the Great, and St. Jerome.

In the end, I’m fine if you want to turn away from Coptic culture and make the church American, and obviously agree with everyone in retaining the faith of the Orthodox Church; however, like all the saints and all of Christendom who often turned to Alexandria for sustenance throughout Christianity, our mission Churches should learn why it is only to their benefit to embrace the privilege of being of Alexandria.

45 thoughts on “American Orthodox Church of Alexandria: What’s in a Name?

  1. Hi John. I absolutely love your emphasis on being careful not just to take American norms, mix them into the Church, and call it Orthodoxy.

    But I strongly disagree with you (the I hope civilly, in love, and not hostilely 🙂 that we should hold on to “Alexandrian” in the way you outline, as a jurisdiction.

    And it isn’t because of any lack of respect for the Coptic Church!

    But I think there’s a big problem with the way we colloquially refer to “Churches” today. The “Coptic Orthodox Church”, the “Greek Orthodox Church”, the “Russian Orthodox Church”, the “American Orthodox Church”. The Church is One, there are not many Orthodox Churches, there is only One Church (The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church). You don’t see any of the early fathers talking about the Coptic Orthodox Church or the Greek Orthodox Church.

    There was the Church of Alexandria, the Church of Corinth, the Church in Greece or in Egypt. The term Catholic Church can be used correctly in two senses: of a diocese, which is the Church in a city (The Orthodox Church of Alexandria, or the Orthodox Church of L.A.), or of all believers in all times and all places. When a local Church gathers for Communion, that Catholic Church is breaking into time and space, being manifested here and now, so those two senses of the term are in fact the same.

    A Catholic Church is a diocese (the Church in a city). Out of love, neighbouring Catholic Churches meet together to form regional or national Synods (or in the Eccumenical council, world-wide synods). Out of love, they decide issues together for the sake of unity and consistence. The senior bishop of the region or country presides. In Egypt, this is Alexandria. So, properly speaking, “the Church of Alexandria” refers to that diocese only. “The Patriarchate of Alexandria” refers to all the diocese that meet in Synod, the federation of the churches in Egypt. The Pope is just the Archbishop of the leading city. But sacramentally he is just a bishop, and has no authority outside his diocese except when his neighbouring brother bishops ceded it to decide together for the sake of unity. We have come to use the term “Coptic Orthodox Church” to refer to the Patriarchate of Alexandria, but this is not technically correct, and, gladly, on official letterhead you still see “Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate”, which is correct.

    There is only one Orthodox Church. We can speak of “The Orthodox Church in Egypt”, which is referring to the customs of the many Catholic Churches in Egypt that come together in love to form the Patriarchate of Alexandria. But we can’t speek of “The Egyptian Orthodox Church” (properly), as though it were a different Church than the “Armenian Orthodox Church”. There is One Orthodox Church, and we can speak of that Church in Egypt or in Armenia, but not of two Churches. The Orthodox Church in Egypt is OK, the Egyptian Orthodox Church or the Coptic Orthodox Church is only OK if it is understood as meaning “The Orthodox Church in Egypt”, and not a different Orthodox Church than the one in Armenia.

    So can we be “The American Coptic Orthodox Church”, or “The American Orthodox Church of Alexandria”? Unpacking this to be non-colloquial, that would be “The Orthodox Church in Egypt in America” or “The Orthodox Church of Alexandria in America”. This is nonsense. Can Alexandria be in America when it is a city in Egypt?

    We are in America, or Canada, so we can only be “The Orthodox Church in America”, or “The Orthodox Church in Canada”. Anything else obtusifies the truth.

    Just like the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was never called the “Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox Church” or “The Ethiopian Orthodox Church of Alexandria”. This did not stop them from being subject to the Church in Alexandria and being faithful to her rites while developing their own. But the reality that it is the One Church in that land was always expressed correctly, without hampering loving, voluntary submission to the Great Church in Alexandria.

    This has very real implications. It isn’t just harping on precise terminology for the sake of it. It means that we can’t have The American Orthodox Church of Alexandria” and “The American Orthodox Church of Ethiopia” and “The American Orthodox Church of India”, etc.

    Right now, in Southern Ontario, we have Coptic Orthodox “mission” parishes. We have Armenian Orthodox “mission” parishes. And we have Ethiopian Orthodox “mission” parishes. They are all struggling. The Coptic ones with Orthodoxy, and the others with financial viability.

    If we have three groups trying to be the Church here from within our own Communion, not to mention the EO OCA and Antiochians, this is chaos. Say in one city, the Ethiopians develop a viable parish. In another, the Armenians do. In another, the Copts do. Each receives converts, who spend many years there and it becomes home. Then they have to move cities, now they all have to learn a new rite and are not at home, while moving an hour away! Or, even worse, consider the case where all three set up in the same city, and each gets a few converts. If they were one, all the converts would form a viable parish, but because they are fragmented, each will fail to reach critical mass, to be financially sustainable, and will fail.

    Or consider only the children of immigrants. Look at all the EO jurisdictions who have lost all their kids and are closing, or empty museums. Then look at their OCA and Antiochians who are trying to be the church here (at least with the same rite). In cities where all the 3rd and 4th generation are together in these churches, they are thriving. In cities where they are still divided based on the ethnicity of their great grandparents, they are failing.

    Nicaea demands that there be only one bishop in a city, and they are the bishop for all Orthodox Christians there, despite any ethnic background. As long as we remain divided along ethnic lines, even in our “American” churches, we are not really following Nicaean orthodoxy. We have fallen to the heresy of phylitism. Certainly North America has unique requirements because of the huge number of immigrants compared to any other country historically exposed to Orthodoxy. Certainly there needs to be services for people in the language and rite of their home country. But Orthodoxy demands that this be done as one Synod of North American bishops, regardless of ethnicity, with each bishop governing the Egyptian, and Armenian, and Ethiopian parishes in their city, and with the 3rd and 4th generation assembling in the American rite parishes, from all the ethnic parishes that need to continue to exist as long as immigrants are coming and need to be served.

    Christ abolished every division, and slave and master worshiped together as equals, men and women as equals, rich and poor as equals, and people of every nationality together. Our division along ethnic lines in American Orthodoxy is the Anti-Pentecost, the work of a different spirit than the Spirit that united us at Pentecost.

    If we all worshiped together, then all these questions of what to take and what to leave from the Egyptian church would fall away, because all that’s in common between us would be the American culture, and our Orthodoxy. We would have no choice but to express Orthodoxy in our culture, as has happened in every other land in the history of Orthodoxy. As for the fears of taking stuff like rock bands from American Orthodoxy… It’s a legitimate concern since people are trying to do this. But it’s got the question backwards. We aren’t supposed to take stuff from American culture and mix it into the Church. We’re supposed to be Orthodox here, and express our Orthodoxy in our culture. And music instruments and and Protestant hymns are not part of Orthodoxy anywhere, in any time or place. No problem, no question.

    The culture in ancient Rome was also very antithetical to Christianity. Orgies, gluttony, drunkenness… Ok, it was probably a lot like today. And this did not stop the Church from thriving there, without being culturally Hebrew. The Roman Christians did not become Jews. They were Roman, and they were Christians, and better Christians than us, with martyrs everywhere, rejecting the pagan vice all around them. We can be Orthodox today without ceasing to be American or Canadian, and without mixing any thing bad into the Church, just like the Romans did in the Book of Acts.

    This ideal, and by ideal, I mean conformity to Orthodoxy, will not likely be seen in my lifetime. I know it will take a long time to undo the uncanonical mess or overlapping jurisdictions and phylitism. But if we start making this wrongness our doctrine by saying these are the right names to apply, then we’ve gone past making mistakes to defending heresy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Jonathan,

      I agree with you almost in totality. I think that the solution you propose is at present unworkable. While it would be nice to have one bishop over all ethnically-associated churches in a jurisdiction, we can’t just undo the current manner by which our church cares for its sheep. Instead of unwinding all the tangled mess, let’s take the strong threads and strengthen them even more. While we may never agree completely, I truly do agree with virtually everything you’ve said.

      However, the current approach of seeing jurisdictions in a global sense works in my opinion so long as there is an adequate shepherding of the church by a bishop that is accessible. I love that being in America I did not have to break away from the Patriarchate of Alexandria. I am proud to be affiliated with that patriarchate and want to be under their shepherding and guidance. I’m happy that their care has extended all the way to America and that I have a bishop who is directly linked to the Holy Synod guiding the diocese I am in. And I think that the current nomenclature describes culture and jurisdiction. American culture, Alexandrian jurisdiction. It seems to line up with the spirit of Canon 6 of the council of Nicea where the archbishop (who I agree is just a bishop but who we volunteer as being our father of fathers) has authority over a region beyond just his city of Alexandria. With our global community, the reach has extended globally to serve those who seek him to be their shepherd. Makes sense to me. I highly respect your deep knowledge and Orthodox outlook. It is very refreshing and very inspiring. And maybe I’ll grow to accept your perspective more than mine. God bless you and may he make you continually fruitful in your service brother.


    • I completely agree with you that there is only one Church and so ethnic titles should have no place in the titles of the churches. Holy Annuniciation Orthodox Church is a very successful mission parish here in Brisbane, Australia. The sign outside states the name just like that. One does not discover that it is a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (under Met. Hilarion) until one goes inside. The comments in my post in regards to the naming of the proposed Mission relate to those factors (which I mentioned) that the author of the original article raised as being significant in his view.

      The points you make about the lack of co-operation between jurisdictions in mission, the loss of youth, the success of the OCA and the demand of Nicea that there be a single united synod in each geographic area are meet and right indeed. Your latter paragraphs about the purification of the culture are well written also brother 🙂


  2. Hi John,

    First of all, let me say it’s nice to discuss different points of view and have it be so calm 🙂

    Now, I know what I’m saying is not practical. Things have been done they way they have been done, and they can’t be undone in less than a few centuries, in all likelihood.

    These actions by H.G. Anba Serapion, and now H.G. Anba Youssesf are very, very positive.

    We have to make decisions, out of economy, that are not right, but are the best we can do in present circumstances. I get that. All I’m saying is lets be honest that this is the case, and not feel the need to justify practical decisions as if they were the ideal, to dogmatise them.

    I get that at least some of the bishops want to have one bishop and no overlapping jurisdictions, and know that titles like “American Coptic Orthodox” are wrong, but still choose to use them because it’s the only way to move in the right direction without a revolt from people who see it as a betrayal of the Coptic Church.

    I would prefer names like “St. so-and-so Orthodox Church, [subtitle] Oriental Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria [or even Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate]. In that case, the name of the Church is just “St. so-and-so Orthodox Church”. No need to specify in America, everyone knows what country they’re in 🙂 And it doesn’t say it’s part of the Coptic Orthodox Church, because, quite clearly, it isn’t in Egypt. But it makes it clear that it’s under the jurisdiction of the Church in Egypt.

    But I get that in L.A .they might very well have to put “Coptic” in the title to avoid a revolt. And it’s great that SUS is pushing even further. But lets not make up an ecclesiology that makes these names ideal.

    Now, I fully get that we’re going to have overlapping ethnic jurisdictions for a long time. What I don’t get, is why each one feels the need to set up “American” Churches without even talking to one another (maybe some coordination is going on behind the scenes in the States that we don’t know about… but it isn’t here!)

    It’s great that you love the Church in Egypt so much and don’t want anything to change. I get that. I personally don’t want anything but the Coptic rite either. But, many years ago, my mother said how our Church always has deeper answers than her Protestant tradition, but it could never be her church because it is so weird. When I stand before Christ on the day of judgement, will He tell me that I did not love Him, in the person of my mother, my family, my community, my people, because I loved the rites of a foreign land more? If the “American” Churches were a cooperation of all the OO “jurisdictions” rather than each one doing it their own way, it would be really painful. I’d have to give up a lot from the tradition I love to learn to pray together with all the others. But first of all, this is what’s right. Christ came to make us One in Him. All the Orthodox Christians in a place should be praying together as One, manifesting the Church in her catholicity. Secondly, it would become a place where people from this culture could belong (since that’s the culture we have in common). I don’t think that there would then be massive conversions. But then we would be safe on the day of Judgement from hearing that we love a rite more than we love Him in our neighbours.

    St. Frumentius was one boy from Lebanon, imprisoned with his brother in Ethiopia after their uncle’s merchant ship was raided. From imprisonment, these boys converted the kingdom to Christianity, and when St. Frumentius traveled to Alexandria to request a bishop be sent for them, St. Athanasius ordained him and sent him back. He didn’t recreate the church of his home land there, he established the Catholic and Orthodox Church there. Through these two boys, the whole country became Orthodox.

    Today,nothing similar has happened. The Copts have remained inside their Egyptian churches, foreign embassies, pockets of Egypt in America. There is finally starting to be a movement to be the Church here, but even that movement still seems to be divided along ethnic lines, the Coptic American Churches, the Ethiopian American Churches, the Armenian American Churches..If we can’t even be one with one another how can we hope to be the Church here, a Church where people here can belong?

    In England, where there is the British Orthodox Church, the Copts set up rival English missions down the street from the BOC missions. They say, the BOC is just for the British. The Copts have Churches for the immigrants, and must also have Churches for the grandkids of the immigrants, who are fully British culturally, but must maintain their Coptic heritage and preserve the rite unchanged. We can’t let them go to the BOC, or they might like it better and “switch”, so we need to make sure they have fully English Coptic Churches along side the British Church (within the Coptic Church). What madness. That isn’t the Catholic Church.

    People accuse me of wanting division, saying we all need to remain together and worship together, because unity is a Christian ideal, and so we should stay together and never let go of our Coptic rite. Meanwhile we stay united from our OO brothers, and from our neighbours all around us. Yes, if we, all the OO here, together, set up the Church here, that would be one more “jurisdiction”, not less. But any system that is fragmented must have its fragmentation temporarily increased in the process of moving things around to restore order. Let the Copts maintain the Coptic rite. Let the Ethiopians maintain theirs. The Armenians theirs. But let us all come together and be the Church here. As long as there are immigrants the Coptic Church can remain. As long as there are are children, and grandchildren, to however many generations, of immigrants who have had the love of the Coptic rite instilled in them the Coptic Church will remain. But let there also be the OO Church here, And let those children and grandchildren and outsiders who identify with the culture here and not with the culture of their ancestors, whether from Egypt, Ethiopia, Armenia, England, etc., worship together there as one, as the Church in this land. It is practical. And it is necessary. I wouldn’t be easy.


    • And with that additional clarification, I must say that I agree wholeheartedly. Don’t you wish we congregants could sit on a synod meeting for a day? Maybe that’s the reason we have a “Maglis il milee” (which I’m not sure what it is exactly but I believe it’s a select group of laity that voice their views regarding eclessiastical decisions)…. God bless your zeal. Your story about your mom really affects me and further ingrains in my heart the need for this, but the execution should improve. I fear that people will see this is the “not Coptic” church, rather than the American Orthodox Church. What I mean is, and this is what I’ve heard about some people in mission churches, that it’s congregants are oftentimes Coptic Church defectors who consider the Coptic traditional churches to be inferior due to their culture and that they are superior because they have broken away from that. I hope that instead of this oppositional attitude that people consider the Coptic churches sister churches and love them and APPRECIATE this church as an extension of an Egyptian church here in America to accommodate for Egyptians and Egyptian culture, and that the American Orthodox Church is simply an alternative meant to accommodate Americans (no matter their ethnicity). Two churches, one family. Not a divided family–fraternal twins who look different but nothing really divides them.


  3. Peace mate, I originally wrote the following reply for a post on Facebook where this article was shared, so please forgive me for any phrases which may seem a little odd as a result as I have copy and pasted 🙂

    Firstly, the name is a problem. It is well known that the American Orthodox Church was founded by a schismatic Russian bishop who married a Syrian woman. This is partly why the Orthodox Church of America did not adopt that name. Apart from this, just a few years ago the synod directed that the name “Australian Coptic Orthodox Church” must NOT be used for Coptic missions in Australia. Has the situation changed under Pope Theodore II of Alexandria?

    That said, isn’t the premise upon which this is based ethnophylitic? There is no need is there for an OO Church for Americans. What is needed is for the Church to be united. Then people would be free to worship within the tradition with which they identify or in any of the other traditions should they prefer to attend such a parish.

    The overall goal “to diminish Coptic/Egyptian/Arabic cultural distractions and to supplant that with cultural supplements that are amenable to the American population” is a refreshing change. However, after almost 8 years in the Coptic Orthodox Church now, I have now concluded that most Copts are only interested in converting other people to their culture; very few care about true conversions to Christianity. That said, our own Bishop Daniel of Sydney as well as my own priest from there and the local parish priest at the main church in Brisbane are among those who do strive for the conversion of hearts and souls.

    But in spite of this, the problem of “cultural distractions” is more fundamental than it may seem. At the failed Coptic Orthodox Mission here in Queensland, we used to pray the entire liturgy completely in English for a time. There was not a single foreign word. But the very tunes in which the Coptic Liturgy of St Basil are required to be chanted are foreign to Western ears. (This article does well to question why this can’t change. The short answer for now is that the Coptic Church considers the tunes in themselves to be sacred and so will not allow them to be changed. If they were, surely the logical option would be to use the historical chants of the people one is missioning would it not?) Even the majority of Australian converts whom I met express a less than positive opinion of the sound of the music in the Coptic Church. One person who was invited to join the midnight Holy Psalmody (i.e. tesbeha in [Latinised] Arabic) was told that it was like being in heaven. Afterwards this person said they never want to hear that awful noise ever again and would rather go to hell.

    Another problem is that the Copts are attached to the Arabic language in such a way that they seem unwilling to adopt English translations of many words even when they are available. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the fact that the current Coptic Pope Theodore II of Alexandria is almost never refered to by his English name but instead is almost always refered to by his Arabic name. Until the Coptic Church is willing to speak the name of her Pope in the vernacular, the air of foreign culture will loom over all her missionary efforts. (To compare, the Pope Francis of Rome is officially named Franciscus in Latin or Francisco in his native Spanish, but how many times have you heard him called either of those?) Notably, the article linked to not only says galabeyas (instead of cassock) but then explains that these are a part of Arabic culture as though they aren’t known in the West. Further down, the word iconostasis is used instead of the English rood screen.

    Musically, from what I’ve observed, the Copts have been inclined to adopt the egocentric melodies of Hillsong-type Protestants into their hymnals (if they have any which include songs of English origin) instead of the traditional theological hymns of either the Anglican or Catholic traditions. The result of this is that the youth who hear these hymns instead leave the Church to join Protestant movements where the bands are better practised and lack of theological awareness means they don’t see any problem with not being in an apostolic church. What’s worse, because the Copts are often unaware of subtle Protestant terminology, they even encourage the singing of heretical lyrics! (One that many of us converts have complained about includes a line which teaches that God the Father separated from Christ when He was crucified! But young Copts are effectively being taught by this song that this doctrine is true Christianity!) At one point the author of the article notes his concerns about diluting the authenticity of the Faith. This concern is very well founded and nowhere have I witnessed its effects to be more troubling than in the musical sphere.

    In regards to instruments, the historical Greek Orthodox Church of New Orleans has an organ at the back of it. Note that location. The best place for instruments is either in the loft (if there is one) or at the back. While it’s well known the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition makes use of drums, there is a limited degree to which they are used and only certain methods in which they are played. Nonetheless, considering drums are used by Native Americans, perhaps a similar place could be found for them? Yet music is Christian worship is generally used as an accompaniment to the human voice. While the triangle and cymbals help keep the rhythm of a tune, the organ (or in some places piano) helps keep the melody but should not overpower the human voice. However a violin could fulfill such a role, or even a Yuchi flute perhaps? It is interesting that the author does not mention any Native American instruments. Is this because of the gender roles associated with many of them?

    In regards to attire, what need is there to change the vestments unless one is wishing to imitate Protestantism? For the laity, the dress code isn’t strict enough as it is! Even a young Roman Catholic lady friend of mine knows that one is supposed to cover one’s shoulders in church, yet the only thing the Copts seem to care about is that the knees of boys must be covered :S That said, Grandma (who’s in the “Church of England”) is well aware that one is supposed to “wear a hat” to church, so there is no reason why mantillas and scarves should remain the sole option. As for beards, St Clement of Alexandria preached against the effeminate practice of shaving. What more need be said? 😉

    Combinations of artistic styles are already common in Coptic churches here in Australia. As an example, St Mary and St Mercurius’ Church in Rhodes has western style icons in the main church (where the liturgy is prayed in Arabic) and tradition Coptic icons in the downstairs church (which prays about 70% of the liturgy in English). From parish to parish it differs. Some are solely Coptic while others are almost entirely western in style. Personally, I think a combination is nice but there needs to be some order to things as well. In a mission context, I think beginning with mostly western style art is best but at least one traditional Coptic icon should always be present as it is a way to gain the interest of some potential parishioners. Having a Coptic icon displayed for feast days would provide a gentle but recurring reminder of the need to respect one’s heritage as well.

    Using various styles of crosses is fine as there are already plenty in the West anyway. An extra few might spark of a bit of interest but there’s no reason they have to be the sole option. The shape of the church has theological significance. Plenty of churches here in Australia already have different styles of iconostasis.

    In regards to what the author calls “Orthodox lite”, this version of the Faith can be useful for new converts. By way of example, as one who already ate healthily anyway the fasting regiments of the Coptic Orthodox Church was never a major problem for me personally. However many Australians (and I suspect Americans too) are bewildered at what to eat when told they can’t eat meat. Many people don’t know how to cook vegetables and/or have tastebuds that are so unaccustomed to them that they are repulsed to a degree that they leave the Church. In this regard, it is best to remember that the newly baptised are as newborn babes. Just as young children are eased into fasting, so too new converts often need to be eased into fasting. There are many other areas to which this principle can be applied.

    In regards to the title of the Church, if you wish for it to be jurisdictional rather than cultural (as the author has stated he does), then the logical name for it would be the “American Orthodox Church of the Coptic Rite”. This both conforms to the standard way of attributing nationality to Orthodox Churches and states its jurisdiction succinctly by way of the rite observed therein. By doing the latter it also honours the tradition of the forebears and founders of the mission parishes.

    The historical fact that in the early Church, “Rome was given primacy, and Alexandria followed right afterward” is well noted and commendable. However to include the phrase “of Alexandria” in the title of the Mission makes me wonder if it is based in the former settlement of Alexandria near Hopeton in California or the city in Virginia which was formerly part of the District of Columbia. At best, it’s confusing. It’s bound to create problems as soon as parishes are established in multiple locations.

    Thank you for including my patron St. Didymus the Blind among the theologians of the Church :] It is very positive that you maintain a healthy respect for your heritage and express your veneration to your forebears and their honourable achievements. But at the same time, when engaging in mission it is important to be honest. Egypt is also the land where a number of heresies arose and flourished – Arianism, Modalism, Gnosticism, etc. There are also significant Coptic figures who had faults which ought to be acknowledged rather than excused. You are probably aware of many of these so there is no need to repeat them here. However in mission one ought not to present the Church in too perfect a light, lest when converts find that her flaws have been hidden from them they begin to distrust those who taught them. For the sake of ecumenism, it is also important that all sides of historical controversies be made known to people investigating the Church. Of course the Coptic Orthodox Church will explain why it took the positions it did; but in those cases where other traditions survive it is important for new converts to be aware of why those traditions took the positions they did also. The most notable case of this would be in regards to the Christological controversies of the fifth century.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What an insightful and thought-provoking message you’ve left! I really appreciate you adding to the discourse and expanding my perspective. Here are a few thoughts related to your post.
      • Russian bishop used this name before. Did not know that. Quite interesting.
      • “Australian Coptic Orthodox Church” denied by Synod. Also did not know that. Do note that the actual name of H.G. Bishop Youssef’s endeavor is not final, but the latest that has been swirling around is as I’ve mentioned.
      • Ethnophylitic. I’ve got to be honest with you—had to google that word, and can’t find it anywhere. I’m guessing it refers to having a mission church with no culture. I don’t think that’s the goal. Culture is inevitable, I think… The key is to have enough in there that is familiar to the widest net of Americans as possible, but because it is such a melting pot over here, there will be some interesting thought behind how to do this. Clearly, stripping away ARABIC culture is the beginning, but what to supplant that with is the issue.
      • Chants being treated as “sacred” and resistance to change. Spot on with this. They are definitely Arabic and need to be more culturally “neutral.” You can get the sense that people attach some sanctity to the tunes whenever someone deviates from it too much and disrupts the choir…
      • Attachment to Arabic language. I don’t see too much of this in the Southern Diocese where HGBY has a rule that on Sundays no Arabic is to be used in the liturgy, and which is generally applied quite well… As for mention of “galabeya” instead of cassock, it’s merely out of my ignorance as I have heard the word but didn’t know its meaning. As for iconostasis, that is not Arabic as I’m sure you know… It is used by the Eastern Church although some prefer the word templon instead.
      • Protestant music. Your comments here are absolutely correct. It’s unfortunate and concerning.
      • Native Americans and instruments. In America we don’t often encounter Native American culture, and it’s rare for me to know someone who is of Native American ethnicity… So when I think of instruments and what is amenable to Americans, I think of the melting pot of varied ethnicities and cultures that comprise America…
      • Attire and beards. Good points there 
      • Icons. I really like your idea of having at least one Coptic Icon always present. Maybe that would be the Bosom of the Father (the Pantocrator icon) behind the altar? Or maybe Jesus and St. Mary icons?
      • Orthodox lite. I agree not to give more than one can handle and that there is a progression, but the progression should not end with an “Orthodox lite” standard, but a truly Orthodox standard that most of us will not reach but always will seek to achieve. I’m a fan, for example, of a shorter liturgy (I’ll write a post about this extensively in the near future and how there is lots of authority for this to be permitted).
      • “American Orthodox Church of the Coptic Rite.” I like where you are going with this, but “Coptic rite” seems to imply an emphasis on Coptic rituals and Coptic culture… the American Orthodox Church, if taken in the direction it seems to be headed, will not be according to the Coptic Rite, but according to some diminution of Coptic rite and some supplemented new rites for the mission churches… Maybe the name should simply be: “American Orthodox Church” with a subtitle that indicates the jurisdiction… something that mentions Coptic and the patriarchate of Alexandria…
      • Being honest about our shortcomings. With this I wholeheartedly agree. I myself was quite disappointed when I realized the romanticized version of Coptic Christianity and Orthodoxy being preached was not a fair view of the truth… Such a surprise could shake people away from the Church… confronting it honestly up front is the better option.


      • You’re welcome and thank you for the compliment John 🙂
        – To fill you in, after St Raphael of Brooklyn reposed, he was succeeded by Aftimios Ofiesh. This is the bishop who married a Syrian lady then started the American Orthodox Church. Since then, there have been and still are many schismatic movements which claim apostolic succession through him.
        – Considering you’re not in Australia, and the rest of the world only seems to pay attention to us when we speak up, it’s not surprising you hadn’t heard about that mate 😉
        – You can’t find “ethnophylitic” because I used it as an adjective. Try searching for the noun “ethnophylitism” instead 🙂 Basically, it means thinking that one’s culture is one’s religion. The Eastern Orthodox have declared it a heresy but they don’t seem to worry about it very much except in cases where they upset each other. (It was originally declared a heresy because the Bulgarian Orthodox Church appointed its own bishop for Constantinople and the Greeks weren’t too happy about that.) To a lesser degree, it means confusing one’s culture and one’s religion, i.e. thinking either is the other. An example of this would be when somebody says, “The angels speak Coptic” as though the angels can’t understand any other language. (Really?) A more common example would be how there is nothing immoral about eating with one’s left hand, even though many cultures have a problem with this. When people think that it is against their religion to eat with their left hand, they are confusing their culture with their religion.
        – Australia is just as much of a melting pot as America, even in spite of our decades of the White Australia Policy. In this state alone there are towns named after locations in Poland and Afghanistan! Every 7 Eleven is run by Indians or Chinese. If you ever visit Adelaide, no points for spotting the Sudanese. (Sorry if that comes across the wrong way. Adelaide perhaps has the least ethnic plurality of any major city in Australia. There are a variety of Europeans there but there’s only a few thousand Africans, mostly very dark refugees from Sudan and they really stand out in a crowd.)
        – You don’t need to replace the Arabic culture with anything though. The people will substitute what’s missing themselves. The people already have their own culture. They just need to be encouraged to keep it and embrace it with the Faith.
        – In regards to the chants, the chants in Coptic and the chants in Arabic are distinctly different. This shows that there was a time when they were changed to suit the Arabic language. Historically, has not every nation composed liturgical chants according to the genius of its own music?
        – My apologies to you brother if my reply sounded harsh at any point. I recognise that often Coptic people don’t know certain English words. In part, this is due to a lack of cultural engagement. If the ordinary laity were more involved with inter-church activities, you would all benefit by both sharing the strength of your faith and becoming more familiar with traditional Christianity in the West. Of course, doing this carries with it the problem of encountering extremist Protestants who have no idea of what Christianity really is as well, so I can appreciate why some people like to avoid it.
        – You are correct that iconostasis is a Greek word. It would be fair to use the word templon instead. It may be considered jargon in English though as ordinary people aren’t likely to know it as it’s historically been associated with Eastern churches. On the other hand, the term rood screen comes from the Saxon word for the Cross (i.e. Rood). It’s been used in English for centuries. It was called that because of the large crucifix at the top of it. If you run a Google Images search for “rood screen” you’ll be able to see how they do tend to be made a bit differently from templons but they are nonetheless, very similar and they serve the same function. On a side note, I personally find it particularly interesting that the Copts place St Mary and St John by the Cross above the templon. In English tradition, St Mary and St John are also often placed at the top of the rood screen on either side of Christ. I have wondered whether this may be due to the early influence of Coptic monks in Briton.
        – Glad we agree about music and attire 🙂 If I may ask please, what proportion of your population is Native American? In Australia, Indigenous people only form about 2% of the population however they are often noticeable for a variety of reasons.
        – Thank you again 🙂 It doesn’t really matter where the Coptic icon is. I would not recommend the Bosom of the Father as it would seem more obscure there for newcomers. But which one it is could be left up to each parish, priest or whoever wishes to donate icons.
        – Agreed that the pathway of the Faith should not be seen as an end in itself. People do need to continue strengthening their faith and growing, and so progress towards heavier versions of the Faith. You are correct that shorter liturgies are fine. I’ve seen some prayed very quickly! Although, St John Chrysostom famously shortened the liturgy in the one which is named after him. As another kind of example, the liturgies mostly used in the West (i.e. by the Latin Rite) have always been shorter anyway.
        – In regards to the name, somebody else said that all parishes should just be called an Orthodox Church. In many ways I agree with this. There is no need to say anything more and Holy Annunciation Orthodox Church here in Brisbane has perhaps been the most successful mission parish in the area as a result of using that name. It’s under Met. Hilarion, First-Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).
        – But I chose the wording I did because the term “rite” is already well known by Catholics. Many have at least heard of the “Eastern Rite” Churches. If one takes the term “rite” to refer to the words, vestments, actions and theology, rather than to the tunes and language, then it seems like the best term, unless somebody can think of a better one? Personally, I highly doubt you’ll get permission from the synod for “new rites” if by that you mean inventing new ceremonies for the Mission. At the very least, they would need to be heavily based in the tradition of the Church.
        – Thank you very much for agreeing about the need to be honest! I understand the unwillingness of Orthodox Christians to speak negatively about our saints because they are our family and friends, but at the same time we need the humility to recognise that our heros are not to be worshipped because they too were fallen men.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for your reply. Quite amusing and makes me laugh 🙂 … “The angels speak Coptic” was quire hilarious…. Although sad that I believe you’ll find a lot of people who would say that haha…

        As for melting pot… did not know that about Australia… but we definitely don’t really notice Native Americans as much because they blend in with the general crowd…

        Good point about Coptic and Arabic chants being different… I think you have something there…

        As for apologies… none needed!

        VERY interesting info on the “rood screen” and the shared tradition of the crucifix with St. Mary and St. John above it. Very interesting.

        And I see your point about the word “rite”….. but I think that word comprises a lot of things, some of which may be changed at some point in this endeavor if it proceeds and flourishes.

        God bless you!


  4. Here are some references for ethnophyletism:


    Trenham, Fr. Josiah. “Orthodox Unity: Overcoming the Curse of Jurisdictionalism”

    Trenham, Fr. Josiah. “Triumph?… Of Orthodoxy” (25 min in)

    Hopko, Fr. Thomas. “Fr. Tom reflects on Kevin Allen’s Retirement”

    Hopko, Fr. Thomas. “Bishops” (until the series leaves the early centuries)

    Hopko, Fr. Thomas. “The fall of the Ottoman Empire”

    Paraskevopoulos, Fr. Theodore. “Ethnophyletism”

    Heers, Fr. Peter Alban. “Phyletism”


  5. ” (This article does well to question why this can’t change. The short answer for now is that the Coptic Church considers the tunes in themselves to be sacred and so will not allow them to be changed. If they were, surely the logical option would be to use the historical chants of the people one is missioning would it not?) ”

    The British Orthodox Church uses some ancient melodies and forms of chant from the Western Church. These already belong to the Orthodox Church, and are appropriate to the Western ear. Surely this is a far better approach than Evangelical music, which is neither theologically sound, nor aesthetically appropriate to use in Orthodox worship.

    “In regards to instruments, the historical Greek Orthodox Church of New Orleans has an organ at the back of it. Note that location. The best place for instruments is either in the loft (if there is one) or at the back”

    This is in itself a deviation from the patristic worship. The Pagan and Jewish temples used instruments. The Churches intentionally did not. It is dying out among the EO who adopted it in the States. No need for us to jump on that bandwagon now 🙂

    “In regards to attire, what need is there to change the vestments unless one is wishing to imitate Protestantism? For the laity, the dress code isn’t strict enough as it is! ”

    A visiting British Orthodox priest once refused to let one of our youth serve Vespers with him in the Altar, since the youth was wearing shorts. The kid was shocked that his right as a deacon to be in there was being violated. No matter how much our own priest asks people to stop, the majority still come to Church in jeans. I think appropriate dress in Church is more of a problem in Coptic culture than among westerns who still choose to go to Church.

    “In a mission context, I think beginning with mostly western style art is best but at least one traditional Coptic icon should always be present as it is a way to gain the interest of some potential parishioners.”

    There is no western style of iconography. Orthodoxy in the west has not adopted statues. The renaissance style portraits supplanting icons in so many of our churches, while western, are no suitable substitute for icons in Orthodox Churches anywhere.

    And why keep a Coptic icon? that sound phyletistic. Should a Coptic, Indian, Ethiopian, and Armenian icon be kept in each Church? Or are each of them going to set up “American” churches with one icon of their “mother” Church, as if there could be different Churches here operating independently yet somehow being Catholic?


    • Great idea to consider the British Orthodox Church chants… Definitely agree it is better than evangelical music.

      Instruments — I think the ancient premise was related to its use in pagan worship. But it is not the case today. As someone said in another post, quoting St Cyprian (“Antiquity is not truth.”)… There is argument to be made in either direction. Maybe when it comes to something like this the decision should be made to try to conform to our Eastern Orthodox brethren for the sake of unity rather than adding more division.

      Attire — I plan on writing a post on this and other church etiquette, but you are right on this one. Thanks for sahring that story.

      Coptic icon — I think it is meant to pay homage to the mission church’s roots, and reminds us of its jurisdictional place. I see what you are saying though. I would say the same if this were a mission church that belonged to any other jurisdiction… I see what you are saying… Let us pretend for a second that all the OO agreed to allow the Coptic Church to lead the way on behalf of all the OO to establish an American Orthodox Church, and also agreed that these churches would be remain part of the Alexandrian patriarchate… Why would one Coptic icon really be that problematic? I think it would draw a lot of positive attention from newcomers and established mission church attendees… Just my two cents…


    • I agree that the tunes used by the British Orthodox would be good. However as yet, the Copts have not allowed them to be used in Coptic parishes. Often these tunes are derived from old Anglican/Catholic ones.

      Regarding instruments, we could debate this but what’s the point? The Copts use cymbols and a triangle historically. The Ethiopians use drums. The Syriacs and Indians also use instruments. I don’t know if the Armenians use instruments or not. The Catholic Church certainly uses an organ as I’ve heard the Copts complained about this when they first found out about it around the 7th century sometime, which seems odd if they weren’t in communion at the time anyway.

      Agreed that attire at Church is more of a problem among Copts than among Westerners. I personally hate jeans but at the very least they are informal. That said, if you want to wear camel’s skin to church then you’re more than welcome in my book and most people wouldn’t count that as too formal either.

      In regards to art, by a western style, we mean that artistics works need not conform so strictly in appearance to how they do in the Old World. They can still convey the same theological meanings while appearing differently. Not sure how good these images from some of Australia’s Coptic churches are but consider these please:

      Pity I can’t find the ones from Rhodes in Sydney as they are very well done. They appear almost as though one took a Coptic icon and put it through a computer programme with a “westernise” button. Only they’re made with paint of course.

      While on links, the Coptic Museum in Adelaide may interest you:

      In regards to statues, God told Moses to make two statues of cherubim. Even a processional cross is a statue. So Orthodoxy can’t possibly have anything against statues seeing that they have always been used to some extent.

      By keeping a Coptic icon, it shows respect to the parish’s founders. It’s like keeping a photo of your mother in your house. The Catholic Cathedral at Armidale in New South Wales still keeps a Polish flag in the back. Why? The Polish people who built it all died a very long time ago. It is kept there as a sign of respect for those who established the parish even though they’re not around to see it. Perhaps some of their descendants are still around and may like to come see the work their forefathers did and the flag shows that they are still honoured in a small way as a result of their efforts.

      The Ethiopian Orthodox Church already keeps the red, gold and green flag of the Church in every parish anyway. It doesn’t so much matter who establishes each mission. Having a token of respect for them there is important. It will also provide historical value and a talking point for future historians. What’s more, it will make it much easier to identify the heritage of each parish and thereby help account for what differences may come to exist. In other words, it will make the job of future historians easier 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “Instruments — I think the ancient premise was related to its use in pagan worship. But it is not the case today.”

    I would contend that it is the case today. Charismatic-inflluenced ‘praise bands’ are arguably pagan worship. The fact that it is labelled Christian only makes it worse.

    “Why would one Coptic icon really be that problematic?”

    I think Jonathan wants them to ALL be Orthodox icons.

    “Orthodoxy in the west has not adopted statues.”

    Interestingly, H.G Bishop Raphael believes that statues are orthodox. Not sure if I agree though.

    Regarding authentic Orthodox Western music, listen to this stuff – it’s amazing:
    [audio src="" /]

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “I think Jonathan wants them to ALL be Orthodox icons.”

    Depends what you mean by “Orthodox”, if you mean that as in Byzantine, then no…

    If I got to pick I’d love to have the style of the ancient icons at St. Antony’s monastery.

    My priest said he’d love to have that style, but our board wants renaissance, so we’ll see 🙂

    If you look at the Romanesque paintings, they don’t look too terribly far from icons. Though I prefer the Coptic Red Sea icons, I remember years ago walking into the older church across the square from Notra Dame in Paris and being surprised how similar the painting from that period felt to them.

    I find some Byzantine icons to be overly formal or dry. But if you look at excellent ones of theirs they are very peaceful, very prayerful. Same for the Red Sea icons.

    But when you get to the Renaissance period, with photo realism and drama, those are not befitting an Orthodox Church. It’s a completely different feeling.

    For the most part, the NeoCoptic icons, which aren’t really Coptic so much as an invention of Isaac Fanous,.. They have never struck a cord with me. I’ve seen a few I liked, but for the most part… well, one hegouman put it best when he looked at an icon of Pope Kyrillos and said “I didn’t know Syenda made a guest appearance on the Simpsons”.

    A board member of my Church argues that the old Coptic icons are “primitive” and know that we “know how to do better” we should, and should use renaissance style portraits. I wish everyone who feels like this, before putting them in, could stand before real examples of icons, prepared by a prayerful iconographer, and see the difference.

    And I think that the Western mind appreciates consistency, and while in many Eastern cultures having one icon of a different tradition, I think in the West that a parish deserves to be consistent throughout, especially when talking about one as prominent as the Niche.

    Statues are not against Orthodoxy as in they can’t be made, but statues are not at all the same thing as icons. H.H. Pope Shenouda once went to consecrate a Church, saw that they had a statue in it, and walked out and refused to consecrated it until they removed it. I like that. You won’t see a RC crucifix with a statue of Christ in my house.

    For music, and instruments, and icons, and statues, and all this stuff… I really hope that those considering these things find an OCA or Antiochian parish nearby, where there is no ethnic identity to the parish beyond “American” or “Canadian”, where the make-up of the people worshiping there matches exactly the makeup of the people on the street, a parish that is authentically American or Canadian because they’ve been here for so long… Observe what it looks like from the people who have been doing it much longer than us, and learn from their experience before reinventing the wheel and thinking that adding statues, organs, and renaissance paintings will make Americans feel at home… especially when many left Catholicism and Anglicanism to come to Orthodoxy, and are struggling in ethnic parishes and want a place to be Orthodox and be themselves, but have no desire to go back to Catholicism or Anglicanism (let along Protestantism with the songs many wish to introduce…).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “You are correct that shorter liturgies are fine. I’ve seen some prayed very quickly!”

    Praying shorter liturgies and rushing through liturgies are two very different things.
    Shorter liturgies may be acceptable under some circumstances, but I fear that our culture’s propensity to shorten, abbreviate and reduce an organic whole to its ‘fundamental’ components is something that must be avoided. Let us remember the Roman Catholic Church’s Vatican II reforms which ended in disaster. The shortening has to happen for legitimate pastoral reasons, and people being lazy is not one of those reasons.

    On the other hand, rushing liturgies is NEVER acceptable! It is better to shorten the rite (appropriately) than to rush through a long rite. Liturgy is heaven on earth and we step out of chronological time and enter redeemed time (from chronos to kairos).
    See this for why rushing liturgy is wrong:

    Liked by 1 person


    There is no reason whatsoever to omit COPTIC from the name of our 2000+ years.

    I agree that English would be the main language and some Coptic, NO ARABIC.

    Instead of all those changes, invest the energy on teaching the new comers from Egypt the English language.

    The word COPTIC attached to our churches name is our pride.

    Which is more realistic ‘of Egypt’ or ‘of Alexandria’.

    Let us stop dividing. Our church is under severe attacks. We need to be UNITE more than ever before.


  10. @Ronyvo

    The Syriac Orthodox Church, Armenian Church, Ethiopian Church, etc are just as Orthodox and Christian as us, yet they don’t have the word ‘Coptic’ in the name.

    Our pride is in Christ, not Egypt or the word ‘Coptic’. To claim otherwise is tantamount to idolatry.

    By insisting on keeping the word ‘Coptic’, we are actually DIVIDING ourselves from our sister Churches (Armenian, Syriac, etc). True unity is found in Christ through culture, not in culture on its own. This is why we share communion with Armenian and Syriac Orthodox, but not with Coptic Catholics or Protestants.

    Re your suggestion of teaching the newcomers English, this cannot happen overnight as long as a steady flow of immigration continues.

    I really recommend this blog: – this will help you understand the theological rationale behind setting up these sorts of parishes

    “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galations 3:28

    Liked by 1 person

  11. @ronyvo,

    I get that you have a lot of pride in your Coptic heritage, and I respect that. But I don’t understand this need to control others. No one is telling you and your parish that you have to “stop being Coptic”. But if there are increasingly groups of people who culturally identify not with Coptic culture, but are culturally North American, why do you feel the need to force them to be Coptic in culture? Would you rather see people pushed away from Christ when they reject the Church along with the culture of their grandparents that is no longer theirs? If they are not in any heresy, why not just leave them be and expect them to leave you be? Why does everything that is not heresy have to be a fight to have my way imposed on everyone? Why can’t we just let each other alone in peace?

    The Church of Alexandria is an ancient Church, one of the five great sees, and is referenced greatly in the Fathers, and in academics studying rites. The Ethiopians also come from the Alexandrian rite, having inherited it from Egypt along with Christianity, but having their own local Church in their own country.

    So which is more accurate, “of Egypt”, or “of Alexandria”. Well, these parishes are not Orthodox Churches in Egypt, they are “of America”, not “of Egypt”, but they are following the Alexandrian rite, as are the Egyptians, Ethiopians, Eritreans, British, and French. The British and French are even within the Patriarchate of Alexandria (as were the Ethiopians until 1969), and follow the Alexandrian rite, and are subject to the Patriarchal Church of Alexandria, without being in any way Coptic or having the word “Coptic” in their name.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I think that I am an old fashion. The word COPTIC is essential to be inserted with the name of our churches anywhere in the world.
    Personally, when I meet a non-Coptic person who asks me where you come from, I answer I AM COPTIC. Because, if I say from Egypt it comes to their minds that I am Muslim. It happened many times. With this reply I bring their attention and curiosity inflamed. If they know what Coptic is, fine. But, if they don’t, I grab the chance to explain and educate about our great faith & church.

    I agree 100% that English and Coptic should be in our Mass. NO ARABIC. I realize the problem with the new comers from Egypt, who don’t know English. Energy should be directed to teaching them English. This way we accomplish 2 tasks , we hit 2 birds with 1 stone, so to speak. Help them to assimilate in the American way of life to get jobs….etc. AND to distract them away from what they are accustomed to all their lives. COPTIC CHURCCH, COPTS.


  13. @ronyvo,

    “when I meet a non-Coptic person who asks me where you come from, I answer I AM COPTIC. Because, if I say from Egypt it comes to their minds that I am Muslim.”

    That’s great for you. But what about all of us who are not Coptic? Those like myself who thought they had entered Orthodoxy in a Coptic parish, and now are finding that people are expecting us to convert to Coptic culture? The whole second and third generations that are not from Egypt, but are from western countries? Should I leave and join the OCA, because our parishes are no longer the Orthodox Church, under the care of the ancient patriarchate of Alexandria, but are the Coptic Church here, the Church in Egypt in America, whatever that means?

    “I think that I am an old fashion.”

    I’m sorry to tell you that you are not old fashioned in this, but very modern. What you are preaching is not Orthodoxy at all, but the American religion. In history, there was One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. That Church was manifested in every land. The Patriarchate of Alexandria was that one Church in Egypt. When there were large populations from another land, such as monastic communities or dispersed populations, the local Church would seek the assistance of the Church of their homeland to care for them. But everyone was a member of the One Church as it was manifest in the local area.

    The modern idea, that there are many Orthodox Churches, that the Coptic Church has gone from being a National church to being a Catholic or worldwide Church, that each ethnicity has it’s own Church that is independent from all the other Churches and can operate in parallel to one another in the same land, is entirely modern, born in America.

    America tells you diversity is a virtue. This has overridden Orthodoxy, which teaches us to be united, to be one, that the Church is One. In the early Church, the world was changed because Christ had abolished every division. Greek and gentile, male and female, rich and slave, and people of every nation, worshipping together as one assembled people, the assembled people of God in that place, the Church in that place. Today, we have rebuilt the dividing wall that Christ tore down, and built it not even between our own cultures, but between the cultures of grandparents. We have rejected the Gospel to become culture clubs, performing the liturgy of another time and place as pageantry, instead of being the Church where we are, of all coming together as the Orthodox Christians in this place assembled together.

    Ironically, being the Orthodox Church in America is Orthodoxy, and being the Coptic Church in America is being strongly influenced the American religion (by which I mean the doctrine or teaching of the founding fathers, who were deists, and the cultural values that America teaches are true, which stand against the Gospel, against Orthodoxy).

    Liked by 1 person

  14. If I may add something to this lovely discourse, someone contacted me directly and posed opposition to the concept of the AOCA. Here was my response:

    Let’s imagine that the only Orthodox Church available today was the Chinese Orthodox Church. Chinese people, Chinese language, Chinese culture (singing, dress, everything). If that Church were to evangelize and establish a church in Greece, Russia, Egypt, and America, what would the church look like to best serve the people in those countries?

    In all honesty answer the same criticisms you posed:

    Would it not be the right thing to “break away from the ‘cultural Chains’ of the Chinese Orthodox Church”?

    Would that not “help to further the Spirituality of these Churches?”

    Yes, “the original cultures of [the Chinese Orthodox Church is] … rich with treasures of thousands of years of past wisdom,” yet is it not the right thing for it “to be exchanged with American [and Coptic and Greek and Russian] culture?”

    Will you say about such accommodation, as you’ve stated: “Such silliness that will be the devastation of any church [that does that]!”

    If in all honesty you think the Chinese Orthodox Church should not accommodate for the culture and language of the Greeks, Russians, Copts, and yes Americans, then I think you would be very hard pressed to convince the apostles and missionaries of Christianity who came to these lands that the particular cultures of those places has no place for their new churches. Because CLEARLY each locale DID implement their cultural perspective within the framework of a sound Orthodox foundation. And I can find at least one reference in the writings of Tertullian where he applauds the diversity found in the unified One Catholic Church.

    If you don’t agree, then I guess in this scenario we would all need to learn Chinese culture. I majored in it in college so I’m ready for it!


  15. “The word COPTIC is essential to be inserted with the name of our churches anywhere in the world.”

    Then why don’t the Syriac, Ethiopian, Armenian churches have the word ‘Coptic’ in them? They are ‘our’ churches too, we can take communion in them.

    What about the Church at the Last Supper where Christ instituted the Eucharist – do you think that that church should have had the word ‘Coptic’ in its name?!


  16. This story of the American taking of the egyptian ideas for copric church life is very impoortnt. WE should remember that this is the lands of immigration. as baba shenouda the 3 said. This american orthdox is not for the way of the people.


  17. Dear Pazoo,

    I agree with you to an extent. Fr Alexander Schmemann states that:
    “there are those who believe that the old pattern of national and religious unity can be simply applied to America. The Church is Greek in Greece, Russian in Russia, therefore it must be American in America—such is their reasoning. We are no longer Russians or Greeks, let us translate services in English, eliminate all “nationalism” from the Church… Logical as it sounds, this solution is deeply wrong and, in fact, impossible. For what, in their cheerful but superficial “Americanism,” the partisans of this view seem completely to overlook is that the rapport between Orthodoxy and Russia, or Orthodoxy and Greece, is fundamentally different from, if not opposed to, the rapport between Orthodoxy and America. There is not and there cannot be a religion of America in the sense in which Orthodoxy is the religion of Greece or Russia and this, in spite of all possible and actual betrayals and apostasies. And for this reason Orthodoxy cannot be American in the sense in which it certainly is Greek, Russian or Serbian. Whereas there, in the old world, Orthodoxy is coextensive with national culture, and to some extent, the national culture (so that the only alternative is the escape: into a “cosmopolitan,” viz. “Western” culture), in America, religious pluralism and therefore, a basic religious “neutrality,” belongs to the very essence of culture and prevents religion from a total “integration” in culture. Americans may be more religious people than Russians or Serbs, religion in America may have privileges, prestige and status it has not had in the “organic” Orthodox countries, all this does not alter the fundamentally secular nature of contemporary American culture; and yet it is precisely this dichotomy of culture and religion that Orthodoxy has never known or experienced and that is totally alien to Orthodoxy. For the first time in its whole history, Orthodoxy must live within a secular culture…

    It belongs to the very essence of Orthodoxy not only to “accept” a culture, but to permeate and to transform it, or, in other terms, to consider it an integral part and object of the Orthodox vision of life. Deprived of this living interrelation with culture, of this claim to the whole of life, Orthodoxy, in spite of all formal rectitude of dogma and liturgy, betrays and loses something absolutely essential. And this explains the instinctive attachment of so many Orthodox, even American born, to the “national” forms of Orthodoxy, their resistance, however narrow-minded and “nationalistic,” to a complete divorce between Orthodoxy and its various national expressions. In these forms and expressions Orthodoxy preserves something of its existential wholeness, of its link with life in its totality, and is not reduced to a “rite,” a clearly delineated number of credal statements and a set of “minimal rules.” One cannot by a surgical operation called “Americanization” distill a pure “Orthodoxy in itself,” without disconnecting it from its flesh and blood, making it a lifeless form. There can be no doubt, therefore, that in view of all this, a living continuity with national traditions will remain for a long time not only a compromise meant to satisfy the “old-timers,” but an essential condition for the very life of the Orthodox Church”


    • What a great find! Beautiful! It doesn’t mean I wholeheartedly agree but so much of it rings true that it is hard not to accept the totality of his statement as truth. Nonetheless I refrain from believing that we cannot adjust and become more accommodating to people who are accustomed to living in America and who do not hold strong attachments to any other culture. They deserve and it is our duty to provide something more palatable to them. God bless!


      • I agree with you John. I am a strong supporter of HG’s proposal. I just wanted to empathize with Pazoo, and show him that he is right to oppose indiscriminate Americanization. But then show him that removing the word ‘Coptic’ does not necessarily entail said indiscriminate Americanization.


  18. ^This quote highlights the importance of doing mission the right way. Although warning against indiscriminate Americanization like you do in your post, Fr Alexander Schmemann himself was a huge proponent of the independence and autocephaly of the OCA (Orthodox Church in America) from the Russian Orthodox Church. So he certainly wouldn’t be against removing the word ‘Coptic’, but that does not mean going on a crusade and removing everything you perceive as ‘Coptic’ from the Church.

    In the Coptic Church’s mission to Americans today, there is unfortunately a movement towards “simply taking a Protestant church mindset and inserting liturgies and sacraments” (quote from the AOCA presentation linked at the top of John’s post). This is indiscriminate Americanization – where along with theological neutral aspects of American culture (e.g. English, non-dissonant chanting), we embrace the Protestant and deistic roots of America (e.g. Charismatic sermons and hymns).

    That’s why it’s so important that all who desire a genuine Christian Church (i.e. an Orthodox Church) in America for Americans get behind and support Anba Youssef’s proposal. Anba Youssef is a wise father and an astute theologian with the discernment to ensure that the faith is not watered down in the process of Americanization.

    Otherwise, we’ll just be left with a few very loud voices who claim to be Coptic Orthodox doing mission in America, but are actually Protestant.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. @Pazoo

    “WE should remember that this is the lands of immigration. as baba shenouda the 3 said. This american orthdox is not for the way of the people.”

    I agree that for many people their heart is still in Egypt (therefore they regard the West as the “Lands of Immigration”), and the AOCA is not suitable for them. However, some people consider America as their HOME, not a “Land of Immigration”. Is there something wrong with that? What are your reasons for forcing them to consider themselves Egyptian?


    • American is not the hime of the church. the home is in egypt, your moma and baba i s from EGypt, you have to respect the culture or your familky and church,

      no one forces you to hinking of yourself as american, why you choose that!


  20. Moreover, a couple of years ago a very famous priest (probably the most famous priest in the whole Land of Immigration) removed both the words ‘Coptic’ and ‘Orthodox’ from his church’s logo. While there’s nothing wrong with removing the word ‘Coptic’, there are big theological problems with removing the word ‘Orthodox’. Why didn’t people raise a fuss then over this serious compromise of Orthodox ecclesiology?


  21. @Pazoo

    You are saying that “Egypt is the home of the church”. What about the Church of Ethiopia? The Coptic Church is the Mother Church of Ethiopia, but the Ethiopian Church never considered itself ‘Coptic’. In fact, St Pope Kyrillos VI went one step further and allowed the Ethiopian Church to have its own Patriarch and be independent from the Coptic Church. Is there anything wrong with that?

    “your moma and baba i s from Egypt”
    What about people whose parents are not from Egypt? Which church should they join?

    Liked by 1 person

    • In complete agreement with you @Anon.

      This movement to integrate into America and other locales outside of Egypt, and provide a church that accommodates for mission work, will happen in spite of opposition. It has already happened in various places. The question is, does the Coptic Church Synod want to let this go on its own with no direction from the top? Or do they want to get in front of it and lead the group so they don’t make mistakes that wreak havoc on our faith? Christ set the Bishops to oversee the church, not priests or the laity. H.G. Bishop Youssef rightfully seeks to oversee this transition.

      And note to everyone who opposes this: the AOCA is nothing but COPTIC CHURCH with ONLY ENGLISH, as well as a mindset to SPREAD THE GOSPEL. That’s it.

      I for one will stand firmly with Bishop Youssef in His Grace’s role and right to oversee what has already started to happen elsewhere without any guidance. This mission church movement needs shepherding. We need our overseers to take control of this now and foster its growth in an Orthodox manner.


  22. Holy Synod Decrees, May 2015

    Committee of the Churches Abroad:

    1- To highlight the identity of the Coptic Orthodox Church in all publications, documents, releases and television programs and focus on the attribute “Coptic”, emphasizing its title of “Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria”

    ^An understandable decision, albeit theologically baseless. I guess HG will just call the churches “American Coptic Orthodox” like they do in Los Angeles?


    • Hey @Anon. I’m not sure if this particular recommendation of the Synod actually touches upon the AOCA. I read it to actually be about Coptic Churches abroad, in their publications, etc. For example, when a particular church publishes a book by a priest or a pamphlet or whatever, they want to ensure that the Coptic Church is highlighted and emphasized. The AOCA I think could still keep its name but when producing media, it needs to have some blurb or something that points people to the mother church. At least that’s how I read this.


  23. Pingback: Is a 20-minute Liturgy un-Orthodox? Why It’s Not as Laughable as You Might Think | ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN MEETS WORLD

  24. Pingback: Get Rid of Coptic? When Coptic Is Not Edifying… | ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN MEETS WORLD

  25. Pingback: My Intriguing Visit to an Ethiopian Orthodox Church—A First-Time Coptic Visitor’s Perspective | ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN MEETS WORLD

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s