Get Rid of Coptic? When Coptic Is Not Edifying…

Coptic Language.png

“We should stop using Coptic in the Coptic Church,” is what I’ve been hearing these days by many. How did we get to this point? Should we stop using the Coptic language in the Coptic Church in the diaspora? Recently His Holiness Pope Tawadros II and previously the late Pope Shenouda III seemed to express support for adapting to new cultures to include allowing no use of the Coptic language (see videos below). I’m curious to get your thoughts.

Pope Tawadros II Video   |   Pope Shenouda III Video

Pope Tawadros II:

Our thinking needs to change … We have to show that we are a Church of the times, not a Church of stringency. “Of the times” doesn’t mean that we change just anything, never! It will not happen. But a Church of the times means it fits and adapts to the present time.

We pray [in traditional Coptic Churches] in Coptic, Arabic, and some words in Greek. Okay, when I go to certain countries, the people do not know Coptic, Arabic, or Greek. We have one of two options: either we insist on praying in those languages, and say “the earth speaks Arabic” [seemingly alluding to an old Arabic song of the same name] … Or should we pray in their languages? What about the hymns, you may say, and the Praises are based on … So what do we do?

When I was in America during my last visit, I spent a night in the monastery in one of the monasteries there … and we stood up for [Midnight] Praises. The north side, we would say it in Coptic, and the south side would say it in English, you understand? And both sides responded to one another and everything was going “very smooth” and very beautiful. The talented fathers would take the hymns and figure out how to apply English, French, German, or Italian upon the appropriate tune for the hymn….

We have to evolve. We have to think.

Pope Shenouda III:

I will tell you something in our experience of preaching, how we established a Church in Ethiopia. The Church of Ethiopia was established in the year 329 A.D. during the first year of St. Athanasius of Alexandria and he sent for Ethiopia their first bishop, named Frumentius, [which] means “the man of God.” We gave Ethiopia the Orthodox faith, but we left [for] them their own culture…. They still have their Ethiopian language. We didn’t change the hymns, nor the music, nor the musical instruments.

Teach them the faith not the culture, not the same rites, not the same songs, not the same music. What is important for us is the faith, and we leave them to do what they want. We want the faith, and we leave for every church the freedom to maintain their own culture. That’s what there is today, and in Eritrea we did the same thing also. And in many of the new churches in Africa, we also leave them with their freedom. What’s important is the faith. The essential point is faith, Christian faith, and especially Orthodox faith. And then we leave for them their own culture: music, hymns, …

_____________________

BRIEF HISTORY ON HOW WE GOT HERE

Egyptians who emigrated needed their homeland church in America

When Egyptian Copts emigrated to various countries, they needed a way to shift the church worship and services they received in Egypt to their new homelands. Having grown up in the U.S., I’ve watched as the Church of Alexandria provided for congregants’ needs, attempting to offer exactly the same as what was offered in Egypt. Arabic-speaking priests who provided mostly Arabic and Coptic worship services, Arabic sermons, Arabic everything. It was mostly a “lift and shift,” from what was in Egypt and bringing it to the lands of immigration.

Congregants began to assimilate to American culture and language

Then the need began to change, because the people attending Coptic churches were changing. Youth who immigrated at a young age were adopting American culture; arguably most notably, the English language. Then there were countless youth born in the land of immigration who felt no ties to their Egyptian homeland or heritage, nor did they feel compelled to seek such ties. Some youth married non-Egyptians and brought them into the church, and here or there a few non-Egyptians converted to Orthodoxy and joined the Coptic Church. Copts growing up in America found themselves in an environment where they felt the call to evangelize and let more people know about Orthodox Christianity, but the church they were going to bring Americans to was so ethnically foreign to them.

Suddenly the Copts found themselves with a dilemma: the former Coptic/Arabic worship service which served the needs of newcomers was failing to appropriately provide for the American cultural makeup of its current generation of congregants, and those to whom Copts sought to evangelize.

English brought into Coptic worship services

Over time, Coptic parishes started introducing more English into worship services. Sermons and Scripture readings were the first to be in English. Then came hymns: taking the Coptic words and tunes and applying them to an English translation.

In the Coptic Diocese of the Southern U.S.A., H.G. Bishop Youssef made a concerted effort to make this the new normal, designating certain individuals to standardize Coptic liturgical hymns in English (and eventually requiring that on Sundays only English and Coptic may be used). But not all hymns were in scope, just the ones that were used most commonly during regular liturgies. Many of the longer hymns, and ones typically reserved for specially occasions, were neglected. So then came another effort by many to record those hymns in English, but efforts were scattered.

Michael Guirguis, a member of the parish in which I grew up, and an excellent servant of the Church, recognized this issue and decided to do something about it. By God’s grace, his efforts at present have led to the place to go for English hymns—coptichymnsinenglish.com—and then in 2015 he spearheaded the effort to establish a formal “English Hymns Committee,” which has received formal support and blessing from all Diocesan and General Bishops in North America and the General Bishop/Papal Exarch in the Archdiocese of North America to standardize English hymns for the entire Coptic Church.

All-English “Mission Churches” to save the day?

Yet Coptic, and often Arabic, persists to be used in many parishes today. In an attempt to provide English-only services to those who are best served in such a manner, “mission churches” have been popping up all over the place. That title, “mission church,” is often regarded as a misnomer since many of those churches simply provide an “all-English” Coptic service, yet evangelistic efforts may be wanting.

THE GREAT DIVIDE: To keep [Coptic], or not to keep … that is the question

At the present time, there still remains an often divisive and passionate line drawn between mainly two viewpoints within the Coptic Church:

  1. One group considers the Coptic language as fundamental to worship, almost to the extent of regarding it as being imbued with some sense of holiness without which worship is lacking;
  2. The other group regards the Coptic language as almost entirely useless in worship services and desire that it be eradicated from use in the Coptic Church, considering it to be an unnecessary impediment for both cradle Copts who do not care for it, and for those who are interested in joining Orthodoxy through the Coptic Church.

 

MY TAKE: HAPPY MEDIUM? 

I completely understand the criticisms lodged against the Coptic language, or any foreign language that is used during Church services. Those criticisms hinge on one pivotal aspect: prayer with understanding.

My very first blog post was about that topic: “When Men Should Be Silent in Church, According to the Apostle Paul.” St. Paul centers his focus on “edification”: “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26).

But he does not say, “Do not use foreign languages.” In fact, he says they can be used so long as there is an “interpreter” (1 Cor. 14:28).

“If anyone speaks in a tongue [Coptic], let there be two or at the most three [languages, like Arabic, Coptic, and English], each in turn, and let one interpret” (1 Cor. 14:27).

The purpose for this workaround is to ensure that we “sing with the spirit” and “also sing with the understanding” (1 Cor. 14:15). But eradicating languages does not seem to be a requirement, so long as interpretation is offered at minimum. Today Coptic Churches have several means by which interpretation is offered (projected on screens, through books, etc.)

But is this optimal? In my opinion, and in the minds of many: no.

However, instead of seeking eradicate or diminish the Coptic language from the Coptic Church, I say there is a better approach:

For those who are edified by the Coptic language, who care to retain their cultural heritage from the time of the ancient Egyptians, they should be accommodated.

And also for those who are edified by an all-English service and are impeded by the Coptic language, they should likewise be accommodated.

How?

Optimally, there should be a distinct service or church dedicated for each. Traditional Coptic churches work for many, but there also needs to be churches (or at least services) offered in English only (or at least, mostly English).

The way things seem to be headed are to establish two churches, both under the Patriarchate of Alexandria, which people can choose between:

  • The Coptic Orthodox Church
  • The American Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria (which I believe so-called “mission churches” should eventually be named and be subsumed into)

The Coptic Orthodox Church should retain the Coptic language and cater to its congregants with English and/or Arabic (or whatever language is spoken).

The American Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria should provide an all-English service, but should go even further and begin to adapt to even more cultural aspects of the community it serves which go far beyond just language. As H.H. Pope Shenouda III indicated, culture in his mind included not just language, but also “music,” “instruments” and “hymns [by which I think he meant musical melodies].”

The next step in my mind after language is to change the tunes of the hymns. They currently utilize notes that are not familiar to most American ears, which notes are not even present on a piano (in fact, the Arabic tone system has about 24 notes, as opposed to the European scale which consists of half—just 12 notes). This is cultural. Why not take the words of the hymns and allow Americans to establish new melodies to them that sound more amenable to their ears? I pray for that day to happen. As H.H. Pope Shenouda III reminded us, when the Copts delivered the faith to the Ethiopians we did not also force upon them hymn melodies, music, instruments, or language, among many other cultural freedoms afforded them. That is why today when you walk into an Ethiopian Orthodox Church you will see much difference between the Copts and Ethiopians with regard to culture, although the faith is the same.

H.G. Bishop Youssef continues to embark on the effort of establishing several parishes under the name of the “American Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria” throughout his diocese (see this blog post for more).

Until those efforts have become more prevalent, traditional Coptic Orthodox Churches must be more accommodating to ensure the edification of all of its congregants, and if that means to minimize Coptic, Arabic, and/or English (or any other language), then so be it.

But to entirely neglect those who love their Coptic heritage and the Coptic language, who feel edified by its use, would be as much a travesty as praying the entire liturgy in Coptic to the impediment of all others.

Neither path is an option, but some middle ground can be chosen to accommodate all within the church, as much as possible. “These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Lk 11:42). The Church is working to adapt to new realities in order to nourish all. Be patient, and in the meantime help in make the Church better rather than merely criticizing it as inadequate.

19 thoughts on “Get Rid of Coptic? When Coptic Is Not Edifying…

  1. @columbcille shared this with me and thought to share it here. Very beautiful words from Mathetes, regarded as an early Christian who may have been a catechumen of St. Paul:

    “For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.”

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  2. “That title, “mission church,” is often regarded as a misnomer since many of those churches simply provide an “all-English” Coptic service, yet evangelistic efforts may be wanting.”

    I would just urge caution here. Many people who claim to be mission minded criticise the efforts of the LA and SUS diocese with the exact same criticism – ie that they simply translate the services and don’t care about evangelism. These people advocate things like Hillsong in devotional contexts in and outside the Divine Liturgy of the Eucharist, Evangelical-style “revival meetings”, etc, as signs of true evangelism.

    I hope people won’t interpret this sentence as support for this idea.

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  3. I still recommend what Pope Tawadros II said “part Coptic – Part English in midnight praises went very smooth.” That is, more English and good part Coptic in the same hymn as reasonably we are using in Holly Cross Church, there is translation in English side by side with Coptic. We can drop Arabic totally for people have been in America for number of years, keep Coptic as it has been initial language since first century, and after the three Liturgies have been established. Arabic was introduced in 17th century by Muslim extremist governor to be used in all governmental offices and schools (kuttab). The pope at that harsh time, asked all Copts to keep learning Coptic Language to their children at home and in church.

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  4. We can’t leave the Coptic language and skip it for one reason we have a papal decree from pope Gaberial Ibn terk the 60th pope of Alexandria saying the following before reading in Arabic (or the language of interpretation) for the readings YOU MUST FULLY READ IT IN COPTIC.

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  5. Is it okay to have all people of trying to alter and Americanize the Coptic Orthodox Church to have their own churches outside the Coptic Church and it they can do what they seem fit in their eyes: take out Coptic from the Coptic Church, get rid of hymns or make English lyrics and music that fit their taste and leave us who grew up in the Coptic Church and love its Coptic and musical heritage. Just don’t call yourself Coptic in any capacity if you want to do these things and I promise we will not interfere with your doing.

    Few points to consider:
    1- Coptic Is not a language but heritage and can be taught if you want to spend the effort.
    2- Coptic music was written for the Coptic language
    3- it is so funny to hear English converted hymns from Coptic, as it is so foreign and funny from the western ear that they want to please. Please refer to translated Operas and see what critics say about those non-spirituals zealots and compare it to our perspectives
    4- Language is not a curse and should be respected as it carries tradition
    5- I feel this movement will not stop till it abolishes anything that is Coptic and then it will turn around and devour all traditions and everything will be questioned that is heritage-related or traditional and after the language is abolished, everything will be diluted and eventually lost in a span of 4,5 generations
    6- Coptic was preserved through many confessors of Egyptians who got their tongues cut-off which is your grand parents and forefathers and today without persecutions, we are just are calling for the Coptic abolishment for the sake of evangelizing as if Coptic is the big evil hindering factor that will disable evangelizing.
    7- Segregation in Church instead of unity will create many divisions and will surely weaken the Church. That who has an ear let him hear…

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    • I am happy to see your love of Coptic heritage. It is common to fear change, but forgive me, your fear is misplaced. Did giving Ethiopia the Orthodox Faith and NOT COPTIC ruin the faithful there? What about when others gave Russia the Orthodox Faith and NOT COPTIC? I wonder how you’d feel about getting rid of Arabic completely, in Egypt and all over the world. Would that make sense? Sometimes you have nearly the entire liturgy in Arabic in some places. Did you know that much of what is said in the liturgy IS NOT EVEN COPTIC but actually it is GREEK? Do you want to erase all the Greek from our liturgy?

      When Arabic became the prominent language in Egypt, even though we Copts wish we could have kept our original tongue, it was time to allow Arabic to take a more prominent role.

      Just as Russia has their language and customs, Ethopia theirs, Greece theirs, why must English speakers be neglected?

      Your fear is noted, but your fear is misplaced. We must preserve the faith, but allow those who seek a less ethnic-centered church to have their place too. See, I love our heritage, rites, and traditions. But Christ didn’t require you and me to maintain HEBREW or ARAMIC. Christ didn’t require you or I to be Jewish. His love was sent everywhere, to all nations.

      To say, “Don’t call yourself Coptic in any capacity if you want to do these things and I promise we will not interfere with your doing,” is counter-intuitive. You want people to maintain their faith right? Then why not let them be under the shepherding of the Church of Alexandria? Have you forgotten love? You love your heritage, but do you love those who are seeking Christ? By what you’ve said here, it seems that you are the one creating division. You fear division, but some English-speakers and non-Egyptians seek to be INCLUDED in the church of Alexandria but be allowed what Christ and the Apostles and the early Church allowed–for people to worship God in the language that makes sense to them. St. Paul said it is BETTER to speak with a languge understood than not. The approach I outlined in this blog is a way for the Copts to KEEP their heritage while those who do not care for the heritage to have their place too.

      Instead of seeing this as a DIVISION, why not see this as an EXTENSION? We are adding a sibling to the family, not divorcing.

      Before you respond, or before you cast off what I am saying, I ask that you have a blessed Holy Pascha and pray for the Church. May God give you what you seek, while also allowing others to find Him in the manner that He allows.

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  6. I agree 100%. I absolutely love the Coptic language, and the Hymns of the church. In my opinion, there is no greater joy than singing or listening to the Hymns of the church. I love Coptic, but I’m also a huge advocate for English Hymns.

    The only thing that worries me (and for which I’d be cautious) is affixing the words of our Hymns (or our faith) to Western tunes. I agree that it should happen, and that it can be done – but that it should be done cautiously. We can’t just take any western song or any tune and put some words on it. There should be a separation between what is secular and what is for God. I read somewhere before that even the tunes we currently have, though they came from the Greek or the Jews or the Pharaohs, were always used in religious context. That when the Copts received the Christian faith they didn’t take their secular music and affix the faith to it to form Hymns, but rather their music of worship.

    Another important step that I also think might be missing from your post is formation of new Hymns (ie new words). There are patterns in the Coptic and Arabic renditions of our Hymns that have failed to replicate to the English renditions. For example, the Psalis – every verse starts with the next letter of the alphabet in Coptic, or the Glorification and Distribution Melodies – every verse rhymes in Arabic. These “tricks” were used by the Church to help the believers memorize the Hymns (pre-Coptic Reader, of course), and I believe can be detrimental in establishing a love for Hymnology and praise among those new to the church

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  7. The above link is something I came across on Facebook today about Pope Shenouda saying that hymns are important, even if you don’t understand them, you can tell if a hymn is sad or joyful based on the tune. It leaves an impact spiritually. We focus too much on the mind and not enough on spirituality. So many people are against having hymns in the liturgy or in general, but honestly, I love the hymns, even if I don’t understand them. The church isn’t the same without the hymns. There’s a point to having them. You can check out the hymns group called David (Daveed in Coptic) in Egypt and they really define the coptic hymns and how necessary they are in the church. They’re at a conference here in New York this weekend with Bishop David. I don’t have access to the conference and I don’t know if you have connections with someone to find out if they recorded this conference, but I do have Bishop David’s sermon from Thursday. https://youtu.be/aMfY7Ohx3XE
    Fast forward to an hour and 3 minutes and you’ll hear a small introduction about this group and the importance of hymns and how they’re said and why they’re sung individually or as a group. I’m not saying the entire liturgy should be in Coptic, but many hymns lose their meaning when they’re sung in English or Arabic. They were designed to be sung in Coptic. I’ll leave you with a sentence from the Wisdom of Sirach’s Prologue in The Orthodox Study Bible: “For what was said in Hebrew in itself does not have equal force when it is translated into another language.”

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    • Dear John:

      Pikhristos Aftonf,
      Allow me my brother to explain my point of view as you feel offended unnecessarily by saying things such as “Before you respond, or before you cast off what I am saying..” , “Have you forgotten love?”, “Did you know that much of what is said in the liturgy IS NOT EVEN COPTIC”, “it seems that you are the one creating division”… and I hope of course that your use of caps is for emphasis only.
      I am going to be rather objective here versus guess who you are or condemn you to bring my point.
      1- My message is not addressed to you personally my brother but is against the undirected, unplanted in church thoughts that feeds from each one’s personal thought process as it comes up based on people’s own understanding, without reverting to Church’s History, Heritage, Tradition that was given to us by our saints and before all the biblical sound references
      You said: [I am happy to see your love of Coptic heritage. It is common to fear change, but forgive me, your fear is misplaced. Did giving Ethiopia the Orthodox Faith and NOT COPTIC ruin the faithful there? ]
      We are not talking about Ethiopians here!!! Their situations is not comparable to ours or close to what we are referring to here, unless you were referring to Ethiopians in the US or in an English-Speaking province/country. I am not here in a worldly organization to fear change as if there is a new hierarchy or a new manager that will be changing the old ways of doing things. That is fear of change and that is not is referenced or intent to be referenced here.

      You said [What about when others gave Russia the Orthodox Faith and NOT COPTIC? I wonder how you’d feel about getting rid of Arabic completely, in Egypt and all over the world. Would that make sense? Sometimes you have nearly the entire liturgy in Arabic in some places. Did you know that much of what is said in the liturgy IS NOT EVEN COPTIC but actually it is GREEK? Do you want to erase all the Greek from our liturgy? ]
      Many run-on points to answer and the take on this, is as follows:
      Again, we are not referring to the Orthodox Faith or the faith at all, although this is only the beginning to what would lead to that based on the present lively experience from so-called Churches that are all English and we can explore together the effect of that together in reality, but I need to be as focused as possible here.
      Coptic historical facts tell us about how Arabic was imposed on the Copts and especially at the time of il Moaz ldeen illah, who ordered people’s tongs to be cut off even if they were heard speaking Coptic in their own homes. Even with this this persecutions and similar ones, your fathers and mothers, paid the high price and didn’t give in because this is becoming the language of the land of Egypt and kept to last century the Coptic language in the predominant Arabic country. Today without persecution, we are taking the easy way out because of laziness in learning Coptic and its hymns and convenience and other subconscious motives that is not revealed as a get back to wrong situation experienced, which is not objective nor fair…
      They used mainly Arabic for translation and some tried to convert ‘Simple’ Coptic hymns to Arabic but this even have an authenticity of some sort that goes back to the 11th Century and is worth considering, although not ideal. But they never converted the “Greek Agios” to Holy God in Arabic for example, even though, it is considered a trivial simple melodic hymn. In short, if they get rid of Arabic and replace it with the Coptic while I understand the Coptic or at least have a way to reference the translation; of course that would be ideal on the condition that they do say the Coptic correctly with its original hymns and not just to wing-it as we see now in Arabic, English and even Coptic.
      The point about the Greek in the Church… what you think?? Is that a new discovery ?? Of course not, we all know that and there are complete hymns test in Greek and especially at a blessed time like now (the Holy Fifty days) but the fact is the Greek today is the authentic Greek that was mingled in the Coptic Church from its inception due to the Hellenistic culture that started with the Church and even before The entry of St. Mark to Egypt. Hellenists existed long time and the Coptic was not abolished but reiterated in this older Greek language and even our Coptic alphabet attests to that… That is not an issue , but we call all the “Coptic language” for sake of simplicity”. This Greek is intermingled with Coptic to form the language, so there is no point here to discuss here.
      You said [ When Arabic became the prominent language in Egypt, even though we Copts wish we could have kept our original tongue, it was time to allow Arabic to take a more prominent role.] Please see above as I discussed this briefly already, but it was through persecution and able to survive and make a living in a dominant persecuting environment, that Copts were forced into using Arabic and as much as they can with persecutions, kept the Coptic in the Predominantly Arabic era and till today. Weakness to the Coptic Language happened due to persecutions and not through choice of convenience to alter or abolish the language.
      You said [Just as Russia has their language and customs, Ethiopia theirs, Greece theirs, why must English speakers be neglected? ]
      The answer is simple, All roman Catholic , speak different languages, yet they use Latin , Greek use old Greek in their services.. why can’t they use their own language you say, because by doing so they abolish their traditions and cut the ties that made them what they are. And because they value their heritage and cherish what their fathers have done for them, they consider it a treasure. If you have the attitude of throwing out everything belonging to your father and mother after passing away and not even cherishing the memories and/or the things they left you and do not regard it as available, what does that say about you? Our mother the Church represented in all the Holy fathers who established Christianity to us from the time of the apostles, till our local fathers represented in St Mark and all the popes, bishops, priests and hegomens till today’s clergy emphasize the importance of the use of Coptic in our services and we still don’t care because we think we know better, we feel the need better and we care better than they do , while in essence you are a Coptic Orthodox member in the Church because of what they are trying to preserve and hand to us from generation to generation. Think deeply about the sin of pride and disobedience concealed in this matter for salvation. Your reaction would be salvation has to do something with Coptic? The answer is Indirectly Yes. You were born from an Egyptian (Coptic) descent and therefore you are in the Church today. The Coptic Church handed down its dogmas, traditions and hymns in the ‘Coptic language. If you ask any scholar of about the effect of translating an original language to another language to another languages, things will be lost in translations and may become vague and initial communication for what the message that was intended may be altered or even misinterpreted. A classic example is the argument about the language used in explaining the divinity of Christ; two people may be intending to say the same thing but , it ends up as if they are opposing each other because the medium of communication is not unified. That is why for those who intend to study the New statement they refer to Greek and Hebrew for the Old testament. Indeed if you don’t want to dilute the meaning or alter the meaning or become misunderstood, you don’t touch the original authentic languages that stems back from 1st century to make it convenient to your likings, but true scholars and those who intend to study the bible, learn the Greek and the Hebrew because they value the language that the Holy scriptures were written in. non-use of original language can also put you in even more dangerous situation and especially if the freedom is landed in the hands of unorthodox individuals, An example of that is the original texts attests that the Virgin is full glory and not highly favored, but those few that translated the Bible chose to say “favored one”, because it was favorable to them and in their own eyes and understanding…They also changed “traditions” in the letter of Saint Paul to be ‘teachings”… Didn’t that already create divisions? These are just examples to prove the danger of abolishing an Authentic language like the Coptic…

      You said [Your fear is noted, but your fear is misplaced. We must preserve the faith, but allow those who seek a less ethnic-centered church to have their place too. See, I love our heritage, rites, and traditions. But Christ didn’t require you and me to maintain HEBREW or ARAMIC. Christ didn’t require you or I to be Jewish. His love was sent everywhere, to all nations]
      The faith is in danger when you cut the communications medium ; that is Coptic and translate it because things will be lost in translations… I think I exhausted this point above.
      Additionally, is Coptic threatening our faith? Our Coptic capacity at least for now is ceremonial and is used for hymns mainly… you have Arabic and English translation readily available and nothing will hinder your faith if you are able to read and if not, people can help you with reading or understanding. This will never hinder the faith friends.
      You said [To say, “Don’t call yourself Coptic in any capacity if you want to do these things and I promise we will not interfere with your doing,” is counter-intuitive. You want people to maintain their faith right? Then why not let them be under the shepherding of the Church of Alexandria? Have you forgotten love? You love your heritage, but do you love those who are seeking Christ? By what you’ve said here, it seems that you are the one creating division. You fear division, but some English-speakers and non-Egyptians seek to be INCLUDED in the church of Alexandria but be allowed what Christ and the Apostles and the early Church allowed–for people to worship God in the language that makes sense to them. St. Paul said it is BETTER to speak with a language understood than not. The approach I outlined in this blog is a way for the Copts to KEEP their heritage while those who do not care for the heritage to have their place too. ]
      You can contain people’s mind or their wild dreams of what they want God to be or the Church to be or service to be in their own understanding, and that is why you have 1000s of protestants’ sects and believers across the globe, but are not union because, while Baptists believe in baptism, other sects don’t and while some believe in altars such as Lutherans, most protestants don’t . Am I for Paul or Apollo or was Christ divided? Of course not, but each implemented his own understanding and interpretations without referring to even their protestants’ essence. The first spark happened and everything went downhill, Does that mean they are going to perish, I really hope not and it is not for me to judge. So people asking to abolish Coptic but be under the ‘Coptic Church’.. does that make any sense? Call yourself the American Alexandrian Church and do whatever pleases you, but by doing so, you are saving the people from your point view, but what are you going to conduct an abridged service translating all Coptic words to English and in some areas omitting things .. for example abouna would say Pray and the congregation would answer Lord have mercy and so the deacon inside has no value to say epi pros evshi stat thee the—and likewise in the seven short litanies, because the deacon is reiterating the priest’s litany??
      The congregation says SA________________________________________________ved instead of sothees ameen.
      Long hymns like Alloya in Coptic .. will be Alleluia with the stress son the ‘u’ instead of an ‘O’… Come on…
      It will be a musical disaster because you are throwing the Coptic and the Hymns were written and composed for the Coptic and not English nor Arabic nor French…
      Scholars in the Opera had conducted translating major operas from its original language to their native language and it was a disaster and people just laughed at them because they have mutilated the once beautiful hymns put for a particular language and they scorned them big time. If Scholars in the Operas said that and where zealous about what they treasured, should we have some sense zealousness in preserving our Coptic language and hymns from destruction or does that mean anything to us? We want to attract people and have them respect us and the Church and not mock us and lose credibility; and these will be the exact same people you want to attract, they will stray away from the Church and its hymns because it doesn’t make send and not appealing and you will find yourself wanting to please them more and more and submit demands and before you know it, you will not say the psalms in Holy week in adreebe tune and will make an inconsistent effort to make everything English and it will be as if you are tagging old writings on the walls of the pyramids so people can appreciate and understand it… Then they will tell how interesting and leave you with your own mutilated walls after that… You didn’t respect your heritage and upbringing and your fathers and the treasure and so the normal consequences, that none will …
      The fact is, if you throughout the Coptic then you have thrown out your identity and your Coptic Music out of the window and I promise you that will come a time you will not even respect yourself afterwards, but rather be in a world of vagueness and without identity or any roots and who knows you may just convert to the Russian or Greek faith and start over there with their own terms…
      You said [Instead of seeing this as a DIVISION, why not see this as an EXTENSION? We are adding a sibling to the family, not divorcing. ]
      Division is the foreseeing event because, instead of standing as a family with your Father, Mother, wife and children and Grandpa praying together ( This is symbolic and it means the whole body of Christ from the Church members) singing and praising God together, you have isolated yourself because the commonality that tied together is lost ; that is the Coptic language and now you or them are deprived because they can’t follow you and you can’t follow them and is super distracting and divisive.
      You said [Before you respond, or before you cast off what I am saying, I ask that you have a blessed Holy Pascha and pray for the Church. May God give you what you seek, while also allowing others to find Him in the manner that He allows.]
      Thank you and because of this sacred time of Church that is full of soothing and spiritual-elevating Coptic hymns, I had a wonderful time with God.
      Points to make and realize:
      In making these points, I will intend to be very brief but we can definitely expand on each point if you wish in the future:
      1- The feud here is not about the language, but something much deeper and is psychological in nature.
      2- Learn Coptic, learn the hymns, practice them and go to a ‘regular’ Coptic Church and not these “new-age Coptic Churches” and attend its services consistently for 2,3 years at least and you will not be able to breathe anything other than Coptic and will not give out the Coptic even if they persecuted you.. I guarantee you that…
      3- Refusing to learn is apparent problem, but there are socio and cultural and generation gap problem that is causing this already done division, it just materializes in the Coptic language
      4- The next step after abolishing Coptic is abolishing the traditions and questioning everything and diluting the service, rites and then comes the end the Dogmas.. ( why do we have to stay that long, why do we have to keep the hymns, why should abouna wear black.. why do we have to revert to Coptic Saints’ stories… can’t we use Greek or Russian fathers and their dogmas and their saints.. we can’t we have regular pictures than icons, why does abouna have cross us with the cross, can’t he just use his hands? How about doing proms in church? What about the length of service and what about deaconesses and about priestess?
      5- Not everything is plain intellectual in the Church and the Hymns are one of these things.. you don’t need to translate them or sometimes as little kid, you will realize that we are now happy, the songs are joyful, all knows the same Coptic renditions and says together Pikhrisos aftonf or Pashois and a procession is made with icon the Lord Christ resurrected and each vowel in the Coptic is served with a nice musical stress to convey its meaning. The whole family is standing and praying, even those 4-5 old that just learned the Greek Ikhristos anestee are saying them enthusiastically and joyfully not complaining that it is not in Arabic or English .. Oh look here is Matthew who was born here singing along with Beshoy who just came a year ago and joined the Church all singing together and they are not segregated but free to sing the Coptic and here is this new comer , who is taking great pleasure in following what the translation of Ikhristos anestee and appreciating the authenticity and tradition and whole atmosphere; a deacon hands him a transliterated version so he can sing along with the whole congregation and a spiritual joy enters everyone’s hearts, through the hymns and rites and the simple hearted people who are mentally saying “ Hosanna” and truly “This is the day the Lord has made”.. so not everything is has to be gnostic in relation to understanding every single word but in the contrary, the level and state that the Church wants us to be in and put us in the mood of is spiritual and throughout the ages , this has been achieved in the “Coptic Church” to join the heavenly …
      6- Many non-regular church goers , they came after spending few months or years in Church and started service and then, because of their shallow relationship with the church, they don’t like what the church is doings and just want to change whole world upside down.. they haven’t lived or breathed the church over 10 years and they think they are right and they are so arrogant that if you oppose, them, they just leave the church and abouna and even go to other Coptic non-Coptic churches and services to fulfill their ego or just proclaim their revolts because they were never flocks in the church and never learned humility or submission to the Church order as St Paul mentioned in his epistle.
      7- Having said all that , I must admit that the Church is not doing enough to make teach people Coptic at a level that is fit to them to participate in prayer and each one has to spend an extra effort to learn Coptic.
      8- The Deacons are not well trained , ethically or spiritually or even in unison to present the Coptic church and its hymns in a presentable attractive way.
      9- Some church services and even order in Church is chaotic
      10- There are divisions in English translations and inconsistencies to even simple litanies/ prayers such as ‘Holy Holy Holy’ or ‘Hail to you’ and that again is sad because it creates division.. just imagine if we even have a musical scholar convert the hymns.
      11- There are some uncalled for divisions even who consider as a source to teach the hymns or to learn from them.
      12- Not giving a new chance to younger generations to actively participate in service and so each do their own thing or just deviate from conforming to the norm as a mean of an internal revolt and that can translate to many other things and form, each according to his understanding and background and experiences.
      13- Disconnect between the generations and culture.
      14- The above 7 points and others, although negative points, but are affecting the youths. That was not the intention, but the essentials base is not very stable and was not established over the rock and that is why we see this ‘shaking’
      In conclusion, I think we need to address the actual problems and root problems versus the superficial or the psychologically produced notions and only then the Coptic family can survive anything from outside foreign, uncalculated, unlearned and unestablished thoughts because it is established on the rock. I am not against the English language to be part of service at all. But extending is not the right word, it is expanding the English service without destroying your fathers’ hymns, language , heritage, interpretations, history and ultimately the Coptic Identity.

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  8. As an American convert to Coptic Orthodox, I love all three languages in service. Arabic is especially beautiful when chanting the liturgy and some Hymns. All three are represented in the service at St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church here in Hawaii. I love all of the liturgies and sermons as the Coptic Church has centuries more wisdom and knowledge in the scriptures and traditions. I’m happy to be “adopted in” to the faith.

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  9. I live in Western Pennsylvania, and there are a good number of Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches within 100 miles of my home. Many of these churches came here in the late 19th and early 20th century. Many of them spoke Russian, Romanian, Slovak, and some of the later churches from the 1960’s/70’s, mostly Greek.

    I am American and serve and receive spiritual guidance from a Priest who barely speaks English. He saw enough in me to make me a Deacon, and I have had the blessing of being able to stand next to him on the altar during every Divine Liturgy (unless I am late, I prefer not to go up unless he calls me up to help out), got to know his children and family, and even would be able to crash at his house without notice.

    It is understandable that changing the language is an issue, but if we help to teach converts what is happening, just as with children. I have a Sunday School class with kids 10-14. None of them knew what Kiahk (pardon the poor spelling) meant or when it was. This was DURING Kiahk!

    Instead of getting into disagreements about what the Liturgical language is, we as a church, need to TEACH the young members and converts of our church, WHAT we are doing during the Divine Liturgy. If you explain it to them in English, then when they attend the Divine Liturgy, they will have a far better understanding.

    Finally, many of the churches near me after over a century in the U.S., still use the native Liturgical languages in some hymns and even responses, just as we do with Coptic. To use only English completely depletes the uniqueness of an “ethnic” church.
    Many of the old world “small t” traditions will probably pass over the next generation or two who are born in other countries.

    It is not always about what you speak, but understanding the deeper message of what makes us Christians in our Oriental Orthodox traditions, not focusing on ethnic differences that create arguments. Time has a way of taking care of a lot of things, there is no need to be scared. Christianity itself was extremely diverse the first three centuries it was around.

    Keeping important Liturgical Traditions, fasts,the Agpeya, monasticism, the seven sacraments, are what we should be focusing on. Language is only a form of communication, not how you define your religious beliefs, nor does it mean that one speaking another language will somehow undermine the depth and beauty of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

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    • Really appreciate your chiming in on this and sharing your perspective. I agree with you on this being a delicate balance but in the end the focus should be teaching and not get too bogged down with language.

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      • I think if you really believe the Coptic history that your fathers and mothers’ tongues were cut off because they wanted to preserve the Coptic and its hymns that it was written for that language, and that was a very precious thing to preserve for you fellow Copt, then maybe… just maybe you may have a different perspective. But I see you have a different agenda. I appreciate your enthusiasm and your service that must be reflective of your personality and about your ideas and I wish you best of luck here.

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