Making Christmas Great Again: How the Coptic rite of Praises before Christmas (Kiahk Praises) does just that

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I have never been so excited to stand for 7 hours to praise God and honor His mother during the Coptic month of Kiahk (in our parish it is from 5pm until midnight)! And at our parish we are trying to return to the original method of praise, which gave the Kiahk Praises the alternative title “7 and 4” (you can read more about that here)—we may be the only or one of the quite few parishes in the entire Coptic Church doing this.

I’ve been spoiled here in the United States, where Christmas is a prevalent holiday. However, it is riddled with cultural traditions that are quite secular and have nothing to do with the reason for the season: Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, Light of Light, True God of True God, who existed before all ages, never created but is the Creator with the Father and the Holy Spirit, took flesh from a humble woman named Mary, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, so that the Divine became incarnate.

But I can’t imagine what it was like for the earlier Christians when Christianity was not a prevalent religion, or in places outside of the United States where other religions are the majority, or atheism is rampant. In such places the thoughts and words that come out of people’s mouths and linger in their minds is (and God forgive me for writing these words): “Jesus Christ is just a man, like other good men,” or “Mary did not give birth to God, just to a man that people made out to be God although he wasn’t,” or “There is no God; all of this Christmas stuff is nonsense.”

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What does the Afterlife have to do with Christmas? Making Christmas meaningful to you today.

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Last week I had the blessing of speaking virtually to a wonderful group of Coptic youth in Pittsburgh. The servants there asked that I correlate the Afterlife and Christmas, which may seem like an unusual and difficult correlation to make, but in fact not only is there a direct connection between the two, Christmas is even more relevant now. A link to the video presentation / lecture I prepared is provided below.  Continue reading

Why change Orthodox Christmas date? Change the whole calendar!

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I don’t know about you, but after December 25th comes and goes, the remaining time between then and Orthodox Christmas January 7th doesn’t feel as much like the Christmas season, because most of the world has stopped celebrating it as such. The lights begin to come down, the movies and the songs revert back to normal, and everything else just reminds us Orthodox that we celebrate Christmas on a different day. And so, it is natural that around this time of year many of us begin to think about the Christmas date and whether we should be celebrating it all together at the same time. This idea particularly made waves when Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Church discussed it with a congregation in Canada when he visited back in September, 2014. And the reaction to this was very heated, with many alarmed and even angered by such a suggestion, while others absolutely loving it.

Here is what I say to everyone: Let’s not just change the Christmas date, but let’s adjust the entire Coptic calendar!  Continue reading

Why Christ and Christmas are Cooler Than Thor

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Last year I published this article in the Mighty Champions Magazine, a teen magazine produced by the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern U.S.A.. I’m a huge fan of all that superhero stuff (especially my comic I’ve been collecting since the beginning: Miles Morales Spider-man comics—I have every single comic since he came out).

A lot of times superheroes are given “Savior” story lines. That’s what they do. They are super and they are heroes because they do phenomenal things to save people and often the world or even the universe from destruction.

So here I wanted to compare the story of the famed Thor with the story of Christ: who is a cooler super hero?  Continue reading

(Caution: Contents may be hot.) The problem with Starbucks and the “war” on Christmas: not worth the fight

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Many are aware by now that Starbucks this year has decided to remove “symbols of the season” to “usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories” (as the company’s vice president has stated). It is stirring up a lot of controversy, with many Christians quite upset, calling it a “war” on Christmas, even to the point that Donald Trump suggested the company should be boycotted.

I’ve got three things to say—to Starbucks, to Christians, and on behalf of Christians—and although many may not agree, here’s my take: Continue reading

“Christ is Born!” … “Glorify Him!” – Exploring Why This Orthodox Greeting is Uncommon in the Coptic Church

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“Christ is born!” my priest says to begin his Nativity Feast sermon. Although he has taught us the response many times before, only a handful of people shout back “Glorify Him,” and even fewer (understandably) respond, “Truly He is born!” And as usual, Fr. Luke tells us that this is an Orthodox greeting that we unfortunately do not say.

But why is that? Is it really an ancient greeting? Was it used by the early church? And why is it so prevalent in the Eastern Orthodox Church and yet absent in the Coptic Church?

I don’t have all the answers, but here is what I could gather.  Continue reading

Keep Those Graven Images Coming! It Shouldn’t Stop with Just the Manger Scene

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I saw the meme image above and realized how truly astonishing it is that many Christian denominations treat religious images (e.g., statues, icons, pictures, crosses with Christ on it [a.k.a crucifixes], and even sometimes a simple cross) as being something absolutely heretical and unacceptable in God’s eyes.

Unfortunately, while most of them seem to understand the value and harmless character of religious imagery during the Christmas season, once it ends its back to the passionate decree: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Exodus 20:4).

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Why Christ Had to Be Born, Not Just Appear In Spirit, To Save Us: According to St. Athanasius

Christ's Incarnation -- The Reason For Season[This post is derived from a Sunday School lesson given 12/14/2014. You can download the presentation here]  [Also, click on the above image for a full high resolution version that you can download and share as you wish!]

St. Athanasius’s “On the Incarnation” is a must read for every Christian, Orthodox or not. (A free public copy is provided at the end of this post). Don’t take my word for it; C.S. Lewis, famous author and writer of the Chronicles of Narnia series (among many other works), called it “a masterpiece.”

St. Athanasius answers fundamental questions in the work, including:

  • Why couldn’t Adam and Eve have just repented?
  • What does it mean that they would “surely die”?
  • Why was Christ born?
  • Why couldn’t Christ have just saved us by appearing in spirit, without becoming incarnate?

Here is a summary of what the 20th Archbishop of Alexandria had to say in the first couple of chapters:

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