A pillar that spontaneously started bleeding and stopped at the behest of Pope Cyril (Kyrillos) VI, a cavern where the holy family is said to have stayed for months, a place that saw the election of Coptic popes between the 7th and 11th centuries: these are just a few of the wonders and mysteries that are said to be associated with the ancient Coptic Church in Old Cairo dedicated to the saints Sergius and Baccus. It is referred to also as the “cavern church,” or by the name that became customary after the Arabic conquest of Egypt, “Abu Serga.” As these saints are commemorated this month (October 15 in the Coptic Orthodox Church, and earlier in the month for other apostolic-rooted denominations), I wanted to share some interesting facts about the church in Egypt bearing their name.
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
Tell me, where is St. Mary buried? If you know anything about the ancient Apostolic Churches, you’ll know that they love to pay respect to the relics of heroes of the faith, “of whom the world was not worthy” (in the words of St. Paul [Hebrews 11:38]). You would think that with all the honor and adoration given to St. Mary, the Orthodox and Catholic Churches would be lining up in droves to get a glimpse of her bodily remains! Well, the answer to “where is St. Mary buried” explains why we celebrate her in August (15th in Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches, 22nd in the Coptic Church).
The answer is: Continue reading
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
Before the U.S. mourned the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the Copts had been commemorating that day as the start of their New Year for hundreds of years, as it happens to coincide with the Coptic New Year according to the Coptic calendar (except that it falls on September 12th when there is a leap year, as it does this year).* Interestingly, the Copts have been associating that day with remembering fallen heroes well before it was necessitated by the recent attacks on the U.S. Continue reading
Ever wondered what the symbolism is behind the “Resurrection play” in the Coptic Rite. During the Feast of the Resurrection, there is this special moment where something that normally never happens happens. Although the Church is supposed to resemble heaven and therefore always have the lights on, during a particular segment the Liturgy of the Word of that feast, all the lights turn off (except for some or all lights inside the sanctuary), and the curtain (or door) of the altar is closed. Then the presiding clergyman, standing inside the sanctuary, engages in a melodic dialogue with two deacons outside (and yes, according to H.G. Bishop Youssef, it should be two, and he explains why). To understand the meaning behind all of this, let us first turn to the official source for liturgical text for the Coptic Diocese of the Southern U.S. (the Coptic Reader App), we learn the following: Continue reading
It is rare to have insight into the origins of most Coptic hymns. But for the “Hymn of John the Baptist,” we have just that. Continue reading
“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
As Americans approach the Thanksgiving holiday, many Orthodox Christians openly or secretly grumble about how the Nativity (a.k.a. Christmas/Advent) fast interferes with their holiday eating plans. So let’s take a moment to understand why and how we (should) fast before celebrating the incarnation of our divine Lord, taking flesh and living among us.
How many days do we fast before Christmas?
- (and if you are Coptic Orthodox, add an additional 3 days [reason explained below])
Spiritual basis for length of fast
The Coptic Church as well as the Eastern Orthodox agree regarding the spiritual basis for the length of the fast. Continue reading
As we approach the Christmas season, I can’t help but think of the oddity, especially of the western world, in the way people celebrate Christmas more than Christ’s resurrection. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Christmas season. Santa Claus, Christmas movies, the trees, the lights, the smells, the sounds, the food, everything. But what does the Resurrection get? A bunny? Some egg picking? Pastel colors? Seriously?
If you don’t believe me when I say things are flip-flopped, look at what I read on Al-Ahram Weekly’s website about how people in the middle east celebrate Christmas, as exemplified by Egyptian Christians: Continue reading