Imagine visiting a man who could answer questions about your future, heal the incurable disease of a relative, be in two places at one time, have angels or departed spirits of saints visit you for solace or protection, or even meet you in your dreams to give you important messages: your reaction might be intrigue, disbelief, or maybe you’re thinking it sounds like a story of a wizard from Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. Maybe you believe such a man existed, and that His name is Jesus Christ, God and king. True, but I’m speaking of a different man, to whom the Lord Christ graciously gave spiritual gifts, akin to the gifts given to the apostles and disciples, as attested to by an innumerable plethora of witnesses to this very day.
One of those witnesses was my great aunt, Ma’alee, and although I spent most of my life hearing of her close relationship with the saintly man of which I speak, I had never met her or even spoken to her, until her last year of life when I mustered the courage to call her in Egypt, and with her permission I recorded our conversations, so that I could preserve forever the voice and stories of the woman who was a legend in my household. Continue reading →
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.
It is one thing to teach about Christian history, and it’s a entirely different experience when you actually behold the subject of your lesson right in front of you. And that’s the experience I had when I visited the British Library and saw on display several amazing biblical historical texts, dating as far back as c. 200 AD (only about 150 years after the last New Testament writing).
It should be no surprise to anyone that Italy is filled with saints’ relics. This is not only due to the Roman empire’s expansive control over the ancient lands which served as the setting of the history of Christendom, but also because the Lord Christ and His followers often were killed or otherwise afflicted at the direction or by consent of the Roman government (with the Coptic Church contributing so many martyrs, as attested to by the early church historian and bishop Eusebius, that the Coptic Church’s calendar was readjusted to remember the most infamous persecutor of Christianity, Diocletion).
And then, years later, beginning around the time of Emperor Constantine, the Roman empire fostered and eventually vigorously promoted the advancement and spread of Christianity, as well as reverence to heroes of the faith. Frequently that enthusiasm motivated problematic/troublesome behavior, with certain individuals choosing to take advantage of people’s devotion to the saints by selling fake relics, and sometimes even stealing (or protecting, depending on perspective) bona fide relics to sell them or bring them to Italy for safeguarding (think Venice, St. Mark the apostle).1
Here are several of the sites associated with saint relics that were of particular interest for me: Continue reading →
Today the Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates the martyrdom of St. Philopateer Mercurius. Usually such commemorations are impersonal, but for my wife and I, we had the opportunity to come face to face with the emperor who killed him: Decius.
You may have heard of the allegations of excessive use of force by Israeli police on Coptic monks, but what I just came to discover is my family’s role in securing the Israeli Supreme Court ruling in 1971 justifying their peaceful protest of the Israeli government’s execution of an order that contravenes that standing Supreme Court decision. As I read through various sources (see below) to understand the historical context of this news and saw that the Coptic Metropolitan of Jerusalem initiated the legal action which led to that decision, I immediately called my dad and sought to confirm my hunch: “Was my great uncle, your uncle, Metropolitan of Jerusalem around the 1970s?” Immediately my dad affirmed, “Yes … Abba Basilios,” and then all the pieces began to fall in place as our ensuing dialogue over the course of several phone calls revealed details of my family history I hadn’t known, and ashamedly (I must admit) I never got around to pursuing more thoroughly until now. Continue reading →
Arguably the holiest week of the year, known simply as “Holy Week” or maybe more preferably “Pascha (aka Passover) Week” is upon us, with the Pascha Feast (the more traditional term rather than Easter) marking the end of the week, but a beginning for all of humanity. As I had written in my previous post about the History of the Great Fast, it is not enough for us to know about or simply participate in religious observances, but we must understand the “why” in order to make it all relevant to us today. Here is a summary of what I could surmise as being the current practice as well as history of the Holy Week, with a particular emphasis on the Coptic Church. (Further below you will also find a PowerPoint presentation that I used to teach about this subject that you may download and use as desired.)
We are about to embark on the Great Fast (a.k.a. Lent), but as with all worship and rites, it is preferable that we not only understand the what and how of our religion, but also understand why, in order to make it all relevant to us today. The fruit of my research on this topic was intriguing (e.g., there was no “Great Fast” for the first few hundred years), but also at one point I felt embarrassed as I learned the original reason behind what we now refer to as “Preparation Week.” Here is a summary of the current practice and history of the Great Fast, with a particular emphasis on the Coptic Church. Further below you will also find a PowerPoint presentation that I used to teach about this subject that you may download and use as desired.
The Coptic Church today celebrates what is often called “Jonah’s Feast,” after concluding a 3-day fast known as “Jonah’s” fast, which is an observance exclusive to the Oriental Orthodox. But I got to thinking: how did it originate and what is its purpose? I was surprised to learn a number of things I hadn’t really known before, and thought to share with you:
Many may have heard or read of the “laying on of hands,” but how many Christians understand its significance? St. Paul, in listing out what he called the “elementary principles of Christ,” mentions the “laying on of hands” as being as fundamental to Christianity as “repentance … faith … baptisms … resurrection of the dead, and … eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1-2).
Really? As fundamental as “faith” and belief in the “resurrection of the dead?” Yes. Yet, if you are reading this and consider yourself a Christian, do you understand what the laying on of hands is? And for those who recognize this as a familiar practice, I ask you this: is it being practiced by your church the way it was practiced by the apostles and their legitimate successors?