Standing face-to-face with the emperor (Decius) who ordered the death of the martyr Philopateer Mercurius, a.k.a. Abu Sefein (Spiritual Experiences in Italy Series)

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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.

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Spiritual Experiences in Italy Series: Separate Seating of Men and Women as is Evidenced by a 6th century Byzantine-inspired Church in Ravenna, Italy

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After having written previously on “The Early Church Tradition of Separate Seating,” many I had spoken to remained unconvinced that this was in fact an Early Church tradition that is not confined to a particular culture, but was normal among all of Christendom. Yet we have preserved for us physical evidence of this tradition, displayed in the Sant’Apollinare Nuovo church in an ancient city known as Ravenna.

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History of the Holy Pascha (“Passover”) Week in the Coptic Church

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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.)

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History of the Great Fast (“Lent”) in the Coptic Church, including “Preparation Week” (a.k.a. “Heraclius Week”)

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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.

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LAYING ON OF HANDS: What St. Paul calls an “elementary principle” of Christianity—neglected, forgotten, or rejected by so many Christians today.

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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?

Here is its history and significance:

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Eclipse: Evidence of God. Did an Eclipse also prove Christ is God during His crucifixion?

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Eclipse-fever is sweeping across the United States as regions in 14 states will be able to experience a total solar eclipse. Some people are scoffing at all the excitement and anticipation, and others like myself are getting prepared for the big event. I bought certified sun-viewing binoculars, and certified paper glasses to make sure I safely view the eclipse.

Why am I so excited? Of course, as with most others, I’m looking forward to the immense beauty and remarkable occurrences that accompany an eclipse (for a few minutes during totality, the temperature drops around 15 degrees, darkness envelops you, stars are visible, and normally unseen outer edges of the Sun which dance around become apparent).

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Top 15 Religious Experiences During My Visit to Egypt and Paris (with PHOTOS)

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My wife and I had the blessing of visiting Paris as well as various parts of Egypt this year. It was our first visit to both places (I was born in Egypt but hadn’t returned since coming to the U.S. when I was about 4 years old; my wife, Egyptian as well, had never been to Egypt). I encountered a number of expected and also unexpected sights that had a notable impact on me from a religious perspective. Both Paris and Egypt have a lot to offer in that regard, and here are my top 15 experiences:

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My Intriguing Visit to an Ethiopian Orthodox Church—A First-Time Coptic Visitor’s Perspective

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What a remarkable experience I had visiting the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church! A friend of mine gave my name to an Ethiopian Orthodox priest, suggesting that I give the after-church sermon to the youth. He invited me to attend the service, which I did, and by the end of it I had so many questions I wanted answered due to all the intriguing things I witnessed! Here are all the fascinating things I learned, and my observations upon further reflection:

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“Your crying baby is distracting me at church” — What should the church do?

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Who hasn’t experienced the distraction caused when a young child cries or gets too noisy? From the priest, to the deacons, and all the way down to the people surrounding the father and/or mother with the child, the tension and frustration is almost palpable. The parents too are distracted, not just by their noisy child, but by the emotional disturbance they feel when inundated with all of the varying glances they receive, with all those eyes telling them: “Quiet that child down, or leave.” And if it is deemed a sufficient nuisance to the priest (at least in the Coptic Church), many, if not most, will give the parent the “silent treatment”—that moment in liturgy when the priest stops praying, joining the chorus of dissenters in silence, sending a clear message to the parent(s) in the absence of prayer: “Your baby is distracting me and the entire church. We won’t move on until you’ve done something about it.”

What is the church to do? From the clergy to the lay person attending the service, how has the church historically viewed noise in church, and the place of children? Today, what should be our stance? Continue reading

Where is St. Mary buried? Understanding why the ancient Church until now celebrates the Feast of St. Mary

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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