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.
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.”
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:
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 →
The apostle Paul is too often (and unfairly) criticized as being a male chauvinist (i.e., excessively displaying prejudiced loyalty for men over women).
One of the main remarks leveraged against him is what he says regarding the need for women to be silent in the church (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35). While I could attempt to alleviate much of the discomfort or distaste you may have by providing you a lengthy discourse on the historical context of his statement and how it was understood by the early Christians, I would rather focus on leveling the playing field by telling you something you may not know: he told men to keep silent in church too! Continue reading →