“THE POPE”: Before There Was Two, There Was Only ONE

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After getting word that His Holiness Pope Tawadros II will be visiting my parish here in the U.S.A. soon, I thought it appropriate to write this post to inform Copts and non-Copts alike about the eminence of the original papacy: the Coptic papacy.

It all begins with this: whenever anyone (not Coptic) says “The Pope,” who do they mean? The head of the Roman Catholic Church. As for myself, however, whenever I hear/see that title being used to exclusively refer to the Catholic Pontiff, a small part of me cringes in grief at the ignorance.

Why?

Because “The Pope,” for almost one millennium, used to exclusively be understood by all of Christendom (including Rome) to refer to one archbishop, and it wasn’t Rome’s; it was the Archbishop of Alexandria, the head of the Coptic Church. This is not a matter of uninformed, personal bias just because I am Coptic; this is a historical, well-established fact. Continue reading

Is a 20-minute Liturgy un-Orthodox? Why It’s Not as Laughable as You Might Think

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As I attended a 20-minute mass at a Catholic cathedral (pictured above) right next to work during my lunch break with a colleague, I could not help but think of how many Orthodox Christians would scoff at the brevity of the service. But is it really that laughable? Here is why I believe it is absolutely Orthodox to allow, in certain circumstances, for a short (20-30 minute, beginning to end) liturgy in the Orthodox Church. Continue reading

Fasting Again (Apostles’ Fast)!? Yes, and the World Keeps Proving It Lengthens Your Life

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Are you serious! We’re fasting again already!? That’s the somber realization that most of us have after being spoiled with no fasting for a single day for 50 days straight after the resurrection feast, considering especially that most of us toiled so much in fasting for so long during the Great Lent and Holy Week. This time of year, here is a typical dialogue among friends:

“Why are we fasting again?”

“Apostles’ fast.”

“I’m not going to fast it. We have too many fasts as it is.”

“But you should, at least out of obedience to your mother, the Church, and for the sake of joining the rest of your brothers and sisters in this fast.”

“No. Just can’t do it. Maybe I’ll fast near the end of it. My parents don’t even fast this fast. Lots of people skip it. Besides, this fast is something new that the Church put together more recently than not. It wasn’t around in the early Church.”

“Actually, not only is it a very ancient fast, fasting in general has proven to be of great value beyond even just the spiritual aspect; it can actually increase your lifespan.”

Allow me to explain:

Continue reading

Bowing Standing Relaxing Prostrating Sitting: What Your Posture In Church Says About You

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“Bow”—and we kneel or prostrate. “Worship”—and we sit. “From now on, let us observe the rule of bowing and worshiping as it should be observed,” I proposed to the “deacons” (using this term loosely to refer also to the minor orders) of our parish. When I was asked to serve as deacon coordinator, this was one of the newly implemented efforts that at first yielded much resistance. One deacon even likened me to a Pharisee, yet I desperately explained the reason behind our different postures in church, and by God’s grace, even the staunchest of opponents seem to have been convinced (for the most part). Continue reading

Behind the Iconostasis: Who May Enter Beyond It, and How We Copts May Have Gotten It Wrong

Iconostasis St Mary Atlanta Coptic Church

I was really surprised recently about hearing of many Coptic church members who decided to stop attending a particular church because the priest does not allow anyone among the laity to go beyond the iconostasis, as we Copts are (unfortunately) accustomed to.

Another situation came up recently as well, whereby a particular rank of the minor orders (I presume a chanter) was very upset by a request of the deacons (and I use this term loosely, referring to the minor orders of our church), that none should leave their position in the choir section of the church and stand behind the iconostasis during the service, unless they are engaging in a liturgical purpose, or unless otherwise they have received permission. Again I was greatly saddened to be reminded of a fact I had known but didn’t want to dwell on: most in the Coptic Church have forgotten where we should stand (and shouldn’t stand) in the church, and why that is the case.

What are we to think of this? Is the priest correct? Does he have any basis for his rule? What about the deacon? Should several deacons be allowed to rest or stand during the service behind the iconostasis? Continue reading

When Chanters Don’t Chant: How We’ve Lost Sight of the Meaning of “Deaconship” in the Coptic Church

WhenChantersDon'tChantUpdate 6/1:

Looks like the Holy Synod may actually address the matter of chanter ordinations, if I’m reading the following correctly:

From copticworld.org article regarding the May 2015 Holy Synod meeting: “Committee of Pastoral Care and Service: 1- Review the regulations of chanters and celibate consecration for a vote next November.”

https://www.copticworld.org/articles/4745/

Original post:

“I am not a deacon!” That is what I asked a room full of “deacons” to say during a meeting that included the entire gamut of “deacons” from my parish, young and old alike.

“Repeat after me. I am not a deacon!” I exclaimed. Many participated, but there were a few who had an eyebrow raised while responding, and some who did not want to utter a word (and after the meeting, some expressed that they were actually quite offended).

I walked up to the young kids, pointed to one of them and asked, “I am not a deacon, but I am a ???”

Someone blurted out: “Chanter!”

“Yes, that’s right,” I said. Then I pointed to someone older, and asked, “I am not a deacon, but I am a ???”

Understanding better the point of my question, he excitedly responded, “Reader!”

Why all of this? Because the truth is, there is a systemic issue in the Coptic Church that has skewed the meaning of “deaconship,” and I earnestly pray for improvement. But first, we need to see the problem.
Continue reading

The Early Church Tradition of Separate Seating: Ancient Practice, Not a Cultural Anomaly

Separate Seating

I will let St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. AD 313–386) start this blog post off with what he taught people who were considering joining the Church:

Let men be with men, and women with women. For now I need the example of Noah’s ark, in which were Noah and his sons, and his wife and his sons’ wives. For though the ark was one, and the door was shut, yet things had been suitably arranged. If the Church is shut, and you are all inside, yet let there be a separation, men with men, and women with women, lest the pretext of salvation become an occasion of destruction. Even if there be a fair pretext for sitting near each other, let passions be put away. (Protocatechesis, 14, NPNF 2:7)

Continue reading

Why and How We (Copts and Eastern Orthodox) Fast Before Nativity (Christmas)

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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.

Basics 

How many days do we fast before Christmas?

  • 40
  • (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