Pride and Prejudice – Coptic Style I

Is it wrong to be proud of your Church?

Our Coptic community in Sydney, in all the time I have known it, has more or less encouraged local pride. People want to feel good about their parish, and after all, why not? This is the place where they have invested a deal of their time and energy and donations to make it a blessing for them and their families. This is the place where they come for refuge or guidance or peace. This is the temple where they come to meet with God.

On a larger scale, we often point out to non-Copts the glories of the Coptic Church. They are prodigious without doubt: the School of Alexandria was THE centre of Christian learning in the ancient world; the Egyptian desert gave birth to Christian monasticism; and an unparalleled multitude of martyrs soaked the banks of the Nile with their freely sacrificed blood. Why shouldn’t we be proud of all that?

Why is it then that I sometimes feel a little twinge of discomfort about all this? Why do I feel that something is wrong?

Perhaps it is that this kind of pride is so easily misused, if not totally abused.

For example, when a sense of joy at one’s heritage turns into a form of racial bigotry and prejudice, it has left the path of Christ. Yes, I have heard members of our community speak of non-Copts as inferior beings. Ethnic stereotypes enjoy the occasional vogue even among our youth, who should know better, having grown up in this multicultural society where tolerance and understanding are emphasised so often. And how easily do we forget that whole thing about specks and logs in eyes!

Then there’s that whole competition thing:

My parish is better than your parish.

My Church is better than you Church.

My priests are better than your priests.

My youth meeting is better than your youth meeting.

Does this sort of thing really do anyone any good? Built into it is the very unchristian idea that whatever I am associated with has to be superior to everyone else. And it leads to a nasty kind of self-centredness, where if I can’t be better than the others, then I have to cut them down to my level.

Many years ago I heard a parish priest extolling the virtues of “holy competition” between parishes. He saw this as a positive force that motivated parishes to grow and develop better services. I must say that a couple of decades of service have not convinced me of his views, at least in my experience. People and services grow far more and in a healthier way if they cooperate together rather than compete against each other. And can you really see Jesus encouraging His disciples to compete against each other to see who will be the best Disciple? “If you wish to be greatest, go for it!” doesn’t really fit in with the rest of His Gospel somehow.

So is it wrong to be proud of your Church? Depends on what you mean by “proud”. If you mean feeling superior to others, putting others down, being unduly sensitive to criticism, even when it’s valid, and always trying to keep up with the Joneses (or Abdelmessihs in this case), then, yes. It is most certainly wrong.

But if you mean rejoicing in the gift of God that you share with the rest of His family, appreciating how beautiful that gift is, making the most of it, sharing it humbly with others, and working together selflessly for the benefit of all, then be as proud as you like!

Fr Ant

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9 Replies to “Pride and Prejudice – Coptic Style I”

  1. We got a rich inheritance in Christ. I think the only thing our particular Coptic Church (as a member of a larger Ecunemical Church) has given to us, has really been exemplary examples of people who went and sought to own this inheritance for themselves. Now we have to own it, for it to be truly ours. All churches have the same inheritance, because it is of Christ, not men. If Christ is the fulness of the Godhead- where all the treasure of knowledge and wisdom is, the way, the truth and the life, surely even as great as our ancestors are, they really have added nothing to the Church (you cannot add to infinity), but have become a reflection of the same Christ, that all Churches have. I doubt that God cares about our past, except that we are His children, bought by the blood of the Lamb. He will judge our Church not on our past, but our own faithfulness, if the books of Revelations and Corinthians are anything to go by.

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  2. our main inheritance is eternal life and all of us i believe are focusing on Jesus Christ the only way to it , we are Christians and this is our main identity …our ritual identity roots is Coptic christian way , which we inherited from St Mark .our ethnic identity is Australia , so our identity is Australian Christian Coptic Community … as Christians i believe we as our great Councilor Christ and the apostles complete one another in our needs ,gifts , talents , knowledge , faith , hope , love and not compete with one another…we all Christians the followers of our lord and God Jesus Christ …. we would like to thank our church as big community generally and in the western suburbs of Sydney that we started to emerge out of marginalization in the last few years , now we got specialists topics speakers under the education and awareness program for parents, just i want to stress if speakers lecture in English get an interpreter and if lecture in Arabic language get an interpreter so the benefit to be for all, just yesterday it was a lecture by our theological college about the internet in Arabic language so i believe our youth would be benefiting if an interpreter was there …. , we got referral system after assessment by the priest for those who needs counseling and clinical psychologists to assist in their problems could marriage ,gambling , domestic violence etc , so the right people is doing the task through the right channel , we got speakers from the theological college for the first time to come to the west to talk and i believe they will come again in Nov .to talk about the family , we got courses started about christian counselor stage one by great bunch of our children who are Psychologists and councilors and our beloved father Islander by AFCA in conjunction with our theological college , now they are going to run it again in Nov ” we are trying to convince them to run it in the west instead of the theological college to make life easy for those people in the west “, i personally attended its 12 lectures and i learned a lot … now also there is the intention to run that compulsory course for our children who are going to marry ” prevention is better than cure “…i believe a lot of challenges are there and our church is working towards it and we as church and community will get there by the support of our lord Jesus Christ ….just i would like to raise my voice here that if our paper “ALMANARA ” to be given to our youth to be published in English language by them to put their concerns , spiritual topics , activities and i believe all our youth around Australia will benefit from it spiritually and socially ….i believe spring of love in Arabic language is more than enough for our declining numbers of senior persons in our community … i believe there is a big revolution in our church , God bless all who are working publicly and those who are trying hard behind the scenes …i believe our lord is supporting us a lot and i reckon if somebody has got something nice to say , say it , if not better say nothing ….truly the people of Christ are all those souls and not buildings …we must live and act as Christians all the time …

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  3. What I fear is being done here, is that we are placing all Churches in the same basket, and that to me is very dangerous. It cheapens the faith, it cheapens the sacraments, and the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church is no longer Catholic.

    If all Churches will ultimately lead to the same end then it would not matter whether I’m an Orthodox Christian, a Roman Catholic Christian, a Protestant Christian, or any other Christian.
    If all Churches will ultimately lead to the same end then cross-communion should be allowed, cross-marriages without baptism should be allowed, and cross-participation in all sacraments should be no problem.

    The Church obviously does not see it this way. Salvation is only through valid sacraments.

    If seeing my Church as being above all others makes me a bigot or makes me prejudiced then so be it, because I think it’s this communal-Christian thinking which will do the Christian faith a whole lot of damage.

    N

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  4. Nate, my understanding is that Christ is one for all and he came as well to all his creatures …the apostles preached the good news in different regions to the best of their abilities , st Mark in that area of Egypt ,Abyssinia , Libya etc. , Agios Pavlos , oh my God he was all over the place Syria ,Cyprus , Greece , Macedonia ,Armenia , Rome etc . , St Thomas in India etc., St Peter in a lot of areas with Agios pavlos and also i believe with the Greek Agios Dimitrios “big saint in Greece “and so on , every saint got followers of CHRIST all over the world , so all ,they are following the only way to heaven our lord and God Jesus Christ …by the time every area developed a ritual way to worship God but all adhered to the common ground of our belief the bible guidelines and its sacraments … for example ,nobody can this Jesus unless baptized ……i believe the Catholics which is the biggest sector of Christ followers have all the sacraments of the bible , as well the Greek Church , as well the Coptic Church “by the way our population and numbers are a drop in an ocean in comparison to the others “… this is my simple understanding …i wish i am of help as i am not the best in this theological field but i believe at the end of the day God wants our pure hearts with all love to him and to our neighbors as thyself and we must maximize our deeds as those six things we must do in Matthew 25 because it is the only gate to heaven …faith without deeds is dead … i hope somebody else might assist with own thoughts in this vital issue ….

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  5. Hey Nate,

    Just wanted to clarify- when I said Ecunemical Church- I meant the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church. I have trouble defining that- I usually think of it personally as the Orthodox Church, though the Eastern Orthodox Church’s understanding of “deification” concerns me somewhat as someone who has really no understanding of patristics. I get conflicting views from our clergy re: this. At very least, all of us must agree that the Oriental Orthodox is apr tof this Ecunemical Church.

    GBU

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  6. Tony

    There is no such thing as the ‘Ecumenical Church’, but rather the Catholic Church.

    There are three groups which claim to be the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church; being the Orientals, the Easterners and the Latins.
    As far as I’m concerned, and as far as any of us should be concerned, the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church IS the Oriental Church and no other. The Oriental Church IS the Catholic Church, or more accurately, what remains of the Catholic Church.

    We can start talking about ecumenism again, and our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters as sharing our faith and claim to the One Church, however until any sort of full Eucharistic communion is achieved (if ever), we cannot see this as the case.
    There is only One Catholic Church, there is only One Apostolic Church, and the Oriental Orthodox Church IS IT. Any other Church is outside of that.

    We may share the same roots as other Churches, but we no longer share the same inheritance as we once did. Christ is not divided, he cannot be present on the Eucharistic Table of the Orientals, the Easterners and the Latins. There is only one valid sacrament.

    That is why this talk of ‘all Christians are the same’ disturbs me; when holding this view we are, above everything else, disrespecting the Eucharist, which is the most precious sacrament we have, and we are disrespecting the True Church which is the only valid administrator of this Eucharist.

    As far as your queries regarding deification go, I too have always had trouble understanding this concept.
    From what I understand, and don’t take my word for it; deification is about the call for man to be holy such that we experience fellowship with God and ‘partake in the energies and operations of God’ in the world.
    The phrase ‘partake in the energies of God’ has always troubled me, but from what I understand, it means that we partake with God in his works in the world, through which we become holy and become deified.

    The Coptic Church does not deny this, and shares implicitly in this view.

    What the Coptic Church (along with the Eastern Church) denies and refutes is the ill-conceived understanding of this concept, held by the likes of Matthew the Poor, Max Michel and others, who believe that not only does man partake in the energies of God but also the essence of God, such that men become gods.

    Matthew the Poor and Max Michel quote Athanasius who says in his book ‘On the Incarnation of the Word’ that ‘God became human so human would become gods’.
    What they fail to understand is that Athanasius meant (I think) that man may become holy as God is Holy, and that this is only possible through Christ who is God incarnate.
    The essence of God is transcendent and untouchable, and to say that man partakes in the essence of God is heresy in its most evil form (interesting to note, the Latin Church believes that man will ‘behold the essence of God’ after death).
    This is what is refuted, not the concept of deification. Although the Coptic Church has no explicit dogma on the belief (I think).

    Those are my thoughts, for what they’re worth…

    N

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  7. Hi Abouna,

    I really like this post, after reading it i felt attuned to your points and related to them greatly.

    In the service, I have also heard these comments and have felt the same ‘twinge of discomfort’. I feel frightened when I hear words like ‘east’ and ‘west’ churches in particular. They send out a message of division not only geographically (if it were only that) but also division of churches.

    When someone speaks of ‘loyalty’ for their church, what does it mean? Does that mean they are disloyal to another Coptic church? or is it that their allegiances lie with their ‘preferred’ church?

    The Lord Jesus Christ never intended loyalties to a church or to a priest or to a leader but to Him only. (obviously to get to him is through the sacraments of the church, which the priests and the church have their roles and parts). But i cant help but wonder and ask myself of all people…am I of Paul? or am I of Apollos? (1 Corinthians 3)

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  8. All the time ,We must focus only and only on our lord and God Jesus Christ …. HE is the only way to haven …all Christians are followers of Christ …. we follow the ritual aspects of St Mark as Coptes , other Christians follow other Apostles ritual aspects depending on what part of the world the person were born ….it makes no difference as far as all of us follow our lord and savior Christ ..a lot of people these days and most media specially in our Church Coptes they left Christ and praising of Christ and his teachings and diverted of praising people as pope , bishops , priests etc. , remember those themselves they will come in front of God and they will give an account for themselves and other souls as i believe and non of them will save any person in front of God , they have to fight equally for themselves as well as every soul and if they missed to guide right those souls as followers of Christ, i believe they will be in big trouble !!?? i believe the need only for one and that is Christ … our lord said first will be last and last will be first …so the bottom line focus on Christ , get the guidelines and christian great values of the bible and make active all the time the holy spirit inside own self to live and act as Christian … imitate those great saints in Christianity and work hard for your own salvation , we love all Christians everywhere , we love all creatures of God everywhere , we respect and love all who around us as our lord said ,”love God from own heart and soul and love thy neighbor as thy self …FOCUS AND FOCUS AND FOCUS ON CHRIST ONLY ALL THE TIME AND DO NOT LOOSE SIGHT OF YOUR SALVATION AND ETERNAL LIFE …

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  9. hmmm Shenouda, I don’t think so.

    It’s not an ethnicity thing, it’s a faith thing!

    As Orthodox Christians we should not be trivialising the faith and saying we and all other Christians are alike and the same.

    God does not sit in heaven and play musical chairs, he does not and can not be present on the Eucharistic Table of three Churches which are separated by faith. There is only one truth and only one faith; the Orthodox Faith. To say that God is present in all Churches and in their Eucharists is to say that God is plural.

    Anyway….

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