There has been some heated debate recently over the question of submission in marriage. It has been stirred up by the conservative Sydney Archdiocese of the Anglican Church introducing optional marriage vows for the bride that include the concept of submitting to her husband. This of course is something that has existed int he Coptic Orthodox rite since time immemorial. It is no novel invention, but derives from the words of St Paul:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22 NKJV)
Liberal Anglicans are outraged. They see this as huge step backwards for their Church, plunging it back into a discredited, patriarchal misogyny. St Paul wrote in the context of first century Greco-Roman society, where the inferiority of women was simply taken for granted. He and those to whom he wrote simply could not imagine a world where things were different, so he was simply giving advice on how to live as a Christian within that existing social structure. Compare slavery, the liberals say. St Paul encourages slaves to be obedient and submissive to their masters as to the Lord. But enlightened Christians in a more developed society in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries refused to accept slavery as an institution and changed the whole structure of their society, eliminating slavery altogether, rather than just telling slaves to accept their lot and be submissive. By analogy, they say, our even more enlightened society in the twentieth and twenty first centuries is now changing the very power structure of marriage and introducing the fullness of the equality before God that St Paul mentioned elsewhere:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NKJV)
But both the liberal interpretation of St Paul and the objections to submission in marriage are based on a crucial misunderstanding of the Gospel of Christ, reflected in St Paul. Once clarified, submission falls into its proper place and becomes something beautiful. To identify this misconception, we shall go right back to the beginning of the problem… Read the rest of this entry »
Did you know that the fastest growth among the Christian denominations in Australia today is happening in the Pentecostal and Charismatic Protestant Churches?
One of the defining characteristics of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity is the phenomenon of speaking in strange languages. It is believed that this is a miraculous gift from the Holy Spirit, that it continues a practice of the Apostles themselves, and that it is even a sign of God’s favour. People who speak in tongues consider it to be an experience of connecting with God, a superior form of prayer in fact. Some will even go so far as to say that Christians who do not speak in tongues are seriously deficient as Christians
All of these beliefs are highly suspect. But don’t take my word for it; read the evidence and make up your own mind. You will find some detailed research here which I will try to summarise briefly below.
Firstly, if speaking in tongues were truly a gift of the Holy Spirit, one would expect it to be unique to those who believe in the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit. But in reality, speaking in tongues or glossolalia was not only practiced by pagan cults well before Christianity began, but continues to practiced by non-Christians today, including Hindu fakirs and gurus in India and even, worryingly, by voodoo practitioners in Haiti. There is no doubt that pagans began speaking in tongues long before Christianity began, and there is compelling evidence that the practice was smuggled into Christian life by pagan converts to Christianity.
But didn’t the disciples speak in tongues? Here we must make an important distinction, one you will have already noticed if you have been reading your Bible carefully. Read the rest of this entry »
It strikes me that many people in the Coptic tradition spend a lot of their lives being discontented with their prayer life. “I don’t pray enough”; “I don’t focus”; “I don’t feel much”.
Now there’s nothing wrong with desiring a deeper, more genuine dialogue with God. What is more important to our being than this? But it is also true that human nature is to shy away from things with which we are discontented. They make us feel bad, and so we avoid them if we can. Hence the struggle that many face to pray. It is not that they do not wish to be with God – it is that in their minds, prayer has become solidly attached to an uncomfortable feeling of failure or guilt or vague restlessness, a tone that makes them avoid prayer whenever possible.
This has to be one of the cleverer tricks of the devil to keep those who sincerely desire the presence of God away from experiencing it. Imagine the opposite. Imagine if prayer were instead attached to feelings of joy, peace and love. Who in their right minds would avoid that?
The question then becomes how one is to rescue prayer from the muddy negative attitudes that so easily encrust it and hide its true beauty. Here are some musings from a fellow struggler… Read the rest of this entry »
“There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself … as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist! There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ. Man! Ye see it in small matters. Did ye never know a lover of books that with all his first editions and signed copies has lost the power to read them? Or an organiser of charities that had lost all love for the poor? It is the subtlest of all the snares.”
CS Lewis. The Great Divorce.
We live in an age of knowledge and of great power, and the individual citizen today can do things that the most powerful of heads of state could only dream of fifty years ago. This power brings with it opportunities unimagined, but also a raft of new temptations, or rather old temptations adapted to new situations (is there ever anything new under the sun?)
Today, I can sit in my living room and order a rare book from London or read a paper written by a scholar in Zurich at the click of a button. I have access to a marketplace of ideas that is so huge its very size smothers me if I stop to think about it. For the curious mind, this is intoxicating! How easy to lose oneself in an ocean of stimulating knowledge and new ideas! How wonderful to acquire new understanding, to see old things in new ways, to penetrate the depths of ignorance and shine the light of comprehension upon their previously dark treasures!
Apologetics is a marvellous revelation for those whose mind is so inclined. We drink the heady mead of rationality and find that the logic of this world points to its Creator! How wonderful! How sweet! And yet, apologetics is only medicine for the doubting soul; and no one can live on medicine alone. One needs heavenly bread and living water. Apologetics points the way, it heals the wounds of confusion, but then it is time for the daily bread of communion with the existent to carry out the process of nourishment.
Service in the house of the Lord is honourable and fulfilling. It provides the servant with a deep sense of belonging and achievement, whatever the nature of that service may be. I am doing something good for the Lord! Yet it is so easy for that “for the Lord” to turn quietly into “for me”. The very satisfaction and fulfillment one derives from service can become in itself an end, usurping its proper role as a means for the crucifixion of the ego and the losing of the self in the ocean of love that is God. And soon, God Himself is forgotten.
Intoxication is a dangerous thing. Read the rest of this entry »
The list of seventeen candidates for the upcoming papal election has been released. These will be whittled down to about seven candidates, which a large college of voters will then vote on to produce the final three candidates whose names will go into the box on the altar. The candidates at present are:
Metropolitan Bishoy of Damietta
Anba Bevnotious of Samalout
Anba Tawadros of El-Bahaira
Anba Kirollos of Milan
Abouna Rafael Avva Mina
Abouna Maximos El-Antony
Abouna Shenouda Avva Bishoy Read the rest of this entry »
If you are like me – not so good in the Arabic language – you are probably finding it hard to get any information about how things are progressing in Egypt in the lead up to the papal elections. A huge thanks to HG Bishop Angaelos in the UK for posting a comprehensive and authoritative summary of what is happening, and what is going to happen over the coming months. You can find it here.
On the other hand, it is always interesting to see how non-Copts view us. Here and here are two such sites, but they come with a warning: Coptic readers might not like everything they read on these sites, and I certainly cannot vouch for their accuracy. The view from a distance can provide an interesting perspective, but it also often ends up being somewhat incorrect.
We continue to pray for our Lord to guide all those involved in the process, that His will may be done and not that of any human being. I will take this opportunity to express just one personal observation I feel very strongly about.
The role of a clergyman is critical in our Coptic culture. Bishops and priests have the opportunity to do both great good, but also to do great harm. In the years that I have lived in the Coptic Church, there has always been a closely followed principle that has stood the Church in good stead: those who covet ordination are excluded from consideration.
There are excellent reasons for this. A person who sees ordination as some kind of “promotion” or honour is thinking of himself, and in true Christian service, there is simply no room for that. Once the ‘ego’ gets involved, the Holy Spirit steps back, and all you have left is merely human service, with all its faults and failings and weaknesses. No one benefits from that, neither servant nor the served. You only have to look around to other Christian Churches where clergymen “volunteer” for “promotion” to see the kinds of disasters that eventually follow. Read the rest of this entry »
Australian philosopher Damon Young recently published an opinion piece on the ABC website headed “Prayer is delusional but its power can be real”. In it, he attacks people of all religions who use prayer to take vengeance on their enemies and points to the failure of medical studies to prove that intercessory prayer changes health outcomes, other than calming the person doing the praying and producing effects like reduced blood pressure in that person.
While some of those who commented on the piece charge him with being anti-religion, I find myself agreeing with most of what he says, but probably for very different reasons.
Of course there are numerous Bible verses about asking for things from God, but these need to be read and interpreted in the context of the overall Gospel message. In Old Testament times, people had not yet experienced the fullness of the love of God as expressed in the Incarnation of the Logos in Jesus, so they had some reason to be anxious about their lives. Not so for us Christians! The Incarnation, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection should mean that we can never doubt the extent to which the love of God will stretch to take care of us (if one ever could really doubt that any way).
So the Christian message about the relationship between God the Provider and our personal needs is this: “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:31). Christ came to teach us divine, aghape love, to make that love the overriding principle of our lives, to make us “beings of love”. And divine love cares not for its own first, but for others. Love draws us out of our selves and transforms us into little images of the God of Love Himself. I cannot emphasise enough how central this transformation is to the Gospel message.
Where can selfish requests for personal needs fit into that picture? Read the rest of this entry »
A day we have all been dreading has finally come upon us. After a long battle with illness, HH Pope Shenouda III has left this world. Shall we ever see another like him?
Many years ago, a relatively young Nazir Gayed left behind a promising career both within and outside of the Church and found a cave in the Egyptian desert in which, as a monk, he could pursue his chief passion: his love for God. But he was dragged away unwilling from his little heaven on earth, and thrown into the responsibilities of first the Bishopric of Education, and then the papacy. This he accepted, if unwillingly, putting his own desires second after the needs of others. Given a free choice, there is little doubt he would have chosen to live out his life in that cave, and the Church would have been blessed with one of those little known hermits who support us all with the purity of their prayers. But no, he acquiesced to the call and devoted his days instead to solving the problems of others. I wonder how many people really understand the magnitude of that sacrifice? And yet he never complained, never grumbled, never showed in the slightest way that he was unhappy with the path that God had chosen for him. And now, at last, after 88 years on this earth, after seven decades of faithful, self-sacrificial service, God has given him his heart’s desire. This time, he has left the world to pursue his chief passion, his love for God, and no one can drag him back.
At times like these, people are wont to list all the achievements of the person who has passed away. That will no doubt make for a very substantial inventory in this case. But for me, these are not the things that matter. This list will probably include the number of churches that were established during his reign and the number of schools and theological colleges, the number of honorary degrees he received, and so on. But for me, this is not the Church, and so this is not the measure of the man or his service. The real Church is not made of buildings and institutions. Read the rest of this entry »
The last post on facing the world stirred some interest, so I thought I might share an excerpt from the draft of the book I mentioned at the end of that post…
When St Mark left Egypt to continue his missionary travels, he appointed Anianus to care for the young church in his absence, and when St Mark was martyred in Alexandria in 68AD, Anianus assumed the leadership of the church. He is thus considered the second of the 117 Popes of Alexandria, although the title “pope” did not come into usage until the time of Pope Heraclas in the third century. Interestingly, it is likely that this title, ‘Papa’, which is simply a term of endearment akin to the modern ‘Daddy’, was used in Alexandria some years before it was applied to the bishop of Rome. For many years after that, there was always one bishop and twelve presbyters or priests in Alexandria. When a bishop died, the twelve priests would elect his successor from among their number, and whenever a priest died or was elevated to the bishopric, another suitable man was ordained to take his place.
What did the coming of Christianity mean for the inhabitants of Alexandria? It is almost certain that the significance of the conversion of Alexandrians to Christianity had the same significance for them that it had for people throughout the Roman world, indeed, the pagan world: Christianity turned the world upside down. This phenomenon is most lucidly described by Orthodox scholar David Bentley Hart, and it helps to explain why the pagan society was so violently determined to exterminate this new religion.
If you visit the archaeological remains of ancient Pompeii near the Italian coast you will find there a Roman temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis. What is an Egyptian goddess doing in the heart of the Roman Empire? Read the rest of this entry »
As the Coptic Church has spread into the Diaspora of Western nations it has experienced an ever growing interaction with non-Copts. The sheer breadth of this interaction is rarely appreciated by Copts I think. To list just a few situations:
- Employees and clients in Coptic organisations like Child Care Centres, Vacation Care Centres, Coptic Schools, Aged Care Facilities and the Theological Colleges.
- Interested visitors to Coptic monasteries.
- Marriages of Copts to non-Copts, or rather to converts to Coptic Orthodoxy.
- Dialogues with other Churches and religions through organisations like the World Council of Churches and its branches and Interfaith events.
- Participation in Government sponsored initiatives as well as those organised by civil society to deal with various pressing social issues.
- Coptic sporting teams participating in local competitions.
- Copts who run for political office.
- Missionary and outreach services.
- Services for the homeless and those in prison.
- Apologetics dialogues with non-believers.
- Kimi radio program and the Coptic satellite TV channels.
- Visitors to Coptic websites of all kinds.
- FOCUS – university campus societies.
- Copts who volunteer to teach religion in public schools.
- Interest from the media following the many massacres of Copts in Egypt and regarding the future of Christians in the Egypt of the Arab Spring.
All of these of course are in addition to the many thousands of commonplace interactions that take place daily in schools, tertiary institutions, workplaces and over the back fence with the neighbours.
In majority Muslim Egypt, there has often been strife, but relatively little actual theological debate or dialogue between the two Abrahamic faiths. One of the rare records of such debates Read the rest of this entry »