THE STORY OF THE COPTS - THE TRUE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN EGYPT

THE STORY OF THE COPTS - THE TRUE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN EGYPT

THE STORY OF THE COPTS - THE TRUE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN EGYPT

371 Pages ·1999·1.57 MB ·English

THE STORY OF THE COPTS - THE TRUE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN EGYPT

THTHE STORYE OF THE COPTS  TRUE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN EGYPT


by


Iris Habib el Masri


BOOK 1


FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH


BY SAINT MARK


TO THE ARAB CONQUEST


2 Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ King of Kings and


Lord of lords


3 H.H. Pope Shenouda III, 117th Pope of


Alexandria and the See of St. Mark


4 St.  Anthony,  Coptic  Orthodox  Monastery  of


Southern California, U.S.A., introduces "The Story of the


Copts" by IRIS HABIB EL MASRI to all Christians and


non-Christians; to old and young; men and women; ... to


everyone, with or without an interest in studying religion;


and to the public in general.  Also, the Copts in Egypt and


all over the world.


May  God  grant  that  the  reader  gain  a  true


knowledge of the Copts and of the history of Christianity


of Egypt.


ST. ANMNY MONASTERY


P.O. BOX 369


MMERRY SPRINGS, CA 923$5


5 ACKNOWLEDGEMENT


It is with deep gratitude that I offer my thanks to


our Heavenly Father whose aid and guidance have been


my lodestar throughout the years.


My  thankful  homage  to  the  Spirit  of  my  Father


Pishoi Kamil whose encouragement by prayer, words and


continued endeavour added to my zeal and fervour, and


strengthened  me  to  persevere  on  the  path  towards


fulfilment.


My thanks are extended also to all my   ylimafelcric


and friends, with special appreciation to the budding artist


Habib Amin el Masri, my nephew, for giving me some of


his paintings to adorn this volume.


As for my sister Eva el Masri Sidhom, I consider


he my co-writer;  she and her husband Youssef did their


best in editing and typing this work.


Side by side, with all those who encouraged me on


this plane, are all those beloved ones who have gone on


ahead and whose invisible help has been my sustenance as


I pressed forward towards my goals.


Iris Habib El Masri


6 INTRODUCTION


A. History is Life


Not long ago, Providence so willed that I sit at table with


a number of foreigners.  During the conversation, my host


1


asked:  "Since  when  did  you  adopt  Eutychianism?"    I


answered: "We ever adopted it, nor ever will.  We are


Orthodox and have been so since Christianity began until


now." My host resumed: "But I read somewhere that you


have  deviated  from  Orthodoxy."  I  rejoined:  "We  never


deviated,  nor  ever  will,  by  the  Grace  of  God.    But  it


happened, that when we went to Chalcedon . . . . " Here,


one  of  the  guests  interposed:  "When  did  you  go  to


Chalcedon?"  I  answered:  "We  went  in  A.D.  451."  At


which all those present roared with laughter, then my host


said gently: "To hear you speak thus, one would imagine


that you went this year, or at most last year, and that you


were among those who went." It was my turn to laugh as


2


I answered: "Such are we Copts   -when one of us has


attended, we have all attended.  And there is no difference


between the delegates attending in 451 or in any other


year,  because  our  history  is  one  whole  indivisible  unit.


Nay, it is life itself, and not some ephemeral pictures on a


screen.    The  proof  of  this  fact  is  that  the  three  first


ecumenical councils, the only ones acknowledged by the


Coptic Church, have decreed laws by which we still abide.


Also,  we  still  suffer  from  the  baleful  consequences  of


Chalcedon.    History  is,  therefore,  indivisible,  though  it


appears to us in diverse pictures; it is like unto matter


which is never destroyed though its forms change."


Here, I found it compatible to quote the comment Dr.


7 Cyrus  Gordon,  the  eminent  contemporary  American


scholar, made once on our behavior at Chalcedon.  It was:


"When the Egyptians went to Chalcedon, they were proud


of  their  Pharaonic  heritage,  and  rightly  so;  they  were


proud of their Alexandrian Fathers, and rightly so; they


frankly  told  the  whole  world  what  they  believed,  and,


when the world refused to listen, they walked out, and


rightly so."


And, since history is life, it is consequently the story


of the people, wherever they are.  For this very reason, it


recounts  the  struggle  of  the  nations  for  freedom  and


dignity; their aspirations towards liberty, and their heroic


achievements.  This yearning after the ideal should be the


pivot of our study of history.


Moreover, to gain a full appreciation of the history


of  the  Coptic  Church,  it  is  essential  to  know  the


prominent features of its adherents.  The Copts have a


very strong leaning towards the mystic and the spiritual.


Sir Flinders Petrie depicts this leaning very aptly in the


following words: " . . . a difference in the conception of


a period before the existence of time would seem purely


academic and indifferent to a Western mind . . . . To the


Egyptian  mind,  however,  this  difference  was  in  the


essence of things.  The distinction of eternity before time


which the West could hardly grasp or feel to be of any


importance  has  been  fastened  by  the  two  Egyptian


3


presbyters upon all later Christianity."


Reflecting  on  the  profound  impact  of  the  Coptic


Church on the Church Universal, this same Egyptologist


remarks: "If, now, we try our historical imagination by


supposing  that  there  never  had  been  any  of  the


refinements  of  the  Trinitarian  controversy;  that  no


monastery had ever sterilized the best of the race; and that


8 the Madonna and Child were alike unknown to devotion


and  to  art,  we  may  gain  some  sense  of  what  changes


Egypt wrought in Christianity, and how utterly foreign to


4


the Judaic origin was its influence.”


B. T7ie Light that never Fades


In  the  dawn  of  Creation,  when  Adam  and  Eve


succumbed to the temptation of the serpent, the justice of


God  banished  them  into  the  earth.    But  His  love


necessitated that He redeem them.  Thus was the promise


5


of  the  Redeemer  made  by  God  to  man.   This  Divine


Promise, being given to the father of the human race, was


carried within its collective subconscious.  Hence, we hear


of  the  Messianic  hopes  among  different  groups  of


peoples,  at  different  ages,  and  in  sundry  climes.    The


literatures, the wise sayings, the sacred writings, all reflect


6


the hope of the Advent of the Redeemer.   Among  the


Hebrews,  it  attained  its  crescendo,  while  among  other


nations, it was sounded with varying strength, according


to the temper and spiritual susceptibility of each group.


In Egypt, the people were given countless gods and


godesses to revert to for different needs, yet the priests


and sages expressed their faith in the one God, and spoke


of the coming Redeemer.  They conceived of a triad of


gods, and they worshipped the Mother Isis suckling the


Child  Horus.    They,  therefore,  glimpsed  the  Light  of


Christianity beforehand, and many of their writings run


7


parallel with those of the Hebrew prophets.  According to


the measure given them, they were on the lookout for the


Light.  And when the Light did come to them, their hearts


were  filled  with  gladness.    Their  spiritual  unfoldment


9 across the ages led to their acceptance of the New Faith,


which was compatible with their sense of mysticism.  This


concord was doubtless due to their share in the legacy


bequeathed  by  God  to  man.    Because  they  kept  their


Inward  Light  burnished,  they  could  easily  perceive  the


True Light when it shone upon them: "The True Light


which lighteth every man coming into the world.  Little


wonder then, that the Prophet declared, "Out of Egypt


9


have I called my son."  Thus it was prophesied, and thus


did it come to pass.  No trumpet heralded the entry of the


Christ Child into the Nile Valley.  He came quietly and


gently, as comes the dawn, to take refuge in Egypt when


10


Herod wanted to kill Him. Tradition says that as His


foot trod on Egyptian soil, the idols in all the temples fell


11


down before the eyes of their bewildered worshippers.


The import of this legacy lies not only in its veracity, but


rather in the qualities of the national temperament which it


uncovers-a temperament which could be imbued with such


an interpretation.


In  due  season,  the  Word  was  sown  in  Egypt,  and


12


brought forth fruit: thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.


Before beginning the story, however, one remark is


necessary.    James  H.  Breasted,  the  eminent  American


Egyptologist  and  one  of  the  greatest  historians  of  all


times, said that what seems fabulous in other countries is


natural in Egypt.  Also, during the less complex and less


sophisticated ages, man was in closer contact with God,


and a sort of fellow-feeling bound them.  With these two


facts in mind, it is easier to comprehend the Copts and


their history.


10


THTHE STORYE OF THE COPTS  TRUE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN EGYPT


by


Iris Habib el Masri


BOOK 1


FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH


BY SAINT MARK


TO THE ARAB CONQUEST


2 Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ King of Kings and


Lord of lords


3 H.H. Pope Shenouda III, 117th Pope of


Alexandria and the See of St. Mark


4 St.  Anthony,  Coptic  Orthodox  Monastery  of


Southern California, U.S.A., introduces "The Story of the


Copts" by IRIS HABIB EL MASRI to all Christians and


non-Christians; to old and young; men and women; ... to


everyone, with or without an interest in studying religion;


and to the public in general.  Also, the Copts in Egypt and


all over the world.


May  God  grant  that  the  reader  gain  a  true


knowledge of the Copts and of the history of Christianity


of Egypt.


ST. ANMNY MONASTERY


P.O. BOX 369


MMERRY SPRINGS, CA 923$5


5 ACKNOWLEDGEMENT


It is with deep gratitude that I offer my thanks to


our Heavenly Father whose aid and guidance have been


my lodestar throughout the years.


My  thankful  homage  to  the  Spirit  of  my  Father


Pishoi Kamil whose encouragement by prayer, words and


continued endeavour added to my zeal and fervour, and


strengthened  me  to  persevere  on  the  path  towards


fulfilment.


My thanks are extended also to all my   ylimafelcric


and friends, with special appreciation to the budding artist


Habib Amin el Masri, my nephew, for giving me some of


his paintings to adorn this volume.


As for my sister Eva el Masri Sidhom, I consider


he my co-writer;  she and her husband Youssef did their


best in editing and typing this work.


Side by side, with all those who encouraged me on


this plane, are all those beloved ones who have gone on


ahead and whose invisible help has been my sustenance as


I pressed forward towards my goals.


Iris Habib El Masri


6 INTRODUCTION


A. History is Life


Not long ago, Providence so willed that I sit at table with


a number of foreigners.  During the conversation, my host


1


asked:  "Since  when  did  you  adopt  Eutychianism?"    I


answered: "We ever adopted it, nor ever will.  We are


Orthodox and have been so since Christianity began until


now." My host resumed: "But I read somewhere that you


have  deviated  from  Orthodoxy."  I  rejoined:  "We  never


deviated,  nor  ever  will,  by  the  Grace  of  God.    But  it


happened, that when we went to Chalcedon . . . . " Here,


one  of  the  guests  interposed:  "When  did  you  go  to


Chalcedon?"  I  answered:  "We  went  in  A.D.  451."  At


which all those present roared with laughter, then my host


said gently: "To hear you speak thus, one would imagine


that you went this year, or at most last year, and that you


were among those who went." It was my turn to laugh as


2


I answered: "Such are we Copts   -when one of us has


attended, we have all attended.  And there is no difference


between the delegates attending in 451 or in any other


year,  because  our  history  is  one  whole  indivisible  unit.


Nay, it is life itself, and not some ephemeral pictures on a


screen.    The  proof  of  this  fact  is  that  the  three  first


ecumenical councils, the only ones acknowledged by the


Coptic Church, have decreed laws by which we still abide.


Also,  we  still  suffer  from  the  baleful  consequences  of


Chalcedon.    History  is,  therefore,  indivisible,  though  it


appears to us in diverse pictures; it is like unto matter


which is never destroyed though its forms change."


Here, I found it compatible to quote the comment Dr.


7 Cyrus  Gordon,  the  eminent  contemporary  American


scholar, made once on our behavior at Chalcedon.  It was:


"When the Egyptians went to Chalcedon, they were proud


of  their  Pharaonic  heritage,  and  rightly  so;  they  were


proud of their Alexandrian Fathers, and rightly so; they


frankly  told  the  whole  world  what  they  believed,  and,


when the world refused to listen, they walked out, and


rightly so."


And, since history is life, it is consequently the story


of the people, wherever they are.  For this very reason, it


recounts  the  struggle  of  the  nations  for  freedom  and


dignity; their aspirations towards liberty, and their heroic


achievements.  This yearning after the ideal should be the


pivot of our study of history.


Moreover, to gain a full appreciation of the history


of  the  Coptic  Church,  it  is  essential  to  know  the


prominent features of its adherents.  The Copts have a


very strong leaning towards the mystic and the spiritual.


Sir Flinders Petrie depicts this leaning very aptly in the


following words: " . . . a difference in the conception of


a period before the existence of time would seem purely


academic and indifferent to a Western mind . . . . To the


Egyptian  mind,  however,  this  difference  was  in  the


essence of things.  The distinction of eternity before time


which the West could hardly grasp or feel to be of any


importance  has  been  fastened  by  the  two  Egyptian


3


presbyters upon all later Christianity."


Reflecting  on  the  profound  impact  of  the  Coptic


Church on the Church Universal, this same Egyptologist


remarks: "If, now, we try our historical imagination by


supposing  that  there  never  had  been  any  of  the


refinements  of  the  Trinitarian  controversy;  that  no


monastery had ever sterilized the best of the race; and that


8 the Madonna and Child were alike unknown to devotion


and  to  art,  we  may  gain  some  sense  of  what  changes


Egypt wrought in Christianity, and how utterly foreign to


4


the Judaic origin was its influence.”


B. T7ie Light that never Fades


In  the  dawn  of  Creation,  when  Adam  and  Eve


succumbed to the temptation of the serpent, the justice of


God  banished  them  into  the  earth.    But  His  love


necessitated that He redeem them.  Thus was the promise


5


of  the  Redeemer  made  by  God  to  man.   This  Divine


Promise, being given to the father of the human race, was


carried within its collective subconscious.  Hence, we hear


of  the  Messianic  hopes  among  different  groups  of


peoples,  at  different  ages,  and  in  sundry  climes.    The


literatures, the wise sayings, the sacred writings, all reflect


6


the hope of the Advent of the Redeemer.   Among  the


Hebrews,  it  attained  its  crescendo,  while  among  other


nations, it was sounded with varying strength, according


to the temper and spiritual susceptibility of each group.


In Egypt, the people were given countless gods and


godesses to revert to for different needs, yet the priests


and sages expressed their faith in the one God, and spoke


of the coming Redeemer.  They conceived of a triad of


gods, and they worshipped the Mother Isis suckling the


Child  Horus.    They,  therefore,  glimpsed  the  Light  of


Christianity beforehand, and many of their writings run


7


parallel with those of the Hebrew prophets.  According to


the measure given them, they were on the lookout for the


Light.  And when the Light did come to them, their hearts


were  filled  with  gladness.    Their  spiritual  unfoldment


9 across the ages led to their acceptance of the New Faith,


which was compatible with their sense of mysticism.  This


concord was doubtless due to their share in the legacy


bequeathed  by  God  to  man.    Because  they  kept  their


Inward  Light  burnished,  they  could  easily  perceive  the


True Light when it shone upon them: "The True Light


which lighteth every man coming into the world.  Little


wonder then, that the Prophet declared, "Out of Egypt


9


have I called my son."  Thus it was prophesied, and thus


did it come to pass.  No trumpet heralded the entry of the


Christ Child into the Nile Valley.  He came quietly and


gently, as comes the dawn, to take refuge in Egypt when


10


Herod wanted to kill Him. Tradition says that as His


foot trod on Egyptian soil, the idols in all the temples fell


11


down before the eyes of their bewildered worshippers.


The import of this legacy lies not only in its veracity, but


rather in the qualities of the national temperament which it


uncovers-a temperament which could be imbued with such


an interpretation.


In  due  season,  the  Word  was  sown  in  Egypt,  and


12


brought forth fruit: thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.


Before beginning the story, however, one remark is


necessary.    James  H.  Breasted,  the  eminent  American


Egyptologist  and  one  of  the  greatest  historians  of  all


times, said that what seems fabulous in other countries is


natural in Egypt.  Also, during the less complex and less


sophisticated ages, man was in closer contact with God,


and a sort of fellow-feeling bound them.  With these two


facts in mind, it is easier to comprehend the Copts and


their history.


10


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