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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


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    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


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    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


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    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


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    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


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    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


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    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


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    Herod wanted to kill Him. Tradition says that as His


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


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    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


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    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.


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