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Coptic Culture: Christian Teachings and Thought, Part XIV
Ed  Rizkalla
Ed Rizkalla
Founder, Pharos on the Potomac

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Mt 5:16
“Pairy] mare petenouwini erouwini `mpe`m;o `nnirwmi hopwc `ncenau ` eneten`hbyou`i e;naneu nce]wou `mpeteniwt etqen nivyoui.”
“فليضيء نوركم هكذا قدام الناس لكي يروا أعمالكم الحسنة ويمجدوا آباكم الذي في السموات “

God in his grace, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, granted many gifts to the Christian Egyptians, the Copts. First and foremost among His gifts are the knowledge of God, his love for all mankind, and his saving grace through Jesus Christ his only begotten son and our Lord and Savior. Also among his many gifts to the Copts is one of the shining facets of the Coptic identity, namely a forward-looking culture, which over the ages has helped them not only survive but also grow and thrive.

Any fair minded person cannot deny that the Copts have suffered from discrimination, persecution, repeated episodes of violence and pogroms at the hands of militant Muslim groups and their sympathizers within the ranks of the Egyptian government over the past 50 years or so. In fact the past few weeks of June and July 2009 have witnessed repeated attacks, destruction and violence against the Copts, their churches, and their property at several locations in Egypt, e.g. at the villages of Ezbet Bassilious, Ezbet Bushra-East, Ezbet Girgis Bey and Al-Hawasiliya (1) (2). One of the aims of this persecution is the eradication of the Coptic identity and their cultural heritage. However it does take much to note that one of the unforeseen results of the ongoing persecution of the Copts is in fact more awareness of the Coptic identity.

We have to be mindful however, that the age-old serpent, Satan, the ‘enemy’ of all goodness (عدو الخير), is the one who stirs up persecution against the sons of God in all ages, but God, in his infinite mercy, has granted the believers to tread upon the serpents, scorpions, and all the powers of the ‘enemy’. The Holy Bible admonishes all the believers to act, and not submit to complacency or inaction. For example, our Lord Jesus Christ in the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, could have easily lifted up the stone laid on the tomb of Lazarus, however He commanded the people gathered around him to participate, act and perform what they can humanly do, saying “Take away the stone” (John 11:39). Furthermore the Holy Bible admonishes that God’s gifts not only be recognized with thanks but also be used for the glory of God, thus Jesus commands “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 5:16). The Coptic culture is indeed a precious gift from God, which endows the Copts with traits and abilities to be used for His service and the glory of His holy name. The stories of Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Macarius of Alexandria provide examples for lives marked by taking the initiative and action, even at an old age and after long ascetic lives glorifying God and full of achievements. Likewise, many Coptic businessmen adorn their places of business with calligraphic displays testifying “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (رأس الحكمة مخافة اللة), thus giving glory to God.

EPILOGUE: Over the past year and a half or so, the writer presented a three-part series on Coptic Culture. The first series of articles, explored the writings of a witness from the late medieval ages, the Arabic historian al-Maqrizi. In his time, the 14th-15th century AD, al-Maqrizi observed some of the Coptic cultural attributes, which he recorded in his book al-Khitat (3). Al-Maqrizi noted that the Copts were in fact “knowledge people” (أهل علم). However, as he observed how Coptic men included their wives in decision-making, he could not comprehend it. Accordingly, he and many other Arab writers, influenced by their background, resorted to suppositions for explanations. The second series of articles explored ancient Egyptian literature, as it provided the explanations for the behavioral patterns or cultural norms and values, which al-Maqrizi and other Arab writers could not comprehend. The ancient Egyptian author of the “Tale of Sinuhe” notes a very similar behavioral pattern exhibited by the ancient Egyptians of the Middle Kingdom to that of the Copts of the late medieval ages, which illustrated the equality of men and women accorded respect for women in the family and society at large (4). The third series of articles explored the obvious about the Coptic identity, namely the Christian faith, and the influence of Christian teachings and thought. The third series of articles illustrated that Christian beliefs are fundamentally different from ancient Egyptian beliefs. Whereas Christian beliefs are based on Divine revelation, ancient Egyptian beliefs were based on human observations, introspection, and suppositions. Christianity worships ONE God whereas the ancient Egyptian religion included a multicity of gods and goddesses. Christian beliefs believe in a loving and benevolent omnipotent Triune God who transcends all time and rules over all the creation seen and unseen, whereas ancient Egyptian beliefs believed in benign gods and goddesses who could be manipulated by man by magic. Furthermore, the last series of articles illustrated that Christian teachings and thought have changed or contributed to the change in some of the ancient Egyptian cultural attributes, norms, and values. They also left some other attributes, norms, and values unchanged and enhanced and further invigorated some others. Major changes attributed to Christian teachings and thought include the abolition of the mummification of the dead (5) and forbidding divorce. Christian teachings and thought primarily added a spiritual dimension to the already existing pragmatic and humane dimensions espoused by the ancient Egyptians culture.

As noted earlier exploring the influence of Christian teachings and thought on the Coptic Culture, norms, and values, is a tall order indeed, and the writer attempted to explore only some of these influences. This is also the case for the three-part series on Coptic culture. This series was not intended to provide a complete review, however though far from complete, the writer hopes to have outlined an overall picture for the Coptic culture, starting with an eye witness from the late medieval age, through ancient Egyptian literary creations, and finally through Christian teachings and thought. It is the hope of this writer that future explorations would address any misunderstandings or misconceptions on his part, and correct any errors, or mistakes he might have inadvertently committed.

The peace of the Lord be with you all. Irene Passe.

(1) Muslims set church ablaze but Egyptian security implicates a Christian Copt, by Mary Abedelmassih, AINA
(2) Muslim mob targets Christians for building church, by Aaron Klein, World Net Daily
(3) Coptic Culture: Al-Maqrizi (1364-1442): A witness & chronicler from the late medieval ages, part II, b4 Ed Rizkalla
(4) Coptic Culture: Ancient Egyptian Literature, part V, by Ed Rizkalla
(5) Coptic Culture: Christian Teachings and Thought, part II, by Ed Rizkalla

Acknowledgement: The writer would like to acknowledge and thank the staff of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, for their assistance with research for background material for this article.

Ed Riakalla is a management consultant and freelance writer. He is the founder of Pharos on the Potomac Group (POPG), a non-profit organization at Annandale, VA.


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