Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

Answer to a Copt at College

print Print  |  send Send to a friend  |  bookmark Bookmark  |   |   |  back Back

In April 2004, Christianity Today published an article titled 'Lost in America' tackling the state of Arab Christians in the U.S. their rich heritage and their future in the land of migration. In this article a Duke University student 'Susan' gave her view on her religious life as a Copt in the U.S.

I am not sure why 'Susan' preferred to use a pseudonym in the land of freedom of expression. I will answer 'Susan's claims not only as a Copt but as a faithful Christian

  • 'Susan' says, "Copts are expected to go to church every Sunday to attend the four-hour service. This is preceded by Vespers on Saturday night, which is brief, only about an hour. But Vespers is followed by the Midnight Praises, which last several hours. It sounds very beautiful, by the way, but it is just hard to sit through on a Saturday night. Attendance at Vespers and especially the Midnight Praises is usually very low, unless it is a special occasion like the presence of a visiting bishop."

Every Christian is expected to go to church weekly. From the time of the holy Apostles, we learned to meet for prayers and breaking the bread "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread" (Acts 20:7).

The Holy Bible teaches us "Pray without ceasing" (1 Th 5:17). God commanded us to give at least the tithe of everything He bestowed upon us, is it too much to give Him the tithe of our time. Can we honestly say we give God about 14-15 hours/week? If we calculate the time we spend in prayers at church and at home I am sure most of us will fall short and find ourselves in debt.

A Church day starts from sunset to sunset. Vespers on the Eve of Sunday are part of the Sunday Liturgy. God's first commandment is "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex 20:8). Our Sabbath today is Sunday and what better way to keep it holy than to spend it with the Lord in the church.

Susan admits that the Midnight Praises sound very beautiful but she resents the fact that they are on Saturday night! Our Lord Jesus Christ pointed out "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Mt 6:21). If we truly love God we would want to spend as much time as we can with Him in prayers, praises and supplications, feeling that there is nothing else we would rather be doing except being with Him.

  • 'Susan' says, "The Coptic Church also has some very conservative ideas about the behavior of the members. The Church likes to preach against the Five Ds: dancing, dating, dressing (provocatively), drinking and drugs. These restrictions are very much relevant and alive in my church. As you can imagine, they are very hard to follow if you live in the West, but in Egypt, they are not so hard because the culture is very conservative. It is quite amazing to see people follow these rules. I admire people who can fight this much pressure, but I am not sure if I will ever want to or be able to live like them."

I wonder which Church in the world does not preach against drugs. I should rather ask which religion Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or even atheism promotes drugs.

Preaching against the Five Ds is not an invention of the Coptic Church but is
very much the teaching of the Holy Bible. The New Testament speaks of the five Ds in the Holy Books of Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 5:19-21 and 1 John 2:15-17. Drinking starts by a casual social drink and may lead to drunkenness.

Dancing is sensual, fleshly, and worldly. It does not belong to those who have given their bodies as a sacrifice to the Lord. As such, it belongs in the realm of sinful activities. The word "revelries" in the Holy Book of Galatians 5:21 is translated from a word, which referred to pagan dances (which are much like our "modern" dances). This is not the view of the Coptic Church but of many churches in the West.

Joshua Harris (not a Copt) wrote and excellent book called "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" exposing the "Seven Habits of Highly Defective Dating" and offering a realistic outline of how to have a biblical vision of marriage.

Dressing provocatively is not acceptable by any Church or any respectable person no matter what is their belief. Dressing provocatively causes others to stumble and sin. St. Paul says, "Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (1 Cor 8:13).

How can one talk about the Five Ds as restrictions and those who do not practice them as being very conservative as if they are aliens from a different planet. True Christianity is the same in the West and in Egypt. In the Coptic Church we teach Christianity not 'Egyptianity'. Susan generalizes when she pictures the West as all under the realm of the Five Ds. I am sorry she feels she does not and cannot live without these Five Ds.

  • 'Susan' says "I understand that a church should not adapt its dogma and beliefs according to the members and society, but that the people should follow the church rules if they want to be a part of the church. The Coptic Church in the West cannot continue to be under the same Pope as the Coptic Church in Egypt if it endorses some behavior here different from there."

I wonder what behavior the Coptic Church endorses in the West that is different from Egypt! To say we need a new Pope in the West is like saying we need a new Christ for the 21st Century. In other word, she says 'imagine living today with the rules and teachings of a Christ who lived in the Middle East 2000 years ago!' Would this new Pope base his teachings on a new Bible made in the West!

  • 'Susan' says, "Already there are concessions here to keep the Copts in America at church. In Egypt, for example, people who are divorced for reasons that the church does not approve of are not allowed to take communion, while here they are because here it is a lot more common and the clergy want to keep those people in the church."

I do not know where does Susan get this information? Is it because she saw someone divorced receiving communion? Divorce or annulment is a long procedure in the church and is not as easy as she makes it sounds. I hope she is not judging from appearances for each case of divorce is thoroughly studied and the minute details on which a decision is made are usually not publicly known. The decision is based on the teaching of the Holy Bible and not on which country you live in.

  • Susan says, "Still, it is very hard to maintain the expected Coptic behavior if one has a life beyond church or if one lives in a place with no church or with no Coptic influence- like college."

Again I say there is no such thing as Coptic behavior or Egyptian behavior but a Christian behavior. "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other" (Mt 6:24). Christian behavior can be kept anywhere if our eyes are focused on the Lord. Daniel the Prophet kept his faith and did not eat of the delicacies of the king while living in a strange country surrounded by pagans.

Every Christian has the free will to make a choice to live his/her life with the Lord or a worldly life where everything else comes before the Lord. May God give us the wisdom to choose Him and pray with David the prophet saying, "Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, For I delight in it. Incline my heart to Your testimonies, And not to covetousness. Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way" (Ps 119:35-37).

print Print  |  send Send to a friend  |  bookmark Bookmark  |   |   |  back Back