As I told you in my last blog, we have been studying spirituality around the world. In our lecture, we spoke to a Coptic Christian from Egypt. ‘Coptic’ is the type of Egyptian writing that came after hieroglyphics, and became the language of Egypt, and therefore the language of the early Christians—people like Origen & Co. The chap we spoke to, spoke to us in English. Not much has been written in the past by Coptic Christians, and we were told that this is partly because it was a difficult place to be a Christian. He spoke about the ancient church in Alexandria, commenting that, “We produced more martyrs than books!”
He explained that the Coptic church is known as the church of the people, and it works with the poor people in Egypt. He said that Christ was found with the poor people, and that is where their focus is. Later, I asked him about all the money, and gilt and splendour, that I had seen in the Coptic churches in Cairo. How does that tally with their aim to work amongst the poor? He told me that it generally is the poor people who provide the money for the beautiful churches, that they want to contribute, to show how much they value God. He also said that in a country where they are the minority religion, it is very important to have a ‘presence’ and to be seen. It would be easy for the media to discount them, for governments to say there were no Coptic Christians—harder to do that when there is a stonking great temple in every city. This is something I hadn’t considered (it’s very easy to judge cultures before we understand them).
As a minority church in the country, their ‘outreach’ has to be different than in Western countries. They strive to do everything well, to live their lives authentically, and to work honestly. This is the way they hope to be noticed, and for people to be attracted to their church. (I think that in an Islamic country, you are not allowed to speak with Muslim people about your faith.) This tallies with what we saw in Cairo, where the Zabbaleen people (who are Coptic) collect the city’s rubbish, and are known for doing it better than anyone else.
When asked about people converting to Christianity, he said that they would only want people to do that who are sure they want to follow Jesus, not because they have been ’persuaded’ into it—because converting from Islam means risking so much.
He showed us his ‘Book of Hours,’ which is a tiny book of Psalms. They read it at regular intervals throughout the day—like when they wake, at mealtimes, when they go to bed. I thought that was a good practice to copy, it’s hard sometimes to even think about God during the day, even, ironically, when studying for an MA in Theology. My Muslim friends are currently fasting during daylight hours for Ramadan, and I admire their determination and wonder whether we have grown too ‘soft’ in our Christian churches. Sometimes a routine/discipline is a good thing. He also spoke about the monastic tradition. He likened this to the Bible story where Moses is praying while Joshua fights a battle. He said the monks are the ones praying, and studying Scripture, aiding the Christians who are outside the monastery. Most people go to the monastery for retreats, when they join the quiet contemplation for a while and learn from the monks (and share with them what is happening in the world). It’s different, but I can see how it would work.
As I said on Monday, we only had one seminar about global Christianity, but even the little we covered challenged some of my preconceived ideas. Churches in different countries need to find the best way to do things within the culture they live in. Often, this will be very different to how we do things in the West.
Thanks for reading. I hope you have a good week.
Love, Anne x