FINDING THE SPIRIT IN THE COPTIC CHURCH

The Coptic Church; a summary of a talk by FATHER PETER FARRINGTON.

Peter explained that he was a Christian convert to an evangelical church when young, but began to look for something spiritually deeper. He found this eventually in the liturgy, community and tradition of the Coptic Church; the evangelical approach was too free, cerebral and over-reliant on individual thinking and action.

The Coptic Church is the Orthodox Church of Egypt. There are approximately 12 to 14 million members world-wide. Their origin is in Alexandria, founded by St Mark. Monasteries are at the centre of church life, being places where all members can go for spiritual refreshment, prayer and learning. One of the characteristics is humility; they do not seek to dominate others, but rather to share their faith with others.  From the early years, they were involved in controversy, due to opposition from Roman Imperial forces, but also involvement in theological debate, for example about the nature of Christ Jesus.  Church politics became difficult and sometimes harmful, partly due to the heirarchy using Greek, which most members did not understand.  Then from 600AD, they suffered persecution from Muslims.  This has continued to the present day, as recent events confirm.  It has kept the members of the Coptic Church united. The persecution is illegal in Egypt; nevertheless, it is cultural and part of corruption in high places, so that Muslims who misinterpret the Koran are able to attack the Christians, without effective police action.

Peter leads worship in small Coptic communities around England. They are influenced by their poor and persecuted origins in Egypt, have no imperial mindset and never seek to become part of the establishment in society. They find God through prayer, beauty, art, icons and community; the latter includes being at one with the saints and all who have gone before. Baptism is by full immersion, symbolising the loving power of God and people are confirmed in the faith by ‘Chrismation’. Only members are allowed communion, which is a sacrament for those who agree on faith and way of life. They use one loaf made big enough to provide for all who are attending, symbolising their unity. They do not subscribe to the doctrine of original sin and emphasise that God loves everyone, but each person can turn away from God. Their leader is called the Pope, meaning spiritual Father, but they do not take him to be infallible.  It is assumed that women will not become priests, but they can become deacons.                                (Nigel Jones, July’17)

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