Sep 27, 2008

Dr. Isaac Fanous and the Renaissance of the Coptic Iconography

Isaac Fanous"I paint with my heart. I know that God himself is in me. The icon is a window on the sky"
says Isaac Fanous Egypt's exceptional icon painter whose apprentices -- some of them talented artists in their own right -- work alongside their master, adhere to his standards, and are guided by his wisdom. Fanous is more than a talented icon painter; he is a theologian.

We were in his atelier in the Church of Saint Mark complex in Cairo, and as the master bent to correct a line on an icon being painted by one of his apprentices, to alter the fold of a robe on another, he revealed his deep and profound religiosity.

"An icon in a church signifies the spiritual presence of Christ, the saints and events in their lives," he says. "It is a faithful representation of the Holy Scripture or a biography of a saint. Nothing may be added by way of intervention. An icon painter is not just an artist, but a person who has a deep understanding of church dogma. Christianity holds the human figure as the focus of its visual expression. This is mainly due to its belief in the incarnation of the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity, as expressed in the first lines of St John's Gospel: 'and the Word was made flesh'," he adds.

Early life and teaching
Fanous, who resurrected the sacred art of the Copts in the 20th century, was born in Cairo in 1919. As a dynamic and ambitious young man, he entered in the faculty of the applied arts at Cairo University in 1937 and showed an aptitude in a variety of mediums -- painting, sculpture, mosaics and frescoes.

Every artist's life story is closely wrapped up in the period in which he or she lives, and cannot help but absorb some, at least, of the chief values of the time. Fanous is no exception. He started his career in the free market of the monarchy as a secular, not a religious painter, studying in the Higher School of Applied Art in Cairo between 1938 and 1942. His talent was recognised early, and he pursued his studies in the department of arts at the Institute of Education, graduating in 1946.

Political changes
Fanous's contemporary school of iconography came about as part of a general renaissance of Coptic culture which began during the patriarchate of Abba Kyrillos VI in the years following the 1952 revolution. As wealthy patrons of the arts disappeared from Egypt's hitherto cosmopolitan art world they were replaced by the state, and the career of Fanous took off from the struggles and experiences of his time. That is to say, he became more keenly aware of his Egyptian heritage.

Modern Coptic iconography
He noted that in ancient Egyptian art, depictions of important people were always accompanied by their names, and this continued with Coptic icons where these were sometimes in Coptic, sometimes in Arabic, and at other times in both languages. The main figure was also invariably shown larger than the others, whether in Pharaonic paintings and reliefs or in Coptic art. "When I was still a student studying the artefacts in the Egyptian Museum and the Coptic Museum, I recognized strong elements of continuity in Egyptian culture," Fanous said, noting especially that the techniques employed in the painting of icons on wooden panels had changed little over the millennia. These included encaustic on gesso -- which is to say molten beeswax made into an emulsion soluble in water -- developed to a high standard during the early Roman period; this is clear in the beautiful Fayoum portraits, the immediate predecessors of the Christian icon.

Fanous was one of the first students of the Institute of Coptic Studies founded in 1954 and he obtained his doctorate in 1958 . His two-year study grant in the Louvre in the mid- 1960s was a turning point in his career. He took the opportunity, while in France, to study icon painting under Léonid Ouspensky, under whose patronage he developed a passion both as artist and theologian. This would lead, eventually, to his developing a style that was become the new face of Coptic iconography in the mid-20th century.

He was already alert to a sense of continuity between ancient and modern, but a new window of discovery was opened to Fanous in Paris in the guise of this Russian artist who established himself in France following the revolution in his country and who taught icon painting at Saint-Serge Institute. There is little doubt that Fanous was inspired and challenged by him. In Ouspensky, he found a brilliant artist who directed his work to a thorough reading of the mystery of the icon; one who raised such questions as: Can religious art allow certain representations of God and the Holy Trinity? Would be it dangerous to the faithful?

Fanous posed no such questions. He saw the portrayal of religious figures is part of an ancient Egyptian tradition, and representations of Holy figures as aids to religious understanding. "Icons stand on the threshold between the material and spiritual realms," he says, stressing that the simplicity and the contour of a Coptic icon were reminiscent of hieratic Pharaonic art. "I am convinced of a direct link between ancient Egyptian and Coptic art," he says. "We live in eternity and we have to dig into our heritage."

Fanous's words echo those of Ouspensky who claimed, in one of his many publications, that the Christian image constituted a true confession of the Christian faith. "The orthodox icon opens an immense vision to us which embraces the past and the future in one constant present," he wrote.

An inspired Fanous returned to Egypt and undertook to train a new generation of Coptic iconographers, not only in the techniques of icon painting but also theology. While directing his efforts to a thorough reading of the mystery of the icon, he was anxious to share his zeal, create a standard from which to work, and encourage an appreciation of Coptic art. He founded his atelier in the church complex of Saint Mark at Abbasiyah. "Man, who is the creator of divine art, is designed like a column," he says. "The cranium is not round, but oval, and the nimbus of a saintly person, the aureole, constitutes the width of the silhouette. The faces of martyrs and saints express an inner harmony."

Fanous is a modest man, friendly by nature, and a master of preparation, design, gilding and painting. The miracle of his brush strokes and his illumination through color and light are trademarks of his expertise. His is an exceptional union between Pharaonic, early Christian, Byzantine and 18th and 19th-century Coptic imagery. He encourages his apprentices to trace the line of the orbits, place the eyes in position, then the nose and the mouth along these parameters. "Christ and the saints are always represented full face. The profile is reserved for the malicious ones, the soldiers who whip Jesus, and Judas," he adds. "The cross... once a symbol of shame, has become the sign of glory".

Fanous points out that the large dark eyes of the saints are a hallmark of early Coptic art, and notes the progress his apprentices are making in their work. "They stare from beyond the onlooker and reflect poignant sadness, even aloofness. The icons are without human emotions. Each gesture has a precise significance," he says. "Designs should be free of unnecessary elements and decorations. The idea is to present the viewer with the essential information to understand and experience the icon. Colors also carry symbolic meaning."

Turning Point
In 1971 came a second turning point in the career of Fanous. His great fresco in the Cathedral of Saint Mark in Cairo, depicting the martyrdom of the saint, was unveiled. It is a masterly creation. His work, which reflects modern cubist and impressionistic trends, are easily recognizable because he has established basic proportions on which each is based.

The following year Fanous was made a member of the Institute of Coptic Studies in Cairo, and there began a period of remarkable production. He and his apprentices painted the major frescoes which adorn the church of St George at Heliopolis, the mosaics of the crypt of St Mark, and the stained glass windows for the church St Mina. His works adorn the St Bishoï Monastery in the Western desert and the church of Saint Mary in Garden City, and they can be seen in Coptic churches abroad -- in London, in Coptic communities in America (especially in Los Angeles), in Canada, and in the Vatican in Rome.

The holy figures portrayed in the icons of Fanous, like the ancient pharaoh as a god, are without personality, emotion, or character. They are divorced from human sentiment and passion. The face of Jesus Christ in varied icons of the passion, whether depicted fallen to his knees beneath of the Cross, struggling to mount a hill beneath its weight, or nailed to it, is devoid of pain. Unlike the classical paintings in which Jesus Christ is depicted as Man, suffering as a man, Christ in Coptic art is more frequently depicted triumphant -- reborn, benevolent and righteous.

This is, of course, what the Coptic faithful, whether in Egypt or abroad, wish to see. When they observe icons of the passion of Jesus, they are reminded that His suffering was so that they should be redeemed, but not to feel the pain themselves. Fanous brings them in touch with their deep-rooted faith and their heritage.

Now in his 86th year, Fanous is assured that his legacy will endure. Thanks to his art, simple icon and majestic wall painting alike, Copts feels safe, free from the woes of the world and at peace within the confines of a Coptic Church. They light candles or pray before the icon of a protective saint or the portrayal of a biblical event which is painted in a rigidity of style that is familiar to them.

Fanous's adoring apprentices who strictly adhere to a canon of proportion, and an artistic vocabulary he laid down, uphold the cultural and spiritual Coptic heritage that he set in motion. Nevertheless, in adhering to the stylised and unchanging tradition of the master one cannot help but wonder to what extent Fanous's apprentices -- who include such talented artists as Dalia Sobhi, Armeya Naguib, Aymen Adib and Raif Ramzi -- have become slaves to his image. They, of course, deny this. "We are encouraged to read the bible, chose any passage to portray individuals or subjects that are not in the popular repertoire of Coptic art, even saints, martyrs and holy people more widely known in the West and the Levant than in Egypt," apprentice Emad Bibawi, who chose Rebecca and as subject matter, says. "We are encouraged to innovate."

"I can give the shape and the technique, but with no essence an icon is without spirit" Isaac Fanous (1919-2007) adds.

Isaac Fanous

Coptic Icons , The New Beginning

Contemporary Coptic Icons
An Icon may be an image of our Lord Jesus Christ, or of the Saints, or a representation of events from Scripture. It is not merely a picture or a drawing but a spiritual and dogmatic expression. Thus, an Icon is written and not painted. The Icons in the Church or at home signify the spiritual presence of Christ, the Saints and events of their lives.

An Icon is a faithful representation of the Holy Scripture or a biography of a Saint; therefore, nothing may be added by the way of intervention. The inner life of the Church must be expressed as a doorway or window so that Heaven on Earth is realized. Thus, Icons are always serene and peaceful.

The Iconographer
Because the icon is an ecclesiastical medium, the icon-writer like other ecclesiastical writers, must be an active member of the Church, live a spiritual life and be theologically knowledgeable.

The Iconographer is not just an artist, but a person who has a deep understanding of the Church dogmas and the life of the Saints. The spirituality of the Iconographer is an essential element in his ability to translate and express the spiritual depth of the Icon.

Written, Not Painted ...
Just as letters are combined to form words that work together to express ideas and information in the making of a book, so do lines and colors combine to form images, gestures and symbols that convey theological concepts and spiritual meaning in the making of an icon. For this reason, it is traditional to say that an icon is "written", not painted. Then, one need to understand the language in which an author is writing.

An icon must have theological content and be able to convey it to the worshipper simply and clearly, for no other purpose than to lead the observer to a deeper understanding of the Church’s teaching.

General Rules for Writing Icons:
  • The Savior and the saints must always be depicted facing the worshipper frontally and look directly to him.
  • In Orthodox iconography, the halo is an expression of light radiating from within the saint, as a sign of the holiness he attained by his spiritual striving, supported by the grace of God. This differs from the haloes depicted in western images, which often appear as flying discs descending from heaven. Thus, Orthodox icons emphasize that the saint is an active participant in his sanctification, rather than a passive receptacle.
  • Contrary to common practice in painting, the iconographer, starts by applying the dark colors first and then continues applying more and more light into the icon. In this manner, he follows the same order of "enlightenment" which proceeds upon our fallen nature, which is in darkness until the light of Christ shines upon it and saves it, such that the words of Christ would be true when He said of His Saints "You are the light of the world" (Mt. 5:14).
  • Because the saint has already completed his struggle and has attained victory, he must be depicted as victorious and joyful, never as weak or full of pain.
  • Because the saint is now in the state of glorification, the background behind him must be gilded (covered with gold), as gold symbolizes heavenly glory. Icons depict saints in their glorified state for a two-fold reason: to honor the saint who is portrayed, and also to encourage us, who are struggling, to emulate their lives. When we see the Divine comfort given to the children of God, we are thereby heartened to persevere in our own struggles for the Lord.
Specific Symbolism
The art of making Orthodox icons follows specific symbolism which carries meaningful messages. Some of these characteristics are, for example: firstly, large and wide eyes, symbolizing the spiritual eye that looks beyond the material world, for the Bible says, "the light of the body is the eye " (Matthew 6:22); secondly, large ears, which listen to the word of God, for the Bible says, `If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:23); and thirdly, gentle lips to glorify and praise the Lord, for the Bible says, `My mouth shall praise You with joyful lips" (Psalm 63:5).

The eyes and ears on a figure in an icon are disproportionately large because a spiritual person spends much time listening to God's word and seeking to do God's will. On the other hand, the mouth, which can also often be the source of empty or harmful words, is small. The nose, which is seen as sensual, is also small. When an evil character is portrayed in an icon, it is always in profile, as it is not desirable to make eye contact with such a person and thus to dwell or meditate upon them. Figures in Coptic icons often have large heads, meaning that they are individuals devoted to contemplation and prayer.

The New Beginning
Dr. Isaac Fanous professor of Coptic art at the Higher Institute for Coptic Studies in Cairo is the founder of the contemporary school of Iconography.

Writing an Icon
These Images illustrate the steps taken to write an Icon. You will see how Dr. Isaac Fanous starts writing an Icon by using vertical and horizontal straight lines so that you can see and feel a symmetrical and eye relieving image... The following Icons had been photographed during their writing:

Check the album i posted on picasa web albums Including 40 Beautiful Coptic Icons, most of it are written by Dr. Isaac Fanous

Coptic Art
Coptic Christian Paintings
Coptic Icons & How They Are Written
Dr. Isaac Fanous and the Renaissance of the Coptic Iconography

Sep 24, 2008

Album Of St.Mina Monastery and The new Cathedral

St.Mina Monastery
This an album i posted on Picasa Web Albums about St.Mina Monastery and the new Cathedral at Mariout in Alexandria, which is Magnificent Artwork, accommodates 3000 persons, has seven altars and its towers are 45 meters in height.

The Late pope St. Kyrillos VI had laid the foundation stone of the new cathedral in 27 Nov. 1959 at the feast of St.Mina

pope St. Kyrillos VI had laid the foundation stone of the new cathedral in 27 Nov. 1959

and in 9/10 Jan 2005 the Coptic church celebrated the Inauguration of the Monastery's Cathedral of St. Mina, the Great Martyr, by the hand of H.H. Pope Shenouda III

Check the album to see how great it looks

Useful links
The official website of St. Mina Monastery in Maruit
Saint Menas
Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria
Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria

My Great Coptic Church

The word Copt is derived from the Greek word Aigyptos, which was, in turn, derived from "Hikaptah", one of the names for Memphis, the first capital of Ancient Egypt. The modern use of the term "Coptic" describes Egyptian Christians, as well as the last stage of the ancient Egyptian language script. Also, it describes the distinctive art and architecture that developed as an early expression of the new faith.

The Coptic Church is based on the teachings of Saint Mark who brought Christianity to Egypt during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero in the first century, a dozen of years after the Lord's ascension. He was one of the four evangelists and the one who wrote the oldest canonical gospel. Christianity spread throughout Egypt within half a century of Saint Mark's arrival in Alexandria as is clear from the New Testament writings found in Bahnasa, in Middle Egypt, which date around the year 200 A.D., and a fragment of the Gospel of Saint John, written using the Coptic language, which was found in Upper Egypt and can be dated to the first half of the second century. The Coptic Church, which is now more than nineteen centuries old, was the subject of many prophecies in the Old Testament. Isaiah the prophet, in Chapter 19, Verse 19 says "In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border."

Although fully integrated into the body of the modern Egyptian nation, the Copts have survived as a strong religious entity who pride themselves on their contribution to the Christian world. The Coptic church regards itself as a strong defendant of Christian faith. The Nicene Creed, which is recited in all churches throughout the world, has been authored by one of its favorite sons, Saint Athanasius, the Pope of Alexandria for 46 years, from 327 A.D. to 373 A.D. This status is well deserved, after all, Egypt was the refuge that the Holy Family sought in its flight from Judea: "When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son" [Mathew 2:12-23].

The contributions of the Coptic Church to Christendom are many. From the beginning, it played a central role in Christian theology---and especially to protect it from the Gnostics heresies. The Coptic Church produced thousands of texts, biblical and theological studies which are important resources for archeology. The Holy Bible was translated to the Coptic language in the second century. Hundreds of scribes used to write copies of the Bible and other liturgical and theological books. Now libraries, museums and universities throughout the world possess hundreds and thousands of Coptic manuscripts.

The Catechetical School of Alexandria is the oldest Catechetical School in the world. Soon after its inception around 190 A.D. by the Christian scholar Pantanaeus, the school of Alexandria became the most important institution of religious learning in Christendom. Many prominent bishops from many areas of the world were instructed in that school under scholars such as Athenagoras, Clement, Didymus, and the great Origen, who was considered the father of theology and who was also active in the field of commentary and comparative Biblical studies. Origen wrote over 6,000 commentaries of the Bible in addition to his famous Hexapla. Many scholars such as Saint Jerome visited the school of Alexandria to exchange ideas and to communicate directly with its scholars. The scope of the school of Alexandria was not limited to theological subjects, because science, mathematics and the humanities were also taught there: The question and answer method of commentary began there, and 15 centuries before Braille, wood-carving techniques were in use there by blind scholars to read and write. The Theological college of the Catechetical School of Alexandria was re-established in 1893. Today, it has campuses in Alexandria, Cairo, New Jersey, and Los Angeles, where priests-to-be and other qualified men and women are taught among other subjects Christian theology, history, Coptic language and art---including chanting, music, iconography, tapestry etc.

Monasticism was born in Egypt and was instrumental in the formation of the Coptic Church's character of submission and humbleness, thanks to the teachings and writings of the Great Fathers of Egypt's Deserts. Monasticism started in the last years of the third century and flourished in the fourth century. Saint Anthony, the world's first Christian monk was a Copt from Upper Egypt. Saint Pachom, who established the rules of monasticism, was a Copt. And, Saint Paul, the world's first anchorite is also a Copt. Other famous Coptic desert fathers include Saint Makarios, Saint Moses the Black, and Saint Mina the wondrous. The more contemporary desert fathers include the late Pope Cyril VI and his disciple Bishop Mina Abba Mina. By the end of the fourth century, there were hundreds of monasteries, and thousands of cells and caves scattered throughout the Egyptian hills. Many of these monasteries are still flourishing and have new vocations till this day. All Christian monasticism stems, either directly or indirectly, from the Egyptian example: Saint Basil, organiser of the monastic movement in Asia minor visited Egypt around 357 A.D. and his rule is followed by the eastern Churches; Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, came to Egypt around 400 A.D. and left details of his experiences in his letters; Saint Benedict founded monasteries in the sixth century on the model of Saint Pachom, but in a stricter form. And countless pilgrims visited the "Desert Fathers" and emulated their spiritual, disciplined lives. There is even evidence that Copts had missionaries to Nothern Europe. One example is Saint Moritz of the Theban Legion who was drafted from Egypt to serve under the Roman flag and ended up teaching Christianity to inhabitants of the Swiss Alps, where a small town and a Monastery that contains his relics as well as some of his books and belongings are named after him. Another saint from the Theban Legion is Saint Victor, known among Copts as "Boktor".

Under the authority of the Eastern Roman Empire of Constantinople (as opposed to the western empire of Rome), the Patriarchs and Popes of Alexandria played leading roles in Christian theology. They were invited everywhere to speak about the Christian faith. Saint Cyril, Pope of Alexandria, was the head of the Ecumenical Council which was held in Ephesus in the year 430 A.D. It was said that the bishops of the Church of Alexandria did nothing but spend all their time in meetings. This leading role, however, did not fare well when politics started to intermingle with Church affairs. It all started when the Emperor Marcianus interfered with matters of faith in the Church. The response of Saint Dioscorus, the Pope of Alexandria who was later exiled, to this interference was clear: "You have nothing to do with the Church." These political motives became even more apparent in Chalcedon in 451, when the Coptic Church was unfairly accused of following the teachings of Eutyches, who believed in monophysitism. This doctrine maintains that the Lord Jesus Christ has only one nature, the divine, not two natures, the human as well as the divine.

The Coptic Church has never believed in monophysitism the way it was portrayed in the Council of Chalcedon! In that Council, monophysitism meant believing in one nature. Copts believe that the Lord is perfect in His divinity, and He is perfect in His humanity, but His divinity and His humanity were united in one nature called "the nature of the incarnate word", which was reiterated by Saint Cyril of Alexandria. Copts, thus, believe in two natures "human" and "divine" that are united in one "without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration" (from the declaration of faith at the end of the Coptic divine liturgy). These two natures "did not separate for a moment or the twinkling of an eye" (also from the declaration of faith at the end of the Coptic divine liturgy).

The Coptic Church was misunderstood in the 5th century at the Council of Chalcedon. Perhaps the Council understood the Church correctly, but they wanted to exile the Church, to isolate it and to abolish the Egyptian, independent Pope, who maintained that Church and State should be separate. Despite all of this, the Coptic Church has remained very strict and steadfast in its faith. Whether it was a conspiracy from the Western Churches to exile the Coptic Church as a punishment for its refusal to be politically influenced, or whether Pope Dioscurus didn't quite go the extra mile to make the point that Copts are not monophysite, the Coptic Church has always felt a mandate to reconcile "semantic" differences between all Christian Churches. This is aptly expressed by the current 117th successor of Saint Mark, Pope Shenouda III: "To the Coptic Church, faith is more important than anything, and others must know that semantics and terminology are of little importance to us." Throughout this century, the Coptic Church has played an important role in the ecumenical movement. The Coptic Church is one of the founders of the World Council of Churches. It has remained a member of that council since 1948 A.D. The Coptic Church is a member of the all African Council of Churches (AACC) and the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). The Church plays an important role in the Christian movement by conducting dialogues aiming at resolving the theological differences with the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterian, and Evangelical Churches.

Perhaps the greatest glory of the Coptic Church is its Cross. Copts take pride in the persecution they have sustained as early as May 8, 68 A.D., when their Patron Saint Mark was slain on Easter Monday after being dragged from his feet by Roman soldiers all over Alexandria's streets and alleys. The Copts have been persecuted by almost every ruler of Egypt. Their Clergymen have been tortured and exiled even by their Christian brothers after the schism of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. and until the Arab's conquest of Egypt in 641 A.D. To emphasize their pride in their cross, Copts adopted a calendar, called the Calendar of the Martyrs, which begins its era on August 29, 284 A.D., in commemoration of those who died for their faith during the rule of Diocletian the Roman Emperor. This calendar is still in use all over Egypt by farmers to keep track of the various agricultural seasons and in the Coptic Church Lectionary.

For the four centuries that followed the Arab's conquest of Egypt, the Coptic Church generally flourished and Egypt remained basically Christian. This is due to a large extent to the fortunate position that the Copts enjoyed, for the Prophet of Islam, who had an Egyptian wife (the only one of his wives to bear a child), preached especial kindness towards Copts: "When you conquer Egypt, be kind to the Copts for they are your protégés and kith and kin". Copts, thus, were allowed to freely practice their religion and were to a large degree autonomous, provided they continued to pay a special tax, called "Gezya", that qualifies them as "Ahl Zemma" protégés (protected). Individuals who cannot afford to pay this tax were faced with the choice of either converting to Islam or losing their civil right to be "protected", which in some instances meant being killed. Copts, despite additional sumptuary laws that were imposed on them in 750-868 A.D. and 905-935 A.D. under the Abbasid Dynasties, prospered and their Church enjoyed one of its most peaceful era. Surviving literature from monastic centers, dating back from the 8th to the 11th century, shows no drastic break in the activities of Coptic craftsmen, such as weavers, leather-binders, painters, and wood-workers. Throughout that period, the Coptic language remained the language of the land, and it was not until the second half of the 11th century that the first bi-lingual Coptic-Arabic liturgical manuscripts started to appear. One of the first complete Arabic texts is the 13th century text by Awlaad El-Assal (children of the Honey Maker), in which the laws, cultural norms and traditions of the Copts at this pivotal time, 500 years after the Islamic conquest of Egypt were detailed. The adoption of the Arabic language as the language used in Egyptians' every-day's life was so slow that even in the 15th century al-Makrizi implied that the Coptic Language was still largely in use. Up to this day, the Coptic Language continues to be the liturgical language of the Church.

The Christian face of Egypt started to change by the beginning of the second millennium A.D., when Copts, in addition to the "Gezya" tax, suffered from specific disabilities, some of which were serious and interfered with their freedom of worship. For example, there were restrictions on repairing old Churches and building new ones, on testifying in court, on public behavior, on adoption, on inheritance, on public religious activities, and on dress codes. Slowly but steadily, by the end of the 12th century, the face of Egypt changed from a predominantly Christian to a predominantly Muslim country and the Coptic community occupied an inferior position and lived in some expectation of Muslim hostility, which periodically flared into violence. It is remarkable that the well-being of Copts was more or less related to the well-being of their rulers. In particular, the Copts suffered most in those periods when Arab dynasties were at their low.

The position of the Copts began to improve early in the 19th century under the stability and tolerance of Muhammad Ali's dynasty. The Coptic community ceased to be regarded by the state as an administrative unit and, by 1855 A.D., the main mark of Copts' inferiority, the "Gezya" tax was lifted, and shortly thereafter Copts started to serve in the Egyptian army. The 1919 A.D. revolution in Egypt, the first grassroots display of Egyptian identity in centuries, stands as a witness to the homogeneity of Egypt's modern society with both its Muslim and Coptic sects. Today, this homogeneity is what keeps the Egyptian society united against the religious intolerance of extremist groups, who occasionally subject the Copts to persecution and terror. Modern day martyrs, like Father Marcos Khalil, serve as reminders of the miracle of Coptic survival.

Despite persecution, the Coptic Church as a religious institution has never been controlled or allowed itself to control the governments in Egypt. This long-held position of the Church concerning the separation between State and Religion stems from the words of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, when he asked his followers to submit to their rulers: "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." [Mathew 22:21]. The Coptic Church has never forcefully resisted authorities or invaders and was never allied with any powers, for the words of the Lord Jesus Christ are clear: "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Mathew 26:52). The miraculous survival of the Coptic Church till this day and age is a living proof of the validity and wisdom of these teachings.

Today [as of the writing of this document in 1992 A.D.], there are over 9 million Copts (out of a population of some 57 million Egyptians) who pray and share communion in daily masses in thousands of Coptic Churches in Egypt. This is in addition to another 1.2 million emigrant Copts who practice their faith in hundreds of churches in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Holland, Brazil, and many other countries in Africa and Asia. Inside Egypt Copts live in every province and in no one of these provinces are they a majority. Their cultural, historical, and spiritual treasures are spread all over Egypt, even in its most remote oasis, the Kharga Oasis, deep in the western desert. As individuals, Copts have reached prestigious academic and professional stature all over the world. One such individual is Dr. Boutros Boutros Ghali the Sixth United Nations Secretary-General (1992-1997). Another is Dr. Magdy Yacoub one of the world's most famous heart surgeons.

Copts observe seven canonical sacraments: Baptism, Christmation (Confirmation), Eucharist, Confession (Penance), Orders, Matrimony, and Unction of the sick. Baptism is performed few weeks after birth by immersing the whole body of the newborn into especially consecrated water three times. Confirmation is performed immediately after Baptism. Regular confession with a personal priest, called the father of confession, is necessary to receive the Eucharist. It is customary for a whole family to pick the same priest as a father of confession, thus, making of that priest a family counselor. Of all seven sacraments, only Matrimony cannot be performed during a fasting season. Polygamy is illegal, even if recognized by the civil law of the land. Divorce is not allowed except in the case of adultery, annulment due to bigamy, or other extreme circumstances, which must be reviewed by a special council of Bishops. Divorce can be requested by either husband or wife. Civil divorce is not recognized by the Church. The Coptic Orthodox Church does not have and does not mind any civil law of the land as long as it does not interfere with the Church's sacraments. The Church does not have (and actually refuses to canonize) an official position vis-à-vis some controversial issues (e.g. abortion). While the church has clear teachings about such matters (e.g. abortion interferes with God's will), it is the position of the Church that such matters are better resolved on a case-by-case basis by the father of confession, as opposed to having a blanket canon that makes a sin of such practices.

There are three main Liturgies in the Coptic Church: The Liturgy according to Saint Basil, Bishop of Caesarea; The Liturgy according to Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople; and The Liturgy according to Saint Cyril I, the 24th Pope of the Coptic Church. The bulk of Saint Cyril's Liturgy is from the one that Saint Mark used (in Greek) in the first century. It was memorized by the Bishops and priests of the church till it was translated into the Coptic Language by Saint Cyril. Today, these three Liturgies, with some added sections (e.g. the intercessions), are still in use; the Liturgy of Saint Basil is the one most commonly used in the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The worship of Saints is expressly forbidden by the Church; however, asking for their intercessions (e.g. Marian Praise) is central in any Coptic service. Any Coptic Church is named after a Patron Saint. Among all Saints, the Virgin Saint Mary (Theotokos) occupies a special place in the heart of all Copts. Her repeated daily appearances in a small Church in Elzaytoun district of Cairo for over a month in April of 1968 was witnessed by thousands of Egyptians, both Copts and Muslims and was even broadcast on International TV. Copts celebrate seven major Holy feasts and seven minor Holy feasts. The major feasts commemorate Annunciation, Christmas, Theophany, Palm Sunday, Easter, Ascension, and the Pentecost. Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. The Coptic Church emphasizes the Resurrection of Christ (Easter) as much as His Advent (Christmas), if not more. Easter is usually on the second Sunday after the first full moon in Spring. The Coptic Calendar of Martyrs is full of other feasts usually commemorating the martyrdom of popular Saints (e.g. Saint Mark, Saint Mina, Saint George, Saint Barbara) from Coptic History.

The Copts have seasons of fasting matched by no other Christian community. Out of the 365 days of the year, Copts fast for over 210 days. During fasting, no animal products (meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, butter, etc.) are allowed. Moreover, no food or drink whatsoever may be taken between sunrise and sunset. These strict fasting rules -- which have resulted in a very exquisite Coptic cuisine over the centuries -- are usually relaxed by priests on an individual basis to accommodate for illness or weakness. Lent, known as "the Great Fast", is largely observed by all Copts. It starts with a pre-Lent fast of one week, followed by a 40-day fast commemorating Christ's fasting on the mountain, followed by the Holy week, the most sacred week (called Pascha) of the Coptic Calendar, which climaxes with the Crucifix on Good Friday and ends with the joyous Easter. Other fasting seasons of the Coptic Church include, the Advent (Fast of the Nativity), the Fast of the Apostles, the Fast of the Virgin Saint Mary, and the Fast of Nineveh.

The Coptic Orthodox Church's clergy is headed by the Pope of Alexandria and includes Bishops who oversee the priests ordained in their dioceses. Both the Pope and the Bishops must be monks; they are all members of the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod (Council), which meets regularly to oversee matters of faith and pastoral care of the Church. The Pope of the Coptic Church, although highly regarded by all Copts, does not enjoy any state of supremacy or infallibility. Today, there are over 60 Coptic Bishops governing dioceses inside Egypt as well as dioceses outside Egypt, such as in Jerusalem, Sudan, Western Africa, France, England, and the United States. The direct pastoral responsibility of Coptic congregations in any of these dioceses falls on Priests, who must be married and must attend the Catechetical School before being ordained.

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