Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Coptic Orthodox Church - Culture Of The Week

St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church of Winnipeg
Coptic is the language of the Egyptian hieroglyphs.

This was the first of many interesting facts I learned during my 20 minute sit-down with Father Marcos Farag, the Parish Priest at Winnipeg's St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church. "Coptic means Egyptian, but nowadays specifically it is for the Christian parts of Egypt," said Father Marcos.

The artwork that lines the walls are as beautiful as the hieroglyphs themselves, with an unmistakably Egyptian character and beautifully rich colours, all including some shimmering gold accent. The building they have is massive, with many different rooms for services and prayers.

Fr. Marcos explained how the Coptic Church was founded by St. Mark himself in the first century, specifically around the year 60 A.D. Making the Coptic Orthodox Church one of the oldest Christian denominations that dates back to soon after the life of Jesus Christ. Other "sister-churches" include the Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox churches.

From my Canadian Roman Catholic perspective, I couldn't help but try to compare these African & Middle Eastern churches to those in Europe. According to Fr. Marcos the understanding of the dogma is the same, "but the formula sometimes is different." While I tried to dig for some of these differences, it became clear that Fr. Marcos would rather emphasize the fact that all Christians share the same central belief - "Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Salvation," said Fr. Marcos.

He then told me a bit about his life before the priesthood, when he was a biomedical engineer in Egypt before he found his calling. He proudly tells me about being married with two daughters, who are in architecture and dentistry. This family aspect is one interesting difference between Catholic and the Coptic Orthodox priesthood.

There are around 270 families who attend the St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church of Winnipeg, most of whom speak Arabic or English. The prayers are done in Coptic, while the rest of the service is either in English or Arabic, depending on your preference. Fr. Marcos cited Manitoba's nominee program as a big reason for the Coptic community's continued growth, saying many are pharmacists or physicians who are able to get their licenses in Manitoba. He also said that his family and others feel very welcome in Manitoba and are happy to call this province home.

Coptic Pope Tawadros II & Roman Catholic Pope Francis
Photo Credit: Reuters/Andreas Solaro
The Coptic Orthodox Church has been active in Canada for 50 years, which prompted a rare visit to Canada by the Coptic Pope Tawadros II who stayed in Winnipeg for one day. During his time here, he laid the cornerstone for the new church that is being built on the property of the St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church. Pope Tawadros II travelled to every Coptic Orthodox Church in Canada from September 3rd to September 29th, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Church in Canada.

Fr. Marcos tells me how in years past, many Coptic Christians fled Egypt to come to Canada for more safety and freedom, but he is also optimistic that Egypt is much better now and the Coptic community, which is %20 of the country, is very proud. Then he explained how the Coptic people are the native inhabitants of Egypt before a major influx of Arabs started in the seventh century. Prior to that demographic change, Egypt was nearly %100 Christian, which was news to me.

And so it went, Father Marcos Farag really expanded my understanding of early Christianity. He invited me to a big festival they host on the first of June, marking the visit of the 'Holy Family' to Egypt, referring to Jesus' early years when Mary & Joseph fled to Egypt to escape King Herod of Judea. 

I will have to take him up on that invitation and I'd urge you to check it out too. The Coptic Orthodox Church gives you a glimpse of Egypt as you may have never imagined. The rich history and beautiful artwork on display shows the visitor a view of Egypt that you won't get from the media. I am grateful to Fr. Marcos for this enlightening interview and I told him I'd try to make it down there for a service one Sunday soon. 

Let me know what you think! Leave a comment or message me on Twitter @D_A_Koroma. 

Father Marcos Farag, Parish Priest
Father Marcos describes the journey of the Holy Family
Coptic depiction of Saints Anthony & Paul

One of several chapels in the building, adorned with Coptic art.

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