A ‘somber’ time for Egypt’s Copts

From the Times (UK):


The first two months of the Coptic new year have been a somber time for Egypt’s ancient Christian community. The new year fell on the inauspicious date of September 11. And a spate of attacks on this large and downtrodden community by Islamist extremists or villagers giving a religious pretext to petty quarrels have provoked accusations of officially tolerated discrimination and heightened fears that Islamists will be emboldened to undercut the laws that promise religious freedom and legal equality in Egypt.

Clashes broke out in Kafr al-Barbaqri, a Nile delta town, in July after a shopkeeper stabbed a teenager to death in a dispute over an empty soda bottle. The Christian grocer had refused to give the Muslim boy a partial refund, and in the ensuing argument the grocer struck the boy with a knife, leading to his death. Dozens of Muslims went on the rampage, setting fire to the grocer’s house and the one next door, leading to 30 arrests.

A month earlier 18 people were wounded in fighting in a village south of Cairo after a Coptic priest celebrated Mass in his home. In August two Copts were arrested “for security reasons” after reporting to the police that they had been attacked by a mob.

The incidents usually stem from petty quarrels in villages where prejudice against Copts has been growing as the influence of Islamist extremists has eaten away at former tolerance of this religious minority. Copts complain that the State frequently fails to protect their rights, and that some officials actively connive in discriminatory measures against them.

A wave of anti-Coptic feeling prompted the recent mass slaughter of pigs in Egypt, officially sanctioned to stop the spread of swine flu. Many Copts work as rubbish collectors in the big cities, and pigs are used to feed on discarded food and remains. The move appeared to be directed at the Copts while reinforcing the Muslim view of pigs as unclean.

Read Copts between the rock of Islamism and a hard place on the Times site.


  1. The plight of the Copts has always bothered me. Alexandria was the intellectual bedrock of early Christianity. Looking back at history, sometimes one wonders how things would have been different if Chalcedon would not have been convened and the theologoumena would not have been dogmatized. Would things have been different with the Arab invasions? Who knows. Less blood by the Byzantine’s certainly would have been shed. And, if today we were still united, would their plight be less than now? Whatever. However, there is a lesson here and that is that sometimes it is better not to call councils to “resolve” things. To paraphrase St. Justin, they often lead to (or end up creating) “heresies”. The law of unintended consequences is often the law of our existence.

    • If it were not for the theological divisions, there might have been
      greater resistance to the Arabs. The Muslims have always been shrewd
      enough to exploit divisions among the Christians and so they seized
      on Coptic grievances with Byzantium to exploit them.

      The Muslim world today in general is united in matters that concern their
      brethren. It is a profound shame that Christians today have no united
      front in rallying behind Christian communities that continue to suffer
      such as the Copts.


      • The Muslim world is not united and there has been as much internecine blood shed as there has been from attacks on Christians. Islam is not a monolithic faith, but has very significant theological divisions – even beyond the divisions of Sunni and Shia.

        Unfortunately the world has moved on from when it might have been more effective for Christians to have exploited the division among Muslims. However, I think Christians should be more educated about Islam, so as to know where to build bridges and isolate extremely anti-Christian and anti-Western factions.

        I agree with you, Theodoros, that without a united front, Christians are much less effective in aiding those who are persecuted throughout the world.

        • When it comes to perceived (real or imagined)slights of Muslims
          anywhere in the world, there is in fact real political unity of
          Muslims. This can be seen by universal Muslim sympathies in a
          variety of Christian-Muslim conflicts as well as on the Arab-
          Israeli conflict.

          Religious and political divisions in Islam unquestionably exist,
          but when Muslims are perceived to be slighted or wronged, there
          is in fact unity. A case in point is in the wars in the Balkans
          where the Muslim world was overwhelmingly supportive of the Muslims
          in Bosnia and Kosovo.

          Contrast that with the indifference of the Christian world to
          suffering Christian communities like the Copts in Egypt or the
          Christians in Sudan.


  2. Theodoros: The general resistance was nonexistent. It was as if the Egyptians said that the Arab yoke was better than the Byzantine yolk. The point I wanted to make was that in the first three centuries there were a lot of differences of opinion and heresies that emerged. But no councils were held and the heresies died out in natural deaths because of great theologians such as Irenaeus et al. . In today’s context it may not be wise to rush to a Great and Holy Council. The result may well be unintended.

    • The twentieth century two led to schism as can be seen by the
      unfortunate consequences of the 1923 Council in Constantinople to
      make revisions such as the Calendar.

      Ultimately though, Christ is the head of the Church and will make
      things right. The Fourth Ecumenical Council like the other Councils
      was a theological necessity to root out heresy.

      As with Arianiam and Nestorianism, the Fathers of the time decided
      a Council was necessary to define Orthodoxy.

      Yes, there is a danger today of holding a Council. But there is also
      a danger that without a Council major issues such as the American
      Church will remain unaddressed. Above the Patriarchs and Bishops is

      I am of the opinion that it would be better if our Patriarchs decided
      simply to reverse the outcome of the 1923 Council, recognize the
      failure of the Ecumenical Movement, and give their blessing to the
      formation of an American Orthodox Church as was done with their own
      Churches in history.

      In any case, all the Seven Ecumenical Councils were controversial at
      the time and unfortunately there were the heretic factions who sadly
      removed themselves from the Church.

      Let us trust in Christ for the well being of his Church and for him
      to guide all the Patriarchs and Bishops toward unity.


    • Nick,

      I’ve always believed that the Orthodox Church has pursued two grand strategies during it’s 1800 year history, one of which was successful, the other disastrous.

      The first, which might be called the colonial model, is what led to the loss of the entire Middle East. Orthodox Christianity became “the imperial church”, associated with the occupying Byzantine forces and separated from the local population in both beliefs and language. One can read accounts of the Arab invasion of Egypt to find that in many cases, the gates of the cities were thrown wide open to the Muslims, who, it was speculated, could hardly be worse than the Byzantines. The result was the loss of the entire Middle East. Interestingly, this same policy was renewed during the late Ottoman period, during which the ecumenical patriarchate essentially re-occupied all of the Balkan Sees, as well as those of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria. The result was a dramatic anti-Greek backlash in the Balkans, so great that the Serbs and Bulgarians would not support the Greek War of Independence. The model continues in use to this day by the EP policies in North America.

      The second model, which could be called the local model, was the policy initiated by Sts. Cyril and Methodios (under guidance from St. Photios) and which resulted in the evangelisation of all of the Slavic nations. In this model, Orthodox Christianity acclimated to the local culture, and resulted in local churches in short order. Interestingly, this same model continues to be pursued by the Moscow Patriarchate, as evidenced by the Alaskan mission and the autocephaly of the OCA.

      One model works…the other leads to disaster.

      Just my personal theory.

      Best Regards,

  3. George Michalopulos

    Dean, you’re absolutely right. On the other note, I hope and pray that no “great and holy council” is convened. I see nothing but heresy and apostasy coming out of it, leading of course to schism.

    For those who think that the inability of the various Christian confessions not sharing a common Cup is real scandal (and I do), let us instead concentrate on reuniting in a moral witness first. After all, the GOA and ROCOR/OCA/etc. share the Chalice but as evidenced by the EP himself, there is precious little commonality on the sanctity of life. In other words, let’s clean up our own act first, then we can go to other resolute Christians.

  4. Dean: I agree with you. What you said is not a theory but historic reality. Let me correct one thing that Theodoros said. The Fathers called no councils. The emperors did. Except for the Seventh, there was little consensus amongst the Fathers and often open opposition which was stifled on orders of the Emperor to attend. I am not suggesting that the local churches could have different theologies but that sometimes a rush to council has led to schism. Having studied the monophysite controversy ad nauseum, given time and more reflection by the theologians, it could have been resolved. It has proved to be a tragic situation in hindsight.

    • Your point is taken that the Emperors called the Councils. But the
      difference between the heresies in the early Church and those that
      came in the post Constantinian era is the status of the Church.

      During the time of the earlier heresies, the Church was still being
      widely persecuted.

      Later, the Church was the official religion of the Empire. The
      Ecumenical Councils were invoked by the will of the Holy Spirit to
      keep the Church Orthodox. The Church can never be divided.

      That is why I do not think the differences that led to the split
      with the Monophyites can necessarily be attributed merely to
      political factors. When one teaches or accepts that which is
      not taught by the Church one is outside the Church.

      It is most unfortunate that the split with the Copts, Armenians,
      etc.. ocurred but ultimately the Holy Spirit speaks through the
      Councils and so this heresy had to be condemned as did the Arian
      and Nestorian heresies before it.


      • I understand the theory that because they (monophysites)taught a different teaching, they became “outside” the Church and that the Church cannot be divided. Putting that “construct” aside, what would the Lord say with respect to leaving the flock (the faithful at hand) to go and look for the one lost sheep. We collectively can employ all the sophistry we want, the Church as an institution on earth (i.e. in its earthly aspect) was rent in half, not including the West, by this schism.

        The only reason the emperors called the councils was so that they could maintain their temporal tranquility against meddlesome clergy.

        Look at the dispute between Rome and Ephesus in the early second century over the date of Easter. The Bishop of Rome wanted to excommunicate the Bishop of Ephesus because in Asia they celebrated Easter on passover whenever it occurred, even during the middle of a week because they said that was how they were taught by the Apostle John! Ireaneus intervened and advised tolerance. When the Bishop of Ephesus visited Rome, they celebrated Easter on both dates. [So much for calendar issues amonst us today].

        Had the 4th Council not been called, it is possible that further theological discussion might have settled the matter by consensus or by attrition. Leo, who condemned monophysitism before the council was ever called, was adamant that the council not be called. However, once the council spoke (as opposed to Leo and other individuals) it gave the emperor carte blanche to do what he did which led to the Egyptians enbracing the Muslims as saviors.

        Somebody once said the Church’s time is the Church’s time. In other words, it’s got all the time in eternity. Why speed up the clock is something I always wonder about when comtemplating Church history.

        Oh, well, we all learn in due time.

        • Without doubt, the split that ocurred in the aftermath of the
          Council of Calcedon was a tragedy, but it is always tragic when
          followers of Christ sever their ties.

          The same could be said for the schism of 1054 with the Catholics,
          as well as the splits with the Arians and Nestorians. The First
          Ecumenical Council of Nicea also was convened through the will of
          the Emperor Constantine who wanted an end to the divisions.

          At the same time, Nicea 325 is recognized as a triumph because
          it clarified what was Orthodox and excommunicated Arius.

          Also, Calcedon did not just affect the Christians of Egypt. If
          anything, its tragedy is even worse because the Armenian and
          Ethiopian Churches likewise reject Calcedon.

          The Emperors, history shows could not interfere with the Church’s
          dogmas. The Emperor Leo the Isaurian believed he was justified
          in prohibiting the veneration of Icons but his view was condemned
          by the Ecumenical Council of 787, and when both Emperors and
          Patriarchs tried to overturn this Council they eventually lost

          Political trends in Byzantium altered as they did during the
          history of the Iconoclast crisis. Just years after the
          Second Council of Nicea, Emperors and Patriarchs tried to overturn
          that Council but ultimately the Council’s decisions stood because
          they were Orthodox.

          The Emperors came and went, but the Church remains as do the
          outcomes of the Councils.

          Calcedon took place in 451 AD long before the Islamic invasions
          of 632 – 641 AD. There was plenty of time for theologians on
          both sides to reconcile before the Muslims arrived.

          The blame in my view has less to do with the convening of the
          Council of Calcedon, than with the harsh repression directed
          against the Egyptian Christians. The Orthodox side should have
          treated them (indeed the previous heretics as well) as Christians
          should treat each other.

          It was the repression that drove the non-Calcedonians into the
          arms of the deceitful Caliphs.

          Fanaticism and extremism permitted the conquests by the
          Caliphate, not the convening of the Council of Calcedon.


  5. Well, also add the North Koreans as Christians that are suffering a great deal since I heard they were put into labor camps and work to death or straved them. Actually, its probably hard for foreign governments to effect kim ill in North Korea to treat them better.

  6. Well, the situation could have been handled better in the late 5th to 6th centuries. Not that the Byzantines or Rome had to agree with the nonchalcedons but exile, imprisonment or in a few cases putting them to death didn’t work. In that way we have changed for the better. But, as mention before when the Moslems first arrived the nonchalcedons thought them better;however, this is not true in the long term.

Care to Comment?