August 01, 2010

Visiting A Coptic Orthodox Church

As I experience the Eastern aspects of Christianity, I want to explore more, so I recently attended a Coptic Orthodox Liturgy at St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church in Natick, MA.  They have the Real Presence, but they are not in union with Rome.  We did not receive Communion and I believe they would not have given it to us.

Their Liturgy is more similar to the Eastern Catholic's Byzantine Liturgy than it is to the Roman Catholic Liturgy.  It was beautiful.  The language was a mix of English, Coptic and Arabic.  They had cymbals and a triangle for musical instruments.  Young boys are ordained as deacons and even read the Gospel.  They start out as Reader and progress in levels with time and I imagine, skill. 

Women sit on one side of the main body of the church (nave) and men sit on the other side.  Women also wear chapel veils, something I wish we did more of in the Roman Catholic Church.  The deacons and priest take off their shoes in the altar area, which is central and separated from the choir area and the nave.  The altar is sacred and undefiled.  Shoes might track in dirt.  Also, for Communion, everyone removes their shoes, since they are approaching Jesus and they enter a small area near the altar. 

A fourth reading is done during the Liturgy of the Word.  Along with two Epistles and the Gospel, writings from the saint of the day are read.  I loved the box in which they collected the monetary offering.  It was beautiful with red satin and I believe yellow corded trim.  I also liked the procession done by the priest and deacons with the relics of the saint of the day.  The relics are kept in a ceramic tube and the tube is rubbed with oil and spices before the procession.  Icons of the saint are included and the priest incenses them continually as they walk around the church. 

Their Eucharist is similar to the Greek Melkite Catholic Eucharist.  The bread is leavened.  They are given the Body and Blood of Jesus separately, not by intinction.  The blood is given by spoon.  At the end of the Liturgy, the priest blesses everyone with water.  One last item of interest is the duration.  The Liturgy was three hours long, mostly standing, some sitting, some prostrating or as close to that as you could do where you were sitting.  There was lots of incense and surrounding beauty (icons) to bring everyone more deeply into the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Our Lord.

Dear God, please guide us in our ecumenical
efforts with the Coptic Orthodox Church. 
May we all be one some day. +

Here is background information about this Christian church.  The picture is of their current Pope.

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in Egypt was founded by St. Mark, the Apostle.  It is the official name of the largest Christian church in Egypt.  The term "Copts" is the same as the word, "Egyptians."  "Coptic" is used to distinguish Christian Egyptians from Muslim natives in that country.  The Coptic Orthodox are Oriental Orthodox, who have been its own entity since the Council of Chalcedon which was held in 451 AD.  At that time, they split off due to their different views on the nature of Christ.  Was He all human? all Divine? both human and divine? human and divine as a mix or as two separate natures in one body?

"In terms of Christology, the Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonian [and Copts]) understand that Christ is 'One Nature--the Logos Incarnate,' of the full humanity and full divinity. The Chalcedonians' [and therefore Roman Catholic] understand that Christ is in two natures, full humanity and full divinity." -  

Another significant difference between the Copts and the Roman Catholics stems from our conflicting beliefs about the Pope's role in the Church.  We believe the Pope, who is a successor of Peter who was the first Pope, has a special primacy or authority and is elevated in dignity above all Popes and Patriarchs in other Christian sects.  We believe he is the Supreme Pontiff, head of all the bishops.  The Copts on the other hand, believe the Pope is a "first among equals."  That is, he has no special authority over the other bishops.

Their Pope is the chairman and head of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, as a first among equals. This organization is the highest authority in their Church of Alexandria. It formulates the rules and regulations for the church's faith, order and organization. Their Pope is also the chairman of the church's General Congregation Council. 

The Oriental Orthodox and therefore the Coptic Orthodox, say that their respective patriarchs (like our bishops) and Pope are equal with all Christian bishops, including the Roman Catholic Pope.  On the other hand, Roman Catholics believe that the Pope of Rome is elevated in dignity and jurisdiction not only above the other bishops, but also above the other four Popes and Patriarchs of the Major Apostolic Thrones (Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem).  The Coptic Orthodox Church rejects this and our two churches remain independent of each other.

The Coptic Orthodox Pope is currently H. H. Shenouda III.  The Roman Catholic Pope is Benedict XVI..

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