Children of Coptic immigrants in the 21st century have an absolute blessing that not many people would realize, as well as those of Coptic youth who have immigrated at a rather young age. The benefit comes in that people have been able to expand the Coptic Orthodox Church, being that Copts began to migrate in significant numbers starting as early as the 1960s. The Coptic Orthodox Church is at a point in history in which the Church has grown exponentially, and this entails numerous topics that the Church must address. However, the one that seems to be the most pressing at the present moment is the changing identity of the Church in the diaspora. Currently, the Coptic Orthodox Church is at a point where immigrants may not have thought the Church would be in when they began immigrating in the1960s. The Pope, along with the Synod and clergy, must start to work towards solutions of various issues that have started to spring up in the diaspora. For example, the current state of the Egyptian culture in the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United States of America. What are the advantages and disadvantages? What challenges exist for our children growing up in the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United States of America? What changes can the church implement to prevent an exodus of youth similar to what happened initially to the Eastern Church? How can we be more welcoming of American culture, and how can we share Orthodox Christianity with Americans when we have a calling to serve?
Conversely, what things should not be changed or compromised? However, before we begin discussing the future of the Church in detail, we must not forget the Church’s history. It is only in our history that we can find answers for our future, not only our past but also that of the churches who immigrated well before Copts. We must also take the examples given to us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Scripture. Scripture contains a book called Exodus, but there are too many models of those who left their own homes in search of a better life or by the command of God.
Moreover, before the history of migration, we must return to the definition of what the Church is. As Orthodox, the Church is more than a mere building or in-group of believers. We must return to how Christ, the Apostles, and the Fathers intended for the Church to be. St. John Chrysostom defines it as so, “The Church is a hospital, and not a courtroom, for souls. She does not condemn on behalf of sins, but grants remission of sins. Nothing is as joyous in our life as the thanksgiving that we experience in the Church. In the Church, the joyful sustain their joy. In the Church, those worried acquire merriment, and those saddened joy. In the Church, the troubled find relief, and the heavy-laden, rest. ‘Come,’ says the Lord, ‘near me, all of you who labor and are heavy-laden [with trials and sins], and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). What could be more desirable than to meet this voice? What is sweeter than this invitation? The Lord is calling you to the Church for a rich banquet. He transfers you from struggles to rest and from tortures to relief. He relives you from the burden of your sins. He heals worries with thanksgiving, and sadness with joy. No one is truly free or joyful besides he who lives for Christ. Such a person overcomes all evil and does not fear anything!” The Church is understood as a hospital if it is a hospital; this gives a different meaning to the mission of the Church. The Church is the continuation of Christ’s work here on earth. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos puts it nicely, “We have established the truth that Christianity is mainly a therapeutic science. It is seeking the spiritual cure of man. Yet the right practice of medicine requires a good physician, a professional physician, and this applies to spiritual therapeutic science as well. There has to be a good doctor. He is the bishop and the priest. As we have noted before, people today feel that the priest’s function is to enable them to take part in the Holy Sacraments. They feel that he has been commanded by God, as His servant and deacon, so that they may confess their sins and have spiritual relief. They feel him to be a minister of God, called to pray to Him that their labours may be blessed, and so forth. Certainly no one can deny that the priest will do such work as well. But usually people seem to regard the priest rather as a magician (if I may be forgiven this expression). For when we look at the life of worship apart from curing, then rather it is magic! We repeat however, in order to make it clear, that the priest is properly a spiritual physician who cures people’s sicknesses. Worship and Sacraments must be placed with the therapeutic method and treatment.” The Church and priest are, therefore, the tools that God has allowed continuing His mission through us; this is the true meaning of the living Body of Christ. When we return to the historical understanding of what the Church is in people’s lives, we will begin to understand why a critical historical factor that led Copts to emigrate was the desire to exercise their freedom of religion.
We find the first migration went God sent Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden. This would have been a change for them, in terms of not only theology and economy of the Fall, but the mere fact they left the place for them to dwell with God to a ground that is cursed and “in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to earth, you shall return. Then, of course, the infamous righteous man Abram who left his country and his kindred according to the commandment of God. All this is indeed not an easy task; however, just as Abraham by faith “obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country”, so also our parents immigrated to the United States of America awaiting God’s plan for their lives. Didymus the Blind, a dean of the School of Alexandria in the fourth-century states, “it is not by chance that God orders Abraham to leave his land and his relatives but because he sees in him something that makes him worthy of being the object of divine concern, that is, his faith in God.” Likewise, many immigrants come only relying on their faith in God in that He will bring them to a brighter future. Often, people immigrated with only enough for their passage to the United States of America, “Once in the United States of America, one of the challenges I had to face was how to start a new life and living in an estranged country about which I knew not enough, especially with the meager maximum amount of $500.00, with which we were allowed to emigrate. Virtually since its inception, the Coptic Orthodox Church has experienced persecution, often known as the Persecuted Church or Church of Martyrs, along with the Russian Orthodox Church. During the time of Gamal Abdel-Nasser, “the immigration application process was tedious. The countries in the West were primarily interested in professionals. Thus, the first wave of immigrants possessed professional degrees and were able to secure positions in their fields or related fields. This was encouraging, but the few hundred dollars the new immigrants were permitted to take out of Egypt was still insufficient to make ends meet. This posed emotional and economic challenges when arriving to America.” Bishop Youssef tells the history that the early migrants were formed in clumps in California and New Jersey.
“The fall of the Mubarak regime in February 2011 unleashed a great and contagious wave of optimism. Images of Christians and Muslims holding hands in Tahrir Square [Tahrir means “liberation,” a town-square in downtown Cairo] were broadcast around the world and gave credence to the narrative that a new, more liberal, and democratic Egypt was being born. The truth was entirely different.” Engraved in the history of the Coptic Orthodox Church, persecution began to have its old meaning in the Roman Empire and harsh conditions of the Islamic Invasion when the shift started to change at the time of Mubarak’s ouster. Copts fleeing for their lives tried to escape in any shape. This caused an influx of Copts from Egypt emigrated to the United States of America as well as in European countries and Australia. “The Coptic exodus from Egypt will pose a colossal challenge to the Coptic Church. Today the Coptic Church has more than 550 churches outside of Egypt. At a moment in the not so distant future, the center of gravity of the Coptic Church will no longer be inside Egypt’s borders.” Although the latter statement of the author may be a questionable or improbable assertion, one must return, as mentioned before, to history. We find the Roman Catholic Church with thousands of churches worldwide. However, they can maintain Rome, or the Vatican City, as the epicenter of all dioceses and parishes with thirty times the amount of bishops compared to Coptic bishops and almost half a million priests globally. The main overarching reason that people emigrated out of Egypt was, in short, to better their lives, whether it be religiously, spiritually, educationally, financially, or occupationally. Indeed, the early immigrants’ story has its positives and negatives, which can be a complete work in and of itself, but having spoken about the short history of the Copts, one must look to the future.
The current state of the Coptic Orthodox Church is very much that of a paradox. On the one hand, in 2011, numerous churches were prepared for the next stage of their development in the United States of America, shifting their concentration to the upcoming generation of Copts as well as the community. However, due to the 2011 and 2013 revolutions, those who come via asylum has exponentially increased. Samuel Tadros describes the suspicion and wariness of the Copts at the beginning of the revolution of 2011, “Copts were never enthusiastic about the revolution. Perhaps it was the wisdom of centuries of persecution that taught minorities the eternal lesson of survival: that the persecuting dictator was always preferable to the mob. The ruler, after all, could be bought off or persuaded to back off, or constrained by foreign powers, but with the mob, you stood no chance. Some of the Coptic youth were lured by the promise of a liberal Egypt in which their plight might finally come to an end, but the older generation knew better. The promises of January 2011 soon gave way to the reality of May, when the churches of Imbaba were attacked, and October, the time of the Maspero massacre. The complete collapse of the police and the state’s repression apparatus liberated Islamists from any constraints. On the national level, Islamists soon swept elections and dominated the political sphere, and on the local level, Islamists, much more emboldened by the rise of their brethren nationally and the collapse of the police were asserting their power on Egyptian streets and villages and enforcing their views. While their leaders such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Deputy General Guide, Khairat El Shater, were proclaiming their goal of the “Islamization of life,” local Islamists were making that goal a reality on the ground.” Tadros continues to discuss the hardship in which Copts endured during the time of the Islamic Brotherhood rule. Although Morsi was expelled in the summer of 2013, “the most worrisome aspect for Copts remains the participation of their neighbors, coworkers, and people they had grown up with in attacking them. Even if the Egyptian state ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood miraculously decided to intervene, the local hatreds are now impossible to contain.” It is rightly said that the Coptic Orthodox Church is the Persecuted Church since we find the situation austere no matter the political situation. “The prospects for Copts in Egypt are, to say the least, bleak. Their options are limited. Copts are not geographically concentrated in one area so that the potential for a safe haven may be considered, and unlike the Jewish emigrants escaping Egypt in the ’40s and ’50s, for Copts driven out of their ancestral homeland there is no Israel to escape to. Nor does their overall percentage in Egypt allow them to play a key role in shaping its future. The only option in front of them is to pack their bags and leave, putting an end to two thousand years of Christianity in Egypt. A new wave of Coptic emigration has already started and it is immense. 1 Most are heading to the countries their brethren settled in past decades: the United States, Canada, and Australia. Richer Copts are buying houses in Cyprus and with it receiving residence there, while Georgia is becoming a favored destination for their poorer brethren. The sad reality, however, is that not all of them will be able to flee. There is simply no place in the West for millions of Coptic immigrants. In the end, those Copts with better English and skills will be able to escape, leaving their poorer brethren behind. The community will lose its best elements, those who provide jobs for their brethren, those who donate to the church, further elevating its misery.” Often Copts in the diaspora may assume this will have no impact on them, but in reality, this shifts dynamics quite drastically. From a Church that was ready to introduce Orthodoxy to American society is not confronted with churches that have regressed in their development from Egyptian and Middle Eastern culture to American. This creates dissonance for bishops and clergy in whom all members are looking towards to serve them. The fact of the matter is that 2nd generation Copts and those who come to the Church will need a different style and common approach when it comes to their service compared to those who grew up in the Church in Egypt. Therefore, the current state of Egyptian culture in the church in the United States of America instead of declining has become inverted.
It is essential at this point to speak adaptation and the enculturation of emigrating Copts. How a person adapts to their new host culture is contingent on a person’s attitude toward his or her home country and the new host country. Bishop Youssef assigns four categories based on the variability of a person’s mindset toward their home and host country. The most ideal is a person who has integration, which has a positive outlook towards the United States of America and Egypt. A person who has a combination has learned to benefit both cultures to help not only their home country but also the host country. The host country will, in turn, become their new home country, and acceptance of the person’s unique life and situation ensues. If a person has a negative perspective of the United States and strongly associates with Egypt, then the person will be marked with the course of separation and isolation. Bishop Youssef observes that in most Coptic households, the parents hold to a separationist ideology. Conversely, the children of immigrants seem to turn to assimilate. This creates tension in homes with parents being keen on raising in an Egyptian manner, and the children feeling disconnected. The current state of Egyptian culture in Coptic Orthodox Churches located in the United States can be described as in yet again a state of inclusivity to Coptic born parishioners. This is most illustrated when people from the community attempt to learn about the Church for their salvation genuinely. They are often met with isolation from congregants and may end up leaving for the lack of acceptance. This, of course, creates grave challenges for children and youth growing up in churches in the United States.
As children and youth of families who recently emigrated from Egypt begin their lives in the United States, grand advantages have the Church been established for about fifty years. A child or youth does not have to feel utterly clueless since there were those from before who had the same process of learning the language and growing up in culture either different from theirs personally or their parents. There have been years of experience where future generations can go for advice. However, these are all opportunities; we cannot say that the prior experiences of immigrants and their children have been successful. There are certainly stories of families that can strive and adapt; however, there are accounts of youth who have strayed. Necessarily, one can assume that the more the Coptic community grows in an isolated manner, the more there will be “lost sheep.” The clergy and servants of the Church often try to create elaborate changes or plans to implement that attempt to keep youth in the Church. However, the first and foremost thing that youth need is the experience the spirituality of the Church from the depth of their being. A parish may have all forms of categories, yet if they do not have the Spirit of God being shown to them every day and week, they will go and leave. Often, those who decide to join cults adhere because the void of being filled, which pushes a person to look for other places to satisfy the hollowness they are experiencing. This will also help in our outreach to the community.
Shallowness and superficiality have become earmarks in American culture, and for those that want to find a deeper meaning, they need a place in which they find fullness. How is this attained? Origen the Scholar said, “The Good Shepherd makes it His business to seek for the best pastures for His sheep, and to find green and shady groves where they may rest during the noonday heat.… “He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside the waters of peace” (Ps. 23:2), thus making it clear that this Shepherd provides His sheep with water that is not only plentiful, but also wholesome and pure and utterly refreshing.” It is therefore essential that clergy and servants continue to fill themselves, keeping the words of St. John Chrysostom, “Shepherds have full power to compel the sheep to accept the treatment if they do not submit of their own accord. It is easy to bind them when it is necessary to use cautery or the knife, and to keep them shut up for a long time when that is the right thing, and to introduce different kinds of food one after another, and to keep them away from water. And all other remedies the shepherds think will promote the animals’ health they apply with perfect ease. But human diseases in the first place are not easy for a man to see. “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except for the man’s spirit within him?” (1 Cor. 2:11). How, then, can anyone provide the specific remedy for a disease if he does not know its character and often cannot tell whether the person is even ill? When it later becomes apparent, then it has become all the more intractable. You cannot treat human beings with the same authority with which the shepherd treats a sheep. Here too it is possible to bind and to forbid food and to apply cautery and the knife, but the decision to receive treatment does not lie with the one who administers the medicine but actually with the patient.” Allowing the Holy Trinity to fill us as servants effects that the people we serve become filled, and in this way, we begin to share Orthodox Christianity to Americans.
It is not doubted that we are called to serve the American community. Surely, God has allowed immigration to introduce the one true and Apostolic Faith at the fullness of time. “Evangelism! If there is still any doubt about why immigration, consider the time when the gates of immigration opened. Until that time, the Copts’ evangelism roots were stifled even within our home country. In only one of half a century, six continents have bloomed and flourished with Coptic churches and serves to every nation, whether of Egyptian heritage or the native culture of that country. In a way, this is a time of visitation of the Lord – not merely just for us as individuals, but His Church that has persevered under His love and protection for over 2000 years. The world needs to know about Him.” There are, of course, many things that can be done to help the community come to the knowledge of the truth. Nevertheless, we cannot compromise the foundation of faith that was given to us by Christ. St. Athanasius proclaimed that “Nonetheless, in addition to these arguments, let us also examine the tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church [meaning the Church universally] from the beginning, which is nothing other that what the Lord gave, and the Apostles preached, and the Fathers preserved. On this the Church founded, and whoever falls away from it can no longer be nor be called a Christian.” Therefore we can change things that are not according to faith. As mentioned before, theology is a medicine; once it is broken, we have changed how a person is healed, leading to other issues.
In conclusion, the Coptic Orthodox Churches in the United States of America has many advantages but also various manners in which we can reach the community in the fact that there is the authentic and original richness of Christ’s teachings. However, the stipulation is that we, not only as a community but also as the real living Body of Christ, must have the faith that the Fathers preserved for us. We must collectively rise from all idols that we have created for ourselves, being in a country that promotes individualism, materialism, and hedonism. It is only through the struggle of the clergy and the servants that people will be able to open the Church; however, being a provision that each person opens their heart. Each person must believe that Christ is working through him or her for the salvation of others, not as a recruiting officer or a scout coach. Conviction in each person’s heart that Christ is, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” is the only way that we will begin to open ourselves to others so that they may come to the idea that leads to the truth, which in turn gives life.
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 Genesis 3:17-19
 Genesis 12
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DelCogliano, Radde-Gallwitz, and Ayres Works on the Spirit.John 8:32
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Sheridan, Mark, ed. Genesis 12-50. N edition. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2002.
Sorial, Fr Michael. Incarnational Exodus: A Framework for the Advancement of a Christocentric Ecclesial Model for the Coptic Orthodox Diaspora in North America Based o… Theology of Athanasius of Alexandria. Saint Cyril of Alexandria Society Press, 2014.
Tadros, Samuel. Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity. 1st Edition. Stanford, California: Hoover Institution Press, 2013.
Vlachos, Metropolitan Hierotheos. Orthodox Psychotherapy: The Science of the Fathers. Translated by Esther E. Cunningham Williams. Levadia Levadhia, Greece: Birth of Theotokos Monastery, Greece, 2005.
Youssef, Bishop. Adapting to a New Place Called Home: The Coptic Immigration Experience in the United States of America. St. Mary & St. Moses Abbey, 2016.