Two days ago, the Coptic Church commemorated the martyrdom of St. Clement of Rome (same day as the martyrdom of the famous Coptic pope who reset our calendar, Pope St. Peter the seal of the martyrs). I would like to continue to do commentaries on St. Clement’s epistle to the Corinthians, particularly favorite quotes of person interest in his writing. However, before I continue writing some thoughts on the epistle (considered the first piece of writing of the Church fathers from the ANF series), I was looking through the proverbial closet of my old hard drives looking for a so-called “commentary” I had started and never really finished. I did not even remember when I wrote it, but gladly, when I found it, I found it dated (good job me!). I only commented on chapters 1 and 2 of Clement back in 2010, but reading it, I find that I seem quite silly in some of my comments, and I tended to read into the text for certain experiences and thoughts I had then (which I might still do a bit these days). I tend to be very idealistic, and fall extremely short on a lot of what I preach. I can say I pretty much have condemned myself with the standards I have given in this commentary.
A lot has changed the past four years in my thinking, although I think I was quite mature in my thinking, but looking back, somewhat naive and less refined in my thinking. I wonder though with perhaps some of the things I write now, I might look at it four years later only to say the same thing about myself now. In any case, here it is, and then I will start from scratch pointing out some of the things I like about the epistle and what I think about them.
I did also tend to be numerical in my notes, listing some of the key virtues of the Church in Corinth and expanding on them (some with interesting insight, and others with a bit overkill on my part). I also became quite the Chrysostom at the end, going off in a very long tangent at the end with a “lesson of the day” commentary (and well I will go on an even longer tangent to clarify that tangent; so I guess I’ve gotten “worse” on that end). However, the political commentary at the end is important, and very little from that has changed in my views, except perhaps to present Islam in a “fairer light” than would could be misinterpreted in my older self. Since then, I have tended to take a theological perspective in discussing Islam rather than criticizing it based on the “terrorists” as some polemical authors revel at doing. While I do mention the unfair political practices, I try not to lay blame on the religion of Islam itself, but the adherents of it, particularly in politics, and that’s where I get to my present-day religious and political rant at the end. At some point, I will talk about Coptic politics and what role does politics have with members of the Church. My main inspiration will come from Fr. Matta al Maskeen’s book “Church and State: Sectarianism and Fanatacism”.
I will add to my commentary in red wherever I feel necessary, just to make some minor corrections to my old self while maintaining the original text. So whatever is “red” is published today, and whatever is in black is was written then. But anything more contemplative, I will publish in another post. I hope you enjoy some of my self-deprecating humor, as well as some of my unique insights and clarifications in all of this.
The Church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the Church of God sojourning at Corinth, to those who are called and sanctified by the will of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you, and peace, from Almighty God through Jesus Christ, be multiplied.
Now, since we are one with Christ, we are no longer of this world, but sojourners in this world, for by grace we are now from above. Never take pride in being a Roman or a Corinthian. You are all the same race under Christ, and we are simply thankful for being here. We are the guests of this nation, not the owners. There is no pride in being Greek, Russian, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, etc. There is pride in being Christian. Boast only in Christ, and nothing else. In this, grace and peace is multiplied, since you expect nothing from the world because of your full citizenship in Christ. Therefore, let peace and grace be multiplied and fill the world who needs the open citizenship of Godliness.
Owing, dear brethren, to the sudden and successive calamitous events which have happened to ourselves, we feel that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the points respecting which you consulted us; and especially to that shameful and detestable sedition, utterly abhorrent to the elect of God, which a few rash and self-confident persons have kindled to such a pitch of frenzy, that your venerable and illustrious name, worthy to be universally loved, has suffered grievous injury.
Indirectly, St. Clement, on behalf of the Church, apologizes for his tardiness in dealing with the persecution and the immorality that spread in the Church. In going further, he has such great humility in the service, he feels that the persecutions were justified on them because of the tardiness.
Let us keep in mind, he doesn’t connect these events to God. He connects them to himself. “I was tardy, so naturally, I will receive persecution.” He never says, “I was tardy, God punishes me with persecution.” God doesn’t ask the Roman government to persecute the Christians. St. Clement simply felt this was a wake-up call. “I better help those Corinthians with their problems. Should have done it a long time ago. I’m an idiot for procrastinating. And even though there’s still persecution, better now than never to address the problems. I am not going to assume these problems are going to go away any time soon. Virtue before boasting in human rights.” So he goes on to praise those who kept the faith and morals. What can we learn by his praise?
I don’t know what I was smoking here. But obviously, because of the “calamities” (which I assumed were persecutions, but it might also be an internal Church issue as well, as seen in the text later concerning the “rash and self-confident persons” who are probably causing sedition), he was tardy in his response to the Church. I think there was a certain point in my life where I experienced people believing in a “deterministic” idea of purpose, where “everything happens for a reason”, and so I seemed to have wanted to refute that idea into the text here as a “consequential” issue (tardiness leads to consequences), not a divine punishment against tardiness. Clearly I thought that St. Clement, while having every reason to justify his tardiness, was humble enough to not justify himself, but to criticize himself, which the text does not, as I read it now, say. Nevertheless, the moral idea still, I guess, stands with me, that in my modesty, I should try not to justify anything in life, but to turn it into something positive. That was and still is my refutation against the deterministic idea of God, which I will save for another post.
For who ever dwelt even for a short time among you, and did not find your faith to be as fruitful of virtue as it was firmly established?
1. Let your faith not only be strong and firm, but just as it is firm enough for you to keep the faith, it also must grow. Our Coptic churches are in grave danger today if we don’t grow. If we’re not growing, either something is wrong with our faith, or we are slothful. Let us not be like the man with the one who didn’t double his talents. Whatever talents we have should be doubled. It is not just a Church virtue, it is an obligation. This is how our fruitful virtue will be equal to the firmly established faith. The priest of a Church who does not double his talents will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Bishop even more liable. The Patriarch, the most liable. Therefore, do not desire to be a leader unless you’re willing to accept strict judgment from the Lord.
Who did not admire the sobriety and moderation of your godliness in Christ?
2. Sober-minded and moderation. That is godliness. Any extremes is not what Christ intended. The most ascetic person in the world might still be not as good as the one who fasts only half of the prescribed Church fasts. If one is not in moderation with anything, it comes without question this person is not sober-minded in some way. For instance, those who enjoy too much parties and drinking (which induces drunkenness) and those who regard gatherings and alcohol as sins are not sober-minded. One is drunk with the pleasures of the world, and one is drunk with vain asceticism.
Who did not proclaim the magnificence of your habitual hospitality?
3. Be hospitable, and do so naturally, without any grudge. That is magnificence.
And who did not rejoice over your perfect and well-grounded knowledge?
4. You are no longer ignorant like babes. We are partaking both of the Tree of Life and Knowledge because we have matured. The Tree of Life is the Logos. The Tree of Knowledge with Life is the Logos Incarnate. Therefore, knowledge should be perfected with Divine Life and well-grounded by the way you live it with yourself and others. For a tree is perfected with its shoot, but without its roots growing, the whole tree will fall, or at best, it will be poorly-grounded and wobbly. Your knowledge of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not only by entrance into the Church, but also by growth in the Church.
For you did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the commandments of God, being obedient to those who had the rule over you, and giving all fitting honour to the presbyters among you.
5. You should never care who or what manner of person you are hospitable to, presented as good examples of faith, virtue, sober-mindedness, and growth. And while being obedient to God first, you also showed obedience to rulers no matter who or what they are, and you gave honor, not mere obedience, to your own priests. As a bishop, St. Clement pretty much lauds the Corinthians for not giving him a bad name, and it’s all thanks to the Corinthians who have Christ in them.
You enjoined young men to be of a sober and serious mind; you instructed your wives to do all things with a blameless, becoming, and pure conscience, loving their husbands as in duty bound; and you taught them that, living in the rule of obedience, they should manage their household affairs becomingly, and be in every respect marked by discretion.
6. Encourage gender roles in society. Men, be sober and serious. Don’t be players on one extreme and don’t be pejorative on another. What players and arrogant men have in common is their chauvinism. Sober-mindedness requires moderation. Remember? But also be serious, for you’re the bread-winner (of course this does not mean women are not allowed to be bread-winners, but being that I am unable to explain myself properly and lose political correctness, I am stressing man’s leadership of a household), and you will meet challenges to help your family, and you will have to take the brunt of stress on behalf of the family. Wives should be:
a. blameless, that is don’t be the beginning of the wrongs in a family (don’t start something),
b. becoming, let your virtue be as beautiful as your appearance, and
c. pure: get rid of any spiders in the closet that you have right now, or that you have had in a while and you haven’t gotten rid of yet. If you are not pure, or you are not fully cleansed of whatever it is that is bothering you, you will not be becoming, and certainly, you will be prone to blame. Be clean, be pure, be blameless, and your conscience will be strong.
In this way, you even can teach man a few things from your virtues, even while you’re duty-bound to be obedient. For a good conscience, with a good household, and a good buttress with love, not grudgingly, is what every man needs, especially at times of the most stress. Man is no dictator over you. He needs (not wants; for a tyrant wants, but a real man recognizes his needs) your support, your virtues, your love, your obedience as well. Do not be dismayed by the word “obedience.” Women are powerful genders. Men look powerful on the outside, and they may have a high ego, but women also tend to have an even higher ego even though they may not show it externally, and so submission needs to be learned. (I really must have been smoking something; perhaps, I had some egotistical women in my life at that time)
However, the female ego is naturally bigger for a necessary purpose. Any man is inclined to just fall in love with beauty, but you have to show him better than that. Not just your beauty, but your virtue. And if he is inspired by your virtues and loves you all the more because of it, then give him your unrelenting and loving obedience. Do not ever be a slave of man. All humans are slaves only to Christ. “With every respect,” St. Clement says, that is unrelenting, but of course “with discretion.” You are not to be beneath him; you are equal to him. An abusive relationship should be abandoned. A relationship based on lust should be abandoned. A relationship that leads to sin should be abandoned. (Unless mutual repentance is quickly recognized, so I’m not advocating a quick divorce or a Donatist condemnation of the spouse) You are still free because of your bond to Christ first and foremost before anything else. Your obedience is a role only in perfection of the relationship that was established by a sober-minded and serious man. And if the man was not sober-minded or serious before, perhaps your unrelenting disobedience while showing respectful love and exemplary virtues may save him. Those men who have very high egos, or who are chauvinists, or worst yet, tyrants are usually the ones who need to be disobeyed before obedience takes fruition, in various degrees (i.e. lower those high-egoed men, be harsh with the chauvinists, and sometimes you might need to flee from the tyrants).
But do not ever make man your slave. Men do tend to cave in, especially those who have previously lost some of their ego and surprised by your fascination with him. They need to be encouraged to feel the brunt of stress, and you need to force him to take the leadership role. They need to learn to be serious, not apathetic, and certainly not weak. Women will tend to be tempted to want to feel as powerful on the outside as they truly are on the inside. Therefore, you need to learn submission. Let man learn to make the Y chromosome grow.
People might think I know what I’m talking about. If anyone has not realized, I’m a man, not a woman, and so it almost sounds like I’m talking out of my … gluteus. In any sense, this whole spiel I wrote came out of a desire to justify the male-female gender roles we have in our liturgies. In other words, why do presbyters and bishops ALWAYS have to of the male gender? This also will be for another post, but slowly I now realize that my only way to justify this is to give obedience to tradition. At the same time, we as Orthodox need to call for a major ecclesiological “fixing” in our churches. We have some ecclesiological issues, and it seems to me some of the things I noticed is we removed the women from the roles of diaconate and spiritual advisers (godmothers) while we also decreased the role of the “non-clergy” (clergy being deacon, priest, bishop) as if they should be only humble members of the Church, and that’s it.
Ultimately, I think the male/female divide in the higher clergy is best described as the recognition of an incomplete human salvation, or incomplete accomplishment of changing the world into Christ’s glory. So long as the world is imperfect and temporal, the ecclesiology will remain partially imperfect in that only males get to be bishops and presbyters (the “high priesthood”). But all Christians essentially are “priests and kings” from that “Myroon oil” we get. And so, there will be a fulfillment at some point where we will not need the outer form of the sacraments, but live eternally in communion with Christ, where just as there is no marriage in the spiritual realm, there is no episcopacy either. So, what we liturgically practice does not (and should not) necessarily reflect the cultural realm (where men and women practically have the same qualifications in almost all things, whether soldier in the army or CEO of a company or president of a country). And while it can be said women are qualified to be presbyters and bishops, it is only for humble obedience of an eschatological symbolism (which I will explain in another future post as well, but it essentially alludes to how we as the temporal Church should reflect the eternal relationship of Christ and the Church, or the Father and the Son) that we should keep it confined to the male gender.
And penultimately, if we do all things with mutual humility (which is a good segway into point number 7), the woman’s submission and the man’s leadership are in a way a mutual “dance”. A woman’s submission does not mean a deadened or victimized will and a man’s leadership does not mean a tyrannical or sole leader, as I articulated years ago. In fact, in a way, both are submitting to one another (as St. Paul said, even though elsewhere this was the wife’s primary focus) and both are keeping the house in order (as St. Clement gave that latter job to the woman, even though the man technically is “overseer” of that job); so in a mysterious manner, a woman “leads” in submission and a man “submits” in leadership, so that the man lowers himself, and the woman is lifted by man as she knowingly deserves. So I hope you at least get the point what I’m trying to say, that there is an agreed-upon stable structure among equals who in reality are together doing both each other’s jobs, and not a sense of a privilege on one vs. the other. Okay, I’m stopping now, before I turn this into a post within a post, but to be fair, ideally, what I had written here years ago is “okay”, but can easily be taken wrongly (and in some ways were wrong) and needed clarification.
Moreover, you were all distinguished by humility, and were in no respect puffed up with pride, but yielded obedience rather than extorted it, and were more willing to give than to receive?
7. Humility! Get rid of pride. Pride leads one to look down on others. Be thankful, don’t be prideful. Dr. Luis Navia, an agnostic philosophy professor from NYIT, taught that to me. I was enlightened when I heard this from him. He is more virtuous than most Orthodox Christians I know. Pride leads to arrogance, extortions, and greed. With humility, all humans learn obedience (not just the women). With humility, you do not demand obedience from others (including the men). With humility, you not only sacrifice yourself in giving, but you expect and want nothing in return.
Content with the provision which God had made for you, and carefully attending to His words, you were inwardly filled with His doctrine, and His sufferings were before your eyes.
8. Content! You need nothing less or nothing more. Be happy with what you have. If you are not content, you will be distracted from doing the will of God, from understanding His doctrine, and you will be taking His sufferings for granted.
Thus a profound and abundant peace was given to you all, and you had an insatiable desire for doing good, while a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit was upon you all.
9. Do good! Unto one another, unto others, unto God. If you are content, you will be in peace. And more than that, the Holy Spirit will be graceful upon you more than what you need. He is there 100% of the time, in you and around you, blessing you, united to you, deifying you. And because you have so much from the Holy Spirit, and that you are more than content, more than peaceful, you have a desire to do good, a desire that can never be quenched. Such a “full outpouring of the Holy Spirit” can not be kept to oneself.
If you are not content, you will not have peace, and if you do not have peace, you are simply wasting away the Spirit’s outpouring like water down the drain, and if you are not engaging with the Spirit, you will not be able to do good, not even for yourself.
Full of holy designs, and with true earnestness of mind and a godly confidence, you stretched forth your hands to God Almighty, beseeching Him to be merciful to you, if you had been guilty of any involuntary transgression.
10. Never cease to ask for the Lord’s mercy. The publican who sought the Lord’s mercy is more desirable than the Pharisee who inflated his ego before God as more self-righteous than others. Therefore, even though you are filled with holiness, sincerity of conviction, and confidence, you are able to understand your weakness and make sure even the involuntary sins are remitted. How do we avoid being Pharisees?
I will say, at the risk of sound self-indulgent, that I am impressed in how I contemplatively segwayed into six ways of not being Pharisees based on the “tenth” positive characteristic of the Corinthians.
Day and night you were anxious for the whole brotherhood, that the number of God’s elect might be saved with mercy and a good conscience. You were sincere and uncorrupted, and forgetful of injuries between one another. Every kind of faction and schism was abominable in your sight. You mourned over the transgressions of your neighhours: their deficiencies you deemed your own. You never grudged any act of kindness, being “ready to every good work.”
a. Be anxious for one another. This isn’t a race. We stick together as a family. We rejoice together and we suffer together. Therefore, encourage your teammates to be better. Captain one another. Keep one another in check.
b. Be sincere. Don’t be deceitful. As brothers, all things must be done in truth, without any lying whatsoever.
c. Any offenses between teammates must be forgiven and forgotten. Anyone who joins the family, no matter who or what they are, whatever they have done in the past is in the past. St. Paul went from being a persecutor of the Church, a real-life Pharisaical terrorist, to one of the most self-sacrificial disciples Christianity was blessed with, to the point where he was the one who reminded others of his past persecution of the Church even though the Church long has forgotten this.
d. Don’t ever support any division, justified or not. Don’t be the cause of any division. Abhor it. Abhor it as even worse than heresy! Always seek unity as much as you are able to. Seek out the lapsed, and never cease, and never give up on doing so. Even if one out of a hundred sheep lapsed, do all you can to seek that one (and in fact, the 99 should now help).
e. Remember the Pharisee who was glad for not being like the publican. This is where an extreme love for the publican requires that one feel like it’s as if he’s the publican. If one sheep lapsed, the other 99 have lapsed with it, and so it’s a very serious situation when one requires that when one sins, you have to feel the pressure that it is you who sinned in him. St. Paul have expressed his desire to be eternally condemned for the salvation of all his Jewish brothers. He expressed the idea that all will be saved through the disobedience of the Jews. Why? Because the Jews are the true heirs of salvation. They are collectively, the non-prodigal son who stuck around with the Father. We are the prodigal son. We are of the wild branch grafted into God when the natural branch broke off in rebellion against the Father. We must mourn their lapsing as if we all lapsed and must seek them as the Father sought us, no matter the distance, for from a distance, the Father wasted no time to run to us. The Jews are our lapsed brothers, and through their lapsing, we are forever compunctious. If we are all collectively compunctious for the Jews, rather than show any form of hate, we will all be saved. If we are compunctious for the whole world, we would be pressured to seek them out and invite them into the citizenship of Christ. The contemporary hermit, Fr. Lazarus St. Antony says that as a monk, he must feel pressured to pray, because his prayer is made on behalf of the world. Truly, true monasticism grew tremendously as a compunction of the world’s lapsed Christians. Not as a calling of higher self-virtue, but as a representation of the world’s sins in one person, the monk.
f. Do not grudge any act of kindness to anyone, lapsed or not. Not only that, but you must be ready. You must be like the hawk, waiting for the opportunity to strike. But of course, don’t be ready to hunt down and take anything for yourself, but be ready to seek out and give everything you got to others.
Here is where I used something contemporary in Egyptian society to summarize my commentary.
As Egyptians, we must feel compunctious for the 90% of Islam in the country. Instead of boasting the possible inaccuracy of the statistics, we should, as St. Clement teaches, ought to feel guilty for our tardiness of not addressing the situation our poor spirituality soon enough, not addressing the schisms and lapsing of our own Christians since the 5th century. (I can now see why I made that mistake earlier. St. Clement wrote “we feel we have been tardy” in that despite the “calamities”, he felt tardy. The feeling of tardiness is not a matter of fact, but a personal blame. Okay, I guess I linguistically see why I contemplatively thought St. Clement was humble enough to blame himself despite good reasons to be tardy. And so here, persecutions by Islam is not an excuse for Coptic, or any Middle Eastern Christian, tardiness.) We deserve Islam on our heads. And not only through the many centuries of the blessings of a few saints that helped keep the Coptic Church alive through the grace of Christ, we should learn from them, those valiant men who not only became a Pastor for the Copts, but also for the lapsed Copts, the present-day Muslims (I think I was lauding here HH Pope Shenouda, who was dubbed “Pope of the Arabs”). Those Muslims are Copts too, and we should be compunctious for them. They regressed to a hijacking of Judaism because of our tardiness for ourselves, and they’ve grown because of our Pharisaical attitude towards them. Abandon all idea that “we are the true Egyptians, they are the guests.” Whether biologically true or not (although technically, most were indeed descendants of lapsed Copts, which tends to show an illogical idea of them not really being “Egyptian”), we should NEVER boast to be anything except that we are Christ’s. We are neither Egyptian nor Arab, but citizens of Christ. We are IN TRUTH the guests in Egypt, the sojourners, NOT the owners. We should not demand any rights to ownership, or create vain and stupid Coptic flags (even if it may have a hundred crosses in it, we are in fact blaspheming the Cross, not praising it) (or worse, doing demonstrations blasphemously saying “With our souls and blood, we defend the Cross”), but to be content with what we have. Neither white flag for surrender, nor any other color of a flag for pride, but burn all flags you have, and boast only in Christ, the one and true King of a Kingdom we have been reborn into. If you do not burn your inner flags as well are your outer (flags here symbolize pride), we will never have peace and grace, and our numbers will continue to dwindle. It must not matter whether we are 10% or 20% of the population. We must take seriously the idea that it’s as if I am the last one left, and that pressure to pray and to concentrate your efforts into doing good must be as strong as being the last one left among Egyptians for being Christian. Peace of Christ is not the same as peace of the world. Peace He gave us, peace He left with us; the land of Egypt will not give us peace as He gives us.
Therefore, lose whatever pride of being Coptic you have. Be firm in the Christian faith and double your talents. Be sober-minded and in moderation, without immorality or vainly extreme asceticism. Be hospitable to each other, to the lapsed Copts (the sinners, the non-Orthodox, and the Muslims), without any grudge whatsoever. Be knowledgeable of the faith and never take your faith for granted, for Christ suffered for you. So expect suffering, not luxury. Be obedient to the Egyptian rulers, and honor your spiritual fathers of confession. Know your role and don’t stray from it, so that there can be harmony in the Church and in each family. Be humble, for pride of being Coptic is no humility. Be humble, and in that you will recognize the need to see the Coptic in the Muslim also. Be content, for content brings peace, and peace means you have an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which means whatever Holy Water you possess in your house, you already receive enough of it in Church. Give to those who are thirsty, feed the poor, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, father the fatherless. Never cease your “Je nai nans.” (Anglicized plural for Coptic hymn, “Je nai nan” meaning “Have mercy”) Ask the Lord to have mercy on your transgressions and on your brothers’, the lapsed Copts, including the Muslims. Be anxious for them as should to a brother. Be sincere and open to them. Forgive and forget even the terrorists among them, as Christ forgave the Jews and the Romans for crucifying Him. Seek them as Christ sought the lost sheep. Their lapsing is your lapsing. They may teach to kill an apostate, but Christ taught to seek the lost sheep. They may teach to bring mayhem on the Kafirun, but St. Clement taught us that those who lapsed, we should feel it is as if we are the Kafirun, for Christ taught to give the other cheek, to give more than what is asked, to expect nothing back, in fact, expect even worse, since we know the world brings no peace, and at the most if any peace, not as good as Christ’s peace. Why is Islam like this? Because it gives us a chance to shine and do exactly the opposite of what Islam teaches, and even more. In the midst of suffering and calamity, Christ said, “Behold, I make all things new.” In the midst of even a 99.999% of Egyptian Islamic majority, we have been given a blessing and a chance to make all things new, and not just shine, but shine even brighter. If someone asks for your coat, given him your shirt in addition to that. If someone asks to walk with him a mile, walk with him two. And don’t just wait for them to ask, but be ready and prepared to give more than what they will ask. By cranking your battery to full power, and doubling your brightness, you will surely double your talents, and watch your Church grow once more. For “adorned by a thoroughly virtuous and religious life, you did all things in the fear of God. The commandments and ordinances of the Lord were written upon the tablets of your hearts.”
And glory be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of all ages. Amen!
October 27, 2010
Alrighty, brace yourselves for my concluding comment of clarifications (forgive me for the length). Why this spiel at the end? About month before at that time (so September 2010), there was a great calamity in Egypt over His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy’s (HE) comments, and he made two comments that were particularly inflammatory and, yes, sectarian. The first comment was that we as Copts are the natives of Egypt, and the Muslims are guests in this country. Of course, as you can see, I disagree with this, and to be honest, that was an unnecessary remark. Assuming it is true, it is inflammatory on a political level as well as a religious level based on what I wrote here. So, my writing here was in response of refutation to HE’s primary comments. It is also a refutation of Coptic use of the so-called “Coptic flag“, also a sectarian and, what I have shown, an anti-Christian sentiment as well, and I have very strong anti-political views when it comes to my Orthodox Christianity, particularly also in response to the ancient caesaropapism our churches have practiced, beginning with the Roman Empire when it became Christened under the emperor St. Constantine. And so this all culminates in my attack against the views of HE, but to be fair, it is not just HE alone, but most Coptic clergy and laity. It is not really a Coptic pride they sense, but in answer to the centuries of persecution under Islamic authority and barbarism, even until today.
A corollary to the Coptic pride and the Coptic flag fallacies are the Coptic demonstrations in Egypt, and of prime example was the Maspero Demonstrations. While it is very difficult for me to forgive the Egyptian government, media, and army for what happened to Copts at the Maspero Massacre since the army told the Muslims to evacuate the area before they ran over the Copts, truth be told, when you show your fellow Egyptian Muslims who wanted to join you in the demonstrations for your civil rights that the Egyptian flag should be trampled (A story went around where it was told Mina Danial, who sadly died in the event, tried to provide Copts with Egyptian flags to make these demonstrations an all-Egyptian demonstration, not merely a Coptic one), and the Cross be used as a way to ostracize your fellow Muslim, the demonstrators committed a spiritual blasphemy against the Cross –and to make matters worse, they heretically exclaimed “with our souls and blood, we defend the Cross”– and a tactical blasphemy for not having human solidarity of Muslims by your side.
Now, I also need to qualify my words about “Islamic barbarism”. I am in no way saying Islam is inherently barbaric. I am saying that those who do represent Islam have indeed made Copts suffer, and there is something to be said about the loss of our language and distinct culture. We gradually became Arab than Coptic. So a lot of Muslims lost their Coptic roots to embrace the Arab conquest. This caused eventually laws to be passed that made it illegal with severe penalties for anyone who spoke Coptic. Muslim rights activist and lawyer Fatma Naout even made the same point, and talked about how Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, all preserved their culture and languages, but adopted Islam. So hypothetically, Islam is not at fault, but ancient leaders in the past who seemed to have misrepresented Islam, and present-day Muslims need to acknowledge that, at least for the peace.
I am thankful for my Arabic and Egyptian heritage, dare I say, at the risk of contradicting my old self and good ole Dr. Navia (who I miss very dearly), proud of it too. So I have nothing against Arabic, and I have nothing personal against Islam. I am only theologically against it, obviously. But I do not really want anyone to think that I am teaching Islam is terroristic. What I am saying is that even among the worst of Muslims, who good Muslims themselves wish they did not exist, we as Copts have an opportunity to shine even brighter. If we live among peaceful people, our light would not be as bright, and we would need to find ways to transcend even that peace of the land. But in the darkness of the dictatorship of the Middle East, where mosque and state are unable to be separated, and where we show both our loyalty of peace to the government and our examples as good Christians, better than any other Egyptian citizen they have with them (and thankfully, I think at present we are becoming good examples of this, although at times we do stumble), not only would we shine, but our lights would be blinding! If Christ taught to “love thy enemy”, even the terrorists who shout for Sharia and “right Islam” (like the Salafis and Islamists that both Muslims and Christians in Egypt have recently beautifully took a stand against together), we must do everything in our power to “see the Coptic in them”, to love them and pray for their return of heart.
Until today, I still believe those words I said at the end. But I do want to also add that HE was not famous for just saying this, but also for his comments on the Quran, which were even more incendiary than his previous comments and in fact completely made his previous comments forgotten in the media. At least for his previous comments, you can have a few Muslim sympathizers, analogous to the issue of US sympathizers with what happened to the Native Americans (if they say the US are aggressors, practically most Americans agree and condemn their ancestral past). But HE crossed the line into questioning the literalism of the Quran. Inasmuch as HE is not a pleasant character in the Coptic Church, I feel HE was trying to make an honest point based on scholarly issues without being insulting. Even Reza Aslan would agree with HE (that is in contradiction to the Quran, he does believe Christ was crucified), although Aslan is a very extreme liberal, and would be ostracized from the general Muslim community on that point. And this brings to the fact that we as Copts have been hindered in our duties of evangelism by fears of death for encouraging apostasy of Muslims. We are not daring enough as ancient Christians were, and even His Holiness Pope Tawadros (HH) in one of his interviews have said that he forbids conversions into the Church from Islam. While there may be desire to say HH is trying to protect his flock, what would the ancient martyrs and saints (I shutter to even mention Christ) say to him?
I must say if HE, and I have to repeat he is an unpleasant personality, was to have been killed because of those comments (and I think he left Egypt for a while so that the situation can get calmer), I would be the first to call for his canonization immediately as a holy martyr and a political martyr, because on the one hand, he stood as a symbol of trying to get Copts a step closer to their evangelical duties in their very own homeland where they are dwindling, and on the other hand, tried to increase the scholarly caliber of Muslims by challenging them as well as call for an implied freedom of religion. What are Muslims scared of that they should restrict apostasy or even honest debate and doubt without being insulting or polemical? And is there not any dignity for a person to freely not only practice his/her religion, but to leave and change religions at will? Let God be true, and all men be false and apostates. God does not need men to enforce people to stay. If God is love, religion should be free, because love is free.
Anyway, these tangents are some of the grievances I have, and until the Muslim-majority governments get this, there will be no democracy, and there will be a lot of suffering for Copts. HOWEVER, getting back to my main point for self-criticism of my Church, Copts are also complicit in this. On the one hand, they ostracize the Coptic apostate by Coptic pride (you leave the Church, you’re “no longer Coptic”, or the stupid Coptic flags or the blasphemous statements about “protecting the Cross”, yes that last heretical one even is connected to the fallacy of Coptic pride), and on the other hand, the clergy work with the government to make it difficult for a Copt to apostatize to balance out with the harsh laws on Muslim apostates (although frankly, it is still a whole lot easier for a Copt to apostatize). Neither is consonant to the gospel for a free loving God in Christ. And so my ending comments on “doing exactly the opposite of Islamic teachings” (and by this, I sincerely am saying practically almost all Muslim-majority governments have this in their civil laws), is that the Copt should seek out the apostate as if they were their own, with love and longing, and the desire to take the guilt of his/her sin on yourself so that he/she may be saved instead of you. The laws of Muslim-majority nations call for death (or at best the ostracizing) of an apostate, the guilt is on him/her, to hate him/her for leaving. The gospel of Christ calls for seeking the lost sheep in the apostate, self-sacrifice and self-“hate” (cf Luke 14:26) for the sake of Christ and all humanity who are in the image of Christ. If they say we are Kafirun, we reply with silence and readiness to attack them with our love when the right time comes, willing to suffer as if we are “Kafirun”, just as Christ was numbered with the sinners, even though we are blameless in Christ. And if we see the Coptic apostate as such, then we see all of Egypt’s Muslims as such, and in fact, all of humanity as well, where we will say with Christ, “Come my beloved brothers and sisters into the bosom of your Father and my Father, into the paradise of joy, into the heavenly Kingdom, into the Church of God, your home and my home. I have waited ages for you, yearning for you to come home as St. Monica yearned for her son St. Augustine, and as the Father yearned for His prodigal son.”
Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever, and to the ages of all ages. Amen!
Sources of Pictures:
San Clemente Mosaic pictures:
The Pharisee and the Publican icon:
HE Metropolitan Bishoy:
Coptic/Muslim unity flag: