Our coptic church really started losing it's coptic language



  • This message will probably be tough for some ...

    Strong people preserve their language and weak ones do not.

    I see Jews preserved their language and were able to revive it as best as they could. Imagine the Jews scattered for 2000 years all over the world were able to communicate again in one toungue.

    Syrians were able to preserve their Aramaic though were persecuted just like the Copts

    Armenians were able to preserve their language and even use in the Diaspora as a communication language

    Greeks were able to preserve their tongue

    I see the Copts as weak people when it comes to their heritage and nationality. We say we are not Arabs but we use their names, their way of talking and their culture. When I was growing up I never heard the Tasbe7a in Arabic, now it is the norm and even bishops encourage it. The Copts lost their nationality and the link to their fathers. Not many Copts can define who is a Copt and what language they used to speak.

    We as parents, priests, bishops, Synday School teachers have not done our part to preserve our heritage. Cantors started saying hymns in Arabic instead of teaching the people the meaning of the Coptic words (provided they know it themselves). Yes, it is unfortunate and a shame.

    If the Copts in Egypt cannot preserve Coptic, do we expect those in the Diaspora to do so.

  • Lol. Of course I do live in England. I meant I don't live in Egypt. When Copts choose to come and live in England they gain additional responsibilities for sharing the Orthodox Faith with English people. They are no longer Coptic Orthodox but Coptic Orthodox in England. That makes a difference.

    I don't expect Coptic or Arabic liturgies to cease in the UK if they are useful, but there should be English liturgies as well. This IS England. The people around us do generally only speak English and must be evangelised in English.
  • Dear Father Peter, in reply to post #30:

    You shouldn't, and you aren't. Don't misunderstand me, please. I'm not saying "Don't worship in English", I'm saying "don't jettison church tradition for the purpose of attracting converts." Perhaps it hasn't happened in your church, Father, and I pray that it never does,  but I know far too many people from other churches who have pointed out the correlation between changing things to attract converts and a general degradation of the liturgy and prayer life of their church. The liturgy should be in whatever the local language is, but when the idea is advanced (as it often is) that it is somehow cruel or wrong to keep the ethnic ties of the church alive, I have to disagree. You are of the British Orthodox Church, and as such should not be expected to behave like Egyptians just because you are part of the Coptic Patriarchate. That would make no sense, but that is not the point I was making. I too do not want to be anything other than what I am.

    My point is that I am against this idea that because some people have a problem with "ethnic" churches, the solution is to get rid of Coptic or other things that mark the church as having a particular cultural origin. I do not agree with that at all. A lot of people wouldn't admit this, but speaking from a white American perspective, there are some people would consider a church "too ethnic" simply for not being full of white people. Is this a healthy attitude to nurture by bending over backwards to change things rather than educate those who are coming into the church? Can we get away with (as it was in my home RC parish, which was roughly evenly split between Anglos and Hispanics) saying that we are "one church" while hardly ever experiencing one another's worship? Should I have insisted that they say the Hispanic Mass in English, and maybe take down paintings of La Virgen de Guadalupe, because they are in the USA after all, not Mexico?

    I am not now and would not ever insist that anyone be forced to pray in a language that is not their own. The Church is Orthodox because it is Orthodox, NOT because it is Coptic (or Armenian, or Syrian, or British, etc). But the Coptic Orthodox Church is as it is in part because of its particular heritage, and that heritage should be respected, and not degraded or discarded for anyone. If you don't want to pray in Coptic, then fine. Join the many other people who don't want to pray in Coptic. But I see this aspect of the tradition (along with other uniquely Coptic things, such as Coptic iconography and the Egyptian approach to monasticism) as being inherently valuable and worthy of continuation, and I think that the majority of the leaders of the Church agree, even as they also stress the need for evangelism and integration. I merely submit to you, respectfully and without prejudice against any tradition or opinion, that the two are NOT mutually exclusive. I can speak Spanish and English; I can eat Ethiopian food and hamburgers; I can embrace the traditions of all the Orthodox churches (I only talk about Coptic because that's this board and the church I feel attracted to), and I can do all this while remaining 100% average Joe North American white guy. If other people don't want to, they don't have to. But they can, too. No one needs to be anything they're not. It's absolutely not a zero sum game.

    Mikhail: Wow. Difficult to read, but equally difficult to refute, if we're honest with ourselves. I'm not sure if "strong" is how I would put it (plenty of valiant efforts at language preservation and revitalization are ultimately going to fail), but it is hard to argue with your point that there must be some (relatively large and robust) section of the community that preserves and perpetuates the language for it to have any chance of continuation or revival. The linguistic literature bears this out.
  • I would venture to say that none[/] of the converts or potential converts to the Coptic church have ever argued or requested the Coptic language be removed or limited to improve or grow their own faith in the Coptic Church. It has always been the "pure-bred" 2nd or 3rd generation Copts who have argued to remove Coptic. And because there is a movement gaining strength in all Coptic Churches of the diaspora from these Copts to remove Coptic, the clergy has responded and relaxed their use of Coptic.

    It has nothing to do with converts who are English-only speakers. It has everything to do with a new generation of Copts who want to anglicize or "modernize" their Coptic culture at the expense of the cultural tradition and language. What they fail to recognize is that such a movement is not a reflection of the Coptic language's supposed subtractive influence on Orthodox understanding but a reflection of their own psychological need to be more American or more English or just "something else" than what they are now. It's an immature understanding that teenagers exhibit. If we want to mature, both spiritually and culturally, than we need to raise the standard of Coptic identity and [u]USE COPTIC MORE!!!.

    In Deutoronomy 6:20, Moses tells the Israelites that in the future your sons will question the rites, laws and decrees you follow. How will the Israelites respond? By abandoning the rites? No. Moses gives them the answer: By telling them their story again. By explaining to them AGAIN why they do these rite and why they follow these laws and decrees. By doing the rite even more!!  This is how you raise the standard.
  • Thank you, Remnkemi. It is the same in other churches, from what I have been told and experienced. Some people are deciding for others what will or will not attract or keep converts (or youth, the other group who are often evoked as a reason for abandoning traditions). The people that the changes are supposedly made for are generally not consulted. It is a baffling way to deal with very real concerns, or potential concerns.
  • Oh my God, Remenkimi man... oh, I'm speechless. I can now see the day I never imagined I would. I'm agreeing with you on three posts in a row... oh my God... hehe... no man, of course you know I'm joking, but I can't agree more with you, and I don't think anybody can argue with you... aho kalam rabona (an Arabic humorous remark I don't expect many to understand)...
    Very well said Remenkimi, thanks
  • [quote author=Father Peter link=topic=11144.msg134873#msg134873 date=1301605243]
    Lol. Of course I do live in England. I meant I don't live in Egypt. When Copts choose to come and live in England they gain additional responsibilities for sharing the Orthodox Faith with English people. They are no longer Coptic Orthodox but Coptic Orthodox in England. That makes a difference.

    I don't expect Coptic or Arabic liturgies to cease in the UK if they are useful, but there should be English liturgies as well. This IS England. The people around us do generally only speak English and must be evangelised in English.

    I find it deeply offensive that the COC sends over to Europe, on many occassions, priests who only speak Arabic.

    This is disastrous.

  • Where else are you going to get enough priests to fill the gap and need?

    The Latin church imports priest to the United States from the Ivory Coast, India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and the Phillipines in order to fill their void.  Let's face it, in the Western Societies, there is a decreased vocation into the clerical ranks.  Yet there are thousands upon thousands and millions of "deacons".
  • If Converts are fine with it and those visiting don't find it a hindrance then I'm all for coptic. I personally prefer Coptic.

    However, it can't be the majority language. I wouldn't enjoy a 70% Russian liturgy as much as I would enjoy a 70% English liturgy with a little Russian on the side (If I were a convertee to Russian Orthodoxy from Protestantism I don't think I would want the complete abolishment of Russian.) Fr. Peter can probably attest to the same.
  • + Irini nem ehmot,

    *sigh* When will people fight for Orthodoxy the way they do for a now dead language.
  • Since there probably is no reasoning with your priest, my suggestion would be to make the best out of it. You will eventually grow to love the hymns when chanting them in English; but it must start by changing your attitude towards it.
  • [quote author=Κηφᾶς link=topic=11144.msg135157#msg135157 date=1301896323]
    + Irini nem ehmot,

    *sigh* When will people fight for Orthodoxy the way they do for a now dead language.

    Do they not do this?  ???

    I am not trying to be flippant, but I see a lot more "practice X is not right in the Church" threads than threads about Coptic language issues. I don't really see the two as logically related, since Coptic is after all not what makes the Church Orthodox.
  • + Irini nem ehmot,

    I've seen too many threads bewailing the woes of not using Coptic, and how the lack of Coptic is somehow directly correlated with the Orthodoxy of the Church. If the Coptic Church no longer used Coptic, it would still remain the Coptic Church established by St. Mark. The Orthodoxy of the Church is not dependent on the language used in the performance of her rites and liturgies.
  • I agree with the contention that the Orthodoxy of the Church is not dependent in any way on the language used in its rites and liturgies, but disagree that it would retain its Coptic character absent the use of the Coptic language in at least some domains. Sure, there would still be the repository of Coptic writings and the spirituality recorded therein (translated into many languages, as they are today), but in actually using Coptic in the Church, the Church retains a very real link to its cultural origins and rich history (just as when Greek hymns are sung) that would be severed irreparably should the language be abandoned. It is not about Orthodoxy that is somehow untranslatable, but about continuity that is irreplaceable.

    I feel like saying too much more than this could start a huge argument that would benefit no one, but I will add that I have spoken to members of other churches which have faced similar issues (primarily Maronite Catholics), and each one did mention a general decline in the traditional (Syriac) spirituality of their church that was in some way related to the decline in the use of their traditional liturgical language.

    From this, and many readings I have done on liturgical languages and the intersection of language and religion from a sociolinguistic perspective, I think it is not outrageous to propose a general idea for the consideration of everyone here. I am going to try to phrase the following very carefully, so as to not be misunderstood: While every language and culture is equal in its ability to express Orthodoxy in its fullest (i.e., we're all equal), not all languages express Orthodoxy in exactly the same way. Hopefully this is uncontroversial, as it is not prejudicial to state that there are differences even among churches that are in communion, e.g., the Armenians and the Syrians, the Copts and the Indians, etc. They're different cultures, and language is certainly a huge component of culture.

    So, while you can have Coptic hymns or liturgy in every language under the sun, they are most faithful to their original expression when kept in the language in which they were originally written. Of course, the liturgy and many of the hymns were not originally in Coptic to begin with, but were translated as was necessary and beneficial for the spread of the Orthodox faith among non-Greek speakers. And this is what is done and should continue to be done today, for the same reason. But just as the Church did not completely purge itself of Greek hymns in the shift to Coptic, or of Coptic hymns in the shift to Arabic, I don't think it should purge itself of Coptic hymns in the shift to English, or Spanish, or Dutch, or whatever language we're talking about. Every phase of the Church's history is equally important, and none should or needs to be discarded.
  • In 100 years should a congregation of Orthodox Christians be part of the local community and culture, enriching it with the Orthodox (rather than social) culture of its Faith, or should it still be fighting to preserve a variety of languages that are not the essence of the Orthodox Faith, and have no relation to the local culture?

    As far as my own experience goes, I would not have become Orthodox when I did, or perhaps ever, if I had only been presented with an Orthodoxy in the UK that insisted on using a variety of foreign languages. I had already looked at the much larger Greek Church and not been very interested in it for that very reason. I did not want to become a Greek. I wanted to become Orthodox. And the insistence on worshipping in Greek said very clearly to me - we do not want to become part of the English Christian community and we are not that keen on English people become Orthodox.

    I was very interested in Orthodoxy, but at that time in my life it seemed to me that the Greek Church was not living up to the Orthodoxy I was learning about because it was not at all interested in becoming Orthodox in England, and if Orthodoxy was not universal then it was not, as far as I could see, Orthodox at all.

    When a person has converted to Orthodoxy then it is possible that they will try to put up with all manner of difficult and trying circumstances. I know that this has been the experience of many converts I am in contact with. And my own experiences have not been entirely easy as a convert either. But there are very, very few converts who are happy and healthy in an environment where they do not understand the language of worship, and/or are not able to participate in the life of the community.

    I am in touch with quite a number of converts who are not happy and who do not feel that they are part of their local communities, not least because of the language issue, and I know that most or all of my own congregation would not have become Orthodox - certainly not when they did - if we worshipped in languages other than English. I do not believe that the vast majority of interested people in the area around me would come to Church more than once if we worshipped in languages other than English, or that the many people who contact us having an interest in learning more about Orthodoxy would be so interested if Orthodoxy were to be mediated to them in a different language.

    It seems to me to be axiomatic that Orthodoxy should be communicated in the language of the people, and in England the language of the people is English. If I were to go an live in Finland, even as an English Christian who loved the English language and culture, I would participate in worship in Finnish. If I were to go and live in Egypt, even as an English Christian who loved the English language and culture, I would participate in worship in Arabic and Coptic. The reason Arabic is used is because this is the Orthodox expression of the meaning of Pentecost - that worship should be conducted in the (or a) language of understanding and participation. This is the reason why the Coptic Orthodox Church does not still use Greek, and was not expected to use Aramaic.

    I do disagree with the comparison that was made with removing Mexican Spanish art from a church building to make it American. It seems to me that there is enough comprehensibility in the language of Orthodox art so that even if there is a preference it is still relatively easy to appreciate the content of iconographic art in a variety of Orthodox forms. I do prefer proper Coptic iconography, but I also have a Russian Orthodox painted icon on my wall which I love very much. I have some Ethiopian Orthodox iconographic items that are also very special to me. I think that the language of art is not the same as the language of speech. The difference between a Bulgarian Orthodox icon and a Romanian one is not very great, but the languages of speech are incomprehensible to one another.

    What does Pentecost mean, if not that people of every tongue should be able to worship God in their own tongue and with comprehension and participation? What does it mean when so many of the early Fathers speak with joy and pride that the same Orthodox Faith is expressed by different peoples in their own tongues - including even references to the peoples of Britain worshipping God in their own languages? At what point did this fundamental paradigm change so that now British people must learn Greek or Church Slavonic (not even Russian) or Arabic if they want to be able to worship God?

    We have already considered on tasbeha.org the fact that there was no such thing as a term such as the Coptic Orthodox Church until probably the mid-19th century. It is, and always has been, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, which makes no mention of language or even ethnicity, and was able to unite within its communion many different nations and languages and ethnicities. And we know that the Christians of Ethiopia, and I  imagine also of Nubia, Sudan and other places, which were associated with the See of Alexandria, have also been considered Coptic, that is 'Egyptian', without it being the case that any use of the local Egyptian languages was made.

    If there is one convert in a congregation who seems happy enough with the use of other languages than his own it might be tempting to think that there must be no problems. But in fact the convert may be suffering in silence, or may be one of those rare breed who loves languages and likes ethnic diversity. Most ordinary people do not, and I would suggest that for every convert who becomes Orthodox there are tens and hundreds who are put off by the use of foreign languages and even by very different types of music. This does not make them less committed in the search for truth and depth, rather it seems to be to require us to reflect on how we are engaging with the community around us. Are we content to be a little piece of Egypt in the UK or US or Canada or wherever. Or are we trying to make Orthodoxy a cuturally relevant part of the life of our Western town?

    It may be that both approaches are required, at least temporarily. There were Greek and Latin communities in Rome for quite a while, but eventually only Latin ones, even though many of the people will have been able to trace Greek ancestry. What matters is where we are not where our family came from. Our responsibilities are to the people God has placed us among. Which is why I would speak and worship in Finnish if I lived in Finland.

    Coptic will not die out. The natural choice of an ancient and dead liturgical language in England is Latin. If I wanted to worship in such a way then I could. But my congregation would leave me, being slowly starved of participation in the worship of the Church - even if I provided TVs with parallel texts. And since I do not know Latin properly I would also be fooling myself that I was leading worship. There are a great many Latin hymns of much value. We are learning some of them in my congregation because they are Orthodox in content, and the tunes are also of ancient Orthodox monastic origins. They are simple, set to a number of tones for different seasons. But we sing them in English. We are English speakers, not Latin speakers. The hymns do not become more spiritual if we sing them in Latin.

    Latin has not died out. There are a great many people who know it, and even who still write scholarly works in it. It is not in any danger even though it is not appropriate for it to be generally used in worship. Coptic is no different. It will not die out, and studies will continue to enrich the pool of knowledge. But the first choice of language for an English person to worship in is English, not Latin, nor Church Slavonic, nor Church Greek, nor Coptic. If a Coptic Orthodox community which was engaged with its local Western community chose to sing one or two hymns in Coptic each week then that is not an issue. If it chose to have a Saturday liturgy using Arabic and Coptic then there could be no issue with that either. But if the liturgy it presented to the Western community as 'Church' is not in English then the local Western community is justified in thinking that this type of Orthodoxy is not for them. This was how I viewed the practice and choices made by my own local Greek community.

    dzheremi and mabsoota are pretty unusual people. Most converts are not like you.

    Not only that, but in my own congregation we minister to a wide range of ethnicities who are ALL able to participate in our worship because it is in the shared language of English. We have people who are English, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Indian, Russian, Greek, Polish, Latvian, French, Romanian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian AND Egyptian come and visit from time to time, or become part of our family. The can all worship because they have some grasp of English. And I am trying to make sure that I can at least greet them in their own languages, and even offer the peace to them in their own languages. But we worship in English, the language of England, and the language that these other folk are seeking to become proficient in because they have chosen to come and live in England where English is spoken.

    Increasingly there is a resistance among ordinary English people to folk coming to live among us and choosing not to learn English or participate in our society. This is especially the case with Muslim immigrants, many of who come to live here and gain many benefits, while also loathing our society and seeking to undermine it. It is generally agreed that multi-culturalism does not work and has failed, and has indeed increased social tensions and breakdown. Therefore it will become harder and harder for communities to come to live in the West and choose not to open their own communities up to engagement with the Western communities they have come to live among. It seems to me that mission will become harder and harder if Coptic Orthodox congregations do not use English, and indeed that such congregations will even become the target of violence. There are stupid people who mistake paediatricians or paedophiles, and there are also stupid people who will mistake an Arabic and Coptic speaking congregation for a mosque.

    I am a convert. I would not be happy in a congregation that did not use 90% English in England. I know that I am not unusual or exceptional in that respect.
  • + Irini nem ehmot,

    Father bless!

    I couldn't agree with you more Father. We must always pray with understanding. That is vital. How many of us can honestly say we are fluent in Coptic? While that may certainly be the ideal, that is not the case. Deacons regurgitate sounds and words without any understanding. A friend of mine, who does know Coptic, has told me that he has heard deacons stop mid-word while chanting the Psalms during Pascha week. That makes no sense to me. Sure it sounds great, but is that what our worship should be based on? For those who do learn Coptic as a language and wish to be fluent, I applaud you. That is truly a fantastic thing and something that, if you can, you should share with others. However, it is still important to accommodate the majority, not the minority. Especially in the diaspora, we must be accommodating of those who do wish to become members of our Church. The beauty of Orthodox can be seen and shared in any language.
  • Father Peter,

    It occurs to me upon reading your latest post that I have been grievously misunderstood. I blame myself, of course, and I am sorry for not being clear enough, but just so we're clear now on what I've been trying to communicate: I am not arguing against the use of English (indeed, I love English so much that I am using it right now) or any other language, but for the preservation and appreciation of Coptic. This is a pretty important distinction, I would think, since I am certainly not trying to advocate that anyone be held hostage to a culture or a history that is not theirs, or be hampered by the same even if it is theirs.

    I look at it a bit like being adopted. I hope I find a Coptic Orthodox family in which to grow up, but I know that there may be a lot of issues to be dealt with in the process of finding some place where I fit. This may include language or other issues. Be that as it may, it is not my place as the one who is looking for a home to dictate to my potential family the terms on which I will grace them with my presence. They are not blessed to have me; I am blessed to have them. And in this environment, where I am coming from the outside looking to partake in their mysteries, if I am judged to be sincere my inquiry, they should conceivably be willing to meet me half way regarding the issues that make integration into the family difficult. This MUST include language and cultural issues to the extent that they are present, because I am not becoming Egyptian. I am becoming (or trying to become) Orthodox.

    In light of this, I think it is right to come to a consensus that can satisfy everyone, no matter their particular circumstance. And this is what I already see happening in the Coptic Orthodox Church in the USA and no doubt elsewhere, without the abandonment of the Coptic language. For one example from this site alone, you can listen to the liturgy of St. Basil, prayed mostly in English by Fr. Anthony Hanna. I particularly like the alternating English/Coptic arrangement of the "Hiteni", starting at about 17:45 in track 1. And hearing "Efrahi ya Mariam" (sorry, I can't remember the title in Coptic) in English...well, I don't know how native Arabic-speakers feel about it, but I think it sounds very beautiful! I am actually very pro-English liturgy. I'm sorry if I've ever seemed otherwise. Again, I am arguing for Coptic, not against other languages.
  • Don't worry about disagreeing with me. Lol!

    I don't consider I have been adopted by the Coptic Church and therefore need to become Coptic I guess. I consider that I have become Orthodox and remain English in England. So I wanted to know as an Englishman wanting to become Orthodox in England - where are any Orthodox who are interested in sharing Orthodoxy with English people in England in English - which is where I am and many Orthodox are.

    I am entirely supportive of Greeks being interested in their Greek culture and Russians being interested in their Russian culture - but above and beyond being Greek and Russian there is being Orthodox and that requires and demands serving the people around us in the language they use so that we are Orthodox where we are not Orthodox where our families came from.

    That does not require losing interest in our families culture but Orthodoxy requires Orthodox in the West to engage with the West. I would not have become Orthodox 17 years ago if I had needed to learn Church Slavonic to become Orthodox I probably would not have done. Does that mean that Russians should not understand Church Slavonic? (Many don't) but it surely means that established Russian communities have a responsibility to use English and reach English people. They are, after all, no longer Russians in Russia but Russians who have chosen to live in England where English is spoken.
  • Fair enough. As usual, I'm not entirely sure that we are disagreeing as much as looking at things from different vantage points. And this makes sense, right? You are a British priest, worshiping in an indigenous British Orthodox Church. The closest thing I have here in the USA is the Orthodox Church in America, which is a missionary church connected to the Russians but (at least in my local area, which is actually the southernmost tip of the historic Russian empire) filled mostly with converts, who as in your church speak many different languages and come from all over the world. It is a wonderful thing to behold, and if I felt the deep connection to Byzantine Orthodox spirituality that I do to Coptic Orthodox spirituality, I could see myself being very happy here.

    As there is no analogous "American Orthodox Church" that is connected to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, I figure I can make my American-ness secondary to my search for God. ;)
  • I have recently been attending the only Eastern Orthodox church in London, England which has a liturgy entirely in English. Let me repeat, the only one.

    I discovered that the Coptic church in London has fortnightly liturgies in English and a layman who seems responsible for organising these told me they are pushing for more English liturgies. But these liturgies are held in a hall, not a church (yet)!

    The Armenians are welcoming to outsiders but their liturgy (don't like the term mass-it's RC)is firmly in Armenian.

    Throughout London ethnic groups (not necessarily Christian by persuasion) celebrate their various forms of worship in a variety of languages so Copts fit into the category of ethnic enclaves along with a variety of Hindu and Muslim groupings, Parsees, Jains and so on. Christians are supposed to be spreading their faith and I have a faint hope that members of the Coptic church might be serious about engaging in this activity. So, in order for this to take place it seems reasonable to expect that just as Arabic has largely supplanted Coptic in you liturgy, English should soon supplant Arabic if you are serious about mission.

    Let us pray to the Lord of the harvest that he may send labourers for this work.
  • Dear Aidan,

    I am considering the possibility of beginning a British Orthodox mission in Central London, perhaps starting with a bi-monthly Saturday Liturgy, moving to a monthly Saturday liturgy by the end of the year. I am discussing this with others. This might be of interest to many of the enquirers who live in London if we made sure it was based near a tube station.

    Father Peter
  • I believe the only way we can truly satisfy the converts and be successful in reaching out, is to have a separate missionary church that is capable of hosting the culture of the converts.
  • Aidan, I have spoken to various people, and I am now seeking to organise a monthly Saturday liturgy in Central London as soon as possible, which will be entirely in English. Well except for Kyrie Eleison.

    Father Peter
  • [quote author=Father Peter link=topic=11144.msg135183#msg135183 date=1301929301]
    Aidan, I have spoken to various people, and I am now seeking to organise a monthly Saturday liturgy in Central London as soon as possible, which will be entirely in English. Well except for Kyrie Eleison.

    Father Peter

    Excellent news!

  • [quote author=Father Peter link=topic=11144.msg135168#msg135168 date=1301908208]
    In 100 years should a congregation of Orthodox Christians be part of the local community and culture, enriching it with the Orthodox (rather than social) culture of its Faith, or should it still be fighting to preserve a variety of languages that are not the essence of the Orthodox Faith, and have no relation to the local culture?

    Fr Peter, I think I may have a different definition of Orthodoxy. I have always been thought that Orthodoxy is the faith handed down to us from Jesus Christ through his Apostles by Apostolic succession. It is mainly the faith, doctrine and theology we have received. But Orthodoxy is also the expression of that faith through cultural experiences. In theory, one should find the same, true Orthodoxy in any Apostolic Church. The difference between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Armenian or the Greek Churches lies in the second half of my definition: cultural experiences.Thus, one who is searching for Orthodoxy can find the faith anywhere but his/her final decision takes into account the cultural, social, linguistic, and political experiences found uniquely in the Church that was chosen. It seem that you are adovcating separating the cultural experience from the Orthodox doctrine. In theory, this distinction exists. But practically, how could it exist?

    For example, no one can will say to a potential convert, you need to eat "fool madames" (baked beans) to be saved in the Orthodox Church. In fact, we can't even say to him, you must fast 250 days a year to be saved. But if he chooses to become Coptic Orthodox, then he needs to assimilate to the cultural practice of fasting 250 days and possibly eating baked beans on all 250 days.

    On the flip side of the coin, would you agree that if many converts complained that they are unable to fast 250 days because they live in a local highly-obese community that the Coptic clergy should remove the fasting practice? Of crouse not. Given the very conservative nature of the Coptic Church, a local Coptic church that has lived a 100 years in a highly obese community and culture will probably still have 250 fasting days with baked beans. And we all agree that baked beans or fasting is not the essence of the Orthodox faith, but we still hold on to these cultural practices that Copts have been able to experience Orthodoxy through.

    Language shouldn't be any different. It's not the primary focus of Orthodoxy. But the language is directly related to the music which directly related to the Coptic spiritual experience. In fact, if you study Coptic language enough, you'll see it is a direct forum of Coptic spirituality. The Coptic language has value in itself. But for some reason, no believes language is important enough to learn it, comprehend it, study it or cherish it.

    There was a time when no one would argue that bilingualism enriched a person's life, experience and identity. Most monolinguals are jealous of bilinguals, while too often we find many bilinguals wanting to be monolingual because of social peer-pressure. Yet, cultural experience, social linguists, and anthropology all agree that language is an integral part of identity. 

    I think the situation for the British Orthodox is different for the Coptic Orthodox. Again, both families share the core doctrine, theology and faith. So in this sense, theoretically, we're identical twins. But the British Orthodox does not have a culture that is that old. Yes there are certain aspects of the British Orthodox church that have very old roots, but for the most part, it's new. Therefore, no one will see anything wrong when you use Latin hymns in English. Your identity is not wrapped up in Latin. The same is true for dietary customs, social events, ecclesiastical heirarchy, politics, art and language. You can pray whatever language you want because your only language is English and you live in a predominately monolingual community. Everything that identifies the British Orthodox is new and can be moved, changed or altered (with the exception of doctrine). The Coptic Church is different. Our identity has always been wrapped up in long melismatic hymns, the use of the Coptic language, the foods we eat, the socializing (or lack of socializing with Muslims) and so on. There has been minor changes in Coptic customs within the last 30 or 40 years. But what has stayed the same has become our identity. What has happened recently is social peer-pressure (possibly Islamicly or Protestantly induced) has pushed a change for no other reason than laziness.

    But there are very, very few converts who are happy and healthy in an environment where they do not understand the language of worship, and/or are not able to participate in the life of the community.

    I am in touch with quite a number of converts who are not happy and who do not feel that they are part of their local communities, not least because of the language issue, and I know that most or all of my own congregation would not have become Orthodox - certainly not when they did - if we worshipped in languages other than English.

    I think you're describing something a little different. No on is arguing that it's tough luck if converts, or any Christian, doesn't understand what is happening in the liturgy. Everyone must fully understand. If that means using English, then fine. And there are plenty of English services. The problem is deeper. The problem I think you are describing relates to the fact that you and your converts never identified with a Church that is bilingual. Nor do you want to pray in a bilingual environment. And if bilingualism is not something you cannot assimilate into your identity, then the Coptic Church is wrong for you. HH Pope Shenouda and the Synod in divine wisdom found the best solution: forming a sister church that allows you to live and operate in a non-Egyptian culture and receive the Orthodox faith.

    What we are really talking about is a bilingual community that for the most part lives within a bilingual community. Most Coptic Churches are located in heavily bilingual areas. The problem is that there is a trend within the Coptic community that seeks to be something it is not. There is a movement to change our identity to one that better suits their need to be like the foreigner they knew now rather than their ancestor they know nothing about.

  • i'm with Father Peter.
    i think it's great that there are people preserving the beautiful coptic language, but it should not be compulsory for all people. some people feel culturally australian/british/whatever even if their grandparents were egyptian, they shouldn't be made to worship in coptic if it is foreign to them.
    obviously i have chosen to worship in foreign languages; to me it is really beautiful, and my friends and my (slightly unhappy) family will all confirm that i am not really british. so in the same way i think i should not be forced to accept my own slightly dodgy culture, so also the coptic people should not be forced.

    please tell us, father peter, when these english liturgies will start, i love to pray in english occasionally(!) and i think it's great for the local people to join in with as well.

    i will still compete with my friends though to see how many coptic hymns i can learn (currently they know more!)
  • If people from Egypt choose to come and live in the West then at some point their Egyptian-ness must be modified by their becoming British, American, Canadian etc. This is a necessary process if people want to emigrate to the West. It is also a fact of Orthodoxy that we are responsible for the people among whom we live and we must reach them with the Orthodox Gospel in their own language.

    This was what happened with the Egyptians, this is what happened to the Armenians, to the Georgians, to the Ethiopians, etc etc. This is what Orthodoxy does. We know that the original Church in Egypt used Greek, and changed to Coptic for the sake of the people. Why then should every nation receive the Orthodox Gospel in its own language except those of the West? What does Pentecost mean if not that the Orthodox Church belongs to each nation in its own language?

    I think that you fail to appreciate the antiquity of the British Church. In my own Church I have some of the relics of St Alban, the proto-martyr of Britain. He represents a well established Orthodox Church of the 3rd century, and he was probably martyred in 283 AD. The ancient Orthodox hymns we are starting to occasionally use in my Church date from the 5th and 6th centuries, as do the ancient monastic tunes to which they are set, they are therefore as old as the Coptic hymns. Aristobulus, the first bishop of the Britons, was one of the Seventy Apostles. Bishops from the British Church attended some of the early councils. There is nothing new in how we worship.

    I have not advocated trying to find a culturally neutral Orthodoxy, but Orthodoxy using language of the people. There is nothing special about the Coptic language, any more than any other language. We have our favourite languages, and we have preferred languages, and we have our native languages. But the language is not very important, not even my own English language beyond the needs of English speakers. It is a mistake for you to try and mix culture with language. Language is much more important that what we eat, or what tunes we like. A person can put up with alien food, with alien tunes, with unfamiliar spiritual rules, and embrace them as far as is possible. But a person cannot communicate or understand in a language that is not familiar to him. And Orthodoxy HAS NEVER required a person to learn a language to become Orthodox except in the case of Orthodox Churches in modern times coming to the West. Now for the first time potential converts are being told that they must learn another language.

    This is not Orthodox.

    If it were so then Copts would be worshipping in Aramaic. It is not fair to have received Orthodoxy in your own language and insist that someone else has to receive it in a language other than their own. There is room for both languages, but no room for insisting that Western people have to learn another language to become Orthodox. It is against Pentecost.
  • I really like your last post, Father Peter. Especially the part about there being room for both languages.  ;)

    And George, I agree with you about the unique window onto the spirituality of the Coptic Orthodox Church that can be gained from learning Coptic. I don't think it precludes Coptic hymns being prayed in other languages at all, but this was more or less the point I was trying to make earlier in the thread when I wrote that all languages and cultures are capable of expressing the same Orthodoxy (because indeed there is only one faith, irrespective of your culture), but that all languages and cultures express that Orthodoxy in their own way. I think that this is a distinction that a lot of people on all sides of this issue do not make. Too often people hear "preserve Coptic" and think it means that they have to learn it to be Orthodox. That is wrong. On the other side, people hear "liturgy in English" and think it means destroying the faith. That is also wrong. To me anyway, it is more a recognition of the reality that language as a mode of expression is highly culture-specific. Languages, while not being "better" or "worse" for the job of communicating (including praying the liturgy!), are not all the same. A Coptic Orthodox liturgy entirely in English, even if it is a direct translation from the Coptic sticking as closely as is possible to the original idiom, is not the same as a Coptic Orthodox liturgy entirely in Arabic, which is likewise not the same as a Coptic Orthodox liturgy entirely in Coptic. This is just a property of the languages involved, and the mindsets opened by the different languages.

    This is a hard pill for monolinguals to swallow because it seems like it's making a value judgment about them ("what are you saying? I can't be Orthodox and English/American/Spanish/whatever?"), but trust multilinguals that it isn't a matter of "better" or "worse"; just distinct. It is not about the idea that certain concepts can't be expressed in a given language (most linguists, while accepting some variation of the idea that language shapes thought, threw out this kind of "hard linguistic determinism" a long time ago), but how the concepts are expressed that are unique to a given language and the culture it is attached to. This most definitely varies according to language and culture (and religion, and lots of other things that make language such a complex and wonderful object of study).

    For a dispassionate example I can give from my own life: I used to wonder, being a child of Sunday morning cartoons, why Russians always talked like cave-people, like Boris and Natasha do in the "Rocky & Bullwinkle" cartoon. It wasn't until I actually started studying Russian at age 19 that I understood: It's not just a stereotype or a way of making them seem less civilized; Russian, like many languages, lacks articles, so a sentence like "I have a pencil with a sharp tip" would come out as "I have pencil with sharp tip" even among Russians who weren't cartoons, but just hadn't mastered the somewhat complex idea of articles. (It is VERY difficult to create a conceptual category in your mind for some part of a foreign language that does not have an analogue in your own language; English speakers struggle with Russian/Slavic aspectual systems for the same reason. It seems horrifyingly random, or at least ridiculously labyrinthine.)
  • What I would dispute is that those who advocate Coptic as THE language of worship are truly multilingual since they are not native speakers of Coptic and their relation to Coptic is the same as my relation to French and Finnish. I can communicate in French and Finnish. I am not monolingual. But I while I would happily worship in French and Finnish if I lived in France or Finland, I would not believe it to be acceptable for a Frenchman or a Finn, coming to live in England, to insist that English people should worship in French or Finnish in England. This is what it seems is being insisted by some Copts. I would learn another language if I went to live in another country, and I would worship in that language. But THIS IS ENGLAND AND WE SPEAK ENGLISH HERE.

    I find it hard to believe that the nuances of Coptic are apparent to the vast majority of those using Coptic hymns or prayers since they are essentially being prayed in translation. There is a great difference between my singing Frere Jacque (the French song) and knowing what it means, and actually singing it without having to think or know what it means because I am singing it in my native tongue. I do not think that most people use Coptic in the same way that a Frenchman uses French. Therefore I am not convinced by arguments about the hidden content of Coptic worship or that English people are at fault for expecting to be able to be entirely Orthodox without learning any other language. I can sing Hayr Mer, or Abun d'Bashmayo, but even though I know what the words mean I am not singing them as a native Armenian or Syrian would. And I believe it to be the same with the vast majority of those using Coptic. They are using that language as a second language, and in most cases are translating in parallel rather than using the language fluently and as if it were their native language.

    I am happy to be corrected. But I know some Kernewek, the lost language of Cornwall in England. But I know it in translation, not natively. I do not believe that it is possible for me to know the inflections of thought which existed in the language when it was alive. All that I can do is read into the bare vocabulary my own English language. I can never view Kernewek from the inside. I am not convinced that most/any can view Coptic from the inside either - except the small group of possible native speakers in the South.
  • Fr Peter,

    I don't know if the British Orthodox has the same fastig practice as the Coptic Church does. Excuse my ignorance. But if it does, what you do if all the members of you parish told you that fasting 250 days is too hard? They want to fast from "one food item only" like broccoli and not all meat, seafood and dairy products. Analgous to our language example, the community around them (especially at school) do not fast at all. Would you remove the requirement?

    Of course, no one is saying fasting is required for Orthodoxy. Or this type of fasting is THE fasting of salvation. Or that this type of fasting is more spiritual than fasting from broccoli only.

    I know no one likes to think in what-if scenerios. But what I'm trying to say is at what point do we change our practice for the sake of being like others vs. trying to bring others to benefit spiritually from our practices?

    I'll reply to your other posts later.
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