orthodox mission



  • Cyril, it is not mission. It is pastoral support for immigrant communities and their children. That is not a bad thing although we are all moving further away from a proper Orthodox ecclesiology in the West.
  • Father bless. Thank you Abouna. Could you describe what that Orthodox Ecclesiology might look like in an ideal case?
  • edited October 2014

    Hi Cyril,


    It's wonderful that large cathedrals are being built, but honestly, if anything, I think they're signs of increased Coptic immigration.  Can we honestly say that large cathedrals are being built in North America to serve an evangelized continent?


    I can't answer for Abouna, but I think what he is driving at is the ideal of one bishop per locality as opposed to ethnic jurisdictions.  Proper Orthodox Ecclesiology teaches that the Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church spoken of in the Creed.  Not the Coptic Church by itself, but not some nebulous body that encompasses everyone who calls themselves "Christians" from Snake Handlers to Joel Osteen.  The Orthodox Church makes itself incarnate in a place, and ethnic jurisdictions with multiple bishops serving a single area are contrary to that ideal.

  • Hi AntoniousNikolas I like what you've said about ecclesiology. In terms of missiology there's also this concern...
  • Hi Cyril.  Are you saying by this meme that the material wealth of our Coptic communities in the West is having a negative impact on our Church spiritually speaking?
  • edited October 2014
    Hi AntoniousNikolas

    In relation to missiology, I think that the Jean Vanier is reflecting on three things among many:

    1) the potential neglect of the poor when material wealth becomes centric and a thought of as means of stability or triumphalism (this happens in the East and the West)

    2) the more concerning issue of neglect caused by communities that look inward and become self serving or self preserving, or imperial (in that missiology is reduced to expansion of the borders and getting more people into our camp)

    3) the top down anti-kenotic approach of works of mercy and missiology, the kind that is able to give handouts and handups but affirms a seperation and maybe even elitism between giver and receiver. The refusal of kenosis and the inner rejection of the other. The temptation to become an organization which fundamentally focuses on utility and independence instead of ecclesia and "beings in Communion".

    I don't think he's suggesting that the poor are saints automatically. One could be rich or poor and never be at peace. One can also number the materially rich and poor among those living in the divine life of the Holy Trinity. Saints can be both rich or poor. The poor can also deny communion and fail to see Christ in their brother or sister (just as the Rich can). So its not an automatic ticket to sainthood or becoming human. But Christ did choose the poor and blessed them and comforted them, maybe because there we see how ravaged and abused one's humanity can become. And it is there we can sometimes behold the glory of God. Not only in material poverty but in the impoverished condition of the fall, of our common dying and beholding death. In death we see such equity no? Even if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.

    To put it in another way, does not witnessing the suffering or dying of others bring us to compassion or to acts of mercy? It is at that moment of compassion where we possibly see a bit clearer, where we no longer see labels but persons. In the impoverishment of those who suffer do we not go out of ourselves? It is that outward looking love that draws from the formation of interior love.

    Mind you, I'm chief among those who would prefer the comforts and the successes and the benefits of material wealth over choosing the life of St Teresa of Calcutta or Tamav Iriny or Mama Maggie. I'm first to put my self interests before the interests of others. I'm first to do what Jean Vanier identifies in his quote and his words are very humbling.

    But maybe the poor are prophetic. Maybe unity is revealled in and through them? Maybe all orthodoxy and orthodox doctrine is to be found and revealed in the encounter with humanity's impoverishment.

    Maybe that's the challenge today in missiology: to live the interiority of the other...

    "Prayer is good with fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness. A few prayers with righteousness are better than many with wrongdoing. It is better to do almsgiving than to lay up gold. For almsgiving rescues one from death, and it will wash away every sin. Those who do almsgiving and are righteous will be full of life."
    - Tobit 12:8-9

    "...but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps." - Matthew 25:4

    "Seest thou what great profit arises to us from the poor? shouldest thou take them away, thou wouldest take away the great hope of our salvation. Wherefore here must we get together the oil, that it may be useful to us there, when the time calls us... Knowing then these things, let us contribute alike wealth, and diligence, and protection, and all things for our neighbor's advantage." - St John Chrysostom, Homily LXXVIII

    "The matter of social justice assumes Christological dimensions in the thinking of the Saints. In their eyes, the person who is wronged, poor, sick, despised is the person of Christ. "As long as there is time, let us visit Christ, serve Christ, feed Christ, clothe Christ, offer hospitality to Christ, honour Christ," wrote Gregory Nazianzus. The struggle of the Saints for freedom from the bonds of personal egotism is, directly connected to "being joined with all men," to the sense of unity in society where one affects all, for the improvement of its structures. The demand for justice is interwoven with the proclamation of the Kingdom. "For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteous­ness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. . ." (Rom 14:17). On behalf of the righteousness which makes man, more than any­thing else, to resemble God, the faithful are obligated to struggle with word, with silence, with their active or passive resistance, with their martyrdom. But it would be naive and superficial to identify the coming of the Kingdom of God with sociopolitical struggles and romantic messianic conceptions." - Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, Mission in the Way of Christ, 132

    "Blessed are those who can see the radiance of the glory of God in the patient participation in the sufferings of human­ity; in the poverty of the poor of this world, in the weakness of the weak, in the thirst for justice; in partaking freely in the pain and the sufferings of others with genuine selfless love. The decisively new in the love which Christ revealed is not to "love one another," but primarily what follows: "as I have loved you," that is, with selflessness, with fullness, with re­spect for human freedom, and with all the consequential di­mensions of suffering. "The gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Cor 4:4) constantly calls us back in line, placing us before the harsh and demanding form of the glory of the Cross. Thus the doxological stance and way of life does not mean a hymnological escape into some closed idyllic environment. Rather, it means a universal openness, participation in the prob­lems of the whole of humanity, particularly those of the humble and the wronged. It means to stand by in defense and support for all; it is an uninterrupted breath and radiance of the fire of the Holy Spirit. Directly connected with the meanings of "light" and "power," the "glory of God" expresses something particularly dynamic. The surprising and brilliantly shining lives of the Saints reflect such a living doxology of the humility and the love of Christ, preserving a missionary conviction that is timely for every person, every age, and every society."
    -Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, Mission in the Way of Christ, 173

    "The Cappadocians bring the poor into the 'market economy' of Christian society by linking the image of the imminently destitute debtor to three positive themes. The first is the way in which the poor enable theosis; that is, the donor who helps the poor with generous gifts imitates God's generosity and thus participates in God's nature. The second is a concern with the image of incarnation, particularly the poor themselves as the body if Christ. The third is the use of kinship and citizenship language in evoking appeals to grant the poor material entitlement and even human 'rights' on the basis of this relational image."
    - Susan R Holman, The Hungry Are Dying, 101
  • Interesting thoughts.  Very edifying.  I like the bit about "imperial mission".  Fr. Irenei says something similar.  Mission is not about bringing more people into camp, but about transforming ourselves and the souls around us and leading them into communion with Christ.



  • aah, very nice posts!
    yes, the difference between social 'mission' as shown in the lives of our saints of old and modern social 'mission' as shown in big coorporate organisations from developed countries, is that the modern concepts perpetuate the gap between rich and poor and the church fathers closed it.
    if everyone shares what he / she has whether or not he is considered 'rich' or 'poor' then the distinctions become blurred and fade.
    individuals choosing to share so much that they become 'poor' help this aim very much.

    we should never preach a sermon about 'the poor' without making it relevant also to those 'poor' who are in the church and listening to it.
    we should always be ready to learn from and receive from those who we consider 'poor' as the inability to receive is simply arrogance and imperialism.
    similarly, we should be ready to give to those we consider 'rich'. giving a cup of water or a simple meal when we can't afford more is something that will bring its own reward.
    it should never be 'us' and 'them', but we should all be sure to have fellowship with those richer than or poorer than ourselves.
  • Fr Michael Sorial has a book called INCARNATIONAL EXODUS that deals with mission on pages 39 to 58.
  • North American Mission and Evangelism Conference

    On March 18, 2014 at the North American Mission and Evangelism Conference (N.A.M.E. Conference), the Coptic Orthodox Bishops from North America, along with eleven priests from parishes through the United States and Canada, assembled for a two-day conference in Titusville, Florida. The objective of the conference was to discuss the future of the Coptic Church in North America in the realm of inculturation and incarnational ministry. In this section, I will offer insights — highlighted in the meeting minutes — which led to the establishment of this annual conference. Next, I will offer a review of the presentations prepared by the attendees, with special interest in two lectures entitled The Current State of the M ission Focused Churches and Catholicity of the Church: Church and Culture, before concluding with a brief analysis of an additional key point during the conference sessions.

    1.1 Background

    Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, called for a seminar that would address specific challenges that will impact the future of the church in North America.122 At a time of considerable sociological changes in the Church, there was a strong inclination that the unique witness of the church needed to be preserved - while at the same time becoming incarnate — within the new cultural context. It is believed that the emergence of new culturally integrated parishes — also referred to as mission focused churches - was the result of fulfilling the need of bringing the gospel in a culturally accessible fashion to a broader demographic.123 The purpose of the conference was to discuss culturally relevant practices by which the Orthodox faith, as uniquely experienced within the ethos of the Coptic Church, could be incarnationally manifested in North America through a Christocentric paradigm.

    1.2 Presentations
    During the conference, chaired by Bishop David of the New York and New England Diocese, special presentations were offered by two key figures, along with sessions led by eleven priests. I will offer an overview of the special presentations before reviewing a few of the broad points of discussion that received special focus during conference dialogue.

    1.2.1 The Current State of the Mission Focused Churches
    In the talk entitled The Current State of the Mission Focused Churches, two key areas were addressed. The session began with a reflection on the factors that likely contributed to the cultural disconnect within many of the diaspora communities. The analysis of how immigrant communities adapt to their new environment was offered through the perspective of a model with four categories for cultural integration. First are the assimilationists, which are those who “follow mainstream American Christian culture.”124 Second are separationists who have disassociated the Coptic “Church from the American Culture entirely.”125 Amongst the areas of impact for separationists is that of language. “The main cultural language in the 1960’s - 1990’s followed a separationist model.”126 Third are the marginalists who lose both “Egyptian and American cultural identity.”127 Fourth are the integrationists who “take the best of both cultures.”128

    Of particular interest are the recommendations offered as steps forward, which may be categorized as American Orthodox Spirituality, maintaining an Orthodox theology, and areas for further research and discussion. Acknowledging that “changes must be made to integrate the Coptic and American culture” in order to “allow for the emergence of American Orthodox Spirituality,” it was emphasized that this can neither be forced nor done haphazardly. Rather, this should come about organically with direction being offered by leadership.129

    A significant point of emphasis during this presentation was in regards to the maintenance of a sound doctrine within the scope of the Coptic tradition that emphasizes “patristic teaching.” In order to effectively represent an Orthodox theology in a culturally integrated fashion it is essential for continued dialogue, research and mandated training. Concluding the presentation, several subjects were highlighted as projected subjects for future seminars, including the “role of women, liturgical order, western songs, [and] hymnology.”130

    1.2.2 Catholicity of the Church: Church and Culture
    The session entitled Catholicity of the Church: Church and Culture, opened with a historical view of how the church engaged with matters of culture during the Apostolic era, as well as through various periods of Coptic history. The presentation highlighted how the current cultural struggle “is not a new issue but has been around since the Apostolic era.”131 However the preservation of the Coptic Orthodox Church has been significantly affected by its ability to adapt and integrate. Liturgically, we find that the Coptic “rite is a mixture of Greek and Coptic cultures.”132 Furthermore, it was suggested that “when Islam spread, Christianity in North Africa disappeared. While the Coptic Church survived” because of its ability to integrate the faith in an adaptive manner.133 Whereas, “the church in North Africa was primarily Latin elites...in Egypt the Church was more of a populace expression” represented with a diversity of liturgical expressions throughout the country.134 A major point of emphasis during the session was that, “if the Church in North America is able to deal with adaptation, we will survive. Otherwise, the Coptic Church in North America will end with immigrants."135

    During this session several points were also offered which require further consideration, before a challenge for today and call to action conduced the presentation. Although definitive answers to each of these points were offered, it was suggested that further thought must be given to the roles of songs, liturgical calendar, clerical vestments, the role of women, reverence in the church, and liturgical rites. Of particular interest for the scope of this paper were two points. The first was an inquiry that pertained to the church calendar and whether there is “a danger of changing Christmas from January 7 to December 25 in light of the dying spiritual view of Christmas in the West.”136 The second was a statement that had to do with the liturgy in which it was affirmed that “the original [liturgical] rite was a simple rite with layers that have been added. We should differentiate between the theological meaning and the rite itself.”137 The challenge that was offered to the church is a significant one to its survival. It was asserted that in Egypt:

    We were... fighting for our survival. The Church became a haven for the culture, spirituality, etc. Once the Ottoman empire weakened and the missionaries came to Egypt, the Coptic church created a defense mechanism that has been carried over with our immigration leading to... [an] island; the belief that we have to teach people the language and culture in order to survive. But the leaders quickly learned that this is ecclesiastical suicide.138

    Thus the purpose of the Coptic diaspora, in manifesting the Body of Christ in North America, may only be actualized by learning “about [the] new culture,” as well as engaging more deeply with their own faith.139
  • 1.2.3 Notable Point: Liturgy
    During the conference sessions, there was special attention placed upon the role and significance of the Liturgy. Although it was contended that the reverence in the liturgical worship seems to have attracted North Americans to the Coptic Orthodox Church, it was likewise argued that a lack of liturgical understanding, exacerbated only by the use of languages other than the vernacular, prevents many North Americans from becoming members in the Church.140 In addition it was claimed that there appears to be a strong desire for the “Orthodox Style of Worship among American men,” due to its ascetic and predictable liturgical structure. However others suggested a need for some flexibility in exploring in liturgical celebration, in particular with the alignment of feast days, like Christmas, with that of the Western calendar.141

    2 Critique and Reflections
    When the local Church is incarnate, an inevitable impact upon the liturgy will be observed. “One may contend that the process of the Church's incarnation will attain completion when the liturgy shall have embodied in its rites and texts the people's cultural expressions."142 It is from the perspective of liturgy that inculturation is “defined as the process of inserting the texts and rites of the liturgy into the framework of the local culture.”143

    Although some may understand it as being equivalent to liturgical adaptation, “it would be more accurate to consider it the theological basis of, rather than a synonym for, liturgical adaptation.”144 Albeit these adaptations have tended to develop slowly enough to go unnoticed, one must acknowledge that, “critical studies of liturgical history...[demonstrate] that Christian worship had indeed changed a good deal over the centuries.”145

    The process of contextualizing the Gospel to culture has been an ongoing function “in order to maintain accurate symbols that effectively communicate the Apostolic faith. This perspective is especially needed now, as the rate of cultural change is accelerating.”146

    Although the contextualization of the gospel is necessitated by the dynamic incarnation of the Word amongst every culture, not ever}' possible cultural adaptation may be regarded as constructive. It is for this reason, that “as the worship tradition grew, the early church struggled to recognize what would be acceptable to use in worship and what was not.”147

    In this section, I will offer a critical analysis of the aforementioned conference based on materials from the previous chapters. I will seek to critique those items that the committee discussed, as well as those that the committee implied ought not be changed. The standard for assessment will be based upon considering the effectiveness of each recommendation in contributing to a Christocentric model within the three models of enculturation as expressed in chapter two. The objective of this critique is to offer insight, as well as to generate dialogue on the effectiveness of the adaptations towards a proper understanding of inculturation based upon Athanasian incarnation theology in chapter three. It is important to highlight that the scope of this work is limited to the culturally integrated churches in North America, as opposed to churches in Egypt or dual track churches 148 throughout North America.

    Although there were a number of recommendations and suggestions that were addressed at the conference, including the role of women, theological education, and relationships with other traditions, for the scope of this paper I will focus primarily on recommendations related to liturgical inculturation, as well as a brief assessment of the nomenclature that is used to identify culturally integrated parishes.

    2.1 Recommendations for Change
    In this segment, I will provide a critical analysis of the suggested adaptations for the Coptic Orthodox Church in North America, with the objective of moving from a model of incarnation that contextually represents a single, homogeneous group within Egypt, to a more inclusive embodiment that is representative of the diversity in the current context. Amongst the items that will be assessed are the emphasis for use of the local vernacular, the categorization and naming of culturally integrated churches, and the consideration of aligning liturgical calendars with Western festival dates, in particular Christmas. As the objective of any ecclesial adaptation should be incarnational in nature, not every consideration will necessarily contribute towards producing a Christocentric environment. For that reason I will provide a review of the suggestions with which I disagree and agree.
  • 2.1.1 Points of Disagreement
    There are two points of discussion from the N.A.M.E. Conference that will be considered for further review. The first pertains to the nomenclature that is used in identifying culturally integrated churches. Some of the names under further review of such churches are “Mission Church, Mission Focused Church and American Coptic Orthodox Church.”149 Although the precedence exists amongst the Russian Orthodox Church to have a variety of names for churches within the same tradition 150 - as seen in chapter two — the Antiochian Orthodox Church has maintained a single nomenclature, in which “there is no distinction between the churches in name but the distinction comes from the linguistic differences.”151

    Whereas it is pragmatic to categorize and name churches based a manner that will allow visitors to more effortlessly locate a parish with which they will culturally identify — as seen in the Russian Orthodox Church in Chapter 2 - it is my contention that it is theologically problematic. Not only does identifying a parish as a mission church or mission-focused church appear reductive in the scope of minis try for that parish, it may also contribute to divisiveness and unnecessary distinction amongst the body of Christ within the same tradition. While the identification of a parish as American Coptic Orthodox may provide a sociological connection for those who are more self-identifying as Americans, it does so while at the same time adding an additional layer of culture, which does not necessarily contribute to the Incarnation of the Church or the development of an American Orthodox Spirituality. It is my recommendation that the parishes not be identified as distinct by their nomenclature but rather based upon a self-identifying sociology that contributes to a Christocentric culture within North America, as modeled within a prior chapter highlighting the Chris to centric model of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, which successfully maintained a unity of nomenclature while affirming a model of inculturation.

    The second point of consideration for adaptation pertains to the liturgical celebration of Christian feasts, with particular interest in the Christmas festival. On the one hand, there is a need to explore the possibility of aligning the Christmas festival with the Western date of celebration; on the other hand, the danger of changing the dates “in light of the dying spiritual view of Christmas in the West”152 may not be ignored. There are certainly challenges for an ecclesial body to celebrate the Christmas feast in North America on January 7th. First, as the Orthodox Church observes a period of fasting prior to the festal celebration, Copts find themselves fasting during a season when it appears that the entirety of the surrounding society is feasting. Second, additional inconveniences are placed upon individuals who do not receive time of holiday from work or school on January 7th. Albeit disadvantageous, and these points are worth considering, it is my contention — as noted in chapter two — that the churches in the west must avoid indiscriminate enculturation, being enculturated in ways that do not advance a Christocentric culture within the church.153 As Christmas in the West has become highly secularized, there is a danger in seeking to align with a culture that is becoming increasingly less Christocentric in the celebration of this feast.

    Finally, since “liturgical worship interacts with the culture by challenging the culture [,]...Christian worship does not seek to blend in with the culture and become absorbed; rather, it seeks ways to critique the culture by opposing those elements, which are contrary to the Word of God.”154 Although there are certainly benefits to aligning the festal celebration with the Western Celebration of Christmas, the deterioration of a highly Christocentric celebration must be avoided by the church taking a counter cultural position in its celebration of the Incarnation, since Athanasian theology explicitly ties the nature of the Church to that of the Incarnate Word.
  • 2.1.2 Points of Agreement
    During the N.A.M.E. Conference there were a number of positive recognitions of the committee, which will contribute to the further development of a Christocentric, American Orthodox Spirituality. Amongst these recommendations are included the need for the integration of both cultures, as well as that of the development of music that is theologically Orthodox while Western in its sound. Although developing an integrated culture that includes the creation of enculturated Orthodox Christian music is a necessity, I am of the opinion that the use of vernacular in all aspects of the body of Christ is a first step towards the Church being incarnate in North America, which will contribute in the development of the other areas of recommendation. However, for the scope of this paper I will focus on the observation for the need of using the local vernacular.

    Since “the object of liturgical inculturation is to graft liturgical texts and rites onto the cultural pattern of the local Church,"155 the result must be that the liturgy relates linguistically “to the community of worship."156 Liturgical worship serves as a bridge to link Christ and his Body within a specific cultural context. One may view throughout history that:

    All liturgical bridges have one side that is immovable, the side that begins with the Apostolic faith. The other side of the bridge will touch down into a specific cultural setting; and so there are actually many bridges, since a different bridge is required for different cultures. Each bridge is built using building materials from inside the culture. The liturgy takes local languages and cultural symbols and creates a liturgical bridge that can bring the Apostolic faith into this new cultural setting.157

    In early Christian history we find an “acceptance of local culture in other places in the east where local churches become consolidated, such as Armenia, Egypt, and Ethiopia. Different cultures were accepted from the start, so that they could afterward be baptized and become transformed.5’158 The initial step of inculturation was the use of the local language, “the chief means through which a culture expresses itself, [which] became completely acceptable as a vehicle for expressing and spreading the gospel. It was subsequently used in worship, to help people both acquire knowledge of the gospel and also experience it.”159

    Although the use of the local language should not be confused as being synonymous with a Church being Christocentric, it is the first step for a diaspora community to be incarnate in its new environment. Many within a diaspora community may contend that it is the role of the Church to infuse the language of the motherland into its liturgical practices, and that failing to do so will lead to the inevitable disappearance of that language. However it may be argued that this will only contribute to an ethnocentric culture within parishes of developing diaspora communities, as seen in the second chapter. As has been the experience of the Greek Orthodox Church in North America, which manifested an ethnocentric cultural model, “the Church will fail in its primary function” to the extent that it “focuses its attentions and resources on promoting”160 aspects of secular Greek ethnic identity. It is for that reason that I am of the opinion that the use of the local vernacular in every aspect of culturally integrated Church life should be a mandate for the gospel to be incarnate through the Coptic Orthodox Church in North America.
  • 2.2 Recommendations to Continue Unchanged
    In order for the Coptic diaspora - which has been called out of Egypt - to be incarnate in North America, the Church must adapt to its new environment Of equal importance to the recommendations towards adaptations were the committee’s positions on things that should not be changed. I will critique these positions, offering analysis of items that I disagree with and those with which I agree. Of particular interest for this area were discussions pertaining to liturgical reverence, the role of liturgical wording, the maintenance of an Orthodox theology, and the centrality of liturgy.

    2.2.1 Points of Disagreement
    The preservation of liturgical words, rites and tunes is a key area that requires reflection in order for the liturgy to be inculturated. Although there has not been an implicit opposition to the adaptation of liturgical texts or tones, there is the sense that the universal church must be unified in the expression of the liturgy, with diversity of language being the one exception.

    Whereas liturgical inculturation may contribute to the loss of a communities’ ethnic heritage, with the implementation of language, imagery, texts and tones of the new dominant culture, one may contend that:

    In order for the gospel to be lived in all its universality — in every place and at every time — all peoples in all regions of the world need to reexamine it carefully, experience it in the context of their own cultures, and give it expression with their own voice and their own soul. Every nation is called upon to use its own particular tone and phrasing in the effort to know the gospel. It is incumbent upon every local church to contribute the positive values of its own particular culture and to further develop them, consistent with its own national, linguistic, and tribal character.161

    In worship, the liturgy must preserve the values of the local people. Thus, I am of the opinion that there are two liturgical aspects that must strongly be considered to adaption. With regards to the liturgical wording, there are elements of the Coptic liturgy that are foreign to North American culture. Within the Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil, the Church prays for “the rising of the waters of the rivers.”162 The wording of this prayer, although significant in Egypt, has no relation to North American culture. In Egypt the preservation of life was dependent upon the rising of the Nile river, as a form of irrigation for the agriculture society of the Nile Delta region. As the Christians of Egypt understood that God was their provider, they prayed in a manner that was reflective of their values and needs. Although the great river of Egypt has ceased to rise since the building of the Aswan dam in 1970, the global Coptic community continues to offer this prayer in each liturgical service.

    A critical perspective of this litany would help one to consider that in North America the fulfillment of such a request for the waters to rise would be considered a natural disaster that could bring about catastrophic results. An additional area of disconnect, between the Coptic liturgy and North American values, has to do with gender exclusive language. “The use of inclusive rather than exclusive language in traditional liturgical phrases would help reduce the marginalization" of women and to honor the “the historic role of women in the Church.”163
  • 2.2.2 Points of Agreement
    There was one key recommendation made during the conference — maintaining the centrality of the Liturgy in the life of the Church — pertaining to that which should not be adapted within the new environment. It is my contention that this is an essential element in preserving the experience of the Coptic Orthodox Church. For the Orthodox Church, the Eucharist is the greatest expression of the incarnation revealed in the life of the Church. It is what makes the church Christocentric and manifests the people into the body of Christ through a living communion with God, as implied in Athanasian incarnational theology.

    However, many congregations in the West have begun to turn to non-liturgical formats, claiming, “that liturgical worship has become ineffective at conveying the faith...One is perhaps tempted to conclude that they must therefore be changed. But such a conclusion without further qualification is open to debate. For there are signs, which may not be understood, because they happen to belong to another cultural milieu or have been obscured by historical evolution."164 Albeit that the liturgy ought to remain as the central act of worship within the Orthodox Church, this does not take away from the challenge that the Coptic diaspora has in transmitting the gospel message in a fashion that is consisten within the local culture. Liturgical inculturation does not imply a complete dissolution and reconstruction of the worship. The modern phenomenon of such practices in the West may be due to the consumerist mindset that has begun to permeate the church. It has been suggested that:

    The development of liturgies that respond to the specific needs of target audiences bears striking resemblance to the myriad of options presented by fast-food restaurants who stand ready and willing to make anything your way. Liturgical presiders frequently trade the red rubrics of the ritual book for a casual style inspired by the hosts of popular television talk shows. The selection and implementation of music increasingly seeks to entertain or inspire as in the concert hall or the stadium while the demands of assembly singing are at best an afterthought. All of this (and more!) is directed toward a consuming audience for which the liturgy has often become one more product wing for their attention among the many seductions created by savvy marketers and advertisers.165

    In sum it is essential for the Coptic diaspora to maintain its witness to the incarnation. It may only do so by avoiding the imprisonment into a specific cultural form,166 as has been witnessed by other diaspora communities. Just as Athanasius affirms that Christ was called out of Egypt — as seen in the previous chapter - so too have the Copts. If this diaspora community is to preserve its Christian message as the body of Christ in North America it must preserve its witness to the Athanasian implications of the Incarnation. Theology is not that which is simply taught in books but is expressed incarnationally through the way the church engages with its surroundings. It is the predisposition that shapes how the community of believers engages with the local culture. The Coptic Orthodox Church in North America must explore how the church will continue to offer a 2,000 year-old witness to the incarnation of Christ in a context that it has never faced before.
  • Footnotes

    122 Coptic Orthodox Church, “North American Mission and Evangelism Conference” [minutes given at seminar for the 1st Annual North American Mission and Evangelism Conference, March 18, 2014], 1, Coptic Orthodox Church, Titusville, FL.
    123 Ibid, 5.
    124 Ibid, 4.
    123 Ibid.
    126 Ibid, 5.
    127 Ibid, 4.
    128 Ibid.
    129 Ibid, 6.
    130 Ibid.
    131 Ibid. Two scriptural passages were highlighted in Acts 6:1-6 and Acts 15 that address cultural struggles during the Apostolic era.
    132 Ibid.
    133 Ibid.
    134 Ibid, 7.
    135 Ibid.
    136 Ibid.
    137 Ibid.
    138 Ibid.
    139 Ibid.
    140 Ibid, 1. It was emphasized that the use of non-vernacular is not only a barrier in the liturgical context but also within a less formal sodal church setting.
    141 Ibid, 3-4.
    142 Anscar J. Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity, and Catechesis (Collegevillc, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), 18.
    143 Ibid, 30.
    144 Ibid, 18.
    145 John F. Baldovin, “The Development of the Liturgy: Theological and Historical Roots of Sacrosanctum Concilium,” Worship 87, no. 6 (November 1, 2013): 517-32,526-527.
    146 Jeff Thormodson, “Christian Worship in the Context of Cultures,” Missio Apostolica l0, no. 2 (November 1, 2012): 126-34, 127.
    147 Ibid, 131. “Albeit candles were not liturgically utilized for the first several centuries ‘because of their association with idolatry and pagan temples,’ the early church did adopt the use of white baptismal gowns ‘as representing forgiveness and purity, most likely because of a creative assimilation based upon the toga Candida of the Roman citizens. While almost every cultural element has a similar story behind it, the critical principle that has been learned over the ages is that any liturgical change or introduction of new cultural elements must be built upon what already exists.’ The adaptations must be connected with Christian liturgical practice.”
    148 A Dual track Church is one that seeks to serve cultural and ethnic immigrants from the motherland, as well as their children.
    149 Coptic Orthodox Church, “North American Mission and Evangelism Conference,” 3.
    l50 Ibid, 3. Fr. Kyrillos Ibrahim offered that there are 3 different Russian Groups, including ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russian), which is primarily Slavonic, Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of Amcrica.
    151 Ibid.
    152 Ibid, 7.
    133 Ross Hastings, Missional God, Missioned Church: Hope for Reevangelizing the West (Downers Grove, IL: I VP Academic, 2012), 38.
    134 Thormodson, “Christian Worship in the Context of Cultures,” 130.
    155 Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation, 37.
    156 Ibid.
    157 Thormodson, “Christian Worship in the Context of Cultures,” 127.
    158 Anastasios, Facing the World: Orthodox Christian Essays on Global Concerns (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminar}? Press, 2003), 89.
    159 Ibid.
    160 George Matsoukas and Stephen J Sfekas, Project for Orthodox Renewal: Seven Studies of Key Issues Facing Orthodox Christians in America (Chicago, 111.: Orthodox Christian Laity, 1993), 2.
    161 Anastasios, Facing the World’ 91.
    162 The Divine Liturgies of Saints: Basil, Gregory, and Cyril’ Second Edition (Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States, 2007), 206.
    163 Matsoukas and Sfekas, Project for Orthodox Renewal, 5.
    164 Thormodson, “Christian Worship in the Context of Cultures/’ 132.
    165 Tony Alonso, “Consumed: Celebrating Liturgy in a Consumer Culture,” Worship 87, no. 5 (September 1, 2013): 428-444, 428-429.
    166 Anastasios, Facing the World, 97.
  • @cyril mission is about getting people into heaven. Simple. Evangelism is the job of all Christians. Be bold.
  • interesting posts.
    but, dear mr / ms 'coptic mission', please could you identify yourself more clearly so we can engage in discussion in this.

    in the above posts, which appear to be copied and pasted, there is frequent reference to 'i'.
    please tell me if this 'i' is you, mr / ms coptic mission and please tell me who you are.
    e.g. 'i am "ms coptic mission" and i am a sunday school teacher in canada. the opinions in the the posts above are my own'.
    or 'i am "mr coptic mission" and i am a reader in america and i have copied the above article from the personal blog of mr gergis mina / ms monica amir, who is a deacon / teacher in australia / holland and who was on the advisory panel for the holy synod.'

    then i can chat to you about all the issues raised, which i think are very important.

    i'll also introduce myself!
    i am "mabsoota" and i am a (more or less) middle aged coptic orthodox Christian in uk and i love talking about mission. i have been orthodox for 6 years, and before that, i was protestant for a lot of years.

    i agree very much that it is not a good idea to differentiate 'mission churches' with specific titles, as it implies the other churches don't need to bother with this and can slump into a comfortable rut of arabic and foul medames (sorry to mention foul so soon after the end of the fast! i admit i am not missing it yet!!)
  • edited January 2015

    Re: changing the date of Christmas -

    "*Nowhere better seen than in the classical argument of the partisans of the "old calendar": on December 25th we can fully share in the "secularized" Western Christmas with its Christmas trees, family reunions and exchange of gifts, and then on �January 7th we have the "true" - religious - Christmas. The tenants of this view do not realize, of course, that had the early Church shared in such an understanding of her relation to the world, she would never have instituted Christmas, whose purpose was precisely to "exorcize", transform, and Christianize an existing pagan festival"
    Fr Alexander Schmemann: http://jean.square7.ch/wolfcms/public/SyndesmosTexts/Text_34_Schmemann-Secular Age.pdf

    That said, I remain opposed to changing the date, as those who advocate it most strongly see it as a form of (false) ecumenism. They ignore the fact that the Orthodox world is divided on this issue, and proceed to insist that we must celebrate on the same day as the heterodox.
  • in reply to a message from qawe,

    i don't want to know the real name of 'coptic mission'. i am just curious to know if he / she agrees with the copy and paste articles so that i can say what it is i agree with and what i don't understand in the same way.

    i don't know how to respond to a copy and pasted article which contains no commentary at all.

    it seems too vague and i will easily be confused on who is saying what.

    maybe qawe can understand what the poster is trying to say.

    if so, please explain it to me, thanks.

  • > copticmission > Fr Michael Sorial has a book called INCARNATIONAL EXODUS that deals with mission on pages 39 to 58.

    i have just realised that this post was supposed to be an introduction to the other posts.

    so the quotes are from this book, and the 'i' referred to father michael.

    sorry, i did not understand this before.

    i just got confused by the long and seemingly random blocks of text.

    so, what i really want to ask, is what do you, mr /ms 'coptic mission' think about what father michael has written?

    what is your personal opinion?

  • Our Lord Jesus Christ's peace and love rest upon all of you. 

    I'm glad to see this discussion about the Coptic Mission churches.  I didn't read every commentary but read through a lot of them.  There are many quotes from different Orthodox Theologians but not many Biblical references.

    Someone said (paraphrasing) How would our Lord Jesus see all of this? Well, let's see what the Bible says

    The Great Commission: which is one of the final things He said before He left the disciples and ascended to heaven!
    "And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."  Mark 16:15 NKJV

    I appreciate one of the commentators named Cyril who recognized that Pope Shenuda III was VERY SUPPORTIVE of the mission churches knowing that they are fulfilling all of coptic orthodoxy in all of its THEOLOGY and doctrines and LOVINGLY proclaiming the Word to the masses without any deviation.  H.G Bishop Youssef is supportive of the concept and is starting 8 mission churches calling them by a different name!! (HGBY is as Coptic and Orthodox as it comes; HGB David is supportive; HG Bishop Serapion is very supportive)

    Every church is supposed to be a mission church; YES!!!!  however, we have been "doing church" for so long and getting caught up in a language issue (that isn't even ours- Arabic is not our language) for so long besides becoming "Pharisee-like" and fulfilling the traditions and specs of the prayers that we fail to have a sincere personal relationship with Christ with the basis of LOVE for Him and for others; we neither fullfill the Great commission nor become good samaritans, nor develop personal relationship with God ourselves.

    So so Sad!  These discussions are so so sad and judgemental with the majority of you never even stepping foot in one of the Coptic Missionary Churches.

    I have visited 3 of them and attend St. Paul's Coptic Church of Chicago regularly for the last year.  I can tell you from a personal basis that as a result, it has opened my eyes to my legalistic and hypocritical ways and every person that I know who goes there even ONCE says the same thing. There has been so much fruit since Father James was ordained to the church 1.5 yrs ago (unlike the church I used to go to that has been in existance for 20 years- losing members): these fruits- many Coptic who no longer were going to any church or going to a nonOrthodox churches are now members of St. Paul's- regularly attending and serving!!!; Muslim converts, exprisoners converting, gang members converting, homeless converting, youth that were so lost coming back to the Coptic church (BTW most coptic churches in the U.S will have more than half their youth that will leave the FAITH and not just the church - this is based on research that has been done).

    So you want to know whether this is a positive thing or not: look at the fruits!!! WWJD? How would our Lord Jesus see this???

    Stop JUDGING what you don't even know or have never attended.  If we are to be imitators of Christ, we need to see things the way He sees them!!!
    Again the Missionary churches are not doing anything UNORTHODOX or against Coptic Dogma or theology!
    Lord Have Mercy on us all and help us to stop destroying each other and build and encourage!!!!

  • hi, i'm not sure anyone said anything against mission churches.
    of course they are doing very good things.
    but we should call them by a different name than 'mission churches' because 100% of all churches must be mission churches.
    i would suggest we call the church, for example, 'saint mina's orthodox church, davenport' and then in the line below there could be something indicating it is in the coptic patriarchate (until we merge with the indians, armenians etc and stop having 'coptic' churches in the diaspora).
    then we can still do whatever the church is doing well, just without calling it a 'mission church'.

    but i know very, very little about church names etc. in north america as i live in europe, so maybe i have misunderstood this point.
    i am happy to discuss it further.
  • Has anyone read scholarship on the Coptic Church in America? Maybe the mission Churches arose in response to some serious pastoral concerns. If you read "Of All Nations: Exploring Intercultural Marriages in the Coptic Orthodox Church of the GTA" a DMin Thesis by Father Dr. Pishoy Salama, there's mention of the need for Mission Churches in the Coptic Church.


    Again what's so different in the mission churches? Reading the thesis paper it sounds like mission churches do everything according to Coptic tradition, hymns, rites except in English. Even if we look at Church in Egypt, some Abounas and servants use or reference material from outside the Orthodox tradition and they do so for spiritual growth of the people.

    Sounds like the same in the misson churches except with regards to language.
  • yes, so they are doing very good things.
    they just don't need to call them 'mission churches'.
    people in the know will know they are specifically reaching out, but if they don't take the 'mission' name, 
    then it won't be exclusive to them, and later other churches can copy their ways without having to change their names!
  • well, now i read the thesis (most of it), thanks a lot for the link.
    it's a really well written thesis by a caring and sincere priest examining an important subject (intercultural marriages in the coptic orthodox church).
    thanks for sharing it.

    i agree with many of his points, and it doesn't look like he wants to name churches as 'mission churches' and in fact, he does say that he hopes and prays all churches will reach out to those around them more.
    which is nice for people like me who were not born in the church.
  • @Godhavemercy

    No-one here (or at least I don't) disagrees with the concept of non-Egyptian culture parishes, what we do disagree is the manner of execution in some mission churches, particularly those without local diocesan bishops. I fully support the mission churches under HG Bishop Serapion, but this support does not extend, eg to SMSV or STSA. Specifically, I disagree with the use of heterodox, non- or even anti-liturgical worship.

    "I appreciate one of the commentators named Cyril who recognized that Pope Shenuda III was VERY SUPPORTIVE of the mission churches knowing that they are fulfilling all of coptic orthodoxy in all of its THEOLOGY and doctrines and LOVINGLY proclaiming the Word to the masses without any deviation"

    Neither Pope Shenouda nor Pope Tawadros endorse the use of heterodox worship: http://returntoorthodoxy.com/coptic-orthodox-popes-bishops-against-heterodox-worship/

    "H.G Bishop Youssef is supportive of the concept and is starting 8 mission churches calling them by a different name!!"

    And I fully support HG Bishop Ypussef in his efforts. However he does not endorse heterodox praise and worship/CCM either: http://www.suscopts.org/q&a/index.php?qid=1098&catid=266

    "for so long besides becoming "Pharisee-like" and fulfilling the traditions and specs of the prayers that we fail to have a sincere personal relationship with Christ with the basis of LOVE for Him and for others"

    "these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone" Luke 11:42

    Are you saying that it is possible to have a sincere personal relationship with Christ apart from "the traditions and specs of the prayers" of the Church? If you are, that's an issue, and perhaps speaks to the lack of the fullness of Orthodox teaching at these mission churches.

    The heterodox mission churches are the real Pharisees. They practice the liturgy as an empty ritual, as fast as possible, to get it over and done with, so they can get into the "real worship". The liturgy is approached according to the letter, not the spirit. As a few magical prayers we say to confect the body of Christ and avoid excommunication, not as heaven on earth and the model for our worship, prayer, and our whole life. Why else would they use heterodox worship?

    "These discussions are so so sad and judgemental with the majority of you never even stepping foot in one of the Coptic Missionary Churches"

    There are thousands of recordings and second-hand testimonies online of the use of heterodox worship and books and sermons (pointed out by no less than HG Bishop Suriel himself). Do you contest these?

    "There has been so much fruit since Father James was ordained to the church 1.5 yrs ago"

    Big numbers count for nothing if the people aren't living the fullness of Orthodoxy, which has been contaminated by heterodox materials.

    "BTW most coptic churches in the U.S will have more than half their youth that will leave the FAITH and not just the church"

    The ecclesiology you have implied here is not Orthodox, and I'm not surprised since it is the same heretical ecclesiology explicitly taught by mission church pastors and is suggested by the use of heterodox worship. Leaving the Orthodox Church and leaving the Faith are the same thing. If you have left the Orthodox Church, you have also definitely left the Faith. Again, I don't blame you as this is what is taught in the mission churches (I'm not sure about Chicago, but definitely Toronto).

    Compare HG Bishop Youssef: http://returntoorthodoxy.com/bishop-youssef-true-christian-unity/

    with Fr Pishoy Salama:
    "While full doctrinal unity is still out of reach, yet the love of Christ is what unites everyone." p117 of his PhD

    "Again the Missionary churches are not doing anything UNORTHODOX or against Coptic Dogma or theology!"

    They practice unOrthodox modes of worship. And there's no such thing is "Coptic dogma or theology".
  • copticmission I'm a bit uncomfortable with this line:
    “liturgical worship interacts with the culture by challenging the culture [,]...Christian worship does not seek to blend in with the culture and become absorbed; rather, it seeks ways to critique the culture by opposing those elements, which are contrary to the Word of God.”

    I'm not sure that's the purpose of liturgy...
    It sounds too much like a separation between sacred and profane...and a bit too much like moralism (ie. halal vs haram).

    In contrast ponder on what one Orthodox Liturgical Theologian has said:

    "My conclusions are simple. No, we do not need any new worship that would somehow be more adequate to our new secular world. What we need is a rediscovery of the true meaning and power of worship, and this means of its cosmic, ecclesiological, and eschatological dimensions and content. This, to be sure, implies much work, much “cleaning up.” It implies study, education and effort. It implies giving up much of that dead wood which we carry with us, seeing in it much too often the very essence of our “traditions” and “customs.” But once we discover the true lex orandi, the genuine meaning and power of leitourgia, once it becomes again the source of an all-embracing world view and the power of living up to it – then and only then the unique antidote to “secularism” shall be found. And there is nothing more urgent today than this rediscovery, and this – return – not to the past – but to the light and life, to the truth and grace that are eternally fulfilled by the Church when she becomes – in her leitourgia – that which she is."

    So too often those who are critiquing the mission churches want the same type of reduction...just a more "traditional" one...if church and liturgy are just a retreat into our pietistic feelings, our nationalism, our traditionalism, our triumphalism or our desire to setup a parallel "Christian" market or culture... Then perhaps we are totally missing the point of "mission" and "incarnational ministry". (Ie. God became man so that man might become god)

    More on the false dichotomy, Fr Stephen writes:

    "The false dichotomy of religious/non-religious, or sacred/secular too easily demonizes culture and the world or their activities. Some religious groups seek to solve this problem by creating a parallel Christian culture: thus “Christian Rock” music and “Christian Romance” novels. A common result is often bad music and bad literature. As a rejection of culture it becomes a false creation."


    "The largest non-Protestant group in America that successfully resisted secular culture for a time were the immigrant Catholic groups who came into the U.S. from the late-19th century to the early 20th century. Needless to say, the secularism they faced was weak, and still “churchly.” However, they resisted the lures of assimilation through strong Catholic neighborhoods, Catholic schools, orphanages, hospitals and other institutions. They survived by creating something of a parallel culture. Today that parallel culture has been deeply depleted. Once strong school systems have been devastated in many places, both by increasing costs, decreasing vocations for the religious who once staffed the schools, and the dispersion of Catholic populations."
  • But perhaps the line can be understood if it's read in a particular context. Like for example take the Saint who we ascribe to one our liturgies, St Basil, also had a strong sense of liturgy served on the altar which fed the faithful and the table which fed the needy...maybe both are deeply connected.

    St Basil is also known for a "countercultural" liturgical city called the Basiliad, a hospital for those who were excluded from the Roman liturgies and who were deprived from access to relief and food when the city had a liturgy held.

    Maybe the early church saw what the Roman "secular" world was doing and brought it to fuller meaning and revealed it in greater clarity through the lens of theosis and participation in the divine life? What then becomes our liturgical prayers which we still pray today were maybe once shaped by the deep connection between the secular liturgy and the way the Church divinized it...or understood it as a divine work. Dr Susan Holman has some good books on the topic but I'm not sure of the implication the research has on liturgy and mission...

    Fr Philip LeMasters has a paper on Liturgy and the Basiliad which suggests a similar connection.

    "Philanthropia in Liturgy and Life”
  • edited January 2015
    Fr Michael's description of missionary service of the Coptic Church falls short to address a coherent framework. This excerpt that copticmission has provided illustrates one person's opinion with no evidence to support his claims. I can go through the whole excerpt line by line to show how Fr Michael contradicts his own words and draws conclusions with no evidence. I will focus on one part. 

    Fr Michael writes "Once the Ottoman empire weakened and the missionaries came to Egypt,"
    The missionaries came to Egypt well before the Ottoman empire was weakened. The Ottoman empire began in 1517 after the Ottoman-Mamluk war and continued until it was declared a British protectorate November 5, 1914. The Protestant missionaries began under the papacy of Pope Peter VII in the late 17th century and continued till 19th century. The Coptic Church was not weakened by the Protestant missionaries as is clearly evident today. 

    "the Coptic church created a defense mechanism that has been carried over with our immigration leading to... [an] island; the belief that we have to teach people the language and culture in order to survive."
    This is where Fr Sorial begins his incoherent framework. Teaching language and culture is not done for survival. It does not make the Church an island. Language and culture education in a religious domain is done to maintain a connection to the mother land. The abandonment of language and culture in the lands of immigration CREATES the island of solitude and discontent with the mother land.

    "But the leaders quickly learned that this is ecclesiastical suicide.138"
    Herein lies the epitome of unsubstantiated, uninformed, idiotic claims of religious language and culture. I take extreme offense at the claim that 2000 years of Coptic Christianity (that has never used the vernacular for liturgical services until the 21st century) is equivalent to suicide. I take offense that all of the Orthodox families (with the exception of 2 EO jurisdictions compromising less than 10% of American Orthodox parishioners) are content with ecclesiastical suicide. 

    Let's look at some facts. In "Atlas of American Orthodox Churches" by Alexei Krindatch, there are 21 American Orthodox families described through the 2010 US Census. This includes the Antiochia, the OCA, GOA, Coptic, Syrian, Malankara, ROCOR, Serbian, etc There are 1,043,850 Orthodox Christians in America with 2373 churches (and mission parishes). The number of regular attendees is 294,335. (This number seems awfully low). That means 28.2% of American Orthodox Christians regularly attend church. From the list, the Coptic Church 92,191 attendees with 46,963 regular attendees. That is 50.9% attendees, way above the national average. Is this evidence of ecclesiastical suicide or fruitful religious attachment to a mother land? The only higher percentage of regular attendees is Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church at 53.3% and Malankara Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church at 52.8%. The Antiochian is 47.2%, the OCA is at 39.8% and GOA is at 22.5%. The Coptic Church also ranks 4th among number of parishes. 

This discussion has been closed.