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I apologize for the extremely post, but I needed to vent it all out. I also apologize for my bad command of the English language.
I recently moved from Egypt to North America. I came from a well-established Church in Egypt with excellent: services, priests, congregation, deacon chorus, and youth groups. I used to have a great group of friends from both sexes whom I used to play soccer with (not the girls of course), eat out with, attend midnight praise (tasbeha) with, and often be the first people in church on mass days. We had a very healthy Christian friendship and we used to often gather up and memorize complex rare hymns together in a plea to revive them.
One day, my parents gladly came and informed my brother and I about a successful immigration file to North America. Fast forward to the first Sunday in my new church, I come early enough to serve as a deacon. I see a couple of old deacons and a single young deacon (let's call him Kiro). Church service starts and is very concise and shortened. Deacon population remain at 4 until some more young deacons show up. To put you in context, I am an 18-year-old male, who is in first year university. The young deacons who just arrived were in their low thirties and had a modest knowledge of hymns, but enough to get through the mass. The deacons' chorus is then flooded by children aged 6-12 who arrive later into the mass at around the beginning of the Pauline epistle. The overall deacon's chorus now contains three old "uncles", three older youths, a dozen of noisy kids, Kiro, and I. Mass was done and it was Sunday school/ youth meeting time. At the back row I saw the 4 youths who were first year university students as well.
I approached them and introduced myself and we were engaged with a conversation about my origin and my interests. To be honest, they were very accommodating and friendly. Sunday school was not a bad experience however the 30-minute period felt like a free sample, like the one you get from Costco, compared to the full deal 1.5 hr multi-segment Sunday School service I used to attend in Egypt.
At Sunday School, I was surprised with a handful of other youth whom I've not seen in the mass. After Sunday school, the youth invited me to go have brunch at a restaurant. I thought to myself: "what a nice gesture of them!" I refused that day since I was still relatively new and still needed to settle in.
A couple of days later, I got a call from one of the guys inviting me to go out to a restaurant. I initially accepted since I wanted to get to know the guys more. However, I fortunately met up with Kiro at Walmart. Kiro told me that the restaurant they planned to go to was actually a shisha-bar! (hookah-bar). I was surprised at first because I was told that all the church youth would be there. However, Kiro told me to search up the restaurant, and yes it turned out to be a shisha-bar and he told me that all the kids go there to smoke shisha, including Abouna's son! At once I called the guy which called me and excused myself from the outing due to unforeseeable circumstances.
The first weekend after university started, the boys invited me out to go clubbing! Coming from a typical Coptic Egyptian youth group, my first thought went to a sports club, like nadi-el-ahli for instance. I heard one of the boys talk about getting drunk, so I immediately connected the dots, realized my sin, and explicitly excused myself from the outing.
I realized I was trapped among a flock of stray sheep. I noticed that Kiro did not hang out with the other boys and often secluded himself. I went closer to Kiro and found out he was a good christian boy who liked hymns as well, but was still attached to his old life in the middle east. He was always texting, chatting, and sharing Facebook posts with them. Kiro was an anti-social & secretive lad. We went out for dinner twice, but he always implies he's busy when I propose an outing. Kiro is definitely a better Christian than I am and I wanted to get to know him more and learn from him; however, my sociable and outgoing nature did not click with his antisocial personality.
The group of boys my age initially invited me to other outings such as restaurants, and cafes. However, they gradually stopped inviting me to places once I excused myself a couple of times (due to venue.) Some girls were involved in their activities, and some others distanced themselves from the youth group and made a group of friends from outside the flock. I believe in a long healthy christian relationship before commitment, so I would've loved to have met a handful of good christian girls whom I could consider for marriage later on. The idea of the religious/committed youth seemed alien to people of this church.
I feel very lonely now and unable to cope with school stress. What kept me going in Egypt were the frequent outings and gatherings which have now vanished from my life. I frequently questioned my morals and question if I should bend my boundary just a bit in order to fit in. What kept me going though was the thought that through the church's services and hymns I would keep myself free from malice yet peaceful. However, front row "uncles", who had a humble knowledge of rites and hymns, often rejected my proposals for hymns that I used to love hearing at my church and long for, due to "el wa2t (time constraint)." Abouna also often skipped on melismatic priest hymns/responses not due to his ignorance of the hymns but due to time constraints. I started losing interest when I attended the Christmas & Epiphany liturgies and was hurt by their conciseness and summarized-form. The mass was rushed and no Gregorian was prayed that day which made me lose interest in ecclesiastical occasions.
I don't know when you had travelled to north America, but at 18, and to have the grasp of English as you do, you are either trying to pull the wool over some eyes, or that you seriously have a massive issue with your self-esteem.
Whatever it is you make very valid points that the older generation choose to turn a blind eye to. Anyway, you hit the nail on the head, when you described the relationship between the youth and the kids to the church. It's an interesting dynamics in the diaspora never seen in Egypt that the congregation, however small, can demand the priest and priestly orders with some things. In addition the younger generation brought up in the west have very strong personalities and they in turn influence the whole church as do newcomers to lose her her identity, hymnody, and traditions for the sake of worldly business, let alone improper practices. That's not only a problem in north America because I also live in England and I can tell you that it's prevalent in here bar one or two churches in London. Unfortunately I live so far away from London.
To end my rant, what matters is the heart you know.. No hymns, No Coptic, No lengthy prayers, No ajbeya. Please remember that most sports matches especially the important ones take place on Sunday.. haha..
Oujai khan ebshois
Although I am literally old enough to be your GRANDMOTHER, I very much identify with what you are saying. All my life, I have seen this kind of behavior with people of all ages in the protestant denominations. Some of them actually have the audacity to refer to themselves as "carnal Christians!" But with most of them, their basic theology says all you have to do is BELIEVE in Jesus, say a prayer of acceptance and you are then guaranteed a spot in heaven. NO need to change your life in any way. You can be as worldly as you want and "backslide" all day long because you have a free ticket to heaven. And if I had a dime for each time someone has told me to "lighten up! Don't be so serious! Yes, we SAY we are not supposed to do certain things, etc, but NO ONE actually LIVES like that!" And the sad thing is I also encounter somewhat in the EO church. I know it is probably very hard for you to stand firm because of your new environment. Just being in a new country completely away from everyone you were comfortable with etc, is hard at first-and then to discover that your new "peer" group have a lifestyle that is so different from all that you have been taught and believe in makes it twice as hard! You are a good person, and I believe you will be able to stand firm. Maybe in time you can get closer to the one young man who is different and he may introduce you to better types of new friends.
I'm sorry about the circumstances you have to go through, but there are no western Coptic churches which would have the same atmosphere as Egyptian ones. That is not to say they are all bad.
"Many" Egyptians have culture fluidity (a term that I may have just made up). "Many" Egyptians easily acclimate into the cultures of countries they migrate to and it's bound to result in differences. (don't get me wrong, they are capable of observing traditions and religious beliefs). But "they" are more accepting of lifestyle traits that are considered the norm in western culture.
The way I see it (just my opinion) is that wherever you go, there will be tribulations. In Egypt, the difficulties you might face due to corruption and religious persecution and counterweighed by the strong community support. In more economically developed countries, the tribulations you might face are different; they can be temptations, loneliness (quite painful isolation) and feelings of home sickness.
Sometimes it is better to be alone than belong into a social circle where Christ isn't the centre.