Five a long time ago, on a Libyan beach front, ISIS militants beheaded 21 orange-clad Christian guys in a meticulously choreographed propaganda online video. Twenty of them were Coptic Christians originally from Egypt, although the 21st was a Ghanian convert to Christianity. The event not only terrified worldwide audiences, but drew unparalleled focus to the plight of Egypt’s Coptic community, which contains roughly 10 p.c of that country’s inhabitants. The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs, by Martin Mosebach, turned an intercontinental bestseller. Media interest on the Copts exploded.
Still there’s a different story about Coptic Christianity well worth telling: its development (and metamorphosis) in the United States.
A fascinating example is St. Timothy & St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church (STSA), established in Arlington, Virginia, in 2012. There are a number of things that make STSA various from other Coptic and Orthodox churches. The to start with is language. Not like most Coptic congregations, whose liturgy is mainly, if not solely, in Arabic and Copt (the historic language of Egypt), STSA worships in English. The next is the worship itself. Nevertheless STSA maintains a conventional Coptic Orthodox liturgy, it is followed specifically later on by a more modern evangelical support that contains a longer sermon, provided by STSA’s founder and pastor, Father Anthony Messeh. Also, STSA’s local community is ever more diverse—of 382 adult users, about 29 % are not ethnic Egyptian.
The concept for STSA started at a much much larger Coptic church in Fairfax, Virginia, St. Marks. Father Anthony, who was ordained in 2001 and served at St. Marks for 10 years, noticed a will need for a services that was equally outreach and mission, as well as evangelistic in nature. “The liturgy is not the best location for inviting a good friend who is not Copt,” he acknowledges. This sooner or later matured into what has turn out to be “The Effectively,” the outreach service at STSA. Father Anthony’s sermons, which are both equally partaking and entertaining, are uploaded on The Well’s podcast.
“The Properly reminds us that we are named equally to worship and be an outreach to the neighborhood,” Father Anthony clarifies. In accordance to Pope Shenouda, the Coptic pope, the job of the church is twofold: preaching and teaching. St. Timothy is the patron of STSA’s evangelism endeavours, whilst St. Athanasius is the patron of the church’s teaching. Father Anthony is adamant that The Very well is not a substitute for the liturgy, but component of the church’s mission of “bringing an historic religion to a modern planet.” The liturgy signifies the previous, when the Effectively is the latter.
The position of language—a controversial topic amongst the 500,000-powerful American Coptic community—is pretty close to Father Anthony’s coronary heart. He clarifies:
To me [the church] is more than the language. You are valuable and crucial and I just can’t make you find out a language. Does the church exist for heritage? Is it a museum? I didn’t indicator up to be a museum curator. I appreciate the Coptic language, but what I want is secondary to what my brother needs…. Language is just a device to converse the religion, just a vehicle.
Father Anthony believes he has the record of the Church on his side:
Individuals who say the church must be in Coptic need to have to keep in mind that Coptic was the language of the folks, whereas Greek was the language of the monks/educated course. The plan from the begin is that genuine Orthodox worship ought to be in the language of the people. If it’s all about language, we really should all be speaking Aramaic [the spoken language of Jesus].
The oldest discussion in the Church, says Father Anthony, is about its “culture.” In Acts, we read of debates concerning these who want the Church to continue being in essence Jewish in lifestyle (the “circumcised”) vs . these ready to accommodate it to Gentile society (the “uncircumcised”). Father Anthony clarifies: “St. Paul’s central concept is that God for everyone, not just for the Jews. The message of Christ is that God is for anyone: the tax collector, the centurion, the Samaritan girl.”
This perspective on language even extends to how Father Anthony and his spouse dad or mum their two children. They really do not teach them Arabic or Coptic. “Not the highest priority,” he states. Additionally, 1 need to have not devote a lot time listening to his sermons or talking to him to value how deeply American he is. Born in New Jersey, he moved to Virginia as a kid. He attended the University of Virginia, and has invested 42 a long time, together with the entirety of his professional vocation, in Northern Virginia. The Washington Redskins are a single of his preferred teams, “though what is occurred with them is unfortunate,” he muses diplomatically. He’s also a major basketball supporter, and stayed up late watching both of those the Capitals and Nationals gain their titles.
STSA and Father Anthony tumble in just the broader paradigm of what has been termed the “Canterbury Trail,” “Swimming the Tiber,” or “Swimming the Bosphorus”—those who look for in the Anglican, Catholic, or Orthodox traditions a a lot more historic, liturgically grounded Christianity. “People are browsing for a little something that has extra depth and that has roots, for one thing that is attempted and real,” claims Father Anthony. “One of the stunning items about Orthodoxy is that it is not subject to the most up-to-date culture fancies, the ‘blowing of the wind.’ I’m all for adapting the society of the church, but not for adapting to the culture.” He contrasts the Orthodox liturgy, whose rites keep on being the exact since the audience, God, remains the exact, with lots of up to date varieties of worship, exactly where the viewers is the folks and their passing whims.
Father Anthony extremely deliberately selected Arlington, Virginia, an internal suburb of Washington, D.C. with a significant volume of Millennial inhabitants, as the locus of STSA’s ministry. “St. Paul normally selected substantial-profile port metropolitan areas. He selected towns that had higher traffic. If we can acquire the extremely transient Arlington, then [converts] will choose the Gospel with them.” What’s more, Arlington, however one particular of the biggest counties in the Commonwealth and house to several previous, historic church buildings, is one of the the very least churched parts of Virginia. In fact, as the viral 2009 rap video “Arlington: The Rap” by comic Remy observes, the metropolis is superior acknowledged for its proliferation of Starbucks.
In pinpointing how most effective to provide Arlington, STSA took a remarkably novel approach—it arrived at out to county officers. The reply was a ask for to care for at-hazard little ones and the sick. “If we are heading to be Christ, we require to be preferred by the local community,” clarifies Father Anthony. Hope Multiplied, a non-gain right tied to STSA, formulated a mentoring software at two regional general public elementary schools. In a time of growing antagonism involving regular church buildings and community instruction units, their success is remarkable. The non-gain also arranged volunteer initiatives aimed at kids with sickle mobile anemia at a community medical center, simply because that certain population was underserved by volunteers.
Father Anthony is quick to declare his aversion to speaking about politics at STSA, emphasizing that his priority is constructing the kingdom of God. All the exact same, his sermon “Faith Right before Politics,” provided a number of months right before the 2016 elections (and available on YouTube), provides insight. While he would most likely deny it, that vision bleeds the pink, white, and blue of primary road conservatism:
Flexibility with out limits seriously isn’t freedom…. We have been offered liberty not to use for ourselves…. This place is started on freedom, not for the sake of myself…. Our region is dependent on the faith of specified people and that religion is what created this nation great…. Ours is the only region in the earth in which the state alone stopped its personal slavery. That has never took place everywhere [else] in the history of the world…. That is what people of faith do.
Such a conception of America’s founding looks at odds with libertarian conversing details of maximizing individual liberty. It is also in stress with historical revisionism (e.g. The 1619 Task) that aims to undermine the honoring of America’s Christian-informed foundation.
In a time of declining church attendance, in particular between Millennials, STSA is rising in one of the most unchurched and youthful communities in the country. In fact, STSA just lately purchased land in exorbitantly costly Arlington to make a church. At a time of nauseating consumerism and obsession with technological novelty, STSA is training an historical variety of worship and attaining new members. And at a time of rigorous discussion about immigration and assimilation, STSA has creatively wed an historically Egyptian community with American society. “If I’m likely to provide an American neighborhood, I need to be an American priest,” says the prelate.
Casey Chalk handles faith and other issues for The American Conservative and is a senior writer for Disaster Magazine. He has levels in heritage and educating from the College of Virginia, and a masters in theology from Christendom Higher education.