21 December 2017 • by Fady Mikhail
What is a Copt?
As you can read in my first blog, I am an Egyptian man whose father is a priest in the Coptic Orthodox Church. This time, I would like to introduce you to the life of a Copt.
Sons of the Pharaohs
The word Copt comes from the Greek word ‘Aigyptos’. Aigyptos means Egyptian. The word was used after the Arab conquest to distinguish the Egyptian Christians from the country’s Muslim citizens. The Copts were also called the modern sons of the pharaohs. Their church is the Coptic Orthodox Church. My father serves in the Coptic Orthodox Church in The Hague.
It would go into too much detail to list the differences between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches here, but one difference is that Orthodox Christians have different beliefs about the Holy Trinity and the role of the Pope. When people hear the word ‘orthodox’, they often think “Oh, it must be a strict church if it’s orthodox.” But orthodox means being devout. Do I experience it as strict? No.
Only 10-15% of Egypt’s population is Copt. There are about 10 million Copts and 80-85 million Muslims. So we are a minority. You may wonder “What’s it like to have a priest as a father? What’s it like to be a Copt?” Let me explain.
My father does not wear ‘normal’ clothes. My father wears black robes and a cross on top of his robes. He also has a beard. These are prescribed for priests and have their origins in ancient times. When we first arrived in the Netherlands and walked on the streets, people always stared at us. At first they thought “Oh, is that a Muslim? Wait, he is wearing a cross.” It was a light-bulb moment for many passers-by. Few people in the Netherlands recognised my father’s clothing. It is different than that of Catholic priests or Protestant vicars, for example. Outside Church, they may wear other clothing, but for us it is different. Wherever my father goes, he always wears the same thing. But, always look at the bright side of life. If I lost my father in a busy street, I could find him easily! 😉
What does a Coptic Orthodox priest do? He gives services in the Church and gives sermons. He also visits the sick and marries couples in the Church. And if there are differences in families, he always tries to help solve them. People can also come to him for confession. The priest always says an oath before the confession, and is subject to confidentiality.
What is it like to be a Copt, and especially in the Netherlands? To be honest, it was very hard at the beginning. I didn’t really know how to handle it. You are stared at on the street if you are out with your father. During secondary school, it was hard when my father came to school with me, for a progress report for example. I have to say that the response was positive and my schoolmates showed interest. I learned to deal with it little by little and could handle the fact that I had a different situation to the others.
After the Egyptian revolution in 2011, the Copts were in a difficult situation. When the Muslim Brotherhood took power, it got worse. Churches and monasteries were set on fire. If you see and hear these things, you feel powerless. You want to do something for the people, but the only thing you can do is pray.
Every Egyptian president promises safety for the Copts, but you still see that Churches are stormed. I don’t think that the violence will stop, but deep down I hope that it will. Am I anti-Muslim? No, absolutely not. I have Muslim friends and get on with them well. I also don’t want to generalise people.
I wish all students, lecturers and the Executive Board of The Hague University of Applied Sciences a wonderful festive season and a happy new year! By the way, the Coptic Church celebrates Christmas on 6 January – we have a different calendar. If you want to know more, just contact me.
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