From Egypt with Love, 7
From Jeff and Jenn on mission in Egypt with the family:
Here in Egypt the Coptic Church is the biggest. Founded by St Mark during the Apostolic era, the church in Alexandria had a massive impact on Christendom. The Old Testament had previously been translated into Greek in Egypt, the earliest theologians were from Egypt, and monasticism started in Egypt. One bishop whose career broke a path for orthodox Christianity ever after was St Cyril of Alexandria. The opponent of Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril chaired a church council that deposed the latter because he refused to use the paradoxical language of popular devotion and admit that Mary was “theotokos” or, “Mother of God.” Indeed, in the Middle East today the mystery of the Incarnation is still considered improper and downright absurd. God can’t become a man! One of my colleagues recalls a Christmas program in Somalia attended by Muslims. The speaker explained to his audience the meaning of Christmas. Silent, one man spoke up and said, “so you’re telling me that God was a baby?” The whole crowd broke out in spontaneous laughter. Even though they rejected it, they well understood the scandalous heart of Christianity - a heart exposed and explicated so well by St Cyril and the Egyptian Church up till today.
I’ll have a lot more to relate about Coptic Christianity in future posts, suffice it to say that it’s still a vital tradition. There are lots of desert-dwelling monks. But what makes an ecumenical difference is the hospitality shown to other Christians through monastically-run retreat centres like Anaphora. Built on a large farm between Cairo and Alexandria, it has several domed rooms for visitors, a pool and trampoline for the kids, two impressively painted churches, and of course three locally grown meals a day. It is literally a miracle that they grow this all in the desert. Again, the ecumenical impact of this place should be emphasized. All the Anglicans, Protestants and Catholics that visit are real heirs of St Cyril. Despite our continuing divisions, our common Egyptian heritage abides. Projects like Anaphora are a wonderful window into what a reconciled Church could look like. Any Christian pilgrim to Egypt should check it out. Our kids love it!
Jeff and Jenn
P.S. Even though winter abruptly ended this week, it was colder than you would expect. The combination of pollution and cold morning air has given me a never-ending case of bronchitis/asthma. I ask your prayers for a full recovery. Thanks.