"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Copts Then and Now

Our debts to the aboriginal Christians of Egypt--today known as the Copts--are incalculable. The founders of monasticism and the preservers of some of the oldest icons in the world, they, more than any other tradition, have shown us a radical way of living the gospel through monasticism and, inter alia, an ascetic discipline more rigorous than any other Christian tradition in the world. They have also been on the front-line of those who have suffered for the gospel for more than fourteen centuries.

That plight of the Coptic Church in Egypt itself has only very recently begun to receive even passing notice on the part of the Western media in general, and Western Christians in particular. The New Year's Eve bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria seems at long last to have drawn greater attention, though Copts have been suffering from Muslim violence for a very long time. The situation there has been grim for decades, but seems to have been growing worse in the last few years.

For those new to the Coptic world and desirous of some background of one of the most interesting and richest Christian traditions, they would do well to start with some of the works of Otto Meinardus, who, until his death in 2005, was the Western world's leading Coptologist--though himself not a Copt at all but a Methodist-Lutheran pastor from Germany.

The American University of Cairo Press recently sent me a copy of Meinardus's 

Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity (AUC Press, 1999, 2002, 2010), vii+344pp.

Originally published in 1999, and reissued in in paperback in 2002 and again last October, this is a good historical overview in three lengthy chapters and four substantial appendices. 

Meinardus was a prolific fellow who also wrote other important works on Coptic monks, Coptic saints and pilgrimages, Coptic monasteries, Coptic art, the Apostle Paul and his travels, St. John of Patmos, and more general introductions to Christians in the Middle East as well as the Holy Family's sojourn there.

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