When Archbishop Iakovos stood alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma in 1965, he was maligned by many Greek Americans who took offense that their Archbishop would “fraternize with Civil Rights agitators.” Fifty-five years later, opinion has shifted dramatically. Iakovos’ march alongside MLK is widely regarded as one of the iconic moments of Orthodox Christianity in the United States, if not globally. Today, we either ignore or apologize for that generation of Orthodox who did not understand the moral necessity of the Civil Rights movement.
We now find ourselves at a similar moment. Will our grandchildren have to apologize for us because we stood on the wrong side of history, or will we accept the spirit of the Black Lives Matter critique because it is morally and theologically convicting?
On December 11, 2019, Metropolitan Serapion and the clergy of the Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California, and Hawaii wrote a statement pronouncing that Christmas celebrations will be held in the diocese on both December 25 and January 7 (29 Kiakh) to better serve the pastoral needs of local congregants. Yet the pronouncement caused a stir among Copts globally. Such debates are not new. Immigrant parishes in North America at one point in their early history routinely celebrated Christmas on December 25 to retain congregants and serve the needs of early Copts scattered across Central Canada and the North Eastern United States. At the heart of such debates, past and present, is the tremendous influence of Pope Shenouda and the many meanings of belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt. In order to chart this history and offer insights on its contemporary significance, we begin with the challenges faced by early Copts in North America and then outline the changing nature of Coptic diasporic communities as a consequence of rising immigration from Upper Egypt, following the 2011 revolution.
I was baptized in a wash tub as were both of my brothers. It’s true. I really was. My aunt Helen was married in an Orthodox ceremony performed in our house as well. I recall liturgies celebrated in our dining room with Fr. Chrysostom whispering words in a Greek language that seemed somewhat different from the one we spoke at home. I remember the decorative cloth depicting Christ that was spread on the table, along with a cross, a bejeweled book, and the hot water my mother always provided during every service. And there was plenty of incense burning too. Drowsy from having been awakened at five in the morning and without anything to eat or drink, I fidgeted constantly before receiving communion. After breakfast, I was off to school and to a world quite different from the one experienced only minutes before. That’s how it was three to four times every year during my childhood. It was, in fact, my introduction to Orthodox Christianity. Continue reading →
Some of the readers of Public Orthodoxy may have read my book Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church. Those who have will have heard of Fr. Raphael Morgan. Others might not have read the book, but may be aware of him, perhaps due to his Orthodoxwiki entry or an essay by Matthew Namee over at orthodoxhistory.org. Morgan’s case is a fascinating one and one that has only become a bit more fascinating both because of what has been recently discovered about him and because of the times in which we live. I’ll first unpack some of his background and what’s now newly known and then offer a word of caution for the Orthodox Church as his story becomes more widely known. Continue reading →