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.Continue reading
On Sunday February 24, Rami Malek won the Best Actor Academy Award for his role as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. In his acceptance speech, Malek spoke of his Egyptian heritage and its representative power: “We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically himself. The fact that I’m celebrating him and this story with you tonight is proof that we’re longing for stories like this. I am the son of immigrants from Egypt. I’m a first generation American. My story is being written right now and I could not be more grateful to each and every one of you who believed in me, for this moment is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.” Social media was alight in comments of praise for Rami, with many news outlets noting that he was the first Arab-American to win an Oscar for Best Actor. The New York Times ran a headline, “An Oscar for the Arabs.” Despite excitement from members of the Arab-American community in the United States, Egyptians, and others throughout the Middle East, many Coptic Christians, particularly in the United States, took issue with labeling Rami “Arab” or “Arab-American.” Rami Malek’s family is Coptic Orthodox and, in interviews, he has described attending the Coptic Orthodox Church growing up.
Social media comments from Copts addressed their disagreement with misidentifying Rami as Arab. “Rami Malek is NOT an Arab or Arab-American. He’s a Copt, and Copts have zero Arab blood.” “1400 years ago Arabs stole Coptic land, 1400 years later Arabs steal Coptic accomplishments. When will the thievery ever end?” Continue reading
On July 29, 2018, one of the most beloved bishops and scholars in the Coptic world, Bishop Epiphanius, was found murdered outside of his cell at the St. Macarius monastery. He was on his way to Midnight Prayer when he was assaulted and struck in the back of the head. While the Egyptian state has now officially charged an ex-monk and an accomplice at the monastery with the murder, Coptic social media prior to this was abuzz with speculation, not only for the murder’s brutality but also because of the way it brought to a head a century-long internal debate about Coptic identity.
For most Western Christians, Coptic Christianity offers a powerful testimony to modern martyrdom. Several American Christian leaders point to violence against the Copts in order to garner attention for the persecution of Christians in the modern world and to shape US policy. In this regard, US activists and scholars tend to portray Coptic Christians as passive, premodern victims of modern religious violence. Such characterizations fail to recognize the extent to which the community has undergone a series of transformations and divisions of late. Continue Reading…