by Gordon Nary
Gordon: Please tell of the recent interest in the death of Bishop Epiphanies, the abbot of the fourth century Abu Makar Monastery.
Ashraf: A monk from Abu Makar Monastery recently confessed to conspiring with two other fellow monks to murder Bishop Epiphanies just weeks ago (July 29). This horrible act could implicate the Orthodox Church in some way since this monastery is under its jurisdiction.
There are rumors circulating about the reasons behind the murder which may have validity; however, nothing can be concluded without a thorough investigation and a statement from the Orthodox Church.
The recent interest in this story by Coptic Christians will hopefully cause the church to discover and correct the errors that led to such a tragic incident.
Prompted by this incident, Pope Towards II already signed various articles regulating monastic life. Monks must now close their social media accounts, remain private with no public visits when ordained and are no longer allowed to hear confessions.
Gordon: There is persecution of the Copts in some countries. Please explain some of the factors that contribute to this.
Ashraf: Copts are the Christian population of Egypt. But across the Middle East, all Christians live under oppression and discrimination and are persecuted.
The factors that contribute most to this are first of all the degree to which the government of an Islamic country follows the Quran and implements its Sharia Law. The second most critical factor is how the mosque teachings of Islamic doctrine trickles down and plays out in daily life creating a culture of hate and intolerance toward other religions.
Since the arrival of El-Size to power, there is a shallow attempt to renew Islamic discourse, which has encountered great resistance from the Al Aznar Institute.
Gordon: For our readers who may not know about the Coptic faith, what are the primary differences between the Coptic faith and Roman Catholicism?
Ashraf: First, I think it’s important to know why Christians of Egypt are called Copts. The name was given them by Arab-Muslims after invading Egypt in 640 AD. Arabs dismissed the “E” from Egypt and called the inhabitants of Egypt “Egypt.” Later through usage, the “G” became a “C.”
Prior to talking about the differences between Roman Catholic and Coptic Orthodox, it is imperative to note that the two churches were part of the original five churches historically known. They were: Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, Palestine, and Constantinople. Furthermore, despite the points of differences, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox (Egypt, Greece, and Russia) closely resemble each other.
A few points of differences between Roman Catholics and Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox are:
Roman Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit emanates from the Father and the Son, while Orthodox Copts believe that the Holy Spirit emanates from only God the Father.
In regards to Mary, Jesus’ mother, the Immaculate Conception is a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. The Orthodox Coptic Church does not hold to this doctrine.
Roman Catholics believe in Purgatory. Orthodox Copts believe the concept of Purgatory is against Christ’s act of redemption.
In the Catholic Church, priests cannot marry, while the Orthodox Coptic Church allows priests to marry prior to being ordained. If the wife of an Orthodox Coptic priest dies, the priest is not permitted to marry a second time. Meanwhile, Orthodox monks cannot be married.
The act of baptism in the Catholic Church consists of pouring water from a small dish onto a baby’s or an adult’s head, while in the Orthodox Coptic Church a child or adult is submerged completely in water as Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river.
In the Orthodox Coptic Church, once a person is baptized, holy oil is immediately applied to the individual and receiving communion is also immediately available to him or her, whereas in the Catholic Church holy oil is applied (Confirmation) to a child only 14 years and older.
For Roman Catholics, the first Holy Communion is offered to no child under the age of 8 years old. (However, the adult Catholic convert can receive baptism, confirmation (holy oil) and communion at one time on Easter Eve.) In the Coptic Orthodox Church, communion is given to anyone of any age without any initiation ceremony.
There are other issues, but I think the seven issues mentioned above are the most important, at least from my point of view.
Gordon: Please share with our readers some details on the 2015 kidnapping and beheading of Copts in Libya
Ashraf: For many years, Egyptians have gone to Libya for work opportunities. In 2015, a group of Copts from the same town left Egypt together and looked for work in Libya, which they found. This group met their deaths on the Mediterranean shores after they were captured by Muslims who were seeking to convert them.
When these Christians refused to deny Christianity and embrace Islam they were slaughtered by beheading while the event was videoed to produce what is now a well-known picture circulated around the world.
Along with the 20 Egyptian Christian martyrs was a man from Chad who was not a Christian. Rumors claim the Chad man joined them once he saw these Christians refuse to deny Christ and noted the strength of their faith. The Chad man chose to embrace Christ and die with them rather than live with Islam.
As Copts from the Egyptian village mourned the great loss of their loved ones, the Orthodox Church canonized these martyrs as saints.
Gordon: Please explain what happened to the Copts after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952.
Ashraf: Sadly, Egyptian life after the 1952 coup gradually became worse for Coptic Christians and the general cause of freedom. Such was completely the opposite of what the coup leaders declared when they announced their takeover to the people, and King Farooq was forced to step down. I have concluded after many years of research that the first goal of the Nasser coup was the Islamization of Egypt. The Nasser plan continued with Sadat and Mubarak and reached its pinnacle in 2011 with the arrival of the Muslim Brotherhood to power.
Prior to the 1952 coup, Egyptians lived similarly to western societies. Aggression by Muslims against Copts was very infrequent, and furthermore, the government at that time had zero tolerance towards such aggression. In addition, Copts at that time had the possibility of achieving high level political and government appointments. In fact, during the Kings’ era, one prime minister was a Christian Copt.
The so-called “free officers” leading the 1952 coup deceptively declared that their goals were to improve the lives of Egyptians with democracy and freedom. Now, after almost 66 years, we know their intentions were quite the opposite and has produced an outcome tragic for the cause of freedom and human rights.
Gordon: When and why did you found Voice of the Copts?
Ashraf: The idea to found Voice of the Copts came to me while watching Islamists enter western countries and declare Sharia openly. This was happening while discrimination and persecution of Copts and other Christians in the Middle East were on the rise in Muslim-majority countries exercising the Sharia. This had to be pointed out.
Furthermore, I noticed that the Arabic language was misinterpreted by Islamic apologists which effectively cleansed the severity of Islam’s intentions. I felt I needed to bring this error to the public’s attention.
Gordon: Why is it important for people of all faiths to help support Voice of the Copts?
Ashraf: It is part of our Christian faith to help those in need. We have brothers and sisters in the body of Christ who are suffering daily for their faith. That includes all denominations. Also, spreading freedom and democracy from the free world requires us to help and support others to achieve the same.
Those who have no religion still support freedom of religion as a human right. Everyone can choose to act out of generosity to support the principles of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The La Casa Future project of Voice of the Copts directly addresses basic freedoms entitled to each and every individual according to this U.N. human rights document, which is embraced by citizens of the free world.
Everyone who is able must truly consider helping with a project committed to helping others. La Casa Future is a very necessary project, which will meet refugees at their point of need.
With the VOTC La Casa Future project in Italy, we are planning to teach Coptic religious refugees from Egypt the Italian language, help them to obtain legal status, give them the opportunity to learn some handiwork, connect them with the local community to generate understanding and allow them to assimilate into the Italian culture. Young Egyptians from refugee camps will spend about nine months in our program, and when they are equipped others will arrive to take their place.