By Gail Lippincott
Have you met our neighbors, members of St. Athanasius American Coptic Orthodox Church? They have been meeting in our chapel on Saturdays since July 2015.
In April 2014, the Nu Class invited twin brothers Rida and Rami Sadrack to speak about oppressed Christians living in Egypt. Born in Port Sudan, the young brothers emigrated with their family in 1990 to Florida under a religious asylum visa. Now married with young families, the brothers are ordained as “level 2 deacons” in the Coptic Orthodox Church, serving at the altar with the priest; they currently lead a group to provide outreach service and teaching of their faith to the community.
Coptic means Egyptian and refers to the religion, language, and art; the people are called Copts. Established by St. Mark the Evangelist (author of the Gospel of Mark) in Alexandria around AD 43, about a decade after Christ’s ascension, the Coptic Orthodox Church adheres to the Nicene Creed and believes that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world.
Persecution of the Copts in Egypt has been steadily increasing, causing many like the Sadrack family to flee. In 1993, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the 116th Successor of St. Mark, began to establish dioceses around the world; the first in the U.S. was the Diocese of the Southern United States, which stretches from Florida to Arizona.
Currently, over 200 churches serve an estimated 1 million Copts in North America. Because many congregations now have American-born children and grandchildren, cultural differences have emerged between the generations. After much research, eight churches in the Southern Diocese will be developed to serve the spiritual, social and cultural needs of these native-born Coptic-Americans. Orlando was chosen for the first of these American Coptic Orthodox churches, which is named for St. Athanasius, author of the Nicene Creed and “Defender of the Faith.”
About 40 families support the new church. They hold Bible studies on Friday nights in members’ homes and worship services in our chapel 1-2 Saturdays a month, depending on the availability of a priest. Members will vote on a candidate priest this week, the first step toward offering a consistent worship schedule.
After fasting throughout Lent and especially Holy Week, the Copts appreciate their “50 joyous days” of feasting. They want to share an Agape (“love”) meal with First Church to thank us for our support. Watch for an upcoming announcement!
And when you see these lovely neighbors during busy Holy Week, be sure to say hello.