Growth and Size of the BOC/COP - Printable Version
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Growth and Size of the BOC/COP - John Mark - 25-05-2007
Having begun to read up on the Coptic Church in general it would appear that it is a Church which has undergone nearly exponential growth in the last century around the world but also in Egypt. What I would be interested to find out is how many Copts, (British and French Orthodox included) there are following this period of increase?
I suppose it is easy to surmise why the Coptic Patriarchate is growing in that it is genuinely Orthodox with a big and small 'O' but that is from an outsider's perspective (ie me).
What does HH Shenouda say on this issue or indeed those in the BOC or BOF?
Are there converts to the Coptic Church who are not of Egyptian origin in the USA and Australia?
Growth - John Charmley - 26-05-2007
Dear John Mark,
Pope Shenouda has made mission one of his main priorities. He is, of course, severely limited in Egypt, since conversion from Islam is a very serious matter which could end in the death of a convert at the hands of Islamic militants. But with the BOC, and its French equivalent, plus the great growth in the USA and Australia, the Spirit works His will.
Indeed, in this country second generation Egyptians, whose Arabic is nowhere near as good as their English, sometimes say they like the BIC services because they can follow them more clearly!
We also have to remember that we are part of a family of more than 60 million Oriental Orthodox, which includes the Ethiopians, Eritreans, Indians, Syrians and Armenians - as those of us fortunate enough to have been able to attend the recent Festival in Stevenage can attest.
For me, personally, the BOC provided what it said on the tin, so to say - Orthodoxy with a British ethos.
- Fr Gregory - 26-05-2007
Coptic demography is a controversial topic! Church claims about its membership in Egypt have contradicted government claims, and scholarly estimates. Church claims in recent years have tended to be around ten million. The Egyptian Government has tended to claim that the Copts form almost 13% to 15% of Egypt?s population (out of a population of some 66 million Egyptians). Other estimates (including those from human rights groups) and census figures have ranged between six to eight million Copts.
The Coptic Church has tended to claim that the Egyptian Government alters the figures for political purposes, but most scholarly studies suggest that the official census is reasonably accurate.
Certainly, the number of Coptic Orthodox in Egypt as a percentage of the population has declined (according to census reports) since 1882. In 1986 census reported 3.3 million Copts: the Church claimed 11 million at that time. The major historical demographic study is: Youssef Courbage and Philippe Fargues ?Christians and Jews Under Islam? (I.B. Taurus, London, 1997) which presents data going back to the Islamization of the traditionally Christian areas of the Middle East.
It has been estimated that there are 1.2 million immigrant Copts in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Holland, Brazil, and many other countries in Africa and Asia. There are some 100,000 Copts in Sudan.
In Australia the Coptic Church has tended to claim some 30,000 members. However, this figure exceeds the census figure for all Oriental Orthodox. The figures for the 1996 and the 2001 censuses were as follows (note the curious inclusion of the two Churches of the East amongst the Oriental Orthodox!).
Oriental Christian (total) 2001: 36,322 1996: 31,341
Oriental Christian, not further defined. 2001: 69
Ancient Church of the East 2001: 1,397 2001: 1,126
Armenian Apostolic Church 2001: 7,848 1996: 8,292
Assyrian Church of the East 2001: 5,710 1996: 5,107
Coptic Orthodox Church 2001: 17,913 1996:14,693
Syrian (Jacobite) Church 2001: 2,533 1996: 1,615
Oriental Christian, not elsewhere described. 2001: 852 1996: 500
The ?not further defined? and ?not elsewhere described? would include the tiny populations of Ethiopian, Eritrean and Indian Orthodox.
The 2001 census showed that some 10,000 Copts were Egyptian born, and 1,790 Sudanese born. Virtually all the remainder were born of Egyptian born of Sudanese born parents.
There are very, very few converts to Coptic Orthodoxy in Australia, and most of them are for the purposes of marriage to a Copt. In my experience, those who convert for other reasons rarely remain.
Church services are usually in Arabic (very few use Coptic) but most have either alternative (for example, on Saturdays) or parallel (at the same time in a different building) services in English. Where Coptic is used, it is almost always used phonetically (that is, those using it do not speak or understand the language, but have leaned the text). I know of only one Priest who is fluent in Coptic.
Coptic Church - John Charmley - 27-05-2007
Dear Fr. Gregory,
Many thanks for such a comprehensive account.
One of the things that interests me is the anecdotal evidence that second-generation British/Egyptians are looking for services in English, since they find the Arabic - and the culture - unsympathetic; it may be that the BOC has a role to play here, too.
- Fr Gregory - 27-05-2007
Certainly many younger members of all Orthodox Churches in the West want services in languages they can understand, and many drift away from real participation in the Church because of the lack of them. In his regard, the Coptic Orthodox Church tends to be much more advanced than other Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches. There is hardly a Coptic Church in Australia that does not have an alternative Liturgy in English (usually on a Saturday) or a parallel Liturgy in English (in another place ? usually with two churches on the one site - on Sunday). Other Orthodox Churches in Australia have strongly resisted English. The largest Church, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, has rare Liturgies in English: in Sydney, there is usually one English Liturgy a month. The Armenians seem to have no Liturgies in English ever in Australia.
The problem is, essentially, that the Churches become focussed on the preservation of an ethnic culture (including language) rather than the preservation of the Orthodox Faith. There are a very few specifically English language Orthodox parishes in Australia (the only ones I know of are Antiochian and Russian Orthodox Outside Russia), but their focus is on ?Western? converts.
There remain, however, some problems with the Coptic use of English. There is, to my knowledge, no properly translated Liturgy in literate English which is used in the Coptic Church. Some of the translations are semi-literate. There is also a problem with the music of the Liturgy: if the Coptic (more accurately, Arabic, as far as most Coptic Churches are concerned) music is applied to an English translation, the English can be all but unintelligible. This is less a problem with some Orthodox traditions (for example, Russian and Armenian) in which the traditional music can ?fit? the English beautifully. For example, there are some wonderful recordings of the choir of St Vladimir?s Theological Seminary using traditional music with English words: the English is perfectly intelligible.
There is a real need for (1) an accurate translation of the Coptic texts in literate, liturgical language, compiled so that it is suitable for chanting, and (2) an adaptation of the traditional Coptic (that is, NOT Arabic) music of the services to enable it to be applied to the English translation. To which might be added: (3) an adaptation that provides services of a reasonable and realistic duration for the contemporary world. I would rather have a Liturgy of two hours attended throughout by everyone than (as is the reality now) a liturgy of three or four hours sporadically attended for an hour or so by most young people. I would probably (just to add to the potential for controversy!) also add: (4) an adaptation of the ritual and regalia to reduce the impact of irrelevant ?ethnic exotica?.
I would want to note that, far from being revolutionary proposals, there are ultra-conservative ideas, seeking to return to the liturgical practice of the Early Church!
All Orthodox Churches face the increasing problem that younger (and better educated) people are unlikely to be enthusiastic about spending many hours each week in attending services they cannot understand which reflect a culture with which they do not identify.