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Coptic Orthodoxy: A Systematic Presentation - Mark Fletcher - 22-01-2007

Does the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate make available to enquirers a systematic presentation of Orthodoxy as it sees it, in English, with an indication as to the 'lowest common denominator' or 'irreducible minimum' which it is prepared to accept from those seeking to link themselves with it?

The Roman Catholic Church have got their massive Catechism which attempts to do just this, and it may be that other denominations have attempted to do the same.

As I have an IQ at perfect room temperature and find it difficult to appreciate to any meaningful degree the theological wranglings over the centuries (though I, of course, accept their importance and validity) such a systematic presentation would be helpful before deciding whether or not I wish to become more deeply associated with the British Orthodox Church. The average working class "man in the street" like me is likely to be put off by feeling that you have to be some sort of amateur theologian, ecclesiologist or historian just to find faith in Christ. I have already encountered the equivalent within Orthodoxy 'at large' of people who seem to see themselves as ecclesiological or ecclesiastical "anoraks" or "trainspotters", keen to spot and highlight minor denominational differences within Orthodoxy and "anathematise" those who disagree with them. This seems to me to be somewhat missing the point of the whole exercise which is (presumably) a living faith in Jesus.

None of the very fine books recommended in 'Our Daily Life' are official Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate publications. Why is this? Why not make Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate literature in English more visible by mentioning it in 'Our Daily Life' for example... Just a thought. I realise that I am utterly clueless and have probably got this completely wrong. But...?

This is a very genuine wish on my part for better understanding.

- admin - 22-01-2007

Hi Mark

This is a very good question, and the British Orthodox Church has been trying to develop just such the educational and informational resources you mention, though we are rather limited by our own resources in terms of time mostly.

One of the main reasons we do not simply distribute Coptic Orthodox materials is that they are almost always translated from Arabic, and the quality of the translation is not always of the best.

Of course we do consider ourselves fully part of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate and part of our vision is to produce materials that explain our Coptic Orthodox way of living the Christian life in good English.

In the meantime, you will find many books produced by Pope Shenouda, the senior bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

These are all by Pope Shenouda - <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""> ... html#books</a><!-- m -->

And this link is to a booklet by Father Tadros Malaty which is called 'An Introduction to the Coptic Church'. You can download the whole booklet as a pdf file.

<!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""> ... index.html</a><!-- m -->

I will try and get hold of some other Coptic Orthodox booklets which are introductions to our faith, now that you know us a little I am sure that you will excuse some of the quality of English translation.

Perhaps if you could look at a few of these examples and let me know if they are of interest.

Best wishes


Orthodoxy & Publications - John Charmley - 22-01-2007

Dear Mark,

When you write
[quote]The average working class "man in the street" like me is likely to be put off by feeling that you have to be some sort of amateur theologian, ecclesiologist or historian just to find faith in Christ. I have already encountered the equivalent within Orthodoxy 'at large' of people who seem to see themselves as ecclesiological or ecclesiastical "anoraks" or "trainspotters", keen to spot and highlight minor denominational differences within Orthodoxy and "anathematise" those who disagree with them. This seems to me to be somewhat missing the point of the whole exercise which is (presumably) a living faith in Jesus.[/quote]
I have much sympathy. But because Holy Tradition is so vital to Orthodoxy it is important that one has some idea of what it is; the real problems come when either it gets made into some sort of gnosticism (i.e. 'ah, only the elite can understand these high matters'), or when it is used in an exclusive fashion to denounce others. One of my reasons for not wanting to come to Orthodoxy via ROCOR is, frankly (and I apologise if I offend here, for I know there are many good people in ROCOR) that I find the attitude of its hierarchy riddled with both types of problem.

The Coptic Orthodox literature is often addressed to its own cultural milieu, and some of us would find its thoughts on the role of women a little strange for our society; but, of course, it is not addressed to that society, and when one reads it with that in mind, one sees a message about respect and tenderness which our society also needs.

If you go to <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""></a><!-- m --> you will find a good list of Coptic publications. There are two types I have found most useful: the works of Fr. Markos Hanna, such as What Orthodox Christians Believe (2001) and Moral Issues Facing the Coptic Church: the others (and these are on the website) are the works of Pope Shenouda III. All of them are wonderfully accessible, but speaking personally, my favourites are Salvation in the Orthodox Concept (1967) and The Release of the Spirit (many editions). You may have to ask specially for these two, but everything His Holiness writes is suffused with the Holy Spirit - and it is so accessible to all.

The other thing I would recommend, if I might, Mark, is to follow a course of Bible reading from something like the English Katamarous which can be found at <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""></a><!-- m -->.

I have also found it helpful to read St. Cyril's commentaries on St. John, which are available from the Oriental Orthodox Library; the first volume's English is hard going at times, but what the Saint says shines through.

Yes, you are right, Orthodoxy, like all Christianity, is about having a living faith in The Incarnate Lord, but the difference is how that is nourished and sustained. The roots are very deep, right back to Apostolic times, and if you go to a site such as <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""></a><!-- m --> you will have instant access to most of the historic Fathers of the Church, and you might, as I try to, read a chapter a day. It is also nourished through the Liturgy, which does lift one closer to Heaven in a way I have never before experienced.

Above all, Mark, it is about doing what you are doing - asking questions, seeking answers; it is just that the resources in Orthodoxy are 2000 years old.

I hope that helps. I am sure others will have better and fuller advice, but this is what is working for me at the moment.

In Christ,


Thank you - Mark Fletcher - 22-01-2007

Many thanks for these sensible responses and suggestions which I will try and follow up if I can. I started reading Timothy (Kallistos) Ware's 'The Orthodox Church' the other day and noted that it is not really concerned much with the Oriental Orthodox churches, as he makes clear (pages 3 and 4, 1997 edition introduction). The Reading List at the back of 'Our Daily Life' gives none of the titles that you mention above. I appreciate some of the reasons for perhaps not including them in the list, and it seems a shame that these Coptic Orthodox luminaries are not better known in the UK and their writings not more widely available. I am most grateful for your remarks, and am not criticising the British Orthodox Church or Fellowship in anyway. The Holy Spirit is at work in and through it, and you would have to be blind not to notice that! Thanks again.

- admin - 22-01-2007

Dear Mark

I think that one suggestion that could perhaps be followed up would be to take a booklet like 'Introducing the Coptic Orthodox Church' and seek permission to revise it for a UK distribution by correcting language and grammar etc, and modifying some of the cultural content to better fit our own British situation.

The same could also perhaps be followed with a collection of some of Pope Shenouda's books. These are all read by British Orthodox Christians but I think we have a hesitancy to make them a primary resource for enquirers because the translation and production quality can be very poor.

I will contact our bishop and ask what he thinks about producing a small book with several of Pope Shenouda's works in it, but in our own British style and quality.

Best wishes


Pope Shenouda 111's writings - Mark Fletcher - 22-01-2007

I have just finished reading Pope Shenouda 111's illuminating lectures on Homosexuality and the Ordination of Women. I think that these are utterly brilliant: simple, clear and obviously inspired by the Holy Spirit. The quality of the translation is not too good in places, but the Light shines through every word and the meaning is crystal clear. It's a crying shame that the words of this extraordinary man are not more widely known and available as I'm sure that they would be of tremendous spiritual benefit to the masses who are in desperate need of such guidance.

Orthodoxy & Publications - John Charmley - 22-01-2007

Dear Mark,

So glad you liked Pope Shenouda's booklet; I think they are all brilliant at doing what it is needs doing.

One of the things that makes his works so good is that they are in the best Coptic tradition of being founded absolutely on the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church.

Perhaps we need to have something like Fr. Markos' booklet adapted to local use?

What might be best of all would be if we could get permission to have some of HH's books in a slightly better translation; there are, I am sure, enough of us who could do the tweaking of the exisiting English, if that were permitted by the Patriarchate. It is really good to have your enthusiastic reaction - mine is just the same - why have I never come across this great Christian teacher before? He has a real gift for getting the message across.

Let us see what Peter and Abba Seraphim can do here.

In Christ,


Books by Pope Shenouda - John Charmley - 22-01-2007

Dear Mark,

Two very useful books by His Holiness are Salvation in the Orthodox Concept and The Divinity of Christ, but I would say that almost anything you can get will be helpful. As Peter says, the quality of some of the translations often leaves something to be desired - but the quality of the spirituality just shines through.

If you can, spend a little time on the Coptic hymns site <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""></a><!-- m --> which repays a little investment; there are some very good articles - and some of the hymns are amazing.

One of the things that is so attractive about the Copts is the generous way they share their treasure with us; the contrast with some others is instructive.

Above all though, read the Bible and pray. I am sure that one reason Pope Shenouda's books have such an impact is that they are firmly based on these two foundations.

In Christ,


A reminder? - John Charmley - 22-01-2007

Dear Mark,

Your comment earlier about the way in which the Faith can be made to seem so complex that you need a Ph.D. in theology to get close to it has haunted my thoughts today, and reading Vespers for tomorrow morning, the following from Luke 11:42-46 leapt out at me:
Quote: But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like graves which are not seen, and the men who walk over them are not aware of them. 45 Then one of the lawyers answered and said to Him, Teacher, by saying these things You reproach us also. 46 And He said, Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.
Our Lord knew His creation so well!

In Christ,


Bible reading - Mark Fletcher - 23-01-2007

I started using a simple Bible reading scheme at the beginning of 2007 which takes you once through the Old Testament and twice through the New Testament in one year. I got it from a magazine published by the Christadelphians.

Yes, Jesus was right about The Pharisees. I feel that "Churchianity" in most of its forms has very little to do with the Gospel of God! Churches seem to me to be primarily economic organisations. I am reminded of William Blake's 'The Everlasting Gospel':

The Vision of Christ that thou dost see,
Is my vision's greatest enemy.
Thine is the Friend of all Mankind.
Mine speaks in Parables to the blind.
Thine loves the same world that mine hates,
Thy heaven-doors are my hell gates.

I'm not suggesting being a gnostic like Blake though, however moving and marvellous his writing is!

Churchianity - John Charmley - 23-01-2007

Dear Mark,

One of the many wonderful things about Our Lord is that in the Gospels He comes across as exactly the sort of person that those addicated to Churchianity would have hated.

On another site Peter and I have had interesting, and amusing, discussions with those who defended the practice of one set of Russian monks who put up a notice at their monastery saying that women who wore make-up, or dyed their hair, or wore trousers, would go to Hell. They have probably forgotten that their Incarnate Lord associated with wine-bibbers, publicans, tax collectors and lone women.

If the Church is a hospital for the spiritually sick, who else would you expect to find in it except those who know they are sick and seek the cure? We should not be thanking God we are not like other men and women, we should be thanking Him that His only-begotten Son died to redeem us.

I am always mindful that if I were to by judged according to what I think are my deserts I should be damned; but He is the one just Judge, and He desires that we should live. When that great beam in my own eye is out of the way, then I might just notice there are motes in the eys of others - but even then, I hope, I would pass no judgement and just offer help to a fellow sinner.

In Christ,


Forgiveness - Mark Fletcher - 23-01-2007

Yes, I agree entirely. Another of my favourite William Blake quotes (from memory, I can't remember where it comes from) is:

Thus through all eternity
I forgive you, you forgive me.
As our dear Redeemer said:
This the wine and this the bread.

I hope that God forgives churchianity for its many sins. I also hope for forgiveness myself, though I certainly don't deserve it. George Herbert's poems spring to mind to, especially 'Love bade me welcome', when I think of the Mercy of God.

Churchianity - John Charmley - 23-01-2007

Dear Mark,
Thank you for those beautiful lines.

They put me in mind of Betjeman's poem on Christmas, the last few verses of which I cannot but quote, because they bring tears to my eyes:
Quote:And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children?s hearts are glad,
And Christmas morning bells say ?Come!?
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true? and is it true?
The most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window?s hue,
A Baby in an ox?s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant.

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.
If he had never written anything else, that poem would be enough to establish his reputation.

I am having a conversation elsewhere with a very nice woman who says that 'God is love' and that is all we need to know.

Well, that is true as far as it goes - but after a lifetime as an Anglican, I can say now it isn't far enough. In Orthodoxy I am finding a fuller and deeper account of what that really means. But more about that later.

In Christ,


Beautiful - Mark Fletcher - 23-01-2007

Thanks for the Betjeman poem. I hadn't come across that before. People sometimes accuse him of sentimentality. I think that is rather unfair. His poems often strike me as full of love and kindness, reflecting the grace of Christ.

- admin - 23-01-2007

Dear Mark and John

How good it is to read your warm and considerate conversation together.

I am in Finland at the moment on business, but fortunately there is broadband in my hotel room and so I can get online to see how things are going here.

I have taken a copy of Pope Shenouda's 'Contemplations on the Resurrection' and I am beginning to work through it to see if I can produce a British edition, and then seek our bishop's and Pope Shenouda's permission to publish it through the BOC. I have been encouraged that both of you have seen through the sometimes poor translation and Egyptian cultural references, and this makes me believe that as Mark has suggested, we should make more use of these resources, even if it requires us to make the effort to produce a better edition.