ARCHBISHOP ANGAELOS REFLECTS ON EGYPTIAN CHURCH HISTORY

As Orthodox Christians prepare to celebrate Easter (5 May), Archbishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church, London, Chair of the SAT-7 International Council, shares a reflection on Christianity in Egypt and how the resurrection brings hope to believers living in hardship and persecution…

Christianity came to Egypt in the first century when St Mark, the Gospel writer, was in Alexandria. His sandal broke, so he went to a cobbler. While he was fixing his sandals, the cobbler pierced his hand and cried out, “The one God!” St Mark, being an evangelist, said, “Well, what do you know about the one God?” And he started speaking to him about our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today, there are about 15 million Christians in Egypt, representing about 15 per cent of the population. And they also represent about 80 per cent of all the Christians in the Middle East, because in most other countries the majority of Christians have left. Since the foundation of Christianity over 2,000 years ago, the numbers of Christians have grown and flourished, yet in places, it is now diminishing. However, those who are still there are incredibly courageous and faithful in their witness.

There are three major pillars of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and all of them have been pivotal in my life and the life of the Church in Egypt. The first is the development of theology. Egypt was fertile ground for Christian thought and doctrine. Alexandria was a cultural centre of the world at the time, a hub of understanding, learning, and faith. The Church of Alexandria was pivotal in the life of the Church in its formative stages, with Church Fathers like St Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria contributing to its doctrine.

The second is the monastic movement, established in the fourth century with Saint Anthony the Great, the first monk. Monasticism grew out of the deserts of Egypt. Western Fathers like Benedict, John Cassian, and others travelled to Egypt, saw the life of monks and nuns there, and established new monastic orders that are still lived throughout the world.

The third pillar is that of martyrdom. Ever since its first martyr, St Mark, was dragged through the streets of Alexandria, Egypt has experienced waves of persecution. The Church is proud of this heritage and honours the lives of martyrs, but it does not live in a state of victimhood. We have rather used that experience to advocate for others.

There are massive challenges now faced by everyone trying to be a person of faith, especially young people. The Church must be alive, effective, and responsive so that it can deliver a living, breathing model of Christian life.

With the advent of satellite and the internet, there are numerous ways to communicate and reach people through ministry today. SAT-7 serves the Christian community in the Middle East through its satellite television programmes, but others will be watching. Jesus Christ tells us to let our lights shine, so that people may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven; this is one way to let the light shine where people will see it and give glory to God and then follow Him (Matthew 5:16).

We need to realise that the journey of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is not supposed to keep us fixed and fixated upon suffering and death. It is a journey that takes us with hope to the empty tomb, to the resurrection and the victory over death, over sin. We pray the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ for everyone living in hardship and persecution, that they can see beyond it to experience God’s glory.

EASTER ON SAT-7

Some Christians in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) celebrate Western Eastern, which fell on 31 March this year, while others will mark Eastern Easter on 5 May, so SAT-7 celebrates them both! You can read about our programming for Western Eastern here.

As well as live church services and Easter concerts from Egypt and Lebanon, special programs for Eastern Easter on SAT-7 KIDS and SAT-7 ARABIC include children’s drama, theological discussion shows, and reflective programs on the meaning of Easter.

A Secret Journey to the Marys is a short drama that tackles the fears and questions that Christian children may have due to having different beliefs from those of their peers, and especially because they believe in the Resurrection miracle. SAT-7 KIDS is also showing short drama spots between longer programs called Resurrection is Still Heard, aimed at bringing a message of hope to children and families who are going through difficult circumstances or having doubts about their faith.

What If – Easter is an eight-episode series that discusses challenging questions regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus from a biblical perspective, while We Will Live It with Him offers daily reflections in the week leading up to Easter. Both these programs air on SAT-7 ARABIC.

SAT-7 TÜRK will be broadcasting live from an Orthodox Church in Türkiye and sharing reflections on Easter by three Orthodox church leaders. And teaching shows on SAT-7 PARS, including Way of the Cross and Truth of Resurrection, will help Persian viewers to grow in their understanding of what Jesus’ death means for us all.

Please pray for Christians in the MENA who are celebrating Eastern Easter, that they will be able to do so in peace and safety.

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For more reflections about the hidden history of Christianity in the MENA, sign-up for your free 40 Days of Prayer for the Middle East guide.

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