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Copts - Christians of Egypt

September 13 2005

Sometimes it seems that the very memory of the people who created five thousand years ago on the banks of the Nile, a brilliant civilization, dispel the wind in the desert. We almost did not learn of the Copt from the history books rarely hear about them in news reporting. Remained among the countless invasions of conquerors this nation due to the firm following of his Christian faith, which he brought to Egypt, Mark the Evangelist.

Sold by the church benches in hurgadskom Down Town - lean Copt twenty years old, precocious serious. This bird's neck, planted on a clean-shaven skull, I have repeatedly seen in the frescoes of Luxor. One hundred percent Egyptian! And for the merchant, he not too adventurous ... seems absorbed in thoughts of the past greatness of his ancient people. Stupor boy came only when I put before him intricately woven leather cross and a few icons. Counting coins, the merchant again froze like a statue.

The name "Copt" is derived from the Greek "aygyuptos" and simply means "the Egyptian". After Egypt conquered the Muslims, Copts have been isolated from the rest of Christendom. This also contributed to the schism. In 451 there was a division of Churches - a significant part of the Egyptians did not accept the Council of Chalcedon.

Nevertheless, the Copts were not only able to survive in a Muslim environment, but also preserved their culture and faith. Although, to be sure, for many centuries, this, find themselves strangers in their own country people had to endure a lot. Besides, that "the descendants of the Pharaohs" constitute the largest in the Middle East, the Christian community, numbering no less than 7.6 million people in the leadership of virtually none. Islamic extremists have regularly attacks on Coptic churches and monasteries, killing monks and laity. This is not written national newspapers, television was silent.

The government of Hosni Mubarak strongly emphasizes that makes no distinction between Christians and Muslims - for the authorities to "all Egyptians are equal, all - citizens of one state." Therefore, when Egypt hosted an international cultural festival, devoted to 2000 anniversary of Christianity, the Minister of Tourism Mamdouh El Beltagy with emotion, said that the event was "a triumph of spiritual unity of peoples, religions and cultures." The festival organizers emphasized that the numerous historic sites, one way or another connected with the stay in Egypt, the Holy Family, united in a single tourist route.

Under the state program have been restored many historical monuments that are located all the way long wanderings of the Holy Family on Egiptu.Sredi them: the inn at Alpharma; church of St Mary and the grotto of the Holy Family in the Church of Abu Serga in old Cairo, the tree and the holy well Maria Mataro, as well as the Church of St. Mary's in Maadi, where the Holy Family started its journey in the land of Upper Egypt. And it is not surprising, as tourists, foreigners - a stable income item, bringing in hard currency treasury.

Ancient Coptic churches and monasteries are carefully guarded by the authorities are restored, all hang state plates. Thus, the restoration of only one monastery of St. Anthony has been allocated nearly $ 4 million. Since then, the unique Christian relics of Egypt are under the constant patronage of the government.Last year, for the first time in the history of Egypt, the feast of Christmas, celebrated on Copts, was declared a public holiday - an unprecedented event for a thousand years of Muslim rule in this country. But he has the medal and the other side.

Coptic independent media are often accused Cairo of power in "state terrorism" in relation to this national minority.

January 5 last year, five hundred soldiers of the Egyptian army stormed the Coptic Welfare Center in Patmos, which is 30 kilometers from Cairo. They started to beat the center's employees, one of them had even beaten to death, and with the help of bulldozers destroyed part of the surrounding building walls. The Centre is registered by the Government, assisted and cared for the disabled and orphans for over 15 years. All this time against him did not cease provocations, accompanied, as is evident from this dramatic event, even killing people.

Not so long ago criminal court Egyptian city of Sohag acquitted 96 suspects in the massacre of Christian Copts, which occurred in the village of Al-Kosheh January 2, 2000. In the resulting mayhem when 21 people died. First, the court found guilty of only one of the accused, who killed Christian, three persons were charged with lesser offenses. The other 96 defendants were acquitted at the same time, however, the sentence appealed against the Attorney General of Egypt, and the country's Supreme Court sent the case back for reconsideration. The court's decision provoked outrage the local Coptic community.

There are also strict restrictions on building new churches and restore existing churches. There are cases where the authorities under the pretext of combating "samostroem, demolishing temples and legally valid, although the Koran strictly forbids destroying the temples of the Jews and Christians.

Discrimination against Copts feel and hiring. Christians can not be mayors, even in cities where they constitute a majority of the population. They are never governors, police chiefs and even school principals.

It should be noted that while the Egyptian constitution guarantees freedom of man and officially the country has no laws punishing for apostasy (as, for example, in Saudi Arabia), the Muslims, who are Christians, afflict most severe repression. It causes people to hide and falsify documents, some fleeing to cities or make attempts to leave the country. If they are caught, they insulted and tortured.

Thus, according to the Association of American Copts, in December last year police arrested a couple of Egypt, is wanted by reason of conversion from Islam to Christianity, and also detained another 20 people from among the converts. After his arrest, the spouses moved to Cairo, children were allowed to stay with friends. Lawyers for the spouses reported that a husband and wife in the police on the streets of Al-Musk Cairo were beaten and otherwise tortured.

Were also subjected to torture in relation to the officials who helped arrange a pair of new identity cards with Christian names. Officials forced to call imena100 converts, who also received identity cards. As a result, in Alexandria have been made more arrests of twenty people, others are being sought.

Last year, in protest against the harassment of his flock, the Coptic Patriarch Shenouda III for two weeks, retired to a monastery in Wadi Natroun - a desert oasis between Cairo and Alexandria. Patriarch Shenouda III Coptic plzuetsya a special reverence. For example, that the owner of the grocery store, pharmacy or a small shop of household appliances Copt say definitely hung on the walls of the icons, crosses and wicker - necessarily - photos of Pope Shenouda III.

The Coptic Patriarch of Saint Mark Throne of Alexandria and Pope Shenouda III, in the opinion of the Copts - the identity of almost universal value. Indeed, a prominent theologian and preacher, he was already more than thirty years, the spiritual leader of the Coptic nation and enjoys the unquestioned authority. The abundance of portraits of the same rights as in Russia during the Brezhnev era, unwittingly causes the assumptions about the cult of personality. Referring to a conversation with a Coptic name "Shenouda, you will certainly see how a person breaks into a smile, buddy, maybe he even would get out of his pocket notebook with photos of beloved leader.

The leader of Egypt's Copts is the title of Abba (dad), which at the time of the first Christians were awarded only to the saints and fathers - the desert. The gatekeeper of the monastery of Anthony the Great, showed me a stone tablet in honor of their stay in the monastery of the Patriarch Shenouda, confidently told me that after his death, the outstanding Patriarch also announced a saint. Hovers over the spiritual leader of the Copts and the aura of martyrdom. The Copts do not like to talk about it out loud, but each of them knows that, because of their beliefs Shenouda III even suffered from the authorities, having served several years under house arrest.

Among the many Christian churches in Cairo is not only the Coptic, and Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic Catholic rite, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox rite, the Lutheran church, a small Armenian church. Basically it is the building of modern architecture. In the V century after Egypt became part of the Byzantine Empire, Church of Alexandria was a split. Copts have formed their own church in Alexandria also emerged second - the Greek Patriarchate.

External manifestation of the split was a dispute about the nature of Jesus Christ. In fact, monophysitism - a name already used for the Coptic faith, only serve to fight the Egyptians for their independence. In the mass population of Egypt viewed the authority of Byzantium as the hated yoke. Appointed by the patriarchs of Constantinople were in Alexandria under the protection of soldiers. As the chiefs of small groups "melkitov", that is - the Greek minority in a vast sea of Coptic, they often rely only on military force.

Council of Chalcedon 451, finally separate the Egyptian and Byzantine churches. All "heretics", in fact, the vast majority of Egyptians were forbidden to hold public and military posts, to be lawyers and teachers, in order "not to enter the soul astray." The most consistent monophysites wiped out physically, into poverty, and fled into the desert and hid in monasteries. Conflict with the Byzantine Empire came to an end only when the northern borders of Egypt, Arab horsemen crossed with waving green pennants on the spears of their new religion - Islam. Force the Arabs, headed straight for Babylon (Egypt, now - a suburb of Cairo), numbered no more than 3500 riders, whereas only in the area of Babylon, there were more than 20,000 Roman soldiers. However, in the end, the Arabs surrounded the fort of Babylon, who in 641 safely surrendered.

Times change. More than a thousand years of existence under Islamic rule, brought two formerly warring church of Egypt so that a few years ago, the Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Copts - monophysites even signed an agreement on mutual recognition of marriage. That is, for example, if a parishioner of the church under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, married parishioner, the Coptic Church, but now no matter which of the churches will be performed the sacrament of marriage, she and other church recognize a marriage is true. Moreover, as the author of the article said, of blessed memory, Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa Peter VII, he was head of the Coptic Shenouda III - old friends. "We, - said the patriarch - coexist peacefully, helping each other, and the fact that reside in the Muslim region, unites us."

Hurghada - Cairo - Moscow

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