Egyptian congregation steeped in tradition Copts seek Stafford church
RITUAL Egyptian congregation steeped in tradition Copts seek
Stafford church home
October 6, 2007 12:35 am
BY AMY FLOWERS UMBLE
Egypt provided refuge for baby Jesus and his family when they needed
to flee from Bethlehem, according to the New Testament.
Not long after Jesus' death, the Christian Coptic Orthodox Church of
Egypt was formed.
Walk into a service 2,000 years later, and many of the rituals
remain, said Rafik Labib, a Stafford County Copt.
"We still do it the same way, there are no changes to any of it," he said.
Labib and other members of St. Mary and St. Marcorious Coptic
Orthodox Church meet in a rented church in North Stafford. They are
grateful for the building, he said, but it's not ideal for practicing
Members must worship on Saturdays. That's when the building is
available. And it doesn't feature the ornate decor common to Coptic churches.
Members tape pictures of saints to the bare walls each time they
meet. Each time, they bring their elaborate altar cloths, a silver
incense holder, candles and musical instruments.
But the service--performed in a combination of English, Coptic and
Arabic--is unchanged. The strong scent of incense fills the room, and
chanting and cymbals provide a soundtrack to the nearly
A priest or monk travels from Maryland or Richmond to perform
services twice each month.
The Coptic Church is the largest Christian church in Egypt, but it is
still a minority religion there. About 6 percent of Egyptians claim
to be Christian. To be Christian in Egypt means heavy taxes, limits
on where you can go to school and the possibility of losing custody
of your children. So not everyone there admits to being Christian.
Many flee the country they believe once protected their Savior. They
often come to America, seeking freedom to worship.
That's why there are nearly 80 Coptic churches in the United States,
There is just one small congregation in the Fredericksburg area. St.
Mary and St. Marcorious Coptic Orthodox Church has about 20 families,
They hope to purchase land and build their own church soon.
There, they will continue the traditions the Copts have held for
2,000 years, passing them on to the next generation.
"And they will learn, they will take it over and it will go on and
on," Labib said.
A general bishop of the Coptic Church of Egypt will visit the
Stafford congregation next Saturday. This will be the first time a
Coptic Orthodox bishop has visited the area.
The bishop is scheduled to bless the congregation and pray the holy
liturgy at St. Mary and St. Marcorious Coptic Orthodox Church on
Kingsland Street in Garrisonville.
Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973