RITUAL Egyptian congregation steeped in tradition Copts seek Stafford church home
- RITUAL Egyptian congregation steeped in tradition Copts seek Stafford church home
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 their religion.
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 three-hour-long worship.
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, Labib said.
There is just one small congregation in the Fredericksburg area. St. Mary and St. Marcorious Coptic Orthodox Church has about 20 families, Labib said.
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.