My name is Fr. Mina Dimitri. I am a priest of the Coptic Church whose historic name is the Church of Alexandria. The Pope of my Church resides in Egypt, where the largest population of Copts exists. St. Mark, the evangelist, established the Church. Many well-known church fathers have come from this church including Origen, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Athanasius, and St. Cyril. The Church was persecuted for much of its existence. It offered many martyrs throughout its history.
The monastic life, founded in Egypt by St. Anthony the Great, continues to be an instrumental part of the Coptic Church today.
The present leader of the Church is Pope Tawadros II who was elected in 2021. There are about 20 million Coptic Orthodox in Egypt. There are Coptic churches on all continents. In New Jersey and New York alone, we have over 55 churches. In the United States, we have about 13 bishops and hundreds of priests. This is a significant expansion. In the 1960s the Church only had two priests in North America.
The Coptic church in Egypt is everything for the Christian. It is where they play sports, serve, pray, share their concerns as well as vacation together. I used to spend at least 6 days a week in the church. Whenever I was bored, I would simply walk to the church. It is like a home to all of us. It is probably because Christians for the longest time felt that they couldn’t obtain access to the same facilities as their Muslim brothers and sisters, so the church became our home.
I was raised and have been a member of the Church all my life. It is hard to define a specific moment as a transformative point, but I must say meeting a couple of the “mystic fathers” in the deserts of Egypt was a significant light in my life. One of the desert fathers I met had the grace of reading my thoughts, which was overwhelming but wonderful.
In Egypt there is a lot of collaboration among the various Christian communities especially between the Catholic and Coptic churches. There is a strong collaboration among many of the churches since most of the dioceses have one bishop, and most bishops have monthly meetings for the clergy to discuss the issues and work together. But I also believe that the Church has a lot of work to do in this area.
This article is excerpted from The Sword of the Spirit reflections for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 18 – 25 2022
Top image: Orthodox cross and dramatic sunset, from bigstock.com, © by pavel_klimenko, stock photo ID: 27207863, quote from John 17:21 added.
Fr. Mina Dimitri is a priest of the Coptic Church.