By Alyssa Slager, Communications Intern
On June 16th, the Niagara Foundation was happily joined by Father James Mikhail for a Friends in Faith roundtable on the plight of Coptic Christians in the Middle East. Fr. Mikhail is a priest from the Coptic church of St. Paul Coptic Orthodox Church.
He began his discussion by providing the listeners with background on the Coptic Orthodox religion and then touched on the history of its creation. The birth of the Coptic religion occurred in Egypt, specifically Alexandria, by St. Mark, the religion’s recognized founder. Coptic directly translates to descendants of Egyptians, which a majority of those who practice the religion are. Fr. Mikhail explained how the religion started with its main church, in Alexandria, and five centers, but now has spread, and the Chicagoland area boasts four churches. In Egypt, under new rule, Coptic Christians are expanding as well as gaining an improved role in the state.
Coptic Christianity hold the same beliefs that Christianity does with some minor variations. The largest Christian church in the Middle East is the Coptic Christian church, but they are also the largest minority. Worshiping involves the body and spirit focusing on one’s senses: seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting. Fr. Mikhail engages people in multiple senses while he is giving a sermon, because it is said to increase involvement.
After the brief history, Fr. Mikhail shifted the conversation to the persecution of Coptic Christians. He opened our eyes to the the violence and marginalization inflicted upon this minority group. As a result of having a strong and powerful faith and existing as a minority, Coptic Christians are oppressed in the Middle East. An audience member contributed to the dialogue by unpacking the idea that this group receives brutality because they are seen as a threat. Throughout the Middle Eastern region, there are major issues with attacks and mob ferocity. Fr. Mikhail exposed the many examples of this cruelty while discussing the concern with us.
Following Fr. Mikhail’s presentation, there was a question and answer session. The dialogue concentrated on exactly why this is happening in the Middle East and what can be done to combat the controversy. Power was defined as the key cause, and it was explained that people use religion as an outlet for power and regimes. Interfaith discourse was stressed to help bridge the gap of religions and focus on positive collaboration. At the end of the session a hopeful realization was made that harmony between Muslims and Coptic Christians does exist and can be seen throughout Egypt, but it is natural to overlook this while focusing on the hardships. Channeling this harmony and increasing it may mitigate the persecutions in the Middle East.
The Niagara Foundation would like to thank Father James Mikhail for his intriguing perspectives and important talk about the persecution of Coptic Christians.