Sunday, November 19, 2006

Worshipping with the Copts

This morning I left at 7 a.m. with Susan, Andrew, and Kate in order to drive to St. Paul where we joined the congregation of St. Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church for the morning service. The divine liturgy was from St. Basil and lasted approximately 2 1/2 hours in length--much of it standing, in typical Orthodox fashion! I wish some of my students had been along for the experience--they would probably have fainted upon seeing the 130 page printed liturgy (in three columns, no less, for the English, Greek, and Coptic languages).

As usual, hospitality was one of the signatures of Christian worship with folks joining in to help us with the liturgy. One of the great modern innovations in the service was a small digital electronic screen which constantly displayed the page numbers so that you were never quite lost. My Greek actually came in handy here, helping me make sense of several sections. I couldn't help but chuckle inwardly whenever we would come to a section where we would say innumerable times something like, "I believe, I really believe!" It was evangelical passion set to Coptic liturgy.

Much of the praise throughout went to those saints in the third, fourth, and early fifth centuries who had kept the faith orthodox. For instance, we not only remembered John Chrysostom and Athanasius, we also praised the 318 representatives who were present at Nicaea, as well as those who followed them at Constantinople and Ephesus years later! Keeping up the chant was not only the bishop and priest, but an all-male choir in their white gowns which were a cross between the Muslim prayer group from Friday midday prayer and the Krishna Consciousness instrumental band--complete with small hand cymbals and triangle. The guy on the triangle could really boogie.

Afterwards, we retreated to an Egyptian restaurant--the Blue Nile--which happened to be closed. So, we settled for a breakfast menu at a rather funky bar/cafe attached to a local co-op. Lots of eggs and hashbrowns were consumed by all. It also gave me a chance to get to know my traveling companions better. Suffice it to say that I came away with a greater appreciation for the eclecticism that makes up St. John's School of Theology. Even the ride back to Collegeville was much appreciated--thanks partly to having stood for over two hours and needing to rest a bit.