antisemitism,  Middle East,  Religion

Anti-Semitism and the Coptic Orthodox Church

This is a guest post by Abu Faris

The Christian Coptic Orthodox community makes up about 10% of the Egyptian population. An ancient Christian communion (whose liturgical language is the direct descendent of the language of the Pharaohs), the Copts are the frequent targets of anti-Christian pogroms, riots and oppression in Egypt at the hands of Islamist fanatics and face persistent government discrimination.

Even before the arrival of Islam in 639 CE in Egypt, the Coptic community was subject to periodic persecution at the hands of their Byzantine governors and their local Egyptian minions. The Copts and the main body of the Orthodox Church split in 551 CE over theological differences leading to generations of violence and oppression by the Eastern Roman Empire of the Egyptian Coptic Church as the Empire sought in vain to enforce religious conformity across its territories. Unsurprisingly, then, the arrival of the Islamic armies was welcomed by many Copts as a relief from Byzantine inspired persecution. Indeed, their Pope at the time, Benjamin I, was recalled from hiding to Alexandria by the victorious Arab general, ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, and made quite comfortable.

One would have thought that given this long history of persecution and oppression, the Copts should sympathise better than most in the Middle East with the Jewish people’s own oppression and travails over the centuries. Unfortunately, this is not so. Copts have a dark and long history of the crudest anti-Semitism sanctioned at the highest levels of the Church – and it continues to this day.

The immensely courageous, dissident Coptic blogger, Samuel Tadros points out that

Some people might think that ongoing Anti Semitism in Egypt is a phenomena that is restricted to Muslims. That is not really the case. Statements by Muslim religious leaders have been covered by the press, but little attention has been given to the Coptic Church, which has had its share of Anti Semitism.

Christian books are filled with Anti Semitic remarks and stories especially the “Sineksar”, the official Church book of Saints in which you can find stories that include Blood Libel.

Is not just that the Coptic Church continues to peddle ancient Christian anti-Semitism as the God’s Honest Truth in some sort of haphazard manner, the Coptic Church actively promotes such vileness even to this day. Samuel Tadros comments:

Pope Shenouda III, the leader of the Coptic Church has made statements in the past that included many Anti Semitic views. In an interview on the Egyptian Television on the 8th of April 2007 he said: “the Western Churches were wrong to exonerate Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and criticized recent statements apologizing for Christian anti-Semitism.”

“Asked whether Jews were “Christ-killers”, responsible for the crucifixion, Shenouda stated, “The New Testament says that they are,” and asked rhetorically whether the Vatican was “against the teachings of the New Testament?”

Pope Shenouda III, leader of the virulently anti-Semitic Coptic Church

Samuel Tadros shows how this virulent anti-Semitism runs as a filthy thread through the Coptic Orthodox Church’s world view and couched in expressions straight from the Protocols:

Pope Shenouda is not the only Coptic Church leader that holds Anti Semitic views. Father Morcos Aziz Khalil in a recent article in Nahdet Masr Newspaper devoted his entire time to bashing the Jews. He said: “The Jews saw that the Church is their No. 1 Enemy and that without Priesthood the Church loses its most important component, thus the Masonic Movement was the secret Zionist hand to create revolution against the clergy. The Zionist Ideology has kept its conspiracies a secret buried in silence.”

He then added that the Zionist Movement has tried to work in Egypt through Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists and that those organizations are merely a cover that has American Zionists behind it.”

Pope Shenouda some time ago banned all Coptic pilgrimages to Jerusalem on pain of excommunication from the Coptic Orthodox Church. When questioned about this decision, Shenouda dissimulated, claiming that he was concerned about the influence of “Zionist propaganda” on the minds of Coptic pilgrims, stating that he feared that they would “be influenced by the Israeli media, and we will not be able to prevent this. Who knows what ideas they will return with?” In fact, the Coptic Orthodox Church refuses to acknowledge the existence of the State of Israel and offered no legal opposition to a recent Egyptian court ruling banning all Christian pilgrimages to Israel.

The ancient Churches of the Middle East – and the Orthodox communion in general – have a huge number of issues that they simply must confront if they are to act with any relevance in the world today. Women’s rights, including the right to divorce (a hot potato in the Coptic communion since another Egyptian court ruling granted Coptic women the right to divorce – a right so long denied them by the incredibly restrictive Coptic canon law on divorce); the appallingly backward and bigoted attitude towards homosexuality (for an example of this issue, bizarrely tied to the ordination of women, see this pamphlet by Pope Shenouda); and last but most certainly not least, the cancer of anti-Semitism that continues to eat away at the very soul of a Church that should, must know better but continues to promote hate and fear.

In one of the most moving and powerful passages of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul asserts:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing…

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

It is to the continued shame of the Coptic Orthodox Church that it has so singularly denied the universal application of this central Christian message and as such lost its way. It has instead sought to enlist, promote and excuse the most primitive hatreds of the Other – be that Other women, the gay community – and most especially, the Jews. This must be condemned. This must end.