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.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Anti-Semitism and the Coptic Orthodox Church

  1. seismicshock

    This is fascinatingly brilliant, thankyou Abu Faris.

  2. Louka Outrebon

    I need to correct some things out.

    First you mention Samuel Tadros’ blog, but he doesn’t quote any valid sources. Actually they are maybe 404s but maybe they’re non-existant ones…

    Then you are missing a lot of sources as well. This include the part of the ban of the pilgrim to Jerusalem. He never said don’t go to Jerusalem because he was afraid the Copts could be converted. The only reason he invoked was some political ones. There’s many papers talking about it, I’ll just give you one : http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2007/90209.htm (in the middle of the text).

    Then about Divorce. If you marry as a Christian, I mean if you believe in the Church Sacraments, you should be aware of the New Testament :

    In Luke 16:18 Jesus says:
    “Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

    You can divorce for two reasons : Adultery and Conversion to another religion. Except that there will be no divorce, and no 2nd weddings.

    You could come with “What if a husband beats his wife?” the Church promotes separation of the couple, but not divorce since you can’t separate the link that God created. They would just remain alone.

    If you agree all of this points, why would you come one day and say hey, I don’t agree anymore ! It would be like if you were talking to your boss that your salary would no longer measure up…

    Moreover the Supreme Court of Egypt approved Shenouda writ on remariage : http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=119779&catid=1&Itemid=183

    Now when it comes to homosexuality, it is clearly said in the Bible that they’ll not reach Heaven, so the sheperd of the copts must warn them, what he does in the book. However, you should note that the translations of Shenouda’s Books are sometimes inacurrate, so maybe some parts of the book could shock.

    Then you should know that Shenouda has been rewarded of the following price :
    “He also won, in the year 2000, the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence by UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura on the recommendation of an international jury.” (Quoting Wikipedia EN)

    Despite all of this, you’re saying that he “promote and excuse the most primitive hatreds of the Other”

    You should really open your minds and read some of his sermons before writting on him. You’re just basing your post on another one, from a blog, how reliable it is.

    This must be condemned. This must end.

  3. in the Arab world there are many religions, but whether it be Islam, Christian, Judaism, there is mainly only two ideas that people can persist; hate & love, -from this article, all i see is hatred towards Copts, a true Coptic Loves, i know, i am Coptic

  4. Abe

    The first Copts I met here in America were certainly religious, but we became good colleagues despite no need for us to interact during working hours. This was at a job where they head of security for the company was a Copt and the other, George a Entrance Gate guard, God Rest His Soul.

    He was 21, his father was sick and he was the only breadwinner for his family. He was working regular 8 hour shifts and going to to school. One day he just slumped over in class and never awoke.

    We spent many pre-work mornings over a quick coffee discussing the Bible and religions both Jewish and Coptic. He always kept a Coptic bible with him and explained the writing and what it was about. A good Copt a good Human being. A sad day for me when he passed.
    I don’t know how many Copts really fall for the leaderships tirades against Jews but the two I met didn’t seem to buy it. Neither did his Manager. And as I said, our jobs didn’t force us to interact during work, except coming or going but I always felt warmth not religious apprehension in our crossing paths and exchanging greetings
    In memory of George, I will continue to protest against the treatment of Copts no matter what their scriptures write or the head of his church says.

  5. Pingback: Anti-Semitism and the Coptic Orthodox Church

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