New York – In light of a recent spate of violence and persecution against Christians in Egypt, members of the Coptic Orthodox Church of America gathered at New York’s St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral for a special prayer service on December 14.
Some 1,000 people took part in the service, which was organized by Coptic Orthodox Bishops in the United States. Lacking a comparable sanctuary of their own, Coptic Church leaders had requested holding the service in the dignified solemn setting of St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral.
The morning of worship and remarks included an address by Bishop David, the Coptic General Bishop of North America, and other Coptic bishops, as well as Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America.
“Our peoples share a common experience as diaspora communities; we share a common theological and liturgical heritage as members of the Oriental Orthodox tradition; and our histories have been connected since antiquity,” Archbishop Barsamian said. “We have stood together on occasions of great joy, but also in times of deep sorrow.”
Though currently a minority in Egypt, Coptic Christians have inhabited the region since ancient times, and are the descendants of the indigenous Egyptians of antiquity. Modern Egypt, a predominantly Muslim country, held contentious parliamentary elections last month.
In recent weeks, Copts have faced violence and vandalism in Abu Tisht and Talbia, and Coptic youth at prayer were met with armed force in Giza’s Omranieh district.
Hostility and disrespect have also been aimed at His Holiness Pope Shenouda, the spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
“It is a terrible thing, I feel, that these outrages, against one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, are taking place in Egypt,” Archbishop Barsamian said. “For as we are reminded from the stories of our Lord’s infancy, the land of Egypt was the very first refuge for the Holy Family: the land where they found relief from persecution, and the freedom to live their lives in peace.”
He went on to stress the importance of faith and prayer. “In the deepest sense, what we pray for today is for Egypt to be restored to the image it has always held in the Christian imagination: as a place of peace and safety,” Archbishop Barsamian said. “And especially in this season of our Lord’s birth-the season of hope, the season of peace on earth to men of good will-we must never lose faith in the power of God to inspire our fellow human beings-people of all backgrounds-to seek peace, justice and dignity, for all God’s children.”
Other speakers and participants included Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations; Bishop Serapion, of the Coptic Diocese of Los Angeles; Bishop Souriel, the Coptic Bishop of Sidney, Australia; Bishop Youssef, of the Coptic Diocese of the Southern United States; Bishop Macarius, the Coptic General Bishop of North America; and Bishop Michael, the Coptic General Bishop of Virginia. Others from the Eastern Diocese included Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian and the Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean of St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral, the Rev. Fr. Tateos Abdalian, and the Rev. Fr. Bedros Kadehjian.
A representative of the Syrian Catholic Church also attended the prayer service.