The Coptic Orthodox Church has a long history. They broke from the Orthodox and Catholics at the Council of Chalcedon over the nature of Christ. From what I have been able to discern, the Oriental Orthodox Church (as they are sometimes called), were essentially miaphysites, teaching that Christ had one nature. Now this is really, really simplifying some very in depth theological constructions. If I have misspoken or misrepresented these views, PLEASE TELL ME and I will correct it forthwith.
So the Coptic church has a pope, and has been divided from both East and West for 1500 years. The Copts probably were hit harder than any other historic church by Islam. In the 6th century, 95% of Egypt was Christian. After Islam it is less than 15%. I can only imagine the suffering they have undergone over the centuries.
Apparently, the Copts and the Orthodox have been in theological dialogue for the last 25 years or so, and are very close to reaching an agreement. Like most theological issues, half of it was and is politics and half of it is theology. You figure that at the time of the controversies, you had Greek, Latin, Coptic and who knows what other languages floating around. That is a recipe for theological messiness if ever there was one!
St. Mary and St. Antonious is the only Coptic Church in Wisconsin. There are three in Chicago. Their building was completed within the last 2 years, and is right off of I-94 just south of the airport:
The building cost around $3m, which indicates to me that they had a LOT of work donated. It’s a beautiful building, with a great deal of potential. There’s no stained glass, the dome isn’t finish, and the font leaves something to be desired:
However, the iconography is exquisite. Here are some samples:
All of this is lovely, but that’s not actually what struck me the most about the place. What struck me the most was the phrase, “Our Lord Jesus Christ,” used by the priest, the Revered Father Rewis Awadalla. Father Rewis gave us the tour, and his piety and conviction was evident and a beautiful adornment of the Gospel. He is Egyptian, and came to the United States in 1993 to serve this parish. He and my erstwhile colleague, Rev. Sean Smallwood of Lamb of God Lutheran Church, particularly hit it off well.
But back to this phrase. What struck me was his use of the phrase, “Our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is no secret that the West has little sense of piety, and (dare I say it?) excel at iconoclastism. The way that he used this phrase was reverent to our Lord Jesus Christ, but also inclusive. It was clear that he was speaking of OUR Lord Jesus Christ. I had a great affinity to his honor for the name of Jesus. It is something we in the West would do well to emulate.
The space was still foreign. There were plenty of elements that I don’t understand or that struck me as odd (especially the font). I would still feel more at home at St. Mary and St. Antonious than I would at most Baptist or even Lutheran churches. I’d like to visit with him again. I pray it may happen.