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Why June 1 is a Great Day to Honor the Copts

A little Coptic history, a feast day to remember, and a great drink I concocted from my garden produce.

Photo by Rafik Wahba / Unsplash

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. 'Get up,' he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.' So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.
Gospel of Matthew, Chp. 2

Our Christian brothers, the Copts, celebrate “The Entry of the Lord into Egypt” today.

It's one of seven minor Coptic feasts that commemorate events in Christ's life.

I'd think this one is exceptionally special to them.

Copt, from the Arabic “Kibt,” which derives from the Greek word for “Egyptians.”
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1998).

The Copts are one of the four or five Oriental Orthodox Churches: Syrian (which has two branches), Ethiopian, Armenian (of Kardashian fame), and Coptic. The term “Coptic” essentially means “Egyptian Christian.”

They come into history after 451, when the Council of Chalcedon condemned the Monophysite heresy (which, broadly speaking, rejected Christ's two natures). The condemned Monophysites rejected the Council and continued their heretical stance.

Unfortunately, the Council was emotional, with shouting and temper and passions continued to ride high for years after the Council.

In 452, the main proponent of Monophysitism, Dioscorus, was deposed as the Patriarch of Alexandria and exiled to Paphlagonia, a wild region on the south coast of the Black Sea, and a man named Proterius was sent to be the new bishop. Proterius was met with so much rioting, the Byzantine Emperor had to send in the army to quell it.

But the army couldn't quell the scholarly opposition. The exiled Dioscorus continued to work out his theological opposition to the Council of Chalcedon, better clarifying his position and trying to veer it away from the charge of “Monophysitism.” When he died in 454, leadership of the Monophysites passed to a man known as “Timothy the Cat” (no one knows where this odd nickname came from).

Timothy the Cat threw gas on the smoldering fire. He had himself illicitly consecrated as Bishop of Alexandria then fomented a great riot in which the actual bishop, Proterius, was killed, his body dismembered, and parts of it eaten.

Imperial troops were again sent in, the riot put down, people punished, and Timothy the Cat exiled to Paphlagonia.

A new orthodox bishop was installed, but only ten Egyptian bishops joined in the consecration, with the rest continuing their opposition. At this point, the Coptic Church was well underway and would continue its separate existence to this day, although intense reconciliation efforts between the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox Churches have brought the two considerably closer, with both sides recognizing that the (incredibly) nuanced distinctions between the two sides at Chalcedon didn't merit the breach among believers.

When talking about the Monophysites, incidentally, you may not want to use that term.

According to the Copts, a monk named “Eutyches” was the real “Monophysite.” Both sides at Chalcedonia eventually rejected Eutyches and Monophysitism, so they shouldn't be hung with that opprobrious term. They prefer to be called “miaphysites: “(from the Greek mia, 'single,' and physis, 'nature') to identify their shared view that both divinity and humanity are equally present within a single nature in the person of Christ.”

For those keeping count, I believe we now have four terms that can't be used in polite discussion: the n-word, f*g, re*ard, and Monoph*site.

You can claim that “Monoph*site” isn't as bad as those other three, but heck, I'll honor their wishes and not refer to them that way.

After all, I have a lot of respect for the Copts.

Scratch that.

I have enormous respect for the Copts, so much so that, when I stumbled upon St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church in Monterey, California, I excitedly sneaked in so I could look around.

At the time, I didn't realize an angel guards every Coptic Church. I'm glad I wasn't struck dead as I crossed the threshold (and to be honest, I felt an odd sensation/chill when I walked in the side door . . . the sensation didn't go away when I witnessed two men performing an elaborate incense ceremony around a coffin).

Anyway, the Copts deserve our respect. They suffered persecution by orthodox Christians after Chalcedon, and have suffered immensely (albeit sporadically) for 1,300 years under the “Religion of Peace” (the only religion where adherents grow more peaceful, loving, and civilized as they get away from their religion's roots).

The most recent vivid example is the videotaped beheading of the 21 Coptic martyrs in 2015, which prompted Martin Mosebach to write his book, The 21. Mosebach visited the hometown of the martyrs and discovered a poor, oppressed people who live intensely in what Eric Voegelin called “the metaxy”: that area between heaven and earth:

All the houses I visited shared one common feature: The household was not in mourning. Condolences and expressions of sympathy seemed out of place. They struck me as somehow elevated to another plane. A scorching flash of violence had fallen upon them, followed by a majestic clap of thunder that slowly faded yet never fully died out.

The merciless video massacre, of course, was just the most recent Islamic outrage committed against the Copts. Jump back five more years to 2010 and you get the Nag Hammadi Massacre. Jump back another 1,000 years and you see Muslims destroy 3,000 Coptic churches (church buildings provoke more ire than usual from the Muslims).

And when they weren't being killed or watching their churches get demolished, they were paying extra taxes, losing government posts due to their religion, and required not to spread their religion.

And yet, there are still millions of Copts today. The 1993 edition of Timothy Ware's The Orthodox Church says there are 27 million Oriental Christians (which would include Copts, Syrians, Armenians, and Ethiopian). I don't know how many of them are Copts, and it appears no one knows. Google searches yield sources that say there are 1 million Copts in the world, while other sources claim as many as 20 million.

There are apparently about 200,000 Copts in the United States (due to persecution in Egypt, there has been a Coptic diaspora). For the Copts in our midst, I offer this gift:

Coptic Lemonade

I Googled lemonade cilantro mint last week to see if there are any drinks with that combination. Google declared, “Yes, and it's called “Egyptian Lemonade.” It then provided links to a series of elaborate recipes that include a blender and froth, which was more than I was interested in. I just wanted to know if that combination was viable.

I then added gin and declared in honor of our Coptic brethren, “Coptic Lemonade.”

It was shockingly good.

Herewith, the recipe:

  • Tall 12-ounce glass.
  • Hold small mint and cilantro branches (with leaves) against the inside of the glass.
  • Fill 2/3rds with ice.
  • Add one shot of New Amsterdam gin (or other western-style gin).
  • Fill almost to the top with lemonade.
  • Top with lime juice.

That's it. No simple syrup. No squeezing lemons and limes (unless you want to make your lemonade or lime juice naturally). It's a very simple drink and very good.


Coptic Lemonade 2.0

After you finish your first drink, repeat the same steps, but leave the mint and cilantro from the first batch at the bottom of the drink. Killer good.

Bonus 2.0. Omit the gin for the virgin version. My teenage daughter loves it.