Mark Swanson’s Message on the History of Christian Education in the Coptic Church

“Perhaps there are seasons of giving, a time for investing in brick and mortar and a time for investing in people”

— MARK SWANSON

Mark Swanson’s Message on the History of Christian Education in the Coptic Church

In his keynote address, Rev. Dr. Mark Swanson, the Harold S. Vogelaar Professor of Christian-Muslim Studies and Interfaith Relations at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, turned attention to the importance of the emphasis on education throughout Coptic Orthodox Christian history, even back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Rev. Dr. Swanson focused on the transition of the church from a state of crisis of discipline, piety and, ultimately, education in the 12th century to one of overflowing literature and progress in the 13th, under the guidance of Pope Gabriel II and the monk and later Pope Gabriel III, respectively.

Pope Gabriel II faced a shift in language, from Coptic to Arabic, that left many members of the church unable to understand the Coptic prayers at each service, forcing them to blindly recite prayers they could not understand or benefit from. Pope Gabriel II became a pioneer for the education of priests and lay members of the church alike, initiating the integration of the local Arabic languages into the Coptic services. He also lead these efforts by instructing the bishops of the time to also teach the Christian people they shepherded, through the memorization of the Creed and doxologies, in a tongue they could understand. He also allowed for the first translations of the Old and New Testaments, priestly books, and other Coptic literature, into Arabic, allowing people the opportunity to understand the holy books they read from. Fast-forward one century, and the Coptic Orthodox Church found itself in a type of literary renaissance, eventually under the guidance of Pope Gabriel III. Starting out as a monk and scribe, Pope Gabriel III contributed to the extensive Coptic libraries and copies of Coptic literature that marked the 13th century, producing and copying texts of Coptic Orthodox literature in theology, philosophy, apologetics, preserving the Coptic language through books on Coptic grammar as well as Coptic dictionaries. Such a tremendous turn from a period of Coptic literary darkness to a literary outpour over the span of this century was only made possible by a readiness to learn and people who were prepared to support this learning.

An example such as this, one rooted so deeply in our Coptic Orthodox history, demonstrates the importance and the power of Coptic education and its integral role in a thriving future for our Coptic community and faith.

Written by Anastasia Ibrahim- Click here to see the full article

Jessica Shalaby