We had the opportunity to spend a few days at a Coptic Orthodox
retreat center an hour out of Cairo called Anafora. The Coptic church traces their roots back to the apostle Mark and a visit he made to Egypt. So this experience was a chance to worship with one of the earliest church traditions.
The leadership at Anafora are working to create a place where people can come to seek retreat and new life. They have started to build biblical structures, the Amanmesia, which means remembering, to help explain some of their beliefs. So far they
have built a replica of the tabernacle, the Sea of Galilee, the Mount
of Olives, a small version of the ark of Noah, and a model of
Jerusalem. They are currently working on painting the walls of a
church building showing different Bible stories and of the 12
apostles. Overall, Anafora is doing well at creating a relaxing
environment where all feel welcome despite the differences in color,
culture, and religious practices.
We got to take part in the Epiphany service which was in a mix of
Coptic and Arabic. The Coptic and Greek Orthodox churches celebrate the baptism of Jesus as part of Epiphany. The service starts with two hours of prayers, then an hour and a half mass, and finishing with a ceremony of placing a cross into water. The mass was a new experience for many of us who come from the Mennonite tradition, which doesn’t feature as much liturgy and sacraments. The mass had us using all of our senses. When entering the chapel, we were overwhelmed by the smoke and smell of incense. We listened to the sound of songs, spoken liturgies, and cymbals. We saw the different icons of crosses and apostles, took part in passing the peace by touching hands, and observed the taking of communion.
After the mass we received candles and processed to an
amphitheater which included an island surrounded by a pool of water. Following some singing and liturgy, Bishop Thomas placed three baskets on fire, an anc (an Egyptian cymbal used to represent the cross), and a cross into the pool. Upon the completion of the service, everyone enjoyed a meal together as the Coptic Christians had been fasting for Epiphany.
It’s fascinating to witness how Christians in all different traditions
and cultures used different practices and traditions to listen to God.
In the Mennonite tradition we use four part hymns and in the Coptic
tradition they use incense and liturgy. After processing this, it made
me realize that the way Christians pull in parts of their culture to
encounter God is an example of how God can not be bound by
traditions. He moves and speaks in all places and through many ways.
A section of the liturgy used in the Epiphany service:
O King of peace, grand us Your peace, establish for us Your peace, and forgive us our sins.
Disperse the enemies of the church, and strengthen her so it will never shake.
Emmanuel, our God, in His Father’s Glory with the Holy Spirit, is now in our midst.
That He blesses us all, purifies our hearts, and heals the sickness of
our souls and bodies.
We worship You, O Christ, with Your good Father and the Holy Spirit for You were baptized and saved us.
-Janaya Sachs and Rachel Holderman