The Coptic Cultural Centre which was established last year at the St Mark cathedral in Abbasiya, Cairo, and which is headed by Pope Shenouda III and supervised by Anba Ermiya, recently held its first seminar under the name of “Hues of Coptic Civilisation”.
Akhnoukh Louis Fanous, executive manager of the centre and the St Mark library affiliated to it, reviewed the various programmes and activities sponsored by the centre. He stressed that the purpose was to enrich and educate the community about the unique rituals, beliefs, language, history, literature, music, art, architecture and monuments of the Coptic civilisation.
Sense of humour
While Samuel Kozman of Munster University in Germany talked about the early Copts and the manner in which they recorded the history of the Church, Maged Sobhy, head of the research and publishing unit at the centre, presented an interesting study about Coptic translations. He talked about translation from Greek to Coptic and from Coptic to Arabic which began in the 10th century by writing Arabic words in Coptic letters. He also talked about the most important translation centres at the time such as St Shenouda’s Monastery in Sohag.
In a refreshing lecture, Nessim Hanna, professor and researcher at the Catholic University in Melbourne, tackled a remarkable part of Coptic literature, that of the Coptic sense of humour. Egyptians are famous for their legendary sense of humour, so it should come as no surprise that Coptic literature would include funny anecdotes.
Mr Hanna captivated his audience by relating one such anecdote which contained some subtle humour by the monks.
The story goes that two young monks left their monastery to visit a hermit called Father John who lived in isolation in a cave in the desert. When they finally reached him he was so moved they had taken that arduous journey just to meet him, so he cut short his customary prayer time and prepared a good meal to welcome his guests. When it was time for him to retire he excused himself, left them to the ‘comfort’ of his cave, and went to spend the night in a corner under some rock outside. He had barely turned away when he overheard one say to the other: “Don’t these hermits have it easy! We’re the ones who really have a gruelling time at the monastery, fasting, working, and praying”.
The following morning they left Fr John telling him they were on their way to visit another blessed hermit, Fr Paul. He wished them a safe trip, and told them “Say hello to Fr Paul for me and tell him to keep things dry.”
When they reached Fr Paul they told him what Fr John had said. Fr Paul smiled; he got the message. He greeted his guests, had lengthy talks with them, then finally – when it was almost evening – offered them food.
“I’m so glad you’re here”, he said, “Even though this is not the day I normally eat I’ve prepared a banquet for all three of us to share. They stared, aghast: it was a meal of hard bread, salt, and vinegar. They ate anyway, they had been dying of hunger. Then he asked them to join him in prayer and kept them up all night praying. He finished as the day dawned and, expecting them to be spent out, went about to prepare them a second meal of bread, salt, and vinegar. “Oh no, thank you,” they said. “We need to get an early start back to our monastery.” “But why?” he answered looking really disappointed. “I’d set my heart on your spending some three or four days with me.” That’s when they set their feet to the wind and fled as fast as their feet could carry them.