26 September 2010
Tomorrow the Coptic Church marks the Feast of the Cross. It is a feast which is celebrated twice a year; once to mark the discovery of the Cross in AD326, and another on 10 Baramhat (19 March) to mark its return from the hands of the Persians who had seized it from the Christians of Jerusalem in the 7th century.
For Copts, the Cross carries special significance. Even before Christianity came to Egypt, the ancient Egyptians used the onkh cross-like sign to denote the Key of Life. Centuries later, the Cross came to symbolise the Christian rite of passage to Eternal Life. The renowned historian of the Coptic Church, Iris al-Masry quoted the Bible as saying that God is never without testimony. The creed of the onkh in Egypt preceded that of the Cross, making it natural for Egyptians to welcome Christianity when it was preached in Egypt.
Because of the Cross, Copts were—and still are—branded as “Four feathers” and “Blue bone”. This goes back to the 11th century, when the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim Bi-Amrillah decreed that Copts should have a cross tattooed on their right wrists; hence the ‘four feather’ denomination denoting the four arms of the Cross. He also decreed that Copts should wear a heavy brass cross around the neck, which resulted in a blue mark at the back of the neck, and thus the ‘blue bone’.
Monks and nuns are used to wear leather woven crosses. Priests and bishops may wear leather or silver crosses—in very few cases crosses made of gold. But better still is the cross held in the heart.