“Half century of Coptology”, the first Coptology conference held by the Institute of Coptic Studies in Cairo, opened last month at the grand conference hall at the grounds of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abbassiya, Cairo.
Even though we received the invitation rather late, I made a point of attending the three-day event which I regarded as a significant one. It pained me, however, to look back and find the hall only half full. The conference could have definitely done with better publicity.
The mind and thought
Pope Shenouda III inaugurated the conference. The ceremony opened with a speech by the institute’s secretary-general Dr Ishaq Ibrahim, who thanked the Pope and spoke of his numerous achievements, his pastoral travels round the world, the 150 books he has written, the eight honorary doctorates he was granted by Western universities and his chairmanship of the World Council of Churches.
Attending were several bishops as well as a large number of clergy and researchers. The choir of the Institute of Coptic Studies gave an excellent performance of Coptic praises and hymns.
Zahi Hawwas, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), whose speech was delivered by the SCA head of Islamic and Coptic Monuments Dr Mustafa Amin, said the River Nile had witnessed the succession of many civilisations: the Pharaonic, the Graeco-Roman, the Byzantian and the Islamic. All these civilisations met in the Coptic Christian civilisation. Coptic art was the only Egyptian art, he said, where all other arts met. And Egyptian farmers still use Coptic months to mark the agricultural seasons, he reminded.
Dr Hawwas concluded by stressing the importance of registering Coptic monuments in order to preserve Coptic heritage, a matter that requires close co-operation between the SCA and the Church.
Anba Moussa, the bishop of youth, stressed the role of the Institute of Coptic Studies in serving the Church. Studies represent the ‘mind’ of the Church, he said, and ‘thought’ the leader which leads a man. The Church realises this very well and, in the sacrament, the priest first anoints or places the cross over the head to bless the thought. The mind preserves the past, contemplates the present, and extends into the future. I believe this is the role of the Institute of Coptic Studies, he said, to register the past, study the present and plan for the future.