Fr Anthony St Shenouda
The 11th International Congress of Coptic Studies
Fr Theodore St Shenouda and I have been very fortunate to be part of the 11th International Congress of Coptic Studies, thanks to the Abbot of our monastery, H.G. Bishop Daniel, and his encouragement and support. The Congress was hosted by Claremont Graduate University and St Shenouda the Archimandrite Coptic Society, both in California, from 25 to 30 July 2016.
The Congress basically is an academic conference where scholars of Coptic Studies from around the world get together to present their work on their areas of research. Over 200 scholars from all over the world came to present some of their work over the last four years. It might come as a surprise to many that the majority, about 85 – 90 per cent, of scholars working in the field of Coptic studies are not Copts. Some of the research conducted by these scholars brings out the best of ancient and contemporary Coptic history, the lives of saints, archaeological restorations, translation of texts including the Coptic Bible, contemporary personality, spiritual practices such as prayer and liturgies, and much more.
We are used to learning about these topics in spiritual talks and sermons but I tell you it was very interesting to look at these topics from an academic point of view. Not only did it add to our knowledge base a number of new saints we didn’t know about and aspects of our Church that we didn’t know existed but, even on the spiritual level it made one appreciate many things we have in the Church such as art, liturgy, music, monastic tradition, and lives of saints, that we take for granted or sometimes know nothing about. Here is the list of topics from the Congress organisers:
- Coptic archaeology
- Coptic linguistics
- Coptic art, including museology and Coptic literature
- Copto-Arabic studies
- Gnosticism and Manichaeism in Egypt
- Coptic Bible
- Egyptian monasticism
- Coptic documentary papyrology
- Coptic epigraphy
- Coptic history and historiography
While it was a great opportunity for me to see for the first time all these prominent scholars face to face after years of reading some of their fine research, it was not the high spot of the conference for me, since I had anticipated that. What I did not anticipate was the 10 – 15 per cent of participants who were at the conference, who were Coptic. Less than half of them were members of the clergy; most interestingly, the other half were young scholars who are studying and teaching Coptic Studies topics at masters and PhD level at prestigious universities in the US and around the world. These fine young scholars are studying Coptic heritage out of their own initiative and studying it full time. The variety of disciplines that these scholars came from was even more fascinating.
This increase in the number of Coptic scholars concerned with their heritage is an interesting phenomenon that has no parallel in the last thousand years of the history of the Coptic Church in Egypt and in the Diaspora. Our young people are now not only interested in becoming engineers, doctors, accountants but some of them are moving sidewise into uncharted territories in our Coptic culture and their numbers are increasing exponentially. With the increased number of accredited theological colleges outside Egypt I am sure the next few decades will see a further rise in the number of Coptic scholars.
On Day Two of the Congress we prayed an all-Coptic language liturgy with H.G. Bishop Kyrillos and all the other priests who were at the conference. After the liturgy they took us for a tour around the university and Bishop Kyrillos showed us the offices and classrooms designated to the St Athanasius and St Cyril Coptic Orthodox Theological School on campus.
Outside the lecture rooms there was a book exhibition. To my pleasant surprise, some of our books (St Shenouda Monastery Publications) were on display.
The Congress was an altogether interesting, beneficial, and joyful experience.
Fr Anthony is a monk at St Shenouda Monastery in Sydney, Australia.
21 September 2016