14 March 2010
Driving through Copperfield, a suburb in northwest Houston, Texas one is surrounded with billboards, grocery stores and shopping centres. The viewer doesn’t expect to see beautiful copper domes adorned with crosses to peak over the billboards and stores. Upon first glance at this diamond in the rough, it is as if one is transformed into another world rich with history and spirituality, far away from the current landscape of billboards and American capitalism.
This beauty is St Mary and Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church (www.saintmaryhouston.org), the younger sister of the first church in Houston, St Mark Coptic Orthodox Church. Born in the hearts of a group of servants in 1994, it has grown to become a diligent mother nourishing her children with manifold services to this day. July 25th 2004 the first liturgy was prayed in the new building, but not without much toil. Church members painted walls, polished the wooden pews and assembled six elegant, intricately beaded crystal chandeliers imported from Egypt, during the construction at times until 3, 4 or 5 in the morning to make their dream come true. The dedication of the church was reported by the Houston Chronicle (29 August 2004) under the title, “Building on the past: For Egyptian Christians, new home is the culmination of dearly held dreams.”
As children of God we know His ways are greater than our ways and His thoughts are above ours and this is evident in how this new branch of the ancient vine blossomed and produced fruit. Its growth included beautiful icon murals in the dome and the apse of the altar as well as throughout its walls telling the story of salvation. The church complex also includes a gym, sleeping quarters and a banquet hall—if there ever was a TV show called “Coptic Cribs” it would definitely feature St Mary’s!
Within 2007-2009 these fruits blossomed; Mr George Nashed and his life partner and helper Iman Nashed worked tirelessly to adorn our beautiful Bride. They created works of art that were solidly rooted in Coptic dogma and symbolic relevance. The Icon of the Pantocrator behind the altar was painted in a similar style of St Abanoub Coptic Orthodox Church in Euless Dallas. As in all Coptic churches, Christ is seated on a throne and holds a globe, a symbol of his sovereignty over the world-Christ the Pantocrator. But a closer look in the globe reveals the United States, and Texas, and, yes, a shaded area that indicates Houston as they did for Dallas-Fort Worth. This magnificence was reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (10 March 2007) under the title, “Saints and paints: An Egyptian artist brings traditional Coptic Orthodox icons and murals to a Euless church.”
On the dome, is a unique depiction of the vision of Jacob, the ladder with angels ascending and descending from it, a symbol of St Mary. At the end of the ladder, St Mary’s does appear with her pure and tender face within the bosom of Christ with open hands. When one speaks with Mr Nashed, you will experience a sense of great love and dedication for his craft and God-given talent, but not only that, his passion for iconography is infused with prayers, reading and meditations on God’s word. Often this writer experienced late nights, with hymns playing from a CD and Mr George Nahsed working as if taken into a transcendental space away from the present.
Presently, the sleeping quarters, the gym, game rooms and banquet hall can be found bustling with activity every weekend, as the different class grades rotate in a Monthly Camp Program (MCP) at the Coptic Youth Centre (CYC). Often you will find servants as young as in their early twenties and thirties discussing how they’d wished they had enjoyed such luxury and shepherding care as they were growing up, this is an indication of the much needed services that are now presently found at St Mary’s through the Grace of God. It is with great hope and prayers that our children will not take this blessing for granted and continue in its care and maintenance for the glory of His Kingdom.
Caroline Z. Marcos, M.A., www.carolinez.com, arrived to Houston in the fall of 2007 where she currently serves at St Mary and Archangel Michael in Houston.