Report of:

Saint Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship

Canadian Chapter

Orthodox Unity III Conference

"Original Christianity and Orthodoxy, why a necessity?"

At St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church


The Third “Orthodox Unity” Conference, was held in St. Mark Coptic Church, Toronto, May 30 – June 1, 2003.  

H. G. Bishop Serapion (Los Angeles Coptic Diocese) blessed this conference by his presence and prayers, and by giving two lectures.  He talked about preaching by the Coptic Orthodox Church in one lecture, and about History of the Coptic Church persecution from the 6th century till present in a second lecture.  

H. G. started his first talk by praising the work of SMOF and its purpose, which consists of helping the people to understand the Orthodox faith, the Orthodox understanding of the Bible, and the Patristic heritage, and to bring people from the different Orthodox Churches together.  H. G., as an active participant in the theological dialog between the two families of Orthodoxy, Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian, reminded us that this latter activity of SMOF, was a recommendation of the International Committee of the Orthodox Dialog, i.e. to bring people from the churches of the different families together to know each other in a better and positive way.  Then H. G. went to the main topic of his first lecture, detailing the early labors of the Coptic Church in preaching the Gospel to other countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. Details of this talk are available on tape (see below).

In his second lecture, H. G. detailed the long history of the Coptic Church with the Arabic rulers of Egypt, from the 6th to the 20th Centuries A.D.  In particular, H. G. stressed on the issues of how the Church survived and even thrived in the periods of persecution and suffering in this long history.  Details of this lecture are available on tape (see below).  

Rev. Fr. George Dragas (Professor of Patristics, the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological Seminary, Brookline, MA), gave 3 lectures on the Orthodox approach to the Bible, the Bible in Orthodox Liturgy, and the Bible and Christians as icons in the Orthodox Church.

In his first lecture, Fr. Dragas highlighted the difference between the Western and the Orthodox approaches to the Bible, and that the latter is essentially the approach that our holy fathers have taught us, in particular St. Athanasius the Apostolic and St. Cyril the Great, the Patriarchs of the Church of Alexandria.  "They had a key to the scriptures, this key is what makes the Church Church, and makes the Christians Christians, and the Gospel Gospel.  It is none other than the Word of God, ... the incarnate Logos, ... the Lord Jesus Christ, ... the hidden pearl ..."  From this approach, he went on to explain in detail the Orthodox understanding of the Bible.  In this lecture, Fr. Dragas referred to Paul Evdokimov book on "The Bible in the Orthodox Tradition", which he translated and submitted for publication in SMOF magazine, "The Word of Life".  Details of this lecture are available on tape (see below).

In the second lecture by Fr. Dragas, "the Bible in Orthodox Liturgy", he explained how Orthodox Christians understand the Bible through Christ and within the Church.  Liturgy and Eucharist, being central for the Church, and being the real presence of the Lord, are evidently the proper time to read the Bible.  Then he continued to look in detail at the Bible and particularly the gospel and its use in Orthodox Liturgy.  Details of this lecture are available on tape (see below).

Fr. Dragas started his third lecture by linking it to his previous two lectures, starting with our Orthodox attitude towards the Gospel.  We open the Gospel before Christ, and we cannot understand it without having the key, i.e. the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  We find Christ in the Church, and especially in its greatest event, the liturgy.  The liturgy is the presentation of the whole Gospel, from incarnation to the second coming.  The Church Fathers give us the purpose of all of this: that we become the living icon of Christ.  Then, Fr. Dragas proceeded to detail how the Christians become an icon of Christ, and in this way an open Gospel to all people.  The whole lecture is available on tape (see below).         

Rev. Fr. John Isaac, from the Syrian Orthodox Church in Canada, talked (in Arabic) about the writings of St. Ignatius Theophorus, who is the third Patriarch of Antioch and was a disciple of the Apostles, St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. John.  St. Ignatius wrote seven epistles in the last days of his life when he was taken to Rome for his martyrdom.  His teachings in these epistles were summarized by Fr. Isaac with emphasis on their relevance to us at present.  The whole lecture is available on tape (see below).

Rev. Fr. John Yanney (Birmingham Coptic Church, UK) talked about meditations on the Gospel stories.  Fr. Yanney chose to talk about events in the Gospels that include fish, and came up with important spiritual applications relevant to our life in Christ and our service to Him.  This lecture is also available on tape (see below).

Mr. Fouad Youssef gave a lecture (in Arabic) on the Coptic Lectionary (Church Biblical Readings). He explained how the Church has arranged the Gospel and Epistles readings of Sundays throughout the year to give a full theological and spiritual annual course.  An audio tape and a handout, are available for this lecture (see below).

Dr. Ramzy Labib talked about Orthodox preaching.  He emphasized the need for Orthodox Christians scattered in the New world to proclaim now the faith that they have kept through the past twenty centuries.  Also highlighted, was the fact that this is the duty of all the people of God "lay people", and of all congregations "Churches", and that this is a law for spiritual growth revealed by the Lord in the parable of the talents, "For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance".  This lecture is also available on tape (see below).

The talks of this timely meeting are available at present on 7 audio-tapes (90 minutes each).  These are: 1) "History of Preaching by the Coptic Orthodox Church", and "History of the Coptic Church persecution", by H.G. Bishop Serapion. 2) "Orthodox approach to the Bible", by Fr. G. Dragas. 3) The Bible in Orthodox Liturgy, by Fr. G. Dragas. 4) The Bible and Christians as icons in the Orthodox Church, by Fr. G. Dragas. 5) The writings of St. Ignatius Theophorus, by Fr. J. Isaac in Arabic. 6) Rev. Fr. J. Yanney's talk and the Orthodox Preaching talk by Dr. R. Labib. 7) the Coptic Lectionary, by Mr. F. Youssef in Arabic.  To order any or all of these tapes, please use the enclosed Response Card, and mail it with your check to SMOF, PO. Box 6192, Columbia, MD 21045.  Please notice that it will take about 4-6 weeks till you receive your order.  Also, a one-page handout, showing a table of the distribution of the Coptic Lectionary over the different periods of the Coptic year (in Arabic), is available on request.

In addition to these talks, Syriac Vespers was celebrated by Fr. Estifanos and Fr. J. Isaac (Syrian O. Ch.), with H.G. Bishop Serapion (Coptic) presiding.  Also, Coptic liturgy was celebrated by H.G. Bishop Serapion, Friday morning, and was attended by speakers from the Greek, Syrian and Coptic Orthodox Churches. Speakers and celebrants from different churches were photographed together at different occasions, documenting the Christian Unity manifested in this Conference.

P.S., click on the hyper-linked (underlined) text above to see photos or other targets.