THE COPTIC CHURCH
CHURCH OF PEOPLE1
FR. TADROS Y. MALATY
THE RưOLE OF THE CONGREGATION IN THE CHURCH
THE PEOPLE (LAOUS)
The word "people" was used in the Old Testament in its
wide and inclusive meaning to embrace all the congregation
of believers, i.e. the priests, levities, and people, as they were
called "people of God," to differentiate them from the
Gentile people. It was also used in its limited meaning to
refer to laymen alone, without the priests and levities.
In the early church of Alexandria, the Greek word
"LAOUS" was used sometimes in its inclusive sense meaning
the Church of God, including clergymen, monks and laymen,
and in other times in the limited sense meaning the laymen
I would like to emphasise the fact that, the Alexandrian
Fathers, who lived with an evangelic and ecclesiastic mind
loved and honoured priesthood, experienced monasticism
with its angelic attitude, and at the same time they looked
upon laymen as the living church which is ministered by the
clergymen and for whom the monks, nuns and virgins pray
without differentiation between church classes. The laity are
the living church; every member, man , woman, elder, youth
or child, rich or poor etc. has a vital and effective role in
worship, in practising the sanctified life and in witnessing to
LAITY AND PRIESTHOOD
The main cause of the vitality of the Coptic Church till
today, is the true understanding of the relationship between
the clergymen and laity. Priesthood in the mind of every
Copt, even the child is spiritual fatherhood. The clergyman is
not an employee who performs certain duties in an institution
but rather he is a true father who never retires from his duties
at any age, besides that his fatherhood can't be destroyed
even by death. Through this fatherhood the believer tastes
the Unique Fatherhood of God and motherhood of the
Church, thus he is attached to God and His church, not out
of fear, but through adoption and love.
Through fatherhood, the clergyman acknowledges all the
believers as his own family, sharing with them all their
affairs. For example, when a child is born, the priest along
with the deacons and the members of the household offer
prayers of thanksgiving and praise to God (Prayer of
Washing the Babe). Then the priest baptises the child in a
marvellous joyful atmosphere. If he falls ill, the prayers of the
sacrament of Unction will be held. When he is in trouble, the
oblations of the Eucharist are offered on his behalf. In the
event of death the whole congregation shares in the funeral
service and consoles the family by participation in the prayers
of the "Third" etc.
Through this ecclesiastical concept we can elucidate the following points:
1. Priesthood, in the eyes of the Coptic Church, is father-
hood, love and service and not an authority2. The spiritual
clergyman does not indulge in the administrative affairs of
the church, but rather gives himself up to his children in the
Lord. Thus, he never enters into confrontations with the
members of the board of deacons but lives with them as their
father. They honour him and seek his advice in everything.
2. The clergyman, in his earnest love for his people, feels
as one among them who needs their prayers in as much as
they need his prayers on their behalf. He gains from their
experience, even from the young children, and lives
interacting with all without hightiness or boastfulness.
3. The Church of Alexandria emphasised the right of all the congregation to choose their clergyman.
4. Because of the importance of his role as a spiritual leader, church laws are more strict and firm in disciplining the clergyman as compared to the layman.
5. In order to preserve his fatherhood in purity and with-
out blemish, it behoves the clergyman to refrain from
politics. Thus he can practise his fatherhood with a pure
THE POSITIVE ROLE OF THE LAITY
The church carried two clear models since the early apos-
tolic era; the model of clergyman and that of the people.
However, she had lived as an integral and intermingled
church that does not know any negativity in the life of any of
her members. Truly, the bishop had his own work, so did the
priest and the deacon. The laity had also a positive role in worship and in witnessing to the Crucified One.
1. In our study of the sacrament of Eucharist, we notice
that the laity do not just attend worship but participate in it
and have their own role. The liturgy is not worship carried
out by the priest on behalf of the people; it is rather the role
of the whole church, clergymen and congregation, for the
sanctification of the whole world. If the people just attend
without participating in giving thanks, praising, asking and
crying to God, the liturgy will lose its true function. Thus
either the people would be ignorant of their place, and give
up their right of practising in the holy communion, or the
clergy would have deprived the people from that right, and
thus spoiled the life of the living church.
2. The people have the right of positive participation not
only in worship but also in preaching and witnessing to the
joyful Gospel of Christ. In the book of Acts we notice that
the people who were scattered, and left Jerusalem because of
the tribulations, went preaching the world and witnessing to
the truth (Acts 8:4).
3. The School of Alexandria care - by constant
encouragement - for utilising the people's energies for the
sake of the kingdom of God. St. Clement of Alexandria and
Origen spoke about the "lay-priesthood" or the "common
priesthood." Origen states: "Do you not know that
priesthood has been given to you, that is to say, to the whole
church of God, and to the believers? Hear what Peter says to
the believers: "A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy na-
tion, an acquired people" 1 Pet. 2:9. You, then, have the
priesthood since you are a priestly race, and so you ought to
offer to God a sacrifice of praise, a sacrifice of prayers, a
sacrifice of mercy, a sacrifice of purity, a sacrifice of sanctity3." The Alexandrian Fathers who lived as churchmen, and loved priests as fathers used to encourage all people to work in Jesus Christ our Lord.
1. Fr. T. Malaty, The Universal Love (in Arabic), 1985
2. In Is. hom. 6 PG 12:239.
3. In Levit. hom 9:1.