IN THE COPTIC CHURCH
FR. TADROS Y. MALATY
The source of the Coptic Church's strength since her
inception in the first century until now, is her care for
children who should realise their membership in the church
and play a vital and effective role in her performance. This
being so, inspite of the harsh circumstances under which she
has lived to the extent that one of the historians said that her
existence seems to be one of the seven wonders of the world.
Truly, the material and technical potentialities of the
Western Churches have a great influence on caring for chil-
dren, manifested in publishing books and magazines that suit
every age. Besides the invention of up to date equipment and
games for religious teachings, along with special educational
studies for children, teenagers and youth. Churches in the
East might not be able to match up to these domains, but a
child may find his pleasure and place in these churches, especially the Coptic, for the following reasons:
1. Church faith is manifested in the effective role of the
child, and its importance in his rebirth through baptism,
without setting a certain age for its performance. In baptism
the babe who may be a few days old, accepts the gifts of the
Holy Spirit, to make him a child of God who would dwell in
him through Chrism, having all the privilege of membership
of the church.
We may be asked: why are children baptized while they
are unable to understand the meaning of faith? Our answer is
that, besides that Christ invited the children to come to him:
"Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them;
for of such is the kingdom of heaven" Matt. 19:14, and
besides the testimony of the book of Act, that whoever are
baptized came with their household including children (Acts
16:15,33), we say that, children's baptism is a true an-
nouncement of their membership of the church. This
membership is based not merely on the acceptance of faith
intellectually but rather on the work of the Holy Spirit in the
life of the person, regardless of his or her age. How many
children by their simple faith have surpassed adults?!
The Coptic children partake in the Eucharist at an early age, and thus they feel that the church is their mother who feeds them with the Body and Blood of the Lord, who esteems their salvation, and takes care of them.
Moreover, since children receive Baptism, Chrism and
Eucharist based on their parents' faith, this emphasizes the
church's acknowledgment of the family's role in the lives of
their children. The Christian family is considered as a church-
house, a holy church responsible for bringing up children
according to an evangelic mind and a life of faith, not only
through teaching the commandments and doctrines, but also
through practising the living Bible. The child can't
understand the fatherhood of God without enjoying the
fatherly love and the motherly compassion in the family.
Generally speaking, most societies call for the mother to
revert to looking after her children since she gives them what
society can't, inspite of all that it offers. Missing what the
mother gives, the child may lack things that strengthen his
personality. The Coptic Church proclaims this concept by
putting children in the hands of the parents during baptism,
to receive from them the living church spirit.
2. Church's care for children becomes very clear through
her understanding of priesthood. In the Coptic Church, the
clergyman is not an employee who performs his work until
he reaches the age of retirement, nor is he a mere preacher,
teacher or a researcher of theology, but first of all he is a
father. Every member of the church, i.e. the children, youth,
adults and the aged, enjoy his compassionate fatherhood,
that time can't take away. This fatherhood grants security
and satisfaction to children, through it God's fatherhood and
Church's motherhood are apprehended.
The main reason for the tendency of modern youth towards atheism is the church's lack of fatherhood and the indulgence of the clergy in any administrative, organisational or even preaching work (giving sermons) without offering a spirit of compassionate fatherhood in the Lord. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the church to have this spirit towards children as well as towards adults.
3. Children partake of the liturgies of the Coptic Church,
especially of the liturgy of Eucharist (the Mass). They are
not isolated in a special place outside the nave. However,
this attaches the child to church worship, so that they may
feel that the church appreciates their membership. Thus, the
church is not a mere organisation but a family which
embraces all members in love at the holiest moments of
4. The Coptic Church is characterised by her sweet hymns and joyful rites which attract children's hearts, in a way, that worship would not be boring.
5. For many centuries, it has been a Coptic custom that
small schools (Katateeb) be attached to the church buildings
in cities and villages. When the Copts were given a choice
between closing their churches or their schools, they pre-
ferred maintaining the latter so that children would not lose
their faith. Nowadays, this system does not exist anymore,
due to circumstances outside the domain of the church.
However, the church gives great attention to the church
teachings (through Sunday Schools) as a principal work. In
this context it is worthy to note that late Pope Cyril
(Kyrillos) VI ordained a bishop for this purpose, who is now
Pope Shenouda III.
6. The High regard and honour which the church gives to
children are undeniable. As she cares for celebrating feasts of
many children and youth martyrs and saints. As evident
example, the church celebrates the feast of the martyrdom of
Bethlehem's children, St. Kyriakos the child and his mother,
St. Dolagy and her children, St. Rephka and her children, St.
Abnoub etc. The church asks for their prayers on our behalf
and many churches are named after them. Even among the
fathers of the wilderness we find the child Zacharia who excelled many of the elders.
Church history tells us about sucklings who cannot speak,
and when their mothers stood in front of rulers or judges to
be put on trial for the sake of Lord, their lips were opened
miraculously to rebuke rulers or judges, giving witness to the
divinity of Christ and to His redeeming work. Those babes
take forefront ranks in the Heavenly Kingdom.
In conclusion, church life is transfigured in her children and youth to practise their rights of being church members, by the grace of God, which does not depend on certain age or mere human experiences and capabilities.
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