Fortifying the Faith of Egypt’s Youth

Through a variety of programs, the Coptic Orthodox Church reaches its youth.

by Dale Gavlak

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Just before dusk, college student Iriini Girguis winds her way through the narrow, dusty streets of a largely Christian district in Cairo old city. Iriini is on her way to a weekly youth meeting at St. Michael the Archangel Church, a Coptic Orthodox parish younger than its neighboring sister parishes, some of which date to the fourth and fifth centuries.

“I wouldn miss this meeting. It an opportunity to grow more in my spiritual life and to see my friends,” the 20-year-old collegiate enthuses. Iriini is one of some six million Coptic Christians, or 10 percent of Egypt population. More than one third of the Copts are under thirty years of age.

The church spiritual formation of its youth starts early. In Sunday school, children as young as six years of age study Bible stories, the lives of the saints, liturgy, the sacraments and Coptic traditions. As the children grow older, the learning continues in regular youth meetings.

“We strive to strengthen the young people in their Christian faith,” affirms Amba (Bishop) Moussa, who heads the Coptic Orthodox Church youth ministry.

“We have weekly meetings, publish two magazines for people in their 20, another for youth workers, pamphlets and books. We also offer counseling and teaching,” the Bishop adds.

The weekly youth meetings top the church calendar in educating young Copts about their faith, moral principles and church doctrine. The Bishop says most of Egypt 2,500 Coptic Orthodox parishes offer nothing less than three youth meetings a week for high school and university students. Some parishes also host a fourth meeting for young professionals.

Recently, Iriini college group at St. Michael the Archangel was cited by Amba Moussa office for its successful youth meetings. The parish two-hour sessions, held every Monday, begin with contemporary worship against a backdrop of ancient icons. The group of 30 men and 25 women sing in Arabic:

Come Lord Jesus.
We live with him in our world
but the world does not live within us.
Jesus Christ lives inside us.

A recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed and a reading from the Book of Psalms follows.

Ayman, a youth leader and engineer, examines one of Jesus parables about sowing seed and relates it to Christian life. Ayman energy and dedication to the group captivate his listeners. He then holds a lively discussion on the church as the Body of Christ. The meeting closes and many people remain to learn hymns in Coptic, the ancient liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Smaller groups gather together to study the Bible, church history or doctrine. All enjoy their time together as they learn more about their own faith and its history.

These meetings provide not only spiritual guidance but a place where young Egyptian Christians feel a sense of belonging to the church and to each other. Most of the youth were reared in the Coptic Orthodox Church; it is natural for them to join the group. But the fellowship does not end once these young people leave church; other associated activities include sports, arts-and-crafts evenings and parties.

George is tall and shy. He attends the young professionals meeting at St. Mark Church in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo.

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