Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011



Ho! Ho! Ho! We may have already celebrated Christmas, but for the THREE HUNDRED MILLION who worship in the Orthodox Church, TODAY, January Seventh, is the true birth date of Jesus Christ. Why are there two dates? Glad you asked! Up until the year 1583, all Christians celebrated Christmas on January 7th. But, on this date in the sixteen century, the Vatican announced it was shifting all holy dates to the newly perfected Gregorian calendar, thereby officially replacing the Julian calendar in the West. From this date on, there would be two Christian calendars as the orthodox churches in the Eastern Mediterranean didn't adopt the new calendar. This is why Greeks, Russians and Coptics celebrate Christmas and Easter twelve days later than us every year.

But today, nowhere is Christmas more important than for the eight million followers of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt. You might have heard, seven days ago hundreds of worshippers crowded into the pews at the All Soul's Church, awaiting the New Year's Mass at midnight. Then...all of sudden...BAM!...a bomb ripped through the church, killing 21 and injuring a hundred more. Tensions between the minority Coptic Christians and the majority Sunni Muslims exploded as protests and counter-protests flared across the the Middle East's most populous nation. Today, Coptic worshippers have been assured by the government it is safe to return to the churches and cathedrals to celebrate Christmas. But would you go to mass if you were a Coptic Christian in Egypt?

If our century has one historical theme so far, it has to be the renewal of religious strife between Islam and Christianity. Fueled by the 9-11 attacks in 2001, (don't forget, 2011 is the TEN YEAR ANNIVERSARY) and by the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we haven't seen this much bloodshed between the two faiths since the Great Crusades began in the 1200's. All across the globe, we are seeing tensions mount. Earlier this week, a court in Pakistan found a Christian guilty of blasphemy against Islam and sentenced her to death. Here in the US, the planned Mosque in Manhattan remains a lightning rod as well.

But to me, the current situation in Egypt is the most disturbing. The oldest branch of Christianity is the Orthodox Egyptian Coptic Church. After Christ's death in the year 30 AD, St. Mark fled to Alexandria. The first Christian scriptures were written down secretly and then spread around the globe. For the next two thousand years, the Coptic faith has withstood the worst: The Roman Empire, Barbarian invaders, Islamic Holy Wars, Napoleon, Hitler, Nasser...(Let's face it: the Coptics are tough!) But, throughout all these disastrous events, people in the ancient cities of Alexandria and Cairo have managed to co-exist; Christians and Muslims living together.

Another reason why we need to keep a close eye on these events is Egypt's position amongst other Arab nations. With 80 million people, it is by far the most populous Arab state. It also is the hub of all Arabic language media. All TV shows, movies, music, books, magazine originate in Cairo, the trend-setter for Arab pop culture. To insure any peace in the Middle East, Egypt needs to maintain its place not only as model of religious tolerance, but also as a functioning, mainstream, non-fundamentalist society as well.

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