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Friday, December 4, 2009

Early Egyptian Christianity

This is from the book Wade In The River by Fr. Paisius Altschul.

You can buy it at:

It's an awsome read. Below is an excerpt about early Egyptian Orthodox Christianity.


Pentecost: Revealing the Church to the Nations

Forty days after Christ rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives. (Acts 1:1-11) Ten days later, on Pentecost, His followers were supernaturally empowered to become martyr/witnesses for the Messiah (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4). There were twelve major Apostles (Luke 6:12-16), seventy lesser Apostles (Luke 10:1), and many other witnesses of His resurrection, both men and women (1 Cor. 15:5-6). This spiritual flood of the Holy Spirit revealed the international spectrum of the Church. People from all parts of the known world responded on Pentecost to the message of Christ and His Salvation. The Church is the spiritual Ark that offered salvation for the children of Noah from the pollution of the world. The Church is called Orthodox, for Orthodox means true or authentic worship of God (John 4:23; Phil. 3:3).
After Pentecost, the Apostles began to spread throughout the earth. John went to Asia Minor, present-day Turkey. Thomas went to India, Matthew to Ethiopia, ad Mark returned to Egypt. Peter and Paul went to Greece and Rome, and Andrew to Greece and Russia. They covered the known world with the knowledge of the Lord (Heb. 2:14), as in Noah's day the waters covered the earth. But this flood was for the destruction of darkness and sin and the bringing in of everlasting righteousness, peace and joy for all. The way into this Ark was through repentance, a radical change from a self-centered life to a Christ-centered life. The entrance to this Promised land was through a watery tomb called Baptism, like the tomb that Abraham acquired from the Hittites to begin his life in the promised Land. Here one dies to the old life and is born again into the new life of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Divine energy from God, called grace, permeates the soul and life of the newly baptized person, making him a child of God, restoring him to a relationship with the same Creator that had formed the Gihon River and guided Noah and the early God-seekers (Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:18-22). He comes into a living communion with all that have ever believed and trusted in God from the creation of the world to the present age (Heb. 12:1, 22-24). He begins to live according to the teachings of the Son of God, the living Word, who came down from heaven to enlighten the children of Noah with His guidance. Love from God, love for God, love for neighbor, love for enemies, and love for creation fills the newborn soul.

Early Church Growth and Opposition

Thus, the Apostles went forth with Christ's teachings and established communities in hamlets, villages, and cities throughout the known world. Upon their departure, they left bishops as shepherds to care for the flock of God. These were charged by the Holy Spirit to continue in the same way and guide the others who would come after them. As the churches grew, the bishops (overseers) ordained priests (elders) and deacons (helpers) to represent them. But opposition soon arose against this flood of light and truth flowing over the earth. Those clinging to the old power-structures of greed, violence, power, sensuality, demonic sorcery and idolatry began almost immediately to kill and imprison Christians, attempting to break the restored link with God. Yet a strange thing ocurred. The more Christians that were killed, the more their numbers grew. (Acts 8:1,4-8) It became apparent that by linking oneself to Jesus and His Church, one was being linked to immortality itself. Those who were martyred revealed a Kingdom that could not be shaken even by death. They were still alive, only now without the weight and burden of their fleshly concerns and desires. Occasionally they would be seen in the other realm, thereby revealing continuity of life and awareness, and an unshakable and abiding peace.

The Earliest African Christians

It was with this flood of spiritual power that the knowledge of Jesus Christ was brought into Africa. After the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, many heard of this mighty change. In Jerusalem, three thousand people were baptized in one day. (Acts 2:41) They were assembled from all over the Diaspora, including Egypt, Libya, and Cyrene in North Africa. (Acts 2:10) When they returned home they shared their new Faith and teaching. Furthermore, a powerful African teacher, Apollos of Alexandria, received this Faith through the traveling-companions of the Apostles Paul, Priscilla and Aquilla, and he continued to spread it through his life and teaching. (Acts 18:24-28)

The Ethiopian Eunuch

The Holy Scripture record the encounter of the Apostles Philip with an Ethiopian Jew, the finance minister of Queen Kandake, who was returning to his country after his annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. (The term "Kandake" was Nubian. It referred to either the queen mother or a queen ruling in her own right, as several had done since the second century B.C.)
This was the golden age for Meroe of ancient Nubia, a kingdom which competed with both Egypt and Axum for power, land, and wealth in the ancient world. Meroitic power then extended from Sennar in the south, below Axum, as far North as Maharaqqa, in present-day southern Egypt. At this time, the Meroitic Kingdom surpassed Axum in influence. Weaker kingdoms often served stronger ones in a suzerainty-type of agreement, i.e. they would provide revenue and manpower in return for protection by the stronger kingdom. They traded in ebony, gold, ivory, and frankincense.) This royal treasure had stopped for a rest near Gaza, and was chanting and meditating on the prophecies of Isaiah. (Chanting the Scriptures out loud was the normal mode of reading in those days, as it has continued to be in the Orthodox Church since that time.) St, Philip approached him and explained the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy in Jesus the Messiah. The Ethiopian dignitary believed and was baptized, and returned to Africa with the good news of forgiveness and restoration with God. (Acts 8:26-39)

Lucius and Simeon in Antioch: Africans in Early Church Leadership

One of the qualities of the early Church was its multi-cultural unity. Whereas at the tower of Babel, peoples' tongues were were confused and the human race was divided into ethnic groups, in Jerusalem, on Pentecost, tongues of spiritual fire were poured out on the one hundred twenty disciples, bringing them to a supernatural oneness of the soul that transcended ethnic groups and cultures. Three thousand people from all over the world, including Africa, were immediately brought into this heavenly community. This trans-ethnic unity existed wherever Christianity was established. In Syrian Antioch, for instance, as recorded in Acts 13, the leaders of the church were the future apostles Paul and Barnabas (both Jewish), Simeon, called Niger (i.e. black, after his ethnic background), Lucius of Cyrene, in present-day Libya, and Manaen, who had grown up with Herod the Tetrarch. These five were ministering (Gr. liturgizing) to the Lord with prayer and fasting, when the Holy Spirit spoke to them, commanding them to set aside Paul and Barnabas for apostolic work. The other three then laid hands on them and after prayer sent them out. Thus, African prophets in Antioch shared responsibility for the future missionary labors of the Apostles Paul and Barnabas.

Africa and the Early Church

Early Egptian Christianity: The Apostle and Evangelist Mark

The wife of the Apostle Peter was the cousin of Aristobulus, a disciple of Christ. Aristobulus' wife, Mary, is mentioned in Acts 12:12 as the matron of the home where the early Christians gathered for prayer. This is the traditional site of the Last Supper and of the "upper room" of Pentecost, and the place where the Christians met to pray for the Apostle Peter when he was in prison. Aristobulus and Mary were the parents of John Mark, also called Mark, one of the seventy Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 10:1-24).
He was born in Cyrene, one of the cities of the Pentapolis in Libya, where he and his parents were notable members of the Jewish community. According to Egyptian Christian tradition, this is the Mark who not only accompanied the holy Apostles Paul and Barnabas (Acts 12:25), but later also went with the holy Apostle Peter to Rome. From what he learned from the Apostle Peter, he wrote the Gospel according to St. Mark. To avoid persecution in Rome, and at the Lord's direction, both Peter and Mark went to Egypt. After traveling to Alexandria, they went to Babylon (not the one in present-day Iraq), where the Apostle Peter wrote his first epistle. (1 Pet. 5:13) Remnants of this city, which was named by Jews who settled there from old Babylon after the land of their previous captivity, can still be seen today in Old Cairo. St. Peter left his younger companion there and returned to Rome, where he was later martyred. St. Mark established two churches in the Pentapolis of Libya between A.D. 56 and 60, and in A.D. 61 he returned to Alexandria. Upon entering the city, his first order of bussiness was to have his sandal repaired, which had torn during his long journy. He brought it to a cobbler named Anianus. As Anianus was repairing the leather, his awl slipped and pierced his hand, and he cried out in Greek, "Eis Theos!" which means "One God!" When St. Mark heard this cry, he rejoiced and took advantage of the opportunity to speak to him about the One God, Jesus the Messiah. He took clay and spittle and applied it to Anianus' hand, praying in the Name of Jesus Christ, and the wound was immediately healed. After this miracle, the heart of Anianus was opened and St.Mark told him the story of the Faith. He told him about the creation, about the fall of Adam and Eve, about Noah and the Flood, about how God sent Moses to deliver Israel and give them the Law, about the captivity in Babylon, and the prophecies concerning the Messiah. After he heard the entire story, Anianus brought St. Mark to his house, where, after hearing the Good News of salvation, he and his family were baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As the followers of Christ spread and multiplied in Alexandria, the hostility of the pagan community was stirred up. They abducted St. Mark and, on a pagan feast day in A.D. 68, dragged him through the streets until he gave holy soul into the hands of God. Prior to his martydom, St. Mark ordained Anianus bishop over Alexandria, along with three priests and seven deacons. Thus the growing movement of the Faith in Africa was linked with the Apostles of Christ, through the hands of the Apostle and Evangelist Mark.

Egyptian Preparation for the Gospel

The people of Egypt were by nature deeply religious. Not only had the Hebrew Prophet Jeremiah spoken to them of the Virgin and child, but the ancient Pharaonic religion also contained foreshadowings of the Gospel. The symbol of the Ankh, which signified life, was later understood to prefigure the Cross, the Tree of Life. The national devotion to the goddess Isis and her son Horus was a preparation for the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy-a Virgin carrying a child into the temples and causing the gods to fall down. The Egyptians already believed in the concept of the death and resurrection of god, of future judgement and immortality. When the message of the Gospel was confirmed by corresponding miracles, the prepared soil of their heart was able to receive the seed of Christ, allow it to take root, and quickly bring forth spiritual fruit.

Early Ascetics Near Alexandria

In the early years of the Christian Faith in Africa, a life of virginity and monastic-like worship began to emerge, first among the Jewish converts a later among the native Egyptians, the Copts. Their way of life was described by Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish contemporary of early Egyptian Christianity who reposed in A.D. 50, in his book the Contemplative life. The early Church historians Eusebius, and the Western Christian father, Jerome, note that he was referring to Christians. They were called theraputae, or healers, and also "ascetics" in the Church rituals and liturgy. They sought to apply the teachings of Christ on prayer, fasting and simple living in a practical way. They lived in communities away from the city, ate bread and herbs and drank water after sunset, had structured prayer at dawn and sunset, studied the Holy Scriptures and writings of the fathers throughout the day, and met together for all-night vigil on Saturdays. Throughout the week they lived in solitude, yet they were close enough for contact if need arose. The largest community of these early ascetics was on Lake Maryut near Alexandria.

The Prayer Life Of The Early African Christians

The Life of the African converts under St. Mark was examplary. He taught them the seven set times of prayer known as the Hours or Agbeya. The Prophet-King David had referred to these times of prayer when he said, Seven times a day I praise You because of Your righteous judgements (Ps. 118:164 {LXX}, 119:164 {KJV}. Again in verse 62, he declared, At midnight I will rise to give thanks to you.
This divided the day into eight watches of three hours each, and became the modal of constant prayer throughout the early Christian world St. John of Constant prayer throughout the early Christian world. St. John Cassian of Gaul, who traveled to Egypt in the 4th century, recorded that the cycle of prayer in the Church of Alexandria was established before the beginning of monasticism, and that "these arrangement were observed by all the servants of God in Egypt." When some clergy found fault with St. Basil, archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, for his proposed night-vigils, he replied that this was already the practice in Egypt, again showing that it existed before the beginning of organized monasticism.

The level of spirituality among the laity was so high that the Lord showed two of the greatest monastic saints examples of lay people who excelled them in Sanctity. St. Anthony was shown a physician who shared his wealth with the poor and sang "Holy, Holy, Holy" throughout the day. St. Macarius was led to two sisters who lived with their husbands under the same roof, yet never quarreled with each other, nor said a malicious or worldly word, during the fifteen years they lived together. An angel revealed that their sanctity surpassed even that achieved by St. Macarius the Great in his many years of prayer and fasting in the desert.

The African Martyrs

Martyrs for Christ have a very large place in the African Church. Ever since Simon of Cyrene helped carry Jesus' Cross (Luke 23:26), African Christians have been at the forefront of the Cross-bearing path of Christ. Jesus Himself told His disciples, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it (Luke 9:23-24).

This willingness to take up the Cross and follow Jesus, to lose one's life for Christ and find it in Him forever, has been recounted again and again in the history of Faith in Africa. Outside of local pagan resistance to the Faith when it was first established in Egypt, Nubia, and parts of Ethiopia, where St. Mark, St. Simon the Canaanite, and St. Matthew were martyred respectively, the Church in Africa enjoyed relative peace for the first two hundred years. But in A.D. 203, the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus issued an edict outlawing Christianity and Judaism. As a result, the famous Catechetical School in Alexandria was closed, and Christians were tortured, persecuted, and martyred. Incredible and horrific persecutions also occurred under the Emperors Decius (A.D. 249-251), Gaius (251-253), and Valerian (253-260), until the next emperor, Gallienus (260-268), issued the Edict of Tolerance, which brought a temporary end to the persecutions and enabled churches to be built. However, in 284 the most severe and bloody of all the persecuations against the Church began when Diocletian ascended the imperial throne. During his iinfamous reign of terror an estimated million African martrs left this world for the Kingdom of Christ. The Church in Egypt dates the beginning og her calender year from A.D. 284, and labels it A.M. (i.e., Anno Martyrium, the Year of the Martyrs). In A.D. 305, Diocletian abdicated his throne and was succeeded by Galerius (305-311) and Maximinus Daia (311-313).

Although the African Church had a brief respite, before long these two emperors issued a new Edict of Persecution. It was not until the Emperor Constantine ascended the throne and issued his Edict of Toleration in A.D. 313 that the persecution against the Church by the Pagan Roman emperors stopped. The last African martyr during this period was the 17nth Patriarch of Alexandria, St. Peter, called the "Seal of the Martyrs." [1]

To read the rest you gotta get the book!


[1] pages 17-27 from the book "Wade In The River: The Story of The African Christian Faith" by Father Paisius Altschul with a foreward by Albert J. Raboteau 2001 CrossBearers Publishing Kansas City, Missouri USA


Unknown said...

Awesome; I'm definitely going to check it out. Thanks for telling us about it!

Jnorm said...

Yeah it's a great book! I mainly put this up because I needed it as part of my responce to Morey's book.


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