Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

A Point to Remember During One's Education

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It is one of our great virtues as Coptic Americans that we place a very high value on education. Even if a particular youth may be lacking in other virtues, he may still retain this one, taking his studies seriously. A peculiar advantage—if we may call it—of enduring a history so fraught with persecution and the annulment of basic rights, as that of the past millennium of Coptic life, is the transformation of the people into a hardy, resilient, and highly-educated group. A close parallel is the historical experience of the Jews. Expelled from country after country, denied right after right, and somehow attracting the resentful disdain of every nation, they have been forced to acquire and promote that one characteristic that would ensure their children's prosperity—education—which has of late earned them a general prosperity around the world.

Now we see the same historical process at work in the Egyptian Copt—he is a peaceful, gentle, intelligent man, who finds himself surrounded by ten base and ignorant men of a foreign religion, who eye him with a sinister glare. What does the poor fellow do? He cannot force their good-will because their nature is too hostile; he cannot meet them in mortal combat because they are too many and too fierce; and he cannot make them gentle or loving like himself because of their unbending callousness. They allow him to exist, but only reluctantly, as long as he offers them an abject deference. They refuse him any place in their government, disallow any promotion in their army, and deliberately dismantle any prominence he gains in society. And their greatest outrage against the good man's human rights is their persistent attempts to obstruct his ability to freely worship God.

Well, if he cannot advance appreciably in government, or society, or media, or even religious freedom, he can at least advance in learning. For education and scholarship are undoubtedly a great advantage to a person in any circumstances. Even if he subsists in an environment where all forces join to resist his progress, then knowledge, understanding, and wisdom will be his constant companions in hard times. When wisdom leads a man, many virtues follow in its train—courage, diligence, perseverance, fortitude, and love (2 Peter 1:5—7). The Egyptian Copt knows he cannot afford to be lazy; sloth and idleness will be his ruin in a land that is pleased with his disadvantage. Fortunately, however, education is one of the last arenas in Egypt where the Copt is treated with a small bit of fairness. And the Coptic people have wisely taken full advantage of this hopeful outlet, studying, toiling, and praying their way to a brighter future through the impartial scale of excellent grades.

This effort has carried itself through immigration to America. The assumption that has planted itself in the minds of Egyptian Christians—that a person must excel in his schooling to live well in an unfriendly and restrictive country—remains fixed in its soil when they arrive in a fair and free land. And so college is the assumed destiny for nearly every son and daughter; and graduate or professional school is the dream of not a few. The social and family "pressures" to excel and achieve and reach above and beyond are considerable; and this is one form of stress in the life of a young American Copt that can be considered favorable. It is doubtless God who has blessed our people with a strong educational life, possibly as a kind of consolation or recompense for the difficulties we endure; for it is one of the finest qualities of the Coptic populace, and it is the pledge of a bright future.

But the snare such a people may fall into is to value it too highly, or rather, to make it the end-all and be-all of their existence. The truly successful Copt will remember that his learning, however purposeful or delightful, is but a means; he should remember it is the nice ferry rather than the destination called home. And it is a means, not to a career only, but also to a better understanding of God. For when one is thrown onto the turbulent battlegrounds of a tough education, and comes near to having his head torn off, then it is that he turns his eyes God-wards and seeks His helping hand. The careless drifter floats through unproductive and pointless days, allowing his mind, spirit, and faculties to shrivel up in his indolence. But a Christian's brightest days spiritually may come in his darkest days educationally, when the mind struggles under the immense weight it now bears, and trembles at the future weights it must carry, and feels its knees giving in. God's presence can be almost touched at such times. "Here my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come to You!" (Psalm 102:1). How marvelously do the Psalms express the inner thoughts of man!

Finally: every large, important exam a person takes becomes a relevant allegory for something greater. He or she who has ever sat for a major exam, and knows the feeling of the heart being racked with worry, may remember that there is a bigger exam called "life". Instead of a few hours, this exam lasts many years; and instead of a long career, life decides a person's eternity. And if the individual feels such anxiety with the lesser test, how much more seriously should he take the ultimate test? For the results of the minor exam are temporary, but the consequences of the major exam are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18). There is just one catch. The writers of our little school tests are strangers who care little about our achievement; the author of the major test is our very Father. So we can say that this test—the really essential one—is "rigged" in our favor; and we have been given not only the test requirements but also the test answers in advance. Moreover, Christ, our "brother" in humanity, has finished the test with flying colors, and He has given us the certificate of completion with our own names written in golden script upon it.

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