The Coptic Orthodox Evangelism Assignment 1

(Project for the Evangelism Class)


Victor Beshir


Dear Sisters & Brothers:

After covering different aspects of evangelism, in which we explored the history of evangelism, the development of evangelistic work over the centuries & its obstacles, some practical methods of evangelism, and others, now you have the basis that would help you in working on your first assignment for this class.  The assignment is a challenging one, but it is very important for you and for others who would follow suits and get into evangelism. 


So, What is the assignment?

The assignment is about the Challenges we face today as Coptic evangelists in the Western countries.  These challenges have nothing to do with our church in Egypt or with our faith or liturgical life.  Thanks to God we have the purist Christian teachings in the Coptic Orthodox Church.  The best spiritual church in the World is the Coptic Church, without a doubt.  We have the deepest liturgical life in the Coptic Orthodox Church.

 You as the pioneers in Coptic evangelism in the Western atmosphere need to establish the basis and the norms in evangelism, some of which are challenges.


However, before starting, I’ d like to make it very clear that the following discussions are my own and express my own opinions and thoughts.  This is not a theological or biblical topic, but it is rather a result of my own social, psychological, and historical insight of our Coptic culture, which may be different from others’ insight.   


Here are some of the Challenges:


Based on the conclusion of the lesson: ‘Towards a Coptic Orthodox Theology of Mission,’ evangelism is not evangelism of the Coptic Orthodox Church, but it is essentially evangelism of the Gospel and the salvation of our Lord.  However, the church acts as the presenter and the gate to salvation, which is very fundamental in reaching it.


Then the question is: how do we present the message of salvation to others?


Here is how different people present salvation:

1-    Protestants:

Ask people to just believe in Christ to receive Him in their hearts, and the salvation is done instantly.  There is no need for water baptism (in most of their churches) and there are no sacraments in most denominations (it happened as a reaction to the dreadful history of the Catholic Church in the middle ages, as I talked about in the lesson,’ Where is the church established by Christ & His disciples?’)


2-    Coptic Orthodoxy:

Before we talk about how we present salvation in the Coptic Orthodox Church, we need to be aware of some sad historical facts that influenced our life for a long time.

First: Islam:

a-      Forcing Islam on Copts:

The church lived under the sword of Islam continuously for about thirteen long centuries.  Islam did not spread in Egypt through peace and tolerance, but was imposed by the sword.  Under many Muslims rulers, the Copts had one of three choices: Pay very heavy taxation (Gezeya)-applied to Christians only-or convert to Islam or get martyred. Not many Copts had the money to pay the heavy taxation.  As a result we saw waves of converts to Islam, not because of loving Islam or being convinced by its message, but rather by the horror of the Islamic sword.


b-      Economical Pressure:

To make more Copts accept Islam, many Muslim rulers made employment in government and states are available for Muslims only.  In addition, a Copt could not work for a Muslim Company or a Muslim person.  All these along with the heavy taxation on Copts made life very difficult, which led some Copts to accept Islam in order to make a living.


c- Social Pressure:

You will be surprised if you read about the Social laws imposed on Copts to determine the way they dress, how they should walk or ride in the street, and the daily attacks and insults they received in their daily life. 


d-       Attack on Christian Faith:

It became a Muslim habit to attack the Christian faith and to consider them as infidels. 


e-      Evangelize Muslims:

While Islam is forced on Copts; they prohibited by the law to preach or evangelize Christianity to a Muslims.  To evangelize to a Muslim is a capital crime punishable by severe punishment.  Both the Christian and the convert could face death, if not by the state, it applied by the Muslim public and their clerks.



            What is the Impact of Islam on Coptic Evangelism?

1- The impact was very severe.  Copts had to forget evangelism.  It was not easy for an evangelistic church like the Coptic Church to stop its great mission, as established by the Lord Himself (Matt 28: 20,20).

Copts have developed another understanding of evangelism that is evangelism is to evangelize to your family or your Coptic friends or the Coptic lost sheep.

One of the great challenges that we face in the Coptic Orthodox Church when we mention evangelism is dealing with the thought of ‘we should evangelize to Copts first.’ 

This obviously is not evangelism service.  Serving other Christian Copts is the service that comes under  Pastoral Care” or “The lost sheep Service.”   But, evangelism is calling people who are not Christians to accept the Christian salvation.  Whenever, you hear Copts telling you to stop thinking about evangelizing to others, you need to remember that this is the natural result of thirteen long centuries under the Islamic sword.

Therefore, the first Challenge is How To Change The Perception of Evangelism in the Mind of the Copts.


3-     Against the horrors of Islam, the church had to concentrate on the defensive side of the Christian faith, especially the divinity of Christ and the Trinitarian faith.  This influenced our lectures and writings about Christianity.  We hurry to talk about theology and to defend the Christian faith.  Evangelism needs a more relaxing mood.  Western People need life-changing experience more than they need to see proofs of theology.  Western People are thirsty for salvation, more than they are interested in hearing theological arguments.

Therefore, Coptic Evangelism needs to go back to the core of salvation and change the theological defense tone.  Of course, you will need to talk about theology, but not in your first approach.  We definitely need to teach people about the faith.  But there is a difference between catechetical teachings and evangelism approaches. Our approach to evangelism starts with offering salvation to the troubled Western person of the twenty-first century, and when he accepts the message of salvation, then the catechetical teachings start.  In other words,            the second challenge is to go back to the simplicity of the gospel.   





When Evangelical Protestants came to Egypt in the nineteenth century, their goal was evangelize to Muslims.  When they failed in converting Muslims, they did not leave Egypt.  Instead they started converting Copts to Protestantism through attacking the beliefs of the Coptic Orthodox Church.  They attacked the sacraments of the church and its liturgical life.

The Coptic Church found itself in a battle to defend her faith and her liturgical life against the continuous waves of Protestant attacks.  Soon our books were filled with defensive attitudes.  It came as a psychological reaction.  It was needed to stop the attack and to support the faithful against the hostile attack by Protestants in Egypt at that time.  But, obviously this is not needed all the time, or in every place and in every situation, especially in evangelism in the Western societies.


Here are some thoughts about our reaction to Protestants’ teachings in Egypt:

1-     As a reaction to the Protestant teachings on denying ‘the human works in salvation,’ we started to talk more and more extensively about the value of the human work.  At the same time, as a reaction to the emphasis of the Protestants on ‘Faith,’ we talked less and less about faith.  In evangelism, and away from any attack reaction, we need to consider how to proclaim salvation, as the Apostles proclaimed without neglecting the rule of faith or talking extensively about the human work.  In other words, we need to study the topic to offer the Orthodox concept of faith and human works within salvation. 


2-      Again as a reaction to the extensive talk about ‘grace’ by the Protestants, we tended to talk less and less about the work of the grace in salvation.  It goes unnoticed, not because of lacking realization of the great impact of the grace, but rather due to psychological reasons.  In evangelism, we need to talk more and more about the grace until it reaches its position in salvation, as taught by the fathers of the church.


3-     When you are under attack, it is natural to defend.  This is what happened to some of our writings about salvations and sacraments.  The writers had the attack in the back of their mind, therefore, some of these books we can consider as ‘Apologetic books,’ which means books to defend the faith.  However, when it comes to evangelism, you don’t need ‘Apologetic works,’ but rather an evangelistic approach.  The difference between the two is so great.  The Western person needs the water that will quench his thirst for salvation and in most cases he doesn’t care about the theological debates. 


4-      We need to start evangelism by showing the treasures that are embodied in salvation, and explain the great salvation as we enjoy it in our church’s heavenly worship and sacraments.

5-     Since in Egypt we don’t work in evangelism, we did not need to talk much about salvation.  However, in evangelism, because the main topic is salvation, we need to talk more about salvation and get used to talking about it in depth and simplicity.

6-     Salvation in the Orthodox Church comes through sacraments.  As a matter of fact, it is weaved into the church sacraments and liturgical life.  Again, in Egypt we do not evangelize, therefore, we did not talk about this topic extensively.  However, in evangelism this topic has the depth of salvation as we live it everyday in our church, and in them are the treasures of salvation that are not available in evangelical churches.  Therefore, this topic needs to be searched extensively, talked about, and have books, booklets, and brochures to handle it and present it to others in an effective evangelistic method.


The Coptic Orthodox Church has the fullest meaning and practices of salvation.  Its theologians and teachers know deeply and accurately the position of salvation in the human being’s life, and fully understand salvation’s elements in their partiality and entirety. 


So, we are not talking here about starting from scratch, but to gather the rich and deep writings related to the topics from the treasures of the fathers of the church, put them together, and think about how to present them in effective evangelistic ways.  Please don’t forget that we are the inheritors of the richest and purest teaching of the heavenly salvation that was handed down from the apostles, to the fathers, and then to us, not only in written words, but also in a living liturgical life that nourishes our salvation needs on a daily basis.  


7-      Therefore, we need writings and sermons that explain the rule of the daily, weekly, monthly, and annual liturgical practices in our salvation.

8-       Until now, since we have no evangelism in Egypt, most of the books or lectures that talk about the Coptic Church are either scientific research or counting the glories of our ecclesiastical history.  Surely, we need scientific books and books based on research.  I myself wrote a book to research in the history of the Paschal prayers, and plan on continuing my research.  Actually we need more efforts in the field of church research.  We also need to be proud of our church glories, but in evangelism we need new books about the church that are evangelistic books, which attract people to Orthodoxy.  Evangelistic books mean books that have the attractions to the church and compel people to join the church to gain their salvation.  If you remember the impact of the book of ‘The Life of St. Anthony’ on Augustine in moving him to repentance, now you can understand what I mean by evangelistic books.  We need books that, when people read them, they will look for the Coptic Church to join it.  We need to have books that make people feel that the Coptic Church is the church, in which they will find what their hearts are looking for.  One time an evangelist from another religion showed students in a class videotape about his religion.  After the show, three out of 18 students in the class decided to join this religion.  This is an evangelistic video and this should be the impact of all evangelistic materials.   


9-       What is mentioned about books applies also in writing brochures and booklets. There is a big difference between brochures that have spiritual topics and evangelistic brochures.  Evangelistic brochures should be written with the reader’s status and salvation in mind and their goals should be to attract people to the faith. 


10-  Similarly, after giving a lecture about the Coptic Church, I’ d rather to see people attracted to join my church than to have them applaud my lecture and leave as they entered except with some info about the church.  I’d rather put my efforts in my lecture not in mentioning the glories of the church that may not appeal to them, but mentioning what make joining the church very appealing to them, and to make the church very attractive to their souls so that they come forward after the lecture asking to join the church.




How To Prepare People to Join the Church?

1-     In the Apostolic era, people joined the faith almost immediately or after a few hours or days or weeks (Please review the book of Acts to see examples).

2-     The School of Alexandria, guided people through a big curriculum to prepare them fully through the spiritual understanding of the scriptures.

3-     The third century witnessed preparation for three years that ended up in a very intensive course before the initiations (baptism).

4-     The fourth century fathers eliminated the three years and replaced it by five weeks of instructions mostly during the Lent.  These instructions covered the scriptures, the Creed, the Lord’s prayers, and some sacramental introductory teaching.


Now, we need to select preparation that fits our time and suits the need of people in the Western atmosphere.  And this will lead us to the important next point:


Understanding the American Person:

It is very essential to understand the people whom we are going to evangelize to.  The Lord Jesus Christ’s teachings reflect a deep understanding of the Jewish people at His time and their everyday activities, needs, and concerns. 

As we know, the American person moves about eleven times during his life, to go to live in a different city or state.  When he moves, he shops for a church.  It doesn’t matter that much for most any Americans what church he will ended up attending, because he doesn’t know that much about theology or the differences between denominations or even these differences don’t concern him at all.  He will visit a few churches in his new area and then decide which one he will attend based on which one received him well, and has enough activities for his family.  This is why the American churches have the marketing mentality and the methods on how to fill the churches with a lot of activities.  They say as a rule of thumb, if you have 100 families in your church, you have to have at least 80 activities.  These facts and others about Americans should be considered when we think about evangelism in the USA.      


Now, here is the assignment that every member in the evangelism class needs to do:

Pick up one of the following topics, pray, think about it, research it, and then write an essay about it.  You may join others in study of a big topic like ‘Orthodox Concept of Salvation.’ 


1-      What is the Orthodox concept of salvation in relation to faith, sacraments, work, liturgical life, and grace?  You need to refer to the Apostles, and the fathers of the church.

2-      How to present the concept of salvation in Orthodoxy in a simple yet powerful way to others?

3-      How did the Church evangelize to others in different periods?  Pick up one period.

4-      How did the church prepare others for baptism?  Pick up one period or one of the Fathers.

5-      How can we understand the American person?




Based on your topic, pick up from the following references:

First: The Bible & the Fathers (Use evangelism links in the evangelism web page to search in the Fathers of the Church):

1-     The book of Acts.

2-      St. Paul epistles.

3-      The writings of the Apostolic Fathers

4-      The Ante-Nicene, Nicene & Post Nicene Fathers

5-      The Catechetical and Mystamgogical lectures of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem.

6-      The Catechetical Homilies of Theodore of Mopsuestia.

7-      ‘On the Mysteries’ by St. Ambrose.

8-      The Baptismal Catechese of St. John Chrysostom.

9-      The Pilgrimage of Egeria (If you know Arabic, refer to my book about Egeria)

10-   St. Augustine: First Catechetical Instructions

11-   Treatises by Cyprian

12-    Tertullian: Treatise on Baptism.


Second: Book about the Fathers & Evangelism:

1- Anne Field, From Darkness to Light, How one became a Christian in the early church, Concilliar Press.


Third: Theology of Mission:

1-     Bishop Antonius Markos, An Introduction Into Theology of Mission

2-     James Stamoolis, Eastern Orthodox Mission Theology Today, Light & Life Publishing.


Fourth: Orthodox Evangelism in USA:

1-       Fr. George Liacopulos, Lights of the Modern World: Orthodox Christian Mission and Evangelism in the United States, Light & Life Publishing

2-       Jordan Bajis, Common Ground, An Introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian, Light & Life Publishing.

3-      The Orthodox Church in America, Church Growth and Evangelization, The Basis & the Basics

4-       Reverend Constantine Nasr, The Resource Book for Orthodox Evangelism, Theosis Publishing






Fifth: Books About Orthodoxy & Coptic Orthodox:


1-     Fr. Tadros Malaty, Introduction to the Coptic Orthodox Church

2-      Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Church


Sixth: Books about converting to Orthodoxy and converts:

1-     Frederica Mathews Green, At the Corner of East and Now, and also her book: ‘Facing East: A pilgrim’s Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy


2-      Fr. Peter Gillquist, A Journey To Orthodoxy, Concilliar Press

3-      Fr. Peter Gillquist, Coming Home, Why Protestant Clergy are Becoming Orthodox? Concilliar Press.

4-      Fr. Peter Gillquist, Bringing America to Orthodoxy, A Manual, How to Begin and Sustain New Mission Parishes, Concilliar Press.

5-     Virginia Nieuwsma, Our Hearts’ True Home, Fourteen warm, inspiring stories of women discovering the ancient Christian Faith, Concilliar Press.

6-     Thomas Doulis, Journey to Orthodoxy, A collections of Essays by Converts to Orthodox Christianity, Light & Life Publishing

7-     Franklin Billerbeck, Anglican - Orthodox Pilgrimage, Concilliar Press


To get in touch with the Concilliar Press, use the following web page:


To get in touch with Life and Light Publications, please visit the following:



Let us pray, read, search, and write.  Please let me know what project you will be working on, so others can choose other topics.  Dead line to send your assignment is March 31, 2003.  This assignment is not only your assignment to the class, but it is also a contribution to the evangelistic work in our church.  Therefore, let it won your heart, and consider it as an evangelistic work that is very much needed.  May God bless our work and inspire all of us so we can present His church with words according to His will.