I am seeking your advice concerning the sensitive topic of introducing a friend to our church and its services.
Introducing a non-Egyptian to the Coptic church is not a struggle to them only; but to the church and the Coptic community at large. St. Paul describes this process of incorporating a new member as grafting (Romans 11); or, to use the language of our time, it is similar to an organ transplant in which not only the transplanted organ, but also the body struggles until this organ is fully accepted into the body.
This struggle, however, should not make us avoid the process of transplantation; because the body (in this case the Coptic community) needs this organ very badly and may not be able to survive without it; and the organ (in this case the non-Egyptian person) will die if not transplanted into that body.
This struggle is as old as the church of the New Testament. For example in the Holy Book of Acts 7:1 we read "And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration." And the twelve disciples tried to find a solution to this problem.
To introduce a person to the Church, I recommend that you:
Finally I'd like to tell you that more than 90% of those who have converted to Orthodoxy are today very committed to the Orthodox Church. However, they did not enjoy their first visits to the church because of the painful transplanting process.
- Explain how the Orthodox Church is the church of the New Testament that worships in the same manner as the ancient first Apostolic church. Please do not try be apologetic when explaining that the Orthodox Worship is different; because this may send a wrong message. Instead, take pride in the fact that your church is the church of the New Testament. For reference, a good book is "Introduction to the Coptic Orthodox Church" by Fr. Tadros Malaty.
- Introduce the dogmatic differences between the Orthodox Church and the other churches. "Comparative Theology" by H.H. Pope Shenouda III is a good book on this subject, in addition to many others.
- Let the church priest know that you are introducing a friend to the church. As much as possible discuss together any foreseeable problems such as language, seating mode, service schedule and any other ramifications that you can think of together.
- Introduce your friend to the priest in order to establish a rapport between them. This will make it easier for the priest to follow up with your friend and encourage him to come again.
- Explain to your friend what he is about to experience when attending the Divine Liturgy at our church. For example, its lengthiness, the separate sex seating manner, head cover for women (a veil ), use of incense, importance of direction (facing the east)…etc. Please do not introduce such things in an apologetic nor defensive manner; lest you give the wrong impression.
- Introduce your friend to some of your Coptic friends in order to make them feel at home when they come to church. Inviting your friend first to a Holy Bible Study or a Youth Meeting before inviting them to the Divine Liturgy might be a good idea. Having your friend introduced to your Coptic friends during the Agape hour will also help.
- Tell your friend that the treasure hidden in Orthodoxy, is worth the struggle and pain that accompanies the process of being grafted; assuring them that what comes easily goes easily; and what we receive through struggling will require stronger struggling to lose.
I pray that these recommendations will help in the process of introducing others to the Orthodox Church.