The Newsletter of St Athanasius College
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Featured in this issue:
- Congratulations to our 2019 graduates!
- News from Wadi al-Natrun
- Reflections on new subjects at SAC
- Manuscript Project at St Paul’s Monastery, Red Sea
- SAC welcomes back Fr Dr George Parsenios in 2020
A message from the Principal
We make a lot of orthodoxy at St Athanasius College. It’s in our full name: “St Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Theological College”. Orthodox or in Greek orthodoxos “having the right opinion,” from orthos “right, true, straight” + doxa “opinion, praise,” gives us the identity that our confession of faith is straight or aligned to the original. We hold on to this concept in the hope that what we proclaim and what we teach aligns tightly with that which we received. I imagine that this isn’t different from any other teaching institution, particularly a theological teaching institution. St Athanasius College adds “Coptic” as the brand of orthodoxy that it espouses. The Coptic here is the Alexandrian Tradition of theological thought. Alexandrian Theology is steeped in the first three Ecumenical Councils (Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus), that believe and emphasise the Divine nature of Christ and the unity of His person. In reading Scripture, Alexandrian Fathers use a method of exegesis that draws on mystical and allegorical exposition. It has resisted dogmatic development, favouring instead a living expression of Christian thought in its daily practices and a pursuit of a holy life. This characteristic gives Alexandrian Theology a simplicity and at the same time a depth. The simplicity comes from its adherence to the early building blocks of Christian thought and theology. Its depth comes from a living examination of its beliefs and this community’s aspiration to bring to life the precious pearl it has received in its theology. Monasticism, Liturgy, Doxology, Canonical hours, fasting, and personal prayer are expressions of this. The uniqueness of these expressions of faith forms the Coptic identity. As a theological teaching institution, St Athanasius College brings this contribution to the table and adds a unique contribution to the ecumenical banquet that is the University of Divinity.
Coptic Orthodoxy is not only “straight talk” about faith, but places emphasis on the “straight walk”. Thus, Coptic Orthodoxy is also about orthopraxy as much as it is about orthodoxy. Orthopraxy (from ortho- + Greek praxis “a doing, action, performance”) brings together the right belief and the right practice, with the emphasis being on the latter. James the Apostle brings this to the forefront with the opening chapter of his epistle: Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27). Our form of Orthodoxy is about being orthodox in the way we express our faith. Children from their infancy are reared to cross themselves and proclaim the Holy Trinity, to pray in a particular way and to love the Church and its sacraments. Copts are notorious for their decorative crosses that they place everywhere as a reminder of their faith. The adherence to Tradition – when to say what, how to do and not do things, when and when not to do things – are a yearning to bring orthodoxy to life to praxis. Thus, for the Copt, their faith is ever present by what they do. But there is still more that make the Orthodox (with a capital “O”) orthodoxy (with a small “o”): it’s the emotion or the thought behind the action and the teaching. This has been termed by others as orthopathy – a conjoined word to convey the idea of “straight emotion or straight feeling”. John the Evangelist says: But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him (1 John 2:27), giving us the feeling that the Holy Spirit will convict us of right and wrong (John 16:8).
Well then, Orthodoxy is not just about the true confession of faith, but the true expression of faith in action and in the mindset that is cemented in the believer. The Immersion Weekend that SAC initiated this year in 2019 is exactly about that. Student and staff come together at the beginning of each semester for the purpose of learning, in an atmosphere of fellowship and Christian living, to instil in the heart and mind that invisible but vital quality that makes one feel and think the way the Spirit would have one think.
Let us then Talk Straight, Walk Straight and Think Straight in the Alexandrian Theological Tradition.
Fr Dr Daniel Ghabrial
St Athanasius College specialises in Coptic Orthodox theological studies online and on campus. For 20 years, SAC has offered courses in diverse fields of theology and delivers undergraduate, postgraduate and higher degrees by research. SAC continues to offer a diverse and growing range of subject units including specialist languages such as Hebrew and Syriac.