H.G. Bishop Youssef on Orthodox Mission

“We cannot make the American spirituality by taking this from the Evangelical or Protestant American churches – only this is the ‘American spirituality’?! That’s very dangerous and very, very risky. American spirituality is the work of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church in the people who live here in America. This will be clear in the American culture, and the Orthodox Church here will truly be a light shining in the middle of America.”

(All credit goes to John Habib for adding the subtitles to our original video)

Q: Could in the future we see an Orthodox Church in America, non-ethnic means non-Coptic?

A: Let me say it this way, let’s look at church history. When St Mark went to Egypt, St Mark went by himself. Yes there were some Jewish people living in Egypt, for on the Day of Pentecost when you read in Acts 2, some of the people who were present were people from Egypt. But the Egyptian spirituality – or the Coptic – because Coptic means Egyptian – spirituality grew over the years, and St Mark gave them the foundation, but he allowed the spirituality of the Egyptian Church, of the Coptic Church, to grow.

For example, in Antioch we hear about the Antiochian Orthodox spirituality. Armenia – we hear about the Armenian Orthodox spirituality. When we speak about the Armenian Orthodox spirituality, Indian Orthodox spirituality, Ethiopian Orthodox spirituality, we are speaking about the work of the Holy Spirit in this specific culture. The work of the Holy Spirit in the Egyptian culture, in the Armenian culture, Syriac culture, and so on.

Here in America, the situation is a little bit different, because the Church here in America, I’m speaking about the Coptic Church, serving until now mainly the immigrants. And until now, the percentage of the immigrants to the citizens who were born here and grew up here, actually the majority are the immigrants. For this reason we are in a transitional period. And even up until the past 2-3 years, the numbers of immigration were decreasing, but the 2nd and 3rd generation started to grow, and the Church actually was tuned towards the American culture. But in the last 3 years, a lot of Egyptians immigrated to America. All of us felt this phenomenon, that we began to go back to the 70s and 80s, when the immigrants started to be more than the citizens.

Besides, here we don’t do an active preaching or evangelism among the American culture. The ones who join us just for the sake of the Church are very few, but mostly they join because of marriage. That’s actually facts, I’m not discussing whether it’s right or wrong, I’m just sharing with you the facts of the situation.

Of course, the future is in the hand of the Lord. But, what I can expect in the future, is that the 2nd and 3rd generation will grow and it is our task and our calling and our responsibility to keep them inside the Church. For this reason the people who want to impose the Egyptian culture on the Church, who want Arabic liturgies, Arabic language, etc – wrong! If we do this, we will lose the 2nd and 3rd generation. We need actually to keep the culture American. About the doctrine and the dogmas, it will remain Orthodox, pure, with no change. But the culture – and culture is broader than the language. Some people think that culture just means we speak English. No, the culture is a broader term than the language. And we must keep the American culture here. Yes I know we are in a transitional period right now, but it will pass.

And after this I hope – just like we spoke about the Coptic spirituality, Armenian spirituality, Antiochian spirituality – I hope that one day we will speak about the American spirituality: the work of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox of America. We cannot make the American spirituality by taking this from the Evangelical or Protestant American churches – only this is the “American spirituality”?! That’s very dangerous and very, very risky. American spirituality is the work of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church in the people who live here in America. This will be clear in the American culture, and the Orthodox Church here will truly be a light shining in the middle of America.

We had a meeting last month here at St Stephen’s with all the bishops of North America – United States and Canada – and some of the fathers who started what they call the “mission church”. Actually, we discussed whether the nomenclature of “mission church” was correct or not. “Mission church” means that we have to do mission. The one who is doing mission should not sit in the middle of Florida and say I’m going to do a mission church, and then I take the Copts who are already in the Church – and say ‘This is a mission church’.

If I want to do a mission church, I should do it in Dakota, for example, where there are no Copts at all. Then this will be a mission church. If I want do a mission church, I should do it in a state where there are no Copts at all. This makes sense – it’s a mission church.

But we agreed that we should name these churches ‘American Orthodox Church’ or ‘American Coptic Orthodox Church’. That is, it’s Coptic in its roots, but it is in the American culture.

For example, if we start an American Orthodox Church, what do we mean by this? We mean we will make sure that everything in this church 100% should be American in the culture. I’m speaking here about the culture, but the faith is the Orthodox faith. Actually I started to plan in every state we will have one church like this to be purely in the American culture, and I chose actually the first state to start this will be in Tennessee, in Nashville. Why in Nashville, Tennessee? Because over there, the majority is Egyptian. The 2nd generation and some converts are lost, for this reason, I’m thinking of starting the American Orthodox Church in Tennessee.

One of the requirements of the priest we will ordain there is that he doesn’t understand Arabic at all! But I’m scared they’ll teach him Arabic there!