Being Coptic Orthodox in Pittsburgh

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Coptic Orthodox find place to worship in Pittsburgh

People walking down the streets of Squirrel Hill will see many synagogues, and if they walk through Oakland, they will see many cathedrals and churches.

But what about a Coptic Orthodox church in Pittsburgh?

My father was born and raised in Egypt as a member of the Coptic Orthodox church, the main Christian denomination in Egypt. Approximately 95 percent of Christians in Egypt are Coptic; however, about 94 percent of the total population is Islamic, according to the Egyptian government. This leads to much religious conflict and sometimes persecution of the Coptics. In instances it has become so severe that they have not been able to worship freely and have even been killed for it.

Coptic Orthodoxy is not especially common in the United States, and most people have no idea that it even exists. There are more than 100 churches in the United States, according to

To attend liturgy, my family travels 45 minutes from Squirrel Hill to St. Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church in Ambridge. That is one of the shorter distances in comparison to other church families. They come from all over Pennsylvania and parts of Ohio and West Virginia to attend the liturgy. Because the church gathers people from so many areas, it adds to and enriches the family we have within the church.

When people ask me what my religion is like, the answer can be confusing. I usually say, "It's like Greek Orthodox except I'm Egyptian," which satisfies most people. But sometimes the curious want to know more.

Coptic Orthodox is a branch of Orthodoxy and therefore a branch of Christianity. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, and that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one, called the Holy Trinity. We believe in the New and Old Testament, the concepts of heaven and hell, and the second coming on Judgment Day. We are huge advocates of saints.

Coptics, or Copts for short, have a liturgy that is about three hours long and is traditionally said in all Arabic or Coptic (a language described as old Arabic). In America, the Gospel and other important parts of the liturgy may also be said in English. And, yes, it is still that same length.

Our late pope, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, consecrated our church in 2007. After the passing of Pope Shenouda III in March, Pope Tawadros II was selected as the next pope of the Coptic Church and was inaugurated on Nov. 18.

Like many other Orthodox churches, Coptic Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7 in the Gregorian Calendar.

I love my church. There is no other way to put it. I love my religion, and I am confident of it and its ability to overcome persecution. It's one of the biggest influences on my life, making me the person I am. And I love the extended family I have become a part of with it. I have made my best friends there through traveling, spending birthdays and holidays together, and attending Coptic Conventions where we met other Copts from the Midwest.

Knowing that I have people who share my similar beliefs and customs, people I can count on no matter what, gives me great pleasure.


Sarah Rizk, 16, is a junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School. This essay was written during this fall's Allegheny Intermediate Unit gifted and talented journalistic writing and reporting apprenticeship taught by professor Helen Fallon at Point Park University.


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