On Sept. 17th, 2014, His Holiness, Pope Tawadros II, the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, made a historic visit to Red Deer.
The City has never been visited by one of the popes of Christendom before. Pope Tawadros II lives in Cairo, Egypt, and heads the largest Christian Church in Egypt and the Middle East.
Some people consider history as something that only happened years ago.
However, history also occurs when an internationally renowned religious leader, such as Pope Tawadros II, makes the first papal visit to Red Deer.
The Coptic Church is firmly based in the teachings of Jesus Christ. It traces its origins to the work of one of the leading apostles, St. Mark.
He brought Christianity to Egypt, not long after the death and resurrection of Jesus. St. Mark is the author of one of the four Gospels in the Bible. He was also spreading the Gospel in Egypt during the reign of the infamous Roman Emperor Nero.
The Nicene Creed, one of the basic proclamations of faith of the Christian Church, is generally credited to St. Anthansius, the 20th Pope of Alexandria (Pope Tawadros II is the 118 Pope). St. Anthony The Great, often considered the founder of monasticism, was a Copt from Upper Egypt.
Tragically, from its founding and onward, this ancient church has suffered tremendous discrimination and extreme violence because of the fact that the Copts are Christians. St. Mark himself was martyred by Romans soldiers in Alexandria on Easter Monday, May 8, 68 A.D.
The situation has become very acute again recently, with the turmoil in Egypt and the wars in places such as Syria and Iraq.
In contrast to the two-millennium long history of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the history of the Coptic Church in Red Deer is quite recent.
The first formal Coptic services in Red Deer commenced 10 years ago in 2004. St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church, on 40 Ave., was rented for the services. Clerical support was provided by Coptic priests from such places as Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.
The Coptic Church began having regular Christmas and Easter Services in Red Deer in 2005. A priest came out from Egypt to provide those early special masses. Before the end of the decade, a Sunday school and regular adult spiritual services had been started.
As the congregation continued to form roots in the community, consideration was given to constructing or acquiring a church building. However, land and buildings are expensive in Red Deer. The congregation still only had fewer than 20 families belonging to it.
In 2011, the Coptic congregation had an opportunity to buy the church building on 39 St. from the Trinity Christian Fellowship. The purchase was challenging, given the size and resources of the Coptic congregation. However, with the generous support of the congregation, the Trinity Fellowship and an energetic local bank manager, Ken Johnston, the deal was completed.
The new church was named St. Mary’s and St. George. St. Mary is an important part of the Coptic tradition, particularly since St. Mary and St. Joseph were able to find refuge in Egypt, not long after their son Jesus was born. St. George, often known as the Prince of the Martyrs, is the patron saint for many Egyptian Coptic Christians. He is also one of the saints widely respected in both the Christian and Islamic faiths. He is therefore considered a very fitting patron of the new little church in Red Deer.
While still quite small in size, St. Mary’s and St. George is a vibrant congregation. There are weekly Holy Liturgies, a Sunday school, adult spiritual meetings, Coptic hymns classes, sports clubs and a number of other community and religious activities and projects.
A measure of the success of this young Coptic church in Red Deer is clearly demonstrated by the fact that His Holiness, Pope Tawadros II, made a special effort to visit and meet the congregation and their friends.