This painting of the Holy Family on a piece of papyrus is an example of the Coptic art that will be on display at St. Mary's Egyptian Festival.
Having completed its first year in its new home, St. Mary and St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in North Syracuse is expanding its presence in the community.
The church’s annual St. Mary’s Egyptian Festival (previously known as “A Taste of Coptic Egypt”) returns for a second year Sept. 2 and 3.
This year, St. Arsema Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Baldwinsville may join in the fun.
“We’re doing a lot with our sister Ethiopian church,” said Fr. Kyrillos Sadek, priest of St. Mary and St. Mina.
Fr. Kyrillos said his church has been assisting their Ethiopian neighbors with religious education and supporting the many refugees that have come to the area. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church developed as an extension of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the 4th century and became independent in 1959.
“They are very good at coffee, so they’ll have a coffee station,” Fr. Kyrillos said. “We’ll also ask them to present some of their cultural dances and songs.”
Like last year, this year’s Egyptian Festival will feature choir performances, informational videos about the Coptic Church, Egyptian food and tours of St. Mary and St. Mina, which is housed in the former Andrews Memorial United Methodist Church.
In the past year, St. Mary and St. Mina has grown its ministry. Over the summer, the church held a vacation Bible school competition in conjunction with Coptic churches in Buffalo, Rochester and Albany. (For the record, the Syracuse church won the region’s soccer competition.)
Fr. Kyrillos said about five or 10 new families have joined the church in the past year, and the congregation continues to renovate the building. Sunday school is now held on the upper floor of the church, and they have created a chapel downstairs for weekday Mass.
“We’ve been trying to keep up with the building, keep it clean and looking nice,” Fr. Kyrillos said.
While things have been turbulent both in the United States and in Egypt, the Syracuse church is finding itself at home.
“We love the neighborhood,” Fr. Kyrillos said. “The people around here are all really nice. Syracuse has always been welcoming, I think, to people of different cultures.”
Unfortunately, recent tragedies have hit close to home for St. Mary and St. Mina. Fr. Kyrillos attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, so he was saddened to see his college town erupt in violence at the white supremacist rally held there Aug. 12.
“We’re very fortunate” to be in Syracuse, he said.
Violence has rocked the Coptic Church in Egypt as well. On May 26, masked gunmen boarded a convoy of Coptic Christians headed to the Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor in Minya Governate. Twenty-nine people were killed, including children as young as 2 years old.
On Palm Sunday, April 9, suicide bombers detonated their devices at churches in Tanta and Alexandria. Thirty people were killed in Tanta and 17 people were killed in Alexandria.
Tawadros II, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, escaped the bombing in Alexandria by mere minutes, having left to look into the Tanta attack.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for all three attacks.
Fr. Kyrillos said one of the families in his congregation lost an uncle, father and grandmother in Tanta.
“It is scary. We had some families to had to go to visit their families in Egypt,” he said. “Some of the children were very scared: ‘What if we’re praying at church and we get bombed?’”
Fortunately, the Syracuse families who traveled to Egypt returned safely. Fr. Kyrillos said Coptic congregations in both the U.S. and Canada raised money to buy metal detectors for churches in Egypt to prevent further tragedies.
Despite the violence, Fr. Kyrillos is optimistic that God will “complement our work in protecting our people.”
“Nothing is going to hurt us except what God allows,” Fr. Kyrillos said. “We’ve been persecuted for 20 centuries.”
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.