A dimly lit New York church filled with congregants recently enjoyed a small choir singing the ancient Egyptian language depicting the birth of a Saviour.
Calvary-St. George's Episcopal Church in New York had nothing but candlelight illuminating their space as 1,000 people enjoyed a Christmas carol in Coptic, a language from ancient Egypt. Coptic also refers to first-century Egyptian Christians, but now both orthodox and evangelicals are referred to as Copts.
Laura Jobin-Acosta composed 'Shere Veth-le-em' from a line in an old Coptic hymn, set to new music.
The music director at the church, Kamel Boutros, was born in Egypt and grew up in the evangelical church.
When sharing about this candlelight service, Boutros says, "I felt God’s presence. I felt Jesus’ love for every single soul in that space. I hadn’t felt something like that for years."
The language almost vanished in the 600s after Muslims took over Egypt. While there are not many people that speak Coptic anymore, the number of Coptic churches in the U.S. has grown from two to 200 since 1971.
During the service on December 4, there was a projection of what was being sung in English on the side wall. It read:
"Hail to Bethlehem, the city of the prophets, where Christ was born, the second Adam. Blessed are You indeed, with Your good Father and the Holy Spirit, for You were born and saved us. Have mercy upon us."
Father Gregory Saroufeem also attended the service. He leads the sole Coptic parish in Manhattan and his parents immigrated to the U.S. from Egypt.
"It was special to hear the Coptic language sung by a non-Copt," says Saroufeem during an interview with CT. Before this service, Saroufeem shared that he had only heard one or two songs ever composed in Coptic.
The music director says the reason he did this was because Boutros wanted to use an ancient, unfamiliar language in a service marking Christ’s birth more than 2,000 years ago. He believed it would help the congregation "see the text again."