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The St. Mary and St. George Coptic Orthodox Church

November 19, 2015

by Tanner Coon

Twenty-eight years ago, a Presbyterian church was sold to the St. Mary and St. George Coptic Orthodox Church.  The congregation established themselves as the only Coptic parish in Albany and they are incredibly active.

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In this picture is Father Demetrius Mansour. On his left is his wife, Nermin Mansour. /Tanner Coon

They are lead by Father Demetrius Mansour, who has been with the church for 10 years.  He is responsible for running sermons, planning the church’s meetings, and guiding the church as a whole.  The church is housed 820 Madison Ave., east of Quail Street.

The Coptic Church follows the teachings of Saint Mark, who spread Christianity throughout Egypt 2000 years ago. The Coptics follow a Gregorian calendar, otherwise known as the Christian or Western calendar.  Each Sunday, the church reads passages appropriate for that date in the Gregorian calendar from a book called The Katameros.  The readings include a Psalm and one or more passages of the Bible.  The books they read for liturgy are called The Divine Liturgies Of Saints Basil, Gregory, and Cyril, which include readings in English, Coptic, and Arabic.

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Matthew Habib, 22, and Jonathan Seedhom, 8, two young members of the church. /Tanner Coon

The word ‘Coptic’ means Egyptian, and the children of the church learn how to speak the language of Coptic, said Matthew Habib, 22.  He and most of the members speak Arabic regularly.

About 65 families attend services, said Father Demetrius. However, this church is small compared to others in the New York City and Brooklyn areas, with as many as 3000 families attending services.

“We are a very very small Coptic community,” Mansour said.

Despite their small numbers, they are still active.

Mansour, and his wife, Nermin Mansour said the sense of community at the church is important to them.  They have a monthly celebration for all the people who have birthdays that month.  The congregants all work together to keep the church’s grounds and building clean, either by picking up trash, vacuuming, or cleaning up spills.  Mansour’s wife said, while there are no official duties at the church, she teaches Sunday School for 3rd and 4th graders there.

Children as young as 2 ½-years-old are welcomed at the school. Nermin is a part of the committee that serves the youth and she is on a summer spiritual committee.  This committee’s objective is to be educational and grow the students’ faith.  The church’s committee teaches summer classes for the youth and tests them on the topics presented in the classes.  The topics include religious sciences, church history, and the history of the Orthodox Coptics.  If the youth score well, they have the option of moving up to a “regional level” to compete with students from other areas.  The regional level includes the Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester areas.

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Outside the over 100-year-old building. /Tanner Coon

During summer classes, the youth meet at 6:30 p.m. and leave around midnight. Nermin Mansour said the kids usually don’t want to leave during the summer.  They use the church to build their friendships.

“They basically feel that the church is their home.” Mansour said.

A young man by the name of Jonathan Seedhom, 8, can attest to this.  “Our church is very very nice, We have a lot of stuff in it.”

He said he learns a lot during the two hour liturgy, so the time goes by quickly. Mansour asked him if he thought liturgy was boring.

“No, it’s not that boring,” Seedhom said.
The church’s weekend schedule is easily the busiest time with the amount of events and overlapping meetings they hold.  The Bible study lessons, or hymn meetings are held Friday or Saturday at 5:30 or 6:30 p.m. and end at 11 p.m. or midnight. On Sunday, they meet at 8:30 a.m. for liturgy. Then, they have Sunday school and Arabic sermons either at noon or 1 p.m. Then they have choir meetings until 5 p.m.

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A view of the church’s sanctuary. No one is allowed to wear shoes because it is a house of God. /Tanner Coon

The church puts a lot of emphasis on children and younger members.

“Our church is very big on having the youth come,” Habib said, “We have, like, a million kids.”
A large number of the families bring their children to the church.

Father Demetrius believes the children are the future of the church.

“Without youth, church is without future,” said Mansour, “That is the most important thing.”

For Father Demetrius, it’s not about how much the church grows or how many people attend, it’s how many lives are touched.

“It’s not about numbers, it’s about salvation.”-30-

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