In 1980, the Ontario Ministry of Culture and Recreation requested the Church in Toronto to compile its important records and documents for the past fifteen years in order to have them microfilmed by the Ministry and preserved as a part of the heritage of this country and the history of its ethnic components. A few hundred packed files have been arranged and filmed. Indeed, as an ethnic group the Copts are very young in this continent, but the tremendous accomplishments of this small and young community, whether spiritual, educational, cultural, social or otherwise, are beyond anyone's expectations. It is impossible to narrate, even briefly, the story of the Coptic Church and the Coptic community on this continent within the limitation of the space allotted to this article. In fact, the life and heritage of this small ethnic minority present an open invitation to scholars to produce voluminous studies for researchers and casual readers alike. In the following few pages I will attempt to acquaint the reader briefly with this group which comes with a culture that goes back to ancient Egypt and a religion that ties with Apostolic Christianity. It is important to note that Coptic Christianity and Coptic culture are tightly interwoven to the extent that a person can hardly differentiate one from the other. Therefore, when we speak, herebelow, about the Coptic Church we mean to include within its framework the Coptic culture.


1. The Beginning:
The Copts or the Egyptians from ages past were very much tied to their land and to their Church. All through their long history they were known to be a non-migrating people. For them, to migrate meant to be cut off from their roots and to wither and die. However, as a result of a complexity of factors, a significant one of which is the population explosion in Egypt in the past few decades, we saw a mild wave of immigration to North America and Australia taking shape in the nineteen sixties. This wave gained some strength as years passed by. In North America, being separated both from their land and their Church, the first Coptic settlers who were small in number and dispersed all over the continent, found it very difficult to survive. So they started voicing to their Church in Egypt their earnest desire for a priest to cater to their spiritual needs. At the same time, the Church in Egypt was very much worried about the spiritual welfare of her migrating flocks and was contemplating the idea of sending a priest to North America. As a result of this mutual feeling, the writer was ordained priest on August 9th, 1964, and was commissioned by His Holiness Pope Cyril VI to serve the Copts of this continent. In November, 1964, St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church was established in North America with headquarters in Toronto, Ontario. It was registered in the Province of Ontario in 1965. The Copts in Toronto at that time numbered thirty-six families. They were all first generation immigrants and mostly new-comers. However, their faith was so strong and their zeal and determination were decidedly high to the extent that the Church, with only one priest and with no financial income except the donations of its immigrant members was able, with the help of God, to cater to the needs of the Copts in North America both spiritually and otherwise. With regular monthly services in Montreal and New York, and less frequent visits and services to the Copts scattered all over the continent, from Newfoundland to British Columbia, and from New York to California, this Church was able to gather its flocks in large centers and provide them with programs, books, pamphlets, and other material for their regular Bible study classes, spiritual meetings, Sunday Schools, social gatherings and other activities. As I think back about that period when I used to travel a great deal, I remember that I was called by the members of my parish, "the flying priest," "now you see him,...now you don't," and, in a way for an infant Church like ours, we were putting our two pennies worth to keep airlines in business. All during those formative years when we were trying hard to grow some roots in this continent, we depended heavily on the greatly needed and highly appreciated assistance of the clergy of the North American Churches who, most willingly, allowed us the use of their churches, halls and other facilities for our services and different activities, As a matter of fact, they represent an unerasable part of our history that is proudly remembered and greatly cherished by the Copts of this generation and the generations to come.

2. THE EXPANSION:
From the very beginning, St. Mark's Church in Toronto was very keen to establish and register different parishes in the large centers of Canada and the USA, appoint Boards of Deacons and different committees, and build the local funds so that each pariah would be able to support its own priest. By 1967 the parish of Montreal was financially strong enough to call for its own priest, and the late Father Rafael Nakhla was ordained and assigned to serve there. He arrived in Montreal in July 1967. As soon as he settled, the vast ministry field was divided between the two priests. 1969 and 1970 saw the establishment of St. Mark's Coptic Church in Los Angeles, California with the late Fr. Bishoy Kamel as its priest, and St. Mark's Coptic Church in Jersey City, New Jersey with the late Fr. Gabriel Abdel-Sayed as its priest. On November 14, 1971, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III succeeded His Holiness Pope Cyril VI as Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. With an outstanding and vigorous leader like Pope Shenouda, the Church, both at home and abroad, experienced an unparalleled revival in all aspects of its life and ministry. Here, in North America, more parishes were established and more priests were ordained and commissioned to serve them. As of the time of the writing of this article, the Church which started in Toronto in 1964 has multiplied rapidly and the number of parishes which are served by priests have reached sixty-four : thirteen in Canada and fifty-one in the USA This does not include the three churches in Bermuda, the Virgin Islands and the West Indies, and a monastery in California. Moreover, there have been established a Papal Residency in Cedar Grove, N.J., two Theological Seminaries: one in Jersey City, N.J. and the other in Los Angeles, California and a Bishopric for south USA having its headquarters in Dallas, Texas.

3. THE VISIT:
This article cannot be complete without a brief mention of the impact of the first papsl visit on the Coptic Canadians. In 1977, His Holiness visited both the United States and Canada. This first visit ever by a Coptic Pope to this continent stands indeed as the most significant landmark in the life of the Church here. As previously mentioned, a Copt can hardly survive when he is severed from his land, but cannot survive if he is separated from his Church. The late Dr. Robert McClure, the former Moderator of the United Church of Canada who had lived and served on the border of Egypt for so many years, expressed this fact skillfully when he spoke about the Copts to a gathering of United Church leaders. He said that the Coptic Church gives the Copt a sense of belonging and a feeling of security without which he cannot survive. Indeed, for the Coptic Canadians, this visit represented the fulfillment of their aspiration and the satisfaction of their longing. Most of them have taken time off to accompany His Holiness wherever he went. The receptions at the airport with robed deacons singing hymns, with Copts carrying posters of welcome, and with children waving Church and national flags of Canada and Egypt, told the whole story. Men and women alike were overcome by their emotions and the tears of joy left traces on their cheeks. The climax of this visit was the laying of the foundation stone of St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto, jointly by His Holiness Pope Shenouda and His Worship Paul Cosgrove, the Mayor of Scarborough. That was the first time, the Copts in Canada, collectively, possessed a land that they could call their own. This piece of land has become especially dear to them because it was blessed by the supreme head of their Church. Since then they felt that they are not strangers any more on this continent. They have become, in a true sense, Coptic Canadians.

4. THE BUILDING:
Since its establishment in Canada, the revenues of St. Mark's Coptic Church were exhausted in what could be called the Church's mission work in North America. Then the time came when the Parish of Toronto started looking for a church of its own to meet the growing needs of its congregation. When that time came, it was too late. The value of real estate had rocketed sky-high and the Copts could not afford even the price of the Land. For a few years, every effort was made to purchase a reasonably-priced piece of land, but with no avail. We were met with nothing but one frustration after the other. However, the faith of the Copts was not weakened and their perseverance did not wear out. At last, the long awaited miracle did happen and it was far beyond our expectations. Out of the blue (and I use the expression literally to mean "from above") a full acre of land was sold to the church for one dollar. Mr. Bill McClintock, the vendor, did not even know us and we did not know him. To him, we were strangers and he took us in. Indeed, we and our children for many generations to come will be indebted to the McClintocks for their benevolence and genuine brotherly love. As soon as we were donated the land, the heart of this community of about five hundred families started beating again and the warm blood began to stream in its veins. Almost every member, including the children, started doing something towards the realization of this dream. The Building Committee met weekly until past midnight to work on the plans, the architect and I flew to Egypt for two weeks to study Coptic Church architecture and to meet with specialists in this field. The Fund Raising Committee worked diligently to meet the financial demands of the project, and the committee for Social and Cultural activities worked hand in hand with the Ladies Committee to organize bazaars, fairs, variety shows, outings, trips, movies, lectures and dinners. Seminars were held and study groups of different specializations were formed. Even the children, every group of them met in its own Sunday School class to plan a project to speed up the achievement of this goal. In less than one year we celebrated the first Divine Liturgy in our new Church on Palm Sunday April 23rd, 1978. For this community, the money for the project was not an obstacle. It was the least of its worries. To my astonishment, these first-generation new-comers and unestablished immigrants and new Canadians could contribute to this project close to half a million dollars in less than three years. This was over and above their regular contribution for the work of the Church. Besides, a unanimous expression of self-denial was shown when all the Copts voted in favor of the motion that no recognition or mention of any contributor's name from among the Copts should be made, no collection plates are to be passed on Sundays and not only in this project but even in any other. This resolution is being observed very strictly and it is indeed a great blessing for both the Copts and their Church. This ethnic minority group which is an integral part of the Canadian multi-cultural nation is indeed a shining star in a galaxy of diversified celestial bodies. Truly, I am blessed to work with and to serve such a community. It is important to note here that this particular building, St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church, has its distinctive cultural value because it is built in the authentic Coptic architectural style. Moreover, it was the first one built as such in North America. Not long ago, in the summer of 1991 the church was further blessed by the reception of the holy relies of some of its saints, and particularly those of our Patron Saint, St. Mark the Apostle and Evangelist. Thus in both a literal and theological sense, the building is designed in a way to contain the essence, doctrines, and the dogma of the Coptic Church.

5. The Educational and Cultural Center:
Being descendants of the ancient Egyptians, inheritors of the Coptic Culture and members of an Apostolic Church that is steeped in history, the Copts who became a part of this great multi-cultural society felt that they have an obligation to fulfill towards their new home. Therefore, from the start, St. Mark's Church, through its different committees, worked vigorously to present the Coptic faith and culture to Canadians. Its library, book store and audio-visual library and shop are impregnated with a wide variety of books, tapes and videos in both English and Arabic. Its successful bazaars contain beautiful antiques, jewelry, handicrafts and collectors' items. Besides, national Egyptian foods, drinks, sweets and different preserves are sold and/or served. The Coptic plays, variety shows and musicals that are produced and enacted by members of our youth win the thunderclap of the many hundreds of spectators. Other activities include trips, retreats, conferences, chartered flights to Egypt...etc. The Church holds regular classes to teach the Arabic and Coptic languages to both children and adults. Moreover, it has recently established a Center for Employment Services to facilitate the settlement and placement of the rapidly growing immigrant community in Toronto. The church has always been a vital source of diverse social services for both the Coptic immigrants in Toronto, as well as the community. The Church is open every day and every night of the week. Mondays are reserved for the meetings of the Board and the different committees. On Tuesdays we have two simultaneous spiritual meetings for young adults, one in English and the other in Arabic. Wednesdays are for both the meetings of youth counselors and the Sunday School teachers as well as the Bible study meetings for the adults; at the same time the children have their junior choir meetings and Coptic language classes. Thursdays are for the family fellowship and the Senior Citizens' meeting. Fridays are for prayer meetings and youth fellowship groups. Saturdays are for children's Arabic language and Coptic heritage classes, Senior Choir practice and vespers. On Sundays we have two successive Divine Liturgies, one in English, the second in Arabic and Coptic. These are followed by Sunday School classes and youth choir practice. Every month we celebrate twenty three Divine Liturgies on the average. To carry out all these activities, the Church is served by two priests, Reverend Father Ammonius Guirguis and myself. Besides, the Church has a host of pious and dedicated volunteers who serve in diligence and self denial. As a result of all these activities, St. Mark's is known to be a procreative mother. It has produced a monk and a novice, both are at St. Bishoy Monastery in the Nytria desert in Egypt, as well as a novicenun in Old Cairo. She also beget four priests who left successful careers to take the Holy Orders. They are Father Athanasius Iskander (formerly an M.D. licensed in Ont.) who serves Virgin Mary Church in Cambridge, Ont., Father John Ramzy (formerly a professional engineer) who serves St. Mary's Church in Pampano Beach in South Florida, Father Rueiss Awad(formerly Ph.D engineer at Ont. Hydro) who serves St. George and St. Rueiss Church in North York, Ont. and Father Ammonius Gurguis (formerly professional engineer at P.& F. Tool and Die Comp.) who is my colleague at St. Mark's. Publication has become a new dimension in the undertaking of the Church. It publishes two monthly magazines: "The Building" for the youth and adults, and "Hosanna" for the children, as well as an elaborate Coptic prayer and hymn book in English which is forthcoming. A most valuable acquisition that was acquired by the Church consists of seven large original Coptic paintings that were exhibited at a Museum, in Paris, France and won its recognition and high commendation. To accommodate all these activities, a special building annexed to the Church was built. It was completed by the end of 1992. It encloses ten multi-purpose class rooms, a second hall with stage, change rooms and a kitchen, an art exhibit and a bishop's suite. This building provides the space and the facilities so that the profound potentials of the Copt- members of St. Mark could be utilized.

In Conclusion:
Almost three decades have passed since St. Mark's Coptic Church was established in North America. In the life of any community, this span of time could be very insignificant. But, for the Copts, the outcome of their labor in this short period was plentiful and of superb quality. Over and above all that was mentioned before, the Church in North America contributes generously far the newly established and fast expanding Coptic mission work in Africa and for its own homemission on this continent. The concern of the Canadian and American Coptic churches for the well-being of their country of origin in general and the mother Church in particular has been emphasized all along. Just as an example, in the past three years, our Church alone, has shipped over a million dollars worth of medical equipment and supplies to help furnish different benevolent Church hospitals in the urban and rural areas throughout Egypt. In the field of ecumenism, the Church is quite active with other churches, denominations and organizations. It is a member of the Canadian Council of Churches, St. Albany and St. Sergios Fellowship and the Inter-Church Regional Planning Association, just to mention a few. Having a Coptic Church in Canada came very handy to the Canadian Government and the Canadian Military Service in 1967 on the occasion of the official visit to Canada of His Imperial Majesty Haile Sellacy I, the late Emperor of Ethiopia. On Sunday April 30th, 1967, which was Easter Day according to the Julian calendar, His Majesty was scheduled to be at the Military Base in North Bay, Ontario. The Government knew that, especially on such days, His Majesty liked to attend church. So, to make it most meaningful to him as a Copt, the Canadian Government called St. Mark's Coptic Church in Toronto to celebrate a special Coptic Easter Liturgy at the Military Base Chapel for His Majesty and entourage of nineteen cabinet ministers and dignitaries. Before dawn, four deacons and myself were flown in a military airplane to the Base. After the service, His Imperial Majesty commented and said, "Since I arrived in Canada I have been met with one pleasant surprise after the other, but this one is the most. I never expected to attend, in this part of the world, an Easter Liturgy according to my own tradition." There is so much that could be said about the work of the Coptic Church and St. Mark's Coptic community in these Thirty years. However, this has been just a bird's eye view of their life and activity as they become a newly transplanted member of this body....Canada.

Father Marcos A. Marcos
Protopriest
St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church
41 Glendenning Avenue, M1W 3E2 Scarborough,
Toronto,Ontario
April, 1994