Coptic-Orthodox Church of St Mark and Mauritius
der Heiligen Markus
Im Stapfacker 18
|Type of building:||Coptic-Orthodox Church|
|Area:||Approximately 300 m2 (building) - 1300 m2 (land)|
|Building height:||10 m|
|Cost:||CHF 1 million|
|Owners:||Verein der koptisch-orthodoxen Kirche der Deutschschweiz (Association of the Coptic-Orthodox Church in German Speaking Switzerland)|
|Purchase Date:||February 2006|
|Religious tradition:||Coptic-Orthodox Christianity|
|Commencement of use:||March 2006|
From Dietlikon train station, we walk northeast along the Fuchshalde, and after five minutes’ walk through a quiet housing estate, we find ourselves on the Schwerzelbodenstrasse. We follow this north, and soon come across a small church, at first hidden by some large fir trees. A sign at the side of the road informs us that we are at the Coptic-Orthodox Church of St. Mark and Mauritius. At first glance, it looks like many other Christian churches. The only indications of its current use are the sign and the mosaic above the entrance to the church, showing the Holy Family fleeing into Egypt. The community has a Catholic church as a neighbour, built in a modern style.
The church was built in the 1970s by the New Apostolic Church. After their departure, the church was first let to the Serbian-Orthodox Church until 2005, before being purchased by the Coptic community in 2006. Maher Kamal, a member of the Coptic community and former president of the board, recalls: «We had been renting space in a church in the Grunau district in Altstetten. This was of course cheaper, but we were only able to use it once a month. One didn’t have the feeling of entering a church, it was just a room.»
The community has now found a home in Dietlikon: «Personally, the most important reason for buying a church was that people can feel at home here.»
The Coptic community took over the building as it was. The only change which the new owners made was to place a mosaic and a cross, to show the neighbours that they are Christians from Egypt. «We changed nothing. We had a plan, but not the money. It was clear that we would have to compromise, but it was a relatively small compromise not to be able to convert everything.»
Maher Kamal chaired the board of the Coptic congregation for several years, and was resolutely in favour of the new church. He handed over the presidency before the purchase of the church, but is still an active volunteer as subdeacon in the community. He has lived in Switzerland for 14 years, and works in the IT industry. He was personally very invested in the purchase of the church in Dietlikon: «I grew up in Germany and one switches between two different cultures, not knowing exactly where one belongs. I know this feeling, and I find it important to have a place to rest. The church provides this place.»
The Coptic-Orthodox parish maintains good relations with the neighbourhood. Maher Kamal can remember that the worshippers were initially met with some scepticism. He is very happy with the way relationships have developed with the neighbourhood: «We now have very god contact with our neighbours. When we had to re-tile the church, the Roman-Catholic Church made a room available for prayer until the renovation was completed. We also have a very good relationship with the Protestant Church. We asked them to provide us with a space in which to hold our youth club on Saturdays, and they agreed»
The Coptic community in Dietlikon featured in the Swiss media during the Orthodox Christmas of 2011. On an obscure website, the parish had been found to be on a list of potential targets for attack by Al Qaeda. The congregation thus celebrated Christmas under police protection – the celebrations proceeded smoothly, and there have since been no indications of any serious threat.
The Coptic Church can be described as the national Christian Church of Egypt. The word Copt is derived from the Arabic «qibt» which, in turn derives from the Greek Aigyptios, meaning «Egyptian».
The origins of Christianity in Egypt remain unclear. According to tradition, Saint Mark established the Coptic Church, as the first Bishop of Alexandria. Through the establishment of the Catechetical School, St. Mark created a spiritual centre for Christianity in Egypt. Rooted in this Egyptian tradition, the Coptic Church has been an independent denomination since the first century, and remains heavily influenced by the monastic tradition to this day. Although the Coptic Church is commonly referred to as (and names itself) Coptic Orthodox, it is not Orthodox in a strict sense. It broke with the Byzantine church after the Council of Chalcedon in 451, though less for theological reasons as for Coptic rejection of the Hellenistic cultural influences. Theologically, the Coptics were accused by the Church of the Byzantine Empire Church of following monophysitism, the doctrine that the person Jesus Christ was only of divine nature, rather than having a divine and human nature at the same time. This accusation was only retracted in 1984, after a joint declaration by Pope John Paul II and the Syrian-Orthodox patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka II.
Muslim-Arab domination after the seventh century put the Coptic Church in a new, often difficult position. The relationship between Islam and Christianity fluctuated between tolerance and persecution until the nineteenth century. The apparition of the Virgin Mary at Zeitoun in Egypt, the return of relics of St Mark in 1968 and the consecration of St Mark's Cathedral revitalised the Coptic Church, bringing a new wave of enthusiasm.
The liturgy and ceremonials of the Coptic Church have preserved some archaic features to this day. The liturgy of St Basil is most commonly used, and services are held in a mixture of Arabic and Coptic, supplemented by the local language. Like the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the Coptic Church has seven sacraments. Men, women and children take part in the Eucharist, and worshippers are actively involved through call and response, rituals and sung and silent prayers.
The head of the Coptic Church, officially titled «Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark», has been officially based in Cairo since 1971. Since the death of Pope Shenouda III in March 2012, the office has been held by Pope Tawadros II (since November 2012), who is considered the 118th direct successor of Saint Mark. The global Coptic community is divided into forty eparchies (dioceses), and is made up of 10 to 12 million members. In Switzerland, regular Bible study for the Coptic community began in 1962, before Father Serapion became the first official Coptic priest in Switzerland on 6th May 1984. Under his leadership, subsequent years saw the development and expansion of church services in Switzerland. Today, the centres of the Coptic Church in Switzerland are in the Church of The Virgin Mary in Geneva, the Church of Saint Mark in Zurich, and the Church of Saint Mark and Saint Mauritius in Dietlikon (Zurich). The Coptic community in Switzerland is around 800 strong.
The Coptic-Orthodox church in Dietlikon is not an Orthodox church in the traditional sense. An iconostasis was omitted due to a lack of space. Instead, the icons have been hung on the wall behind the altar. In addition, the church does not face east, but west. For these reasons the building was not consecrated – reason enough for some parish members to consider turning the building by 180°, buying an east-facing building, or even building their own church. No concrete plans have been made as yet.
Swisscom has installed an antenna on the roof of the church, which resulted in objections from the community in Dietlikon. The Coptic community itself does not seem to be worried about radiation, and is glad of the extra income resulting from rental of the roof space.
Text : Janosch Hain
Photos : Vanessa Meier,
Beatrix Lanfranconi (4)
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Last updated: 5th November 2015
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