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Monday, 14 September 2015

Coptic Object Lesson

   On the weekend (Saturday, September 12th) the Coptic Orthodox community celebrated its new year.  This festival coincides with a remembrance of martyrs, people who have died for their faith in the present and especially in generations past under the persecution of Emperor Diocletian.  The name Nayrouz refers to martyrs.
   On Saturday afternoon while attending a birthday party I met a Coptic family: a father, mother and two teenage daughters.  The father and younger daughter had been in Toronto that morning at a celebratory conference in honour the festival of Nayrouz.  The younger daughter held out her hand and showed us she had saved a pit from a date she had eaten there.  The older daughter immediately knew why she would do this, and the father quickly explained it to me.  For Coptic people, the fruit of the date palm has a special significance.  It reminds them of the martyrs in the following ways:

  • The outside of the date is reddish-brown, which signifies the blood and suffering of the martyrs
  • The inside of the date is white (as you can see on the image).  This represents the purity of the hearts of those who remained true to their faith even to death.
  • The seed of the date is hard, and it reminds Coptic Christians of the firm and resolute faith that enabled the believers to face a martyr's death.
   I later learned that the importance of martyrs carries over to the Coptic calendar in one other way: instead of beginning the counting of years at the birth of Jesus Christ, they begin at AD 284 and designate each year A.M. (Anno Martyrum), in the year of martyrs.  Thus, in the traditional Coptic calendar the year is 1732.  I realize that the math does not work exactly, but there must be a good reason for that. 

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