THE STORY OF
ST. MARK COPTIC ORTHODOX CHURCH
BY: MR. AHDY GIRGIS MANSOUR
The story of the establishment of a Coptic Orthodox Church in Cleveland could not be told in a few words. It is a story of devotion, a story of sacrifice, a story of a very small group offering not only their financial resources, energy, time and ability, but also their spiritual and human interest, which itself was such a powerful force. It is a story about one of the oldest churches in the world and a story of tradition that was carried throughout the years from generation to generation. It is a story about the depth of faith in the modern society that emerged from a great and glorious past.
In 1968, six Coptic Orthodox families settled in Cleveland, Ohio and made it their new home. They came from the land of the Pharaohs, the country that hosted Joseph, and Jacob. The land that nurtured and raised Moses and on which he have received the Ten Commandments from God. The country that was chosen by our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy family as a temporary home and was blessed by God.
This small group of Copts came from Egypt and carried inside them their Coptic faith. The term “Coptic” is derived from the Greek “Aigyptos” meaning “Egyptian." The Copts are the native Christians of Egypt and the direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians. Christianity came to Egypt in the first Century A.D. by St. Mark the Apostle who established the Coptic Church in the name of Jesus Christ. The Coptic language is a development of the ancient Egyptian language spoken since the early days of the Pharaohs. Its alphabet was established in the second Century AD to phonetically record the vernacular of Egypt.
The Coptic Church believes in the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, consubstantial with each other; and that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son, and the only Savior of the World. Fewer changes taken place in the Church of Egypt than in any other, both in ritual and doctrine, and the succession of Coptic Popes, Patriarchs, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons has been contiguous.
With this rich history and tradition, the new settlers of Cleveland were inspired to organize and establish the first Coptic Orthodox Church in Ohio. His Grace the late Bishop Samuel, Special Assistant to His Holiness the late Pope Kyrillos VI of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, advised the group to contact Fr. Marcos Marcos, a pioneer priest in Toronto, Canada. Fr. Marcos responded to the groups’ call and came to Cleveland to celebrate its first Divine Liturgy in September 1968. He continued his services to the Cleveland group by holding the Divine Liturgy every three months and later every month.
Several events took place in the early 1970s:
The Cleveland group incorporated the first Coptic Orthodox Church in Ohio in 1970.
In 1971, His Grace Bishop Antonios, acting Pope at that time, and His Grace Bishop Samuel visited Cleveland, which was a moving experience for the Cleveland congregation. It also started a dialogue about having a priest for Cleveland.
By 1973, the number of Coptic families had steadily increased in Cleveland to about 60 and in the State of Ohio there were about 150 families. The church steadily grew from that time on.
In 1975, with the guidance and blessing of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria, and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, the Cleveland Parish received its first resident Priest, the Very Rev. Father Mikhail E. Mikhail, D. Min.
In 1977, the Parish purchased a small church in Parma, Ohio. Also in 1977, the Copts in the USA and Canada were honored and blessed by the first Pastoral visit ever by a Coptic Pope. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III visited several cities and Cleveland was one them. The Papal visit was a thrilling spiritual experience and brought vast changes in the services in the USA and Canada. Several churches were established and many priests were ordained for each church.
In 1977, The Coptic Church in USA became a member of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. H.H. Pope Shenouda III appointed two members from the Cleveland Parish, along with 4 others from different churches in USA to serve on the Governing Board of the National Council of Churches as representatives of the Coptic Church.
After joining forces together to establish the Coptic Orthodox Church of Cleveland in 1970, the group gave time, energy, and talent as well as financial support. Each of them at one time or another served on the Board of Deacons. Some of them instructed the first classes of children in the Sunday school and others studied to become deacons. Under their leadership along with those of Fr. Mikhail, St. Mark Coptic Orthodox in Cleveland developed a legacy that inspired the greater Cleveland Community leadership to recognize the church as the official representative of the Egyptians in Cuyahoga County. Cleveland became a Sister City with Alexandria, Egypt, which was announced during the first Papal visit. For over twenty years now, the Church, in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism has been holding the Egyptian Festival in August of each year at the Church facilities, which is attended each year by several thousands from all walks of life.
The parish constructed a church complex over three acres in the city of Seven Hills, a suburb of Cleveland, with an additional four acres for future projects aimed at serving the parishioners and the community in general. The church building was designed according to the Coptic architectural tradition and was completed in October 1988. H.H. Pope Shenouda III consecrated the St. Mark Church one year later on October 1, 1989, on his second Pastoral visit to North America.
The church building can accommodate up to 500 people, has a social hall, numerous Sunday school classrooms, a library, offices, a guest suite and a small chapel. In 1998, stainless steel domes were installed over the church tower and main dome. The interior of the church lies heavily on the richness and methods of the Coptic religious architecture with icons on all the walls in chronological sequence from the Annunciation by the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin St. Mary all the way up to Jesus’ Ascension and Pentecost. All of the icons are original paintings and follow the true Coptic Art. The windows of the nave are made of stained glass. The floor and part of the wall as well as the Iconostases are made of marble. The baptistery represents a fine piece of art, made of one piece of marble carved with designs in an agreeable balance.
St. Mark Church of Cleveland was blessed by the Miracle of Holy Oil seeping from two Icons, one of our Lord Jesus Christ and the other of the Holy Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. The miracle began on May 15, 1990, on the feast of St. Athanasius the Apostolic. This miracle has reoccurred on several occasions and has been witnessed by thousands of pilgrims to the church, TV stations and newspapers and foremost of which was H.H. Pope Shenouda III, who after personally seeing the Icons declared the phenomenon an official miracle in January of 1991.
Due to a tremendous increase in church membership, it became close to impossible to serve all of the membership with just one priest and in one building. In 2004, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III appointed Fr. Marcos Ghali to serve in the Cleveland Parish with Father Mikhail, which was a greatly welcomed addition.
On August 16, 2005, His Holiness Pope Shenouda laid the cornerstone for the new Koinonia Center. “Koinonia” is a Coptic-Greek term which means fellowship. The new center was to consist of a new The Chapel dedicated to St. Athanasius the Apostolic and St. Cyril of Alexandria, the Pillar of Faith. On August 21, 2007, H. H. Pope Shenouda III consecrated the new Chapel’s altar and icons.
The story of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Cleveland is not only a story of dedicated people who have willingly contributed money, time, talent, and energy to help others. It is a story of an understanding and hard working priest who is gifted in his human relations and leadership. Above all it is a story of a loving and supportive Pope whose guidance and support goes beyond any monetary value because his gifts come wrapped in genuine love and concern.