I was at Knox Church on Sunday as my mother was visiting and crossing town to Opoho where I usually go to church would have required organising a ride. This proved to be opportune as I heard that there was a vigil for the Coptic Martyrs on Friday. Sadly violence against Coptic Christians in Egypt has not ended with the regime change of the Arabic Uprising. I don’t think that there was notice of it at Opoho so I think it was distributed between the Dunedin Inner City Ministers Fraternal. It was organised throughout the churches in the Coptic Diocese of Australia and New Zealand.

The Coptic Church of the Archangel Saint Michael was formerly the St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in the south end of the centre city. It is famously remembered for its early minister Rutherford Waddell who denounced the Sin of Cheapness which led to an enquiry into sweat-shopping in nineteenth century Dunedin. The Presbyterian congregation left for First Church of Otago when the numbers were too small to be sustainable. The neighbourhood around it is transient although it backs onto a day-care centre. The property was used by Elim, I think, until they moved to the Shoreline. The Coptics bought it ten years ago. Talking to Father Philemon I understand the mortgage is paid off.

The exterior needs work. Inside the congregation, made up of a small group of Egyptian second-language families, have made it into their space. An iconostasis is installed in the sanctuary. It is beautifully painted with icons. The artist is a man named Peter. I didn’t enquire if this was an artist or a vocational iconographer. I know that in Eastern Orthodoxy iconography is vocational and a icon is considered a window into the image is portrays. I don’t know if Coptic Orthodoxy shares that understanding. They have also installed new stained glass windows. I was told when the congregation takes holy communion they open the windows in the sanctuary so that they are singing to heaven.

The singing was in English, unaccompanied by music. Since the priest led the singing I think the tune was a combination of tradition and extemporisation. Since I sing by trying to hear the tune by ear and then charge through as enthusiastically as possible this did not worry me. The priest was a little Egyptian man with a bushy beard and eyes like an icon. He wears a black robe and hood which is distinctive around Dunedin.

The occasion ended with sharing tea and biscuits. The food was simple as the Coptic Church observes Friday as a fast day.

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