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Who are the Copts?

The Brooklyn Paper

The history of the Coptic people dates back to ancient Egypt.

Members of the Coptic church can trace their ancestry back to the builders of the pyramids. Their ancestors converted to Christianity in 42 A.D. and retained their religion even after the Muslim Arabs conquered Egypt 600 years later.

As a result, they have faced persecution and discrimination well into the modern era — the main reason for their immigration to the U.S. after the American consulate opened in Egypt in 1968, says Father Mina Yanni, pastor of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Saint George in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn’s only Coptic church.

“They felt there was a good future [here],” he said, adding that most new arrivals settled in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Jersey City.

The Dyker Heights parish exists because the Coptic Church in Alexandria, Egypt, ordered its construction in 1972 to serve the immigrants in Brooklyn, assigning Father Yanni to serve as its spiritual leader. The church’s six weekly liturgies have swollen to standing-room-only in recent months, and Yanni is looking to leave the building for a larger space.

Most of the estimated five to 15 million “Copts” around the world subscribe to a branch of Orthodox Christianity, and their religious imagery closely resembles that of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Services at the Dyker Heights parish are delivered in English and Arabic — the main language of Copts — and most hymns have Middle Eastern melodies.

Four television screens in the hall of worship show prayers and Biblical passages in English, Arabic, and Greek.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.

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