September 26, 2023
A group of presenters and attendees of the “The Liturgies of the Church of Alexandria: From Late-Antique Origins to the Medieval Heritage: An International Symposium” in Heritage Hall. (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)

The Institute for the Study of Eastern Christianity hosted last week a landmark international symposium dedicated to recovering the liturgical practices of Alexandria, Egypt — one of the most important early centers for Christian culture. 

“This is the first-ever conference on the search for the Alexandrine liturgy: its origins, its legacy, and its impact,” said Father Stefanos Alexopoulos, director of the institute and associate professor of liturgical studies/sacramental theology, to the crowd gathered for the first session in Heritage Hall on Thursday, Sept 21.  

The theological and doctrinal contributions of early and late-antique Alexandria are widely known by scholars, but the city was also an important font for worship practices that have shaped the lives of countless Christians throughout the centuries until this day. Over the three-day gathering, an international group of scholars shared how their analyses of ancient evidence such as papyrus manuscripts and archaeological discoveries are painting a picture of how the ritual life of the Alexandrian Christians developed and diversified into Byzantine/Melkite, Coptic, Nubian (now extinct), and Ethiopian rites used in churches around the world. 

University President Peter K. Kilpatrick opened “The Liturgies of the Church of Alexandria: From Late-Antique Origins to the Medieval Heritage: An International Symposium” by welcoming the many attendees from different traditions, especially three American bishops from the Alexandria, Egypt-based Coptic Orthodox Church: Bishop Kyrillos and Bishop Suriel, both of Los Angeles; and Bishop David, who leads the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of New York and New England. 

“As a convert from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism, the liturgies of the East have a special and precious place in my heart,” said Dr. Kilpatrick, who recalled his joy at the liturgy last year celebrating the University granting an honorary doctorate to Metropolitan Serapion, Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Los Angeles and Metropolitan of Southern California and Hawaii. As part of the ceremony, the relationship between the University and the St. Athanasius and St. Cyril Coptic Theological School in Los Angeles was formalized.

Provost Aaron Dominguez said study of Eastern Christianity is in “the very DNA” of University as its first institute founded is the Institute of Christian Oriental Research (ICOR), a co-sponsor of the symposium that houses an internationally recognized library that supports scholars on ancient languages and biblical studies. Dominguez also noted the very first professor the University hired was founding director of what is now known as the Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages.

Lectures by renowned scholars Maxwell Johnson and Bishop Kyrillos were open to the public and livestreamed. Symposium sponsors within the University included the Center for Medieval and Byzantine Studies, Center for the Study of Early Christianity, and the Institute of Christian Oriental Research. External sponsors included Dumbarton Oaks, Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture, St. Athanasius and St. Cyril Coptic Orthodox Theological School, and Universität Regensburg, St. Shenouda the Archimandrite Coptic Society, St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church, St. Philopateer Coptic Orthodox Church, and Meda Coffee and Kitchen Ethiopian Restaurant. 

Thanking all those who made the conference possible, Father Alexopoulos said the “collaboration which spans the United States and Europe, opens new possibilities for the future of the study of Eastern Christianity across institutions, disciplines, and traditions.”