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Hampton’s Coptic Orthodox Church shares its history through food, art


Hampton's Coptic Orthodox Church shares its history through food, art

Joys Miller stood in front of the altar at St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Hampton and used the images painted on the walls to tell the story of Egypt’s Christian Orthodox church.

The orthodox Christian church, all over the world, uses the same calendar, she tells a small group seated in the pews. That means their holidays, feasts and other traditions all happen around the same time.

On this day, St. George is celebrating Global Coptic Day a few days early with their annual festival.

“This festival coincides with the Holy Family's entry into Egypt on June 1,” Miller said. 

“We are trying to bring light to what the Holy Family did in Egypt, how long they were there and just educate the community on that part of history.”

St. George is open to anyone for services all year round, but for its festival, they set up a bounce house alongside basketball courts for children and booths selling art, books, tapestries and other goods from Egypt.

And the main draw for visitors and church members is the food tent.

The Coptic Orthodox church shares history and some culture with the Greek Orthodox church, so some of their foods are similar.

St. George volunteers served grilled kebabs, stuffed grape leaves, shepherd’s pie and a crowd favorite, macarona bechamel. 

Marina Guerges, a church member, said the layered pasta dish is a classic.

“You have the top layer, which is your famous bechamel sauce, like a really thick, creamy sauce,” she said. “And then you go into your pasta and you go into your ground beef and then more béchamel and pasta. As soon as you put your fork in it, you have all the flavors in one.”

There aren’t many Coptic churches in Hampton Roads and St. George estimates they’re the biggest, with 150 families who are part of the church.

The church started in Egypt and its institutional seats are still in Cairo, but at this point, anyone can join the church.

“Christianity is worldwide and you go to other Orthodox churches and you’ll still feel the same Orthodox values,” Guerges said. “But the Coptic Church, that’s all Egyptian … so you kind of have a little bit of Egypt in your life at all times.”

Guerges moved to the United States from Egypt when she was 3 years old. She came to Hampton Roads about seven years ago and found St. George through a Google search.

Now she does a little bit of everything around the church, including helping with various youth groups in the church. 

Proceeds from the festival will go toward those kinds of programs, which include things like Coptic language classes for members. Many of the Coptic Orthodox Church’s texts are still in the language, which is an Egyptian dialect.

Mechelle is News Director at WHRO. She helped launch the newsroom as a reporter in 2020. She's worked in newspapers and nonprofit news in her career. Mechelle lives in Virginia Beach, where she grew up.

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