Landmark celebrations as Coptic Church marks 30 years in Kirkcaldy

Behind the large arc-shaped wooden doors sits a church with a history stretching back to the first century.

Thursday, 5th May 2022, 1:30 pm

The stonework of what was once Invertiel Parish Church on Links Street is as plain as the interior is filled with colour and warmth.

Thirty years ago, the Coptic Orthodox faith moved in to establish their first permanent home in Scotland, almost half a century from first arriving in the country.

And this weekend, they will mark the occasion with a special celebration.

Father John Ghattas, parish priest of St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church, Kirkcaldy which celebrates its 30th anniversary (Pic: Scott Louden)

It will start in the church and continue at the nearby Philp Hall with around 150 people expected to attend.

It’s a special moment for the church, and the people at its heart.

The world’s oldest Christian religion can trace its roots back some 19 centuries.

It was established by Saint Mark, an apostle and evangelist, and spread Christianity spread throughout Egypt.

Pope Shenouda III consecrates the church in 1992.

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Sunday’s celebrations fall on St Mark’s feast - a date chosen quite specifically by a church which found its home here in Kirkcaldy.

The ornate designs on the wooden interior were all made in Egypt and shipped across to create a special place of worship which brought Copts from across Scotland to the Lang Toun.

They had been in Scotland since 1972, but without a place to call home.

St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church, Kirkcaldy (Pic: Scott Louden)

That all changed in December 1991 when Father Akxious, the first priest to come here to stay here, secured the building for the church.

Father John Ghattas, parish priest, recalls the importance and significance of the move.

“We were a floating congregation,” he said. “We had a place in Edinburgh and one in Glasgow, and we used to go to the monastery in Dysart once every month, but we did not have a base until Bishop Anthony - Father Akxious - came.

“This is the mother home.”

The Church in Links Street saw members of the congregation travel from across Scotland - from Aberdeen to the Borders - and even as far south as Carlisle.

The church was renamed St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church Centre, and, once established, Father Mark Aziz began a 20-year stay.

He left in 2017, and was replaced by Father John who will be at the heart of this weekend’s celebrations.

He admitted: “Thirty years on this is a dream. I can’t believe we have have been here since 1992.”

Father John, who served as the head of the church’s choir, first came across it when he arrived in Scotland as a student.

“I had come here to do my masters degree,” he recalled.

“At first I was very lonely. I did not know anyone and it was the first time I’d left Egypt in a very long time.

I knew there was a church here and Father Mark told me about the service and I came along.

“I felt at home here and found family here.”

By 2017 he had been ordained as its parish priest.

It too was a historic occasion - it was the first to be conducted in the church in Scotland.

That sense of belonging runs throughout,

As well as serving its congregation, it has hosted a number of community groups up until the pandemic, with the hope of their return as life reverts back to normal.

Its celebrations will begin with the Liturgy with Bishop Anthony, of Scotland, Ireland and northern England. He will also ordain some priests, and others will be appointed to a higher rank.

The day will then continue in the Philp Hall where there is room to host up to 150 people expected to attend.

They will enjoy breakfast as well as some music, short speeches and get an insight into the fellowship of the church and what it has done for so many people.

Guests will come from the community and churches across the town - similar to the celebrations which marked its opening 30 years ago.

But, on that landmark day on February 22, 1992 was marked by the presence of Pope Shenouda III, the leader of the world’s oldest Christian faith who consecrated the church.

He arrived in a small cavalcade of cars led by police escort.

The Fife Free Press reported: “The reception outside was low key but it was with undisguised delight and great reverence that members of the 45 Coptic families in Scotland welcomed their leader.”

The congregation was packed, and among those present were senior clergy including representatives from several faiths - Archbishop Keith O’Brien, Roman Catholic Archbishop of St Andrews, and Edinburgh; Rt Rev Michael Hare Duke, Episcopal Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, and the Rev Robin Ross, secretary of the Church of Scotland board of world mission along with Rev Mille Molloy, moderator of Kirkcaldy Presbytery

Coptic bishops from France and Germany also attended as well as members of the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches

Rev Brian Tomlinson, clerk of Kirkcaldy Presbytery also presented the Pope with an Iona Cross on behalf of the main Scottish churches.

Thirty years on, he too will be at the celebrations this weekend.

It promises to be a celebration of the links between the church, its congregation, and the community - some of them perhaps unknown.

The use of Dysart Monastery for services, for example, brought the story full circle.

Father John explained: “The Seven monks who preached Christianity to Ireland came from Egypt, and they lived in Dysart in the caves at the monastery.

“They were known as the desert fathers.

“There are good links between Celtic Christianity and the Coptic Church …”