Tucked away in the city of Bellflower, California is a piece of spiritual history and tradition dating back thousands of years. The St. George Coptic Orthodox Church was established by Saint Mark (an apostle and evangelist) during approximately 42 A.D. Saint Mark’s journey to Egypt would plant early Christianity in Egypt, eventually spreading the Coptic Orthodox Church worldwide.
Father John Botros currently serves as part of the clergy in the Bellflower branch. Below, he explains his journey, faith, and philosophy of a Coptic Orthodox Christian believer.
Religio Magazine: What made you want to become a priest?
Father John: In our church belief, priesthood is a call from God. I was deacon in the church since I was a child. Each Sunday my family would take me to the church and I would learn how to love the Holy Bible, church history and hymns. An older deacon taught me the prayers; after school he would go there, two or three times a week. I loved it there and thought this was the life that I wanted to lead as a deacon and servant serving God. However, I entered a university and graduated in Computer Science. I then worked for five years in Egypt in the computer center of a petroleum production company and moved to the states in 1990. I worked in different technical and managerial positions in the data processing field for 14 years. One day I received a call from our bishop Serapion, who is the “spiritual father” for the Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California, and Hawaii. He called me and asked that if I can be a priest to serve The Lord. I know it is a big responsibility but I believe it is a call from God.
RM: You said you were a computer science major, what are challenges that you had to overcome to become a priest?
FJ: It is not easy. God blessed me with this responsibility and I believe that The Lord will help me overcome any problems that may come my way. We are limited but God is unlimited. The day I left my regular work and moved into priesthood, it was a total change. It was a total change. The day I switched, it felt like a total difference. I felt a big responsibility but with the help and the blessings of the Lord, it is going to be good. If we depend on ourselves, we are limited but the Lord is unlimited. We need to submit our lives, and then it will work out smoothly and you will feel His power in your life…
RM: What were some of the biggest lessons you learned in seminary?
FJ: As The Lord taught us, to love each other, and to be one. Not only the people inside the church, but love all humans regardless of their religion. Yes, I have my belief, they have their belief, but, give them love. This is Christianity.
RM: What do you hope to change in LA? How do you see your ministry affecting LA? Do you have any visions for this year?
FJ: Although I’m not involved with politics, we hope to communicate more with other areas and other people and we hope to spread the love to each and everyone everywhere. We need all of us to work together, to make peace, and to spread love between everyone.
RM: A lot of people talk and dream about peace but peace has not been achieved. Why do you think that’s so, and what can we do to step forward towards that peace?
FJ: Peace starts from inside you. If you have peace inside your heart you can spread it around you. We have to keep working hard. You are building something somewhere, and other people are demolishing but, we have our goal, this is our life: peace and love so we keep working. This is our way, and this is our belief. Hopefully one day we will reach it.
RM: What are some steps that can create mutual understanding and appreciation of other religions?
FJ: Discussions and respect to each other. If one does not want to discuss it means they don’t have the answer, but if you are open to discussion and we talk together, the whole world will be different.
RM: What is the main thing you would like our readers to know about the Coptic Orthodox religion?
FJ: The Lord taught us, in simple words, to love each other. You may have heard about the revolution in Egypt…over 100 churches have been burned down, and the Coptic Christians did their best to stay calm and did not do anything, but instead prayed for the people. This is Christianity, and this is what we believe. With prayer and love you can make a big difference and change the world.
RM: As a lot of conflict is happening in Egypt, do you have any messages to give it to today’s youth/citizens in Egypt?
FJ: Don’t worry. We are in God’s hands. As said in the Holy Bible: “Blessed is Egypt my people” (Isa 19 ; 25).