March 7, 2008–-In response to a recent news story about Jonathan McCullum, a U.S. Exchange Student who claimed he was starved by a Coptic Christian family due to church fasts, the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California, and Hawaii clarifies as follows:
Although the Church strongly encourages her believers to observe periods of fasting according to Apostolic Tradition, fasting is a voluntary spiritual sacrifice. The Church does not impose her fasting days on anyone. More importantly, and in accordance with the Canons of the Apostles, fasting is absolutely excused for those who are sick. Indeed, the Church strongly emphasizes periods of fasting as periods of mercy. As the prophet Isaiah said, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6, 7).
The Church offers its prayers on behalf of the Coptic host family and Mr. McCullum.
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria was established by Saint Mark the Apostle and Evangelist in the middle of the First Century. The Church was instrumental in shaping Christianity through the contributions
of its patriarchs, such as Saint Athanasius the Apostolic, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Saint Theophilus; its scholars and teachers, such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Didymus the Blind; its saints, such as the
three Saints Macarii, Saint Mina, Saint Maurice; and many more. The Church’s Catechetical School of Alexandria is the oldest catechetical school in the world. Monasticism was founded by Saint Antony the
Great and exported to the rest of the world from the cradle of this ancient church.
Today, the Coptic Orthodox Church is comprised of 12 million believers throughout the world. It is headed by Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy See of Saint Mark.