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Open Access

Ostrakon with a Homily by Athanasius

Artist: Unknown Egyptian (Coptic) Artist Primary
Date: 600
7th century
Dimensions: 7.88 x 5.31 x 2 in. (20 x 13.49 x 5.08 cm)
Object Type: Ostrakon
Creation Place: Middle East, Egypt
Medium and Support: Limestone
Credit Line: Lent by Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1914 (14.1.64)
Accession Number: L2013.13.01
On View: Bellarmine Hall Galleries

Ostraka (pl.) are pieces of rock, pottery, or bone that feature writing. Limestone, as used for this ostrakon, was popular during the Early Christian period in Egypt as a readily available alternative to papyrus, which was more expensive and more difficult to obtain. The inscription, a homily by Saint Athanasius, is written in the Coptic language. This ostrakon likely had its origins in a monastery where it was used for educational purposes of practicing writing and learning theology. The ostrakon is from a period when Egypt played a central role in Christianity. Saint Athanasius was a fourth-century Bishop of Alexandria and theologian known for his role in defining Christian teaching. He was a strong opponent of Arianism, a belief (declared heretical) that denied the Trinity by asserting that the son of God was lesser than the Father. Athanasius was part of the council that wrote the Nicene Creed, asserting the consubstantiality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.




Keywords

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Coptic
Oriental Orthodox Christian religion of predominantly Muslim Egypt. Egyptians before the Arab conquest of the 7th century identified themselves and their language as Aigyptios in Greek (Westernized as Copt) and later when Egyptian Muslims stopped calling themselves Aigyptioi, the term became the distinctive name of the Christian minority. Since the 5th century these Christians have been Monophysites, meaning that they acknowledge only one nature in Christ. Apart from the Monophysite question, the Coptic and the Eastern Orthodox churches agree regarding doctrine. Services are almost entirely conducted in Arabic and the service books, using the liturgies attributed to St. Mark, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus, are written in Coptic (the Bohairic dialect of Alexandria), with the Arabic text in parallel columns. After the 1890s the church devised a democratic system of government, led by the patriarch who lives in Cairo. Outside of Egypt, there are a few Coptic Orthodox churches in the Holy Land and a Coptic bishopric in Khartoum, Sudan. The Ethiopian, Armenian, and Syrian Jacobite churches are in communion with the Coptic Orthodox Church. There is an impressive body of Coptic religious art and the church is known for its vital system of schools. There are over three million Copts and, although a minority, are well represented in Egyptian professional life. Copts have suffered and continue to suffer occasional persecution. With reference specifically to the Early Medieval period in Egypt, use "Coptic (period)."
ostraka
Fragments of pottery or stone containing inscriptions.
public domain
Land owned and controlled by the state or federal government. Also, the status of publications, products, and processes that are not protected under patent or copyright.
religions
Belief systems that encompass various personal and institutional relationships between human beings and what they regard as holy, sacred, or divine, usually but not always a deity, or a spiritual or occult force. Participation in a religion is typically manifested in obedience, reverence, and worship, often including group activities and alliance with a leader. Elements of a religion or similar belief system include doctrine, ritual, defined parameters of morality, and a code of living, often seen as a means of achieving spiritual or material improvement.
Christianity
Refers to the world religion and culture that developed in the first century CE, driven by the teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Its roots are in the Judaic tradition and the Old Testament. The tenets include a belief in the death and redemptive resurrection of Jesus. The religion incorporates a tradition of faith, ritual, and a form of church authority or leadership.

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