“Blessed is Egypt My people” (Isaiah 19:25)
Who are the Copts?The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the most ancient churches in the world, founded in Egypt in the first century by Saint Mark the Apostle and writer of the second Gospel of the New Testament. A conservative church, it has carefully preserved the Orthodox Christian faith in its earliest form. It is a faith that has been passed down through generations,always remaining true to the apostolic doctrines and patterns of worship. The church’s spiritual approach emphasizes holiness, divine mysteries and fellowship, rooted firmly in the canons of the holy scriptures, the apostolic and orthodox creeds, the teachings of the church fathers and the first three ecumenical councils.
Egypt in the Old Testament
8th Century BC
Egypt’s ancient history is famous and is well documented. The Bible is no exception. Egypt became a representative of the “Gentiles” (non-Jews) to whom Christ came to establish His Church and form His new people. Thus Isaiah prophesied saying, “In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt” (Isaiah 19:19) and “Blessed is Egypt My people” (Isaiah 19:25). Egypt also took the blessing of the Holy Family after the birth of Christ when Herod sought to kill the Child, fulfilling the prophesy, “Behold, the burden of Egypt, the Lord rides upon a swift cloud, He shall come to Egypt, and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at His presence.” (Isaiah 19:1). The Holy Family resided in Egypt until such time as was safe for them to return, after the death of Herod, fulfilling the prophesy of Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my Son” (Hosea 11:1).
St. Mark the Evangelist
In the 1st Century, between the years 42-61 A.D., St. Mark the Evangelist arrived in Egypt. Upon his arrival, he went to a cobbler named Anianus to repair his sandle. As Anianus was working on the sandle, he accidentally pierced his hand and cried aloud “Eos Theos” or “O One God”. On hearing this, St. Mark rejoiced and after miraculously healing the man’s wound, took courage and began to preach to Anianus who took the Apostle to his home to preach and baptise him and his family. The gospel-writer continued to evanglise to the Egyptian people who did not take long to convert. Thus, the Church of Alexandria was established and St. Mark became its bishop. The pagan majority persecuted the church and St. Mark for turning people away from idols, leading to the martyrdom of St. Mark in 68 A.D. Despite his martyrdom, the Church of Alexandria grew swiftly and 118 patriarchs have succeeded St. Mark to this day.
Saint Athanasius In Defense of The Divinity of Christ
Athanasius I of Alexandria, also called Athanasius the Great, or,Athanasius the Apostolic, was a Coptic church father and the 20th Pope of Alexadria and the See of St. Mark.
During the 4th century, the heretical priest Arius claimed that the Son in the Trinity was created. In response, Pope Alexander, and then St. Athanasius as his successor and protégé, opposed and excommunicated Arius. The Council of Nicaea then took place to settle the matter and Orthodoxy emerged victorious, with most attendees subscribing to the Nicaean creed: that the Son is of “the same essence” as the Father. The Creed promulgated in Nicaea was just the start of a long theological debate on the relationship of the Trinity persons and the Godhead. Arius’ position was that the Son is of a different essence than the Father. In other words, the Son was a created being, as opposed to the Father, the creator. The controversy changed many times, with geopolitical factors playing a large role, until at least the Council of Constantinople some 56 years later. Between the two great Councils, successive Arian (and briefly, pagan) imperial regimes emerged and those emperors persecuted and exiled St. Athanasius five times, resulting in his absence from Alexandria for seventeen years of his 45 year episcopate.
Oriental Orthodox Churches Split from Other Christians in 451 A.D.
The Council of Chalcedon was convened by Emperor Marcian. The council took place at Chalcedon in Bithynia (today Kadıköy in Turkey) , 451 AD. The main purpose of the council was to reaffirm the doctrine of the Council of Ephesus against the heresy of the schismatics Eutyches and Nestorius. Such heresies attempted to deconstruct and separate Christ’s divine nature from his humanity (Nestorian) as well as limiting Christ to being divine by nature (Monophysian).
This council resulted in a schism that led the Oriented churches (Coptic, Armenian, and Syriac) to distance themselves from partnership with the Roman and Byzantine churches, who see the Council of Chalcedon as the Fourth Ecumenical Council.
The Oriental churches rejected the term “two natures”, which was equivalent to the word “two persons” for them. And they preferred other expressions that came to Pope Kyrollos, such as the phrase “one nature” in his famous saying: “One nature of God, the Word incarnate.”
The Muslim Conquest of Egypt
In 640, one of Islam’s most capable generals, Amr ibn al-As, conquered Alexandria for the Rashidun Caliphate,
Slowly but steadily, by the end of the 12th century, the face of Egypt changed from predominantly Christian to predominantly Muslim.
Coptic Orthodox Church
118 patriarchs have succeeded St. Mark to this day.
His Holiness Pope Tawadros was enthroned as the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Pope of the See of St. Mark on November 18th, 2012 at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Abbasiya, Cairo.
Today, the Coptic Orthodox Church has the largest Christian presence in the Middle East. They vibrantly, actively and faithfully fill their churches and monasteries, living as productive and faithful members of their communities. The Coptic Orthodox Church has also experienced rapid growth in the lands of immigration over the past 30 years, in the United Kingdom, Europe, North America and Australia. There are now over 15 dioceses and 500 parishes outside Egypt, and the Church continues to flourish by the grace of God. It is important to make mention of the fact that we do not consider our communities living abroad as a diaspora, since 90 per cent of Coptic Christians still live in their native Egypt.
Important Topics in Our History
SCHOOL OF ALEXANDRIA
Long before the establishment of Christianity in Egypt, Alexandria was famous for her various schools, among which was the “Museum” the greatest philosophical school in the East, containing between two hundred thousand and half a million books and manuscripts. It was a unique center of a brilliant intellectual life where Egyptian, Greek and Jewish cultures were taught.
As recorded by Saint Jerome, Saint Mark himself founded the Theological School of Alexandria. He established the School for the teaching of Christianity in order to provide it as a firm foundation for the city. In time, the school became very famous; it was the oldest center of sacred sciences in the history of Christianity.
Many prominent Bishops from different parts of the world were instructed there, and it introduced into the world many Theologians, Scholars and Holy Saints – such as the Great Saint Cyril (Pillar of Faith), Saint Clement, Saint Dionysius, Saint Peter the Seal of Martyrs, Saint Didymus the Blind, Saint Athanasius (the Apostolic), Saint Basil, Saint Ignatius, Saint Severus, and the Great Scholar Origen of Alexandria.
Origen was active in the field of commentary and the comparative study of the Holy Bible. The metaphorical way of commentary, with its deep spiritual meanings, began in Egypt.
Origen composed over 6,000 commentaries of the Bible in addition to his famous Hexapala. The Theological School of Alexandria rivaled the “Museum” and attracted and “Converted” some of its “philosophers” who later became Great Christian Church Leaders & Holy Ascetic Monastics and Saints.
Of the many influential leaders of the School of Alexandria, was Saint Athanasius who was one of the most important Deans of the School.
At the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, Saint Athanasius, at the time (a 20-year-old deacon) defended the Orthodox Christian Faith from the Heresy of “Arianism”.
CHURCH OF THE MARTYRS
Historians have named the Coptic Church the ‘Church of Martyrs’, because of the many people who died for their faith. During the reign of Emperor Diocletian (Roman Empire ) almost one million men, women, and children were killed as a result of their faith in Egypt.To commemorate their sacrifice, the church was determined to commence its calendar, known as ‘Anno Martyrii’, or ‘Year Of the Martyrs,’ in the year 248 AD, which is the year Emperor Diocletian began his reign.
Even to this present-day and age, the Holy Coptic Orthodox Church still presents her Sons and Daughters as Living Beacons of Light to the Whole World under all sides of persecution, evil and hate. The Coptic Church still has Great Martyrs – her Holy Children – in which, through their un-wavering and Strong Faith in Our Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ – have they given their lives willingly and un-renouncing the Name & Love of their Holy Redeemer & Saviour.
The most famous Coptic monk was Saint Anthony the great, who was born in Middle Egypt. He was 18 years of age when he entered the Church and heard the Holy Words of the Gospel, “If you want to be Perfect, go, sell all you have and give to the poor; and come follow Me.” ~ Matthew 19:21
In heeding the Sacred Calling and in Obedience, he sold his land, entrusted his sister to a community of virgins, and lived in a hut under the guidance of a recluse. He visited Alexandria in 316 AD to assist the martyrs, and in 352 AD to help Saint Athanasius in his fight against Arianism.
Saint Anthony was a great leader of thousands of monks in Egypt in the fourth century, and many of his disciples also came from the West, after hearing of his inspirational life; for this reason he is considered all over the world, until today, as the “Father of Monasticism“.
Other famous Coptic monks include Saint Syncletica who founded the first monastic convent for women in the world – established in Alexandria. Her biography and teachings were preserved by Pope Athanasius.
Coptic Monasticism is considered the most profound spiritual revival in the history of the Church. The news of the spiritual life of the monks spread to every part of the world despite the fact that they did not write about themselves, and for this reason, there is no Coptic history of the Coptic monks. Despite this fact however, people came from all over the world in order to hear a word from one of the monks, and to take it as a word of spiritual guidance and benefit throughout their lives.
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Saint Maurice Coptic Orthodox Church,St. John’s, Newfoundland Canada