Founded by St. Mark the Evangelist In about 50 AD when he came to Egypt. The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Apostolic churches in the world. The Coptic Orthodox Church (which is also known as the Church of Alexandria) is mentioned In the canons of the Nicean Ecumenical Council of 325 AD as being one of the four ancient apostolic churches. The other churches being: the church of Jerusalem, the church of Rome, and the church of Antioch
The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church is called the Pope and is considered to be the successor of St Mark the Evangelist. The clergy is composed of bishops, priests and deacons. The Coptic Church also has several Coptic monasteries and convents both in Egypt and outside it.
St. Mark is one of the seventy disciples (Luke 10:1). St. Mark's Gospel is the oldest of the four Gospels in the Holy Bible. He started writing his Gospel in Rome and completed it in Egypt. It was in his house that Our Lord Jesus Christ had The Last Supper and where the disciples used to gather for prayer after the resurrection. Tradition also
has it that Pentecost took place there (Acts 2:1). St. Mark was martyred for his faith In Egypt in 86 AD and his feast is celebrated by the Copts on the 8th of May of each year.
They are the present day Christians belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church. The term "Copt' is derived from the Greek word "Aigyptos' meaning Egyptian.
The Copts are the descendants of the ancient Egyptians who became Christians through the work of St Mark and so has a very proud and rich history that goes back almost 20 centuries.
The Coptic Language
The Coptic language is based upon a combination of the old Greek alphabet, and the old pharaonic language.
Many of the old manuscripts and books of the great Christian Egyptian fathers and theologians were written in the Greek or Coptic language. The Coptic language remained the main language of Egypt until the arrival of the Arabs in the 7th century when they tried to replace it with the Arabic language. In the 13th century it was decreed by law that Arabic was to be the official language and was to be used in all government offices, on official papers and documents.
Whilst the Copts tried to keep the Coptic language, Arabic gradually took over as the main language. The Coptic Church still uses the Coptic language today in its prayers and hymns. At Oxford and Cambridge University, in Scotland and in America the Coptic language is taught and in recent years there has been a strong revival in the use of the Coptic language in Coptic Sunday schools.
The History of the Martyrs and the Coptic Calendar
The Coptic Church, which is referred to by some scholars as the Church of Martyrs, is recognised for its many courageous men and women who became martyrs because of their Christian faith throughout history. The martyrs therefore form a very Important pert of the Coptic Church.
The 'Nayrouz' feast is the feast of the Coptic martyrs and is celebrated on the 11th of September of each year. The feast also marks the beginning of the Coptic Calendar year. The Coptic Calendar was started in 284 AD, the year in which Diocletian became Roman Emperor, and began a severe Persecution of the Christians which saw thousands martyred during his time.
Coptic Orthodox Church in Christian History
The Church of Alexandria is renowned for its great contribution to monasticism and the monastic life, St. Anthony the Great, a Copt from Upper Egypt, is recognised as the founder of monasticism which began in the 3rd century and flourished in the 4th century. Whilst St. Paul Of Thebes, is considered the first pilgrim –wanderer by St. Jerome who wrote his biography, lived in the desert without seeing the face of another man for some ninety years. St. Pachomius, another Upper Egyptian, is credited with establishing the rules of monasticism, called Koinonia. His Cenobitic rules were translated into Greek and Latin, and were used by St. Basil the Great and were later adopted by Benedict, the Father of western monasticism.
One of the remarkable aspects of the Coptic Orthodox Church today is the continuous increase of those who are eager to join monastic life.
St. Athanasius (20th Pope of Alexandria) is considered a hero of the faith for his relentless defence of the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the main author of the Nicean Creed (325 AD) that is recited by Christians all over the world.
St. Timothy (22nd Pope Of Alexandria) instrumental in writing the portion of the Creed referring to the Holy Spirit at the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381 AD).
St. Cyril (24th Pope of Alexandria) chaired the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431 AD) where the introduction of the Creed "We magnify thee, oh Mother of the True Light...' was added.
St. Demetrius (12th Pope of Alexandria) was the first person to devise the calculation for fixing the dates to celebrate Easter each year. His calculation was approved by the Nicean Ecumenical Council (325 AD) and continued to be used by all the Christian Churches up to the 16th Century. Today many of the Eastern Orthodox churches continue to use his calculation.
3. MISSIONARY WORK
In the early days of Christianity, Egyptian missionaries travelled to Ethiopia India, North Africa, Mesopotamia, and Persia. St. Athanasius when in exile in Belgium used the opportunity to teach the West about monasticism based upon the life of St. Anthony the Great. In Europe, the Coptic faith spread as far as Zurich in Switzerland, and even as far as Ireland.
The Alexandrian Theological School
St. Mark established the School of Theology in Alexandria in the 1st Century, and thus the Coptic Church was concerned with Christian education from the beginning of its foundation. The school became very famous, instructing many prominent bishops across the world and produced scholars such as Athenaghoras, Pantaenus, Clement and Origen. (185 AD). Origen is considered to be a great father of theology and is believed to have composed more than 6000 commentaries on the Holy Bible.
Other great theologians associated with the School include St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory (The Miracle Performer), St. John Chrysostom (The Golden Mouth), and St. Didymus the Blind (who learned to read and write using carved wood fifteen centuries before Braille was invented).
The Copts Today
The Copts today number more than 10 million. The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church is His Holiness Pope Shenouda III the 117th successor of St. Mark. He is well versed in the Holy Bible and is acknowledged for his scholarly and learned knowledge of the Christian Religion and Doctrines. He has so far composed some 101 books covering matters such as Christian Doctrine, Theology, Faith and Spirituality. In Egypt he gives more than three lectures every week and an audience of more than 7000 people attend his regular Wednesday lecture at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo. His Holiness puts a great effort to supporting the needs of the immigrant Copts which are now some 250 churches outside Egypt in places such as the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Australia, Brazil, Canada and the USA.
During his tenure as Patriarch, His Holiness has so far ordained some 350 monks and nuns, some 525 priests, and 92 bishops. He has also recently ordained an Eritrean Patriarch and five bishops as a beginning of the Holy Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Church.
Patriarch Shenouda III is also noted for his effort in promoting Church Unity. He attended the first informal meeting with Roman Catholic theologians in 1971 in Vienna and became the first Alexandrian Pontiff to visit the Vatican since the schism of 451 AD, there he joined Pope Paul VI in a declaration of church unity. His Holiness has also exchanged visits with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople and the Orthodox Patriarchs of Moscow, Bulgaria, Romania, and Antioch. The Coptic Church has continued to play an important role in the ecumenical movement throughout this century. It is an active member of the World council of Churches and an influential member of the African Council of Churches.
The Copts firmly believe in maintaining and preserving the traditions handed down to them through the generations and so have remained steadfast and unchanging in the Christian faith that was preached to them by St. Mark till this present day.
The articles of our faith
- We believe in One God and the Holy Trinity.
- We believe that Our Lord Jesus Christ is perfect in His Divinity and perfect in His Humanity.
- We believe in the seven sacraments of the Church: Baptism, Confirmation, Confession, Eucharist, Priesthood, Marriage and Anointing of the Sick.
- We Believe in the innerancy of the Holy Bible (Old and New Testaments). "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim 3:16). "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away." (Matt 24:35).
- We believe in the Nicean Creed and accept the ecumenical councils of Nicea (325 AD). Constantinople (381 AD) and Ephesus (431 AD).
- We believe in the effects of Baptism, namely:
- Regeneration (John 3:5; Titus 3:5).
- Forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38, 22:16).
- Putting on Christ.
- That in baptism we are buried with Christ and we are raised with Him. Hence we baptise by immersion. We believe in infant baptism.
- We believe that in the Eucharist we receive the Holy Body and the Holy Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. (Matt 26:26). "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:24)
- We receive the Holy Spirit by the Holy Chrisma (John 2:20,27) when we are anointed with Holy Oil in the sacrament of Conformation.
- We believe in the intercession of the Virgin St. Mary, the Angels, and the Saints.
- We believe that divorce may be permitted for the cause of Adultery (Matt 5:32) and for apostasy (1Cor 7:15).
- We believe in monogamy and reject polygamy.
- We believe in The Eternal Life.
- We believe that faith without works is dead (James2:18,20)
- That Tradition is a source of our teaching.
- We believe in the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.