The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
The term ‘Coptic’ comes from the Egyptian pronunciation of the Greek word for Egypt.
According to ancient documents and oral tradition, the Egyptian Church was established in the middle of the 1st century by Saint Mark, the apostle, evangelist and writer of the gospel of Mark in the Bible.
The Egyptian church is the subject of prophecies in the Old Testament. Isaiah the prophet, in Chapter 19, Verse 19 says; “In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border”.
The Egyptian Orthodox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Christian church based in Egypt, Africa and West Asia. The head of the Church and the See of Alexandria is the ‘Patriarch of Alexandria on the Holy See of Saint Mark’, who also carries the title of Coptic ‘Pope’. Today the Coptic Pope presides from Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in the Abbassia District in Cairo. The church follows the Alexandrian Rite for its liturgy, prayer and devotions. It is the country’s largest Christian church, with 18 to 22 million members worldwide, of which about 15 to 18 million are in Egypt.
The early Christian churches were divided by geography into patriarchates (‘sees’).
All of these first Christian churches were catholic (universal), orthodox (Greek for ‘straight belief’) and evangelical (spreading the good news of the salvation through Jesus Christ).
There are roughly 2 billion Christians worldwide, of which 240 million are Orthodox.
Of these, 80 million are Oriental Orthodox and of these, 20 million are Coptic Orthodox.
Orthodox churches believe the Bible and use early interpretations of the Bible given by scholars whose writings were recommended by the universal church.
Saint Paul was one of the early church leaders and he ordained bishops, including Saint Timothy. He explained to him how church practices are passed on, saying; “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us” (2 Timothy 1:13-14). He also wrote; “the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
This shows that the church was preserved through the generations by tradition.
Saint Justin Martyr was one of the early Christians who wrote a letter in 150 AD (50 years after the death of Saint John the apostle, one of the first 12 disciples).
This letter contains descriptions of the main Christian prayer service which is nearly identical to the holy liturgy that takes place in Orthodox churches today.
The Christian church was founded by Jesus Christ himself. He declared; ‘on this rock, I will build My church’ (Matthew 16:18) when describing the faith of his disciple, Saint Peter.
This faith is that there is one God, the creator and sustainer of the universe.
Humans rebelled and sinned, following the example of Satan and the demons. God is holy, so He punishes sin. And God is love, so He gave all humans a chance to receive the righteousness they don’t deserve through faith in the sacrifice made by the Lord and Saviour of all, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. God the Son (the ‘Word) was in the beginning (John 1:1-2), with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. God is a trinity, three in one.
The Son of God took on a human nature when Jesus Christ was born miraculously (from a virgin). He died and rose again according to His promise. He defeated death when he descended to the place of the dead in the full power of His divinity. Through faith in Jesus Christ, God the Father gives abundant and eternal life to all who believe in Him, by His Holy Spirit.
God has given the church the task of taking this good news to all the world.