About the Coptic Orthodox Church
About the Coptic Orthodox Church:
The Coptic Church is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, as relayed by St. Mark who brought Christianity to Egypt during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero in the first century, a dozen of years after the Lord’s ascension. The Coptic Church, which is now more than twenty centuries old, was the subject of many 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 Coptic Church regards itself as a strong defendant of Christian faith. The Nicene Creed, which is recited in all churches throughout the world, has been authored by one of its favorite sons, St. Athanasius, the Pope of Alexandria for 46 years, from 327 A.D. to 373 A.D. Egypt was the refuge that the Holy Family sought in its flight from Judea: “When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son” (Mathew 2:12-23).
The contributions of the Coptic Church to Christendom are many. From the beginning, it played a central role in Christian theology—and especially to protect it from the Gnostics heresies. The Coptic Church produced thousands of texts, biblical and theological studies. The Catechetical School of Alexandria is the oldest Catechetical School in the world. Soon after its inception around 190 A.D. by the Christian scholar Pantanaeus, the school of Alexandria became the most important institution of religious learning in Christendom. Many prominent bishops from many areas of the world were instructed in that school under scholars such as Athenagoras, Clement, Didymus, and the great Origen, who was considered the father of theology and who was also active in the field of commentary and comparative Biblical studies. Many saints and scholars, such as St. Jerome, visited the school of Alexandria to exchange ideas and to communicate.
Monasticism was born in Egypt and was instrumental in the formation of the Coptic Church’s character, producing many writings of the Great Fathers of Egypt’s Deserts. Monasticism started in the last years of the third century and flourished in the fourth century. St. Anthony, the world’s first Christian monk was a Copt from Upper Egypt. St. John Cassian traveled to Egypt’s monasteries and carried back its teaching and way of life, as noted in the Conferences, as well as St. John Climacus, as recorded in his Ladder of Divine Ascent.
St. Cyril, Pope of Alexandria, was the head of the Ecumenical Council which was held in Ephesus in the year 430 A.D. This leading role, however, did not fare well when politics started to intermingle with Church affairs. Political motives became even more apparent in Chalcedon in 451, when the Coptic Church was unfairly accused of following the teachings of Eutyches, who believed in monophysitism. This doctrine maintains that the Lord Jesus Christ has only one nature, the divine, not two natures, the human as well as the divine.
The Coptic Church has never believed in monophysitism. In that Council, monophysitism meant believing in one nature. Copts believe that the Lord is perfect in His divinity, and He is perfect in His humanity, but His divinity and His humanity were united in one nature called “the nature of the Incarnate Word”, which was reiterated by Saint Cyril of Alexandria. Copts, thus, believe in two natures “human” and “divine” that are united in one “without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration” (from the declaration of faith at the end of the Coptic divine liturgy). These two natures “did not separate for a moment or the twinkling of an eye”.
Perhaps the greatest glory of the Coptic Orthodox Church is its Cross. Copts take pride in the persecution they have sustained as early as May 8, 68 A.D., when their Patron St. Mark was slain on Easter Monday after being dragged from his feet by Roman soldiers all over Alexandria’s streets and alleys. The Copts in modern Egypt are suffering from discrimination and persecution. They are frequently subject to terrorist attacks on their persons, homes, businesses and churches. Not a month passes by without a major assault taking place. According to a study made by Ibn Khaldoun Research Center, more than 240 major attacks took place just between the years 1972- 2003.
The Coptic Orthodox Church observes seven canonical sacraments: Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Eucharist, Confession, Priesthood, Matrimony, and Unction of the sick. There are three main Liturgies in the Coptic Church: The Liturgy according to Saint Basil, Bishop of Caesarea; The Liturgy according to Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople; and The Liturgy according to Saint Cyril I, the 24th Pope of the Coptic Church. The bulk of St. Cyril’s Liturgy is from the one that St. Mark used (in Greek) in the first century. The Bishops and priests of the church memorized it until it was translated into the Coptic Language by St. Cyril. Today, these three Liturgies are still in use; the Liturgy of St. Basil is the one most commonly used in the Coptic Orthodox Church.