Coptic History

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The word “Copt” means “Egypt”. It originates from the original and Pharaonic name of Egypt “HakPtah” meaning “the land of Ptah

(one of the early Pharaonic gods). The pronunciation of this name was soon changed with the introduction of Greeks through trade with Egypt who pronounce it as “Ekyptos” or “Egyptos”. Under Arab influence (following their arrival to Egypt in the 7th Century), the pronunciation was further changed to “Copt”.

This is evidence to the Copts being the founding citizens of Egypt, descending directly from the Pharaohs.


Coptic Christianity preached

Christianity was first preached to Egypt by the Coptic Church. St Mark the Evangelist first preached and evangelised in Egypt in the middle of the 1st Christian century.

He established the famous Theological School of Alexandria from which originated greats such as Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and St Cyril the Great amongst others. The Coptic patriarchs were from the founders of this school, and from it also came Saint Pantenos (who preached Christianity in India in 190AD).

Many of the famous early fathers of Christianity were from this Theological School, which is parallel to the Philosophical School of Alexandria in which the likes of Plato and Aristotle learned and taught. All the students and lecturers of the Philosophical School of Alexandria later joined the Theological School of St Mark in Alexandria.

That is why the Coptic rites are influenced by both the Hellenistic culture and the Greek language.


The title ‘baba’ (or Pope)


The Bishop of Alexandria, Yerocletus, was the first to begin to be known as ‘baba’ (or Pope), from the last decade of the 3rd century.




Coptic Christianity preached in North Africa and Europe

The Coptic Church evangelised Christianity in the Western Pentapolis (North Africa – Western Tripolis - Libya) in the 1st century.

In the late 2nd century, the Church evangelised Christianity in India in Kerala

(Malabar). In the 3rd century, the Church evangelised to Switzerland via the Tiben Legion. This was a legion originated from Tiba (in Luxor, Upper Egypt), which was sent in 285 AD to fight against Barbarians, whilst Egypt was occupied by the
Roman Empire. The legion was led by St Morris who was later buried in Switzerland near the Italian border, in a village named after him. St Morris’ sister, Saint Verena the virgin, worked with the Legion and was responsible for their healthcare. St Verena later taught the Swiss people about herbal and natural medicines, as well as hygiene methods, which were already common in Egypt at that time.

This legion evangelised Christianity before becoming martyrs.

The stamp of the city of Zurich contains 3 beheaded persons carrying their heads in their hands, and surrounded by their names: Felix, his sister Regula, and Exopriantrius, whom the Emperor decided to behead when they refused to leave Christianity. After they were beheaded, their heads ran away and the 3 saints walked, beheaded, to where their heads were, and carried them before falling down. There are 2 large Churches in Zurich (beside the main railway station), Vassar Kersche and Gros Minister – one at the place where they were killed, and the other where they fell down after retrieving their heads.

There is also a Chapel where Saint Verena is buried in Zur Zach and a statue of her where she is carrying a bottle of water or medicine in one hand, and a Pharaonic comb in the other hand.

After the Tiben Legion defeated the Barbarians, Emperor Diocletian ordered them to worship his idols; and when they refused, he killed them and they became martyrs.

In the 5th century, Coptic monks preached to Ireland, and evidence of their influence on the country is seen in the Celtic Cross, and the Gaelic letters of the Irish language, influenced by Coptic ones.

Influence from Coptic names of Saints can also be seen. For example “The Square of Bomena” means “The Square of St Menas” (named after the Coptic St Menas).

The cemetery of the Coptic monks is still known in Ireland to this day.

As the Copts were the descendants of Pharaohs, they kept the Pharaonic culture and civilisation, where they carried with them overseas.


After the division of Christianity

After the division of Christianity as a result of the Chalcedonian Council in 451 AD concerning the nature of Jesus Christ, Constantinople applied force on the Coptic Church, and many Copts were martyred at the hand of the Chalcedeans. 

There were 2 Chalcedonian Patriarchs: one acted as the head of government through the Roman Emperor, and the other was a Copt. As a result, Christianity in Egypt weakened following this division; however it later began to flourish again starting from the 18th century.


A Church of Martyrs

The Coptic Church is a church of martyrs. Over the centuries, she has given up martyrs for the sake of the faith – more than any other church.


The Holy Family’s visit to Egypt

The Coptic Church was blessed with the visit of the Holy Family to Egypt.

The great effect left behind continues to be seen/present and ongoing through the Churches, Monasteries and miracles.

This is fulfilment of the verse “Blessed are my people Egypt” (Prophet Isaiah 19:25).

As related by His Eminence Metropolitan Dr. Anba Abraham. All rights reserved.