Coptic Church

This is a brief introduction of the Coptic Church, its origins and faith.

History of the Coptic Orthodox Church
The Coptic Church is one of the most ancient Churches of the world. Saint Mark the Apostle founded the church. It continues to preserve the conservative Orthodox Christian faith from its earliest and purist form for generations. The Copts are the descendants of the ancient Egyptians. The Copts, as the successors of the ancient Egyptians, are defined as the modern sons of Pharaohs. The word "Copt" itself is derived from the Greek word "Aegyptus" which means Egypt.

Saint Mark the Evangelist, one of the seventy apostles, and the writer of one of the four Gospels, was born in North Africa. St. Mark is regarded by the Coptic hierarchy as the first of their unbroken 117 patriarchs, and also the first of a stream of Egyptian martyrs.

Young Mark was always associated with the Lord. Jesus Christ chose him as one of the seventy apostles. He is mentioned in the scriptures in a number of events related with the Lord. He was present at the wedding of Cana of Galilee.

The house of St. Mark is well known in all apostolic Churches as the first church in the world. It is where the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost.

St. Mark came to Egypt ushering in the dawn of Christian faith. He arrived in the ancient capital of Egypt, Alexandria, on 61 A.D. The spread of Christianity was remarkable. Pagans were furious and sought St. Mark everywhere. Recognizing the danger, he ordained a bishop (Ananias), three priests and seven deacons to look after the congregation if anything happens to him. He left Alexandria and later went to Rome where he met St. Peter and St. Paul, remained there until their martyrdom in 64 A.D. He returned to Alexandria in 65 A.D. He spent 2 years preaching, performing miracles, ordaining bishops and priests, and winning more converts.

St. Mark founded the Christian School of Alexandria. It was the first center in the world for sacred studies in Christianity. The School's primary concerns were biblical studies and teaching the Christian faith. Many prominent bishops from many parts of the world were instructed in this school under Christian scholars such as St. Clement, Didymus, and the great Origen.

In 68 AD Easter Day, St. Mark was seized by a mob of heathens and thrown into prison. The vision of an angel appeared to St. Mark saying, "now your hour has come 0' Mark, the good minister, to receive your recompense ... " When the angel disappeared, St. Mark thanked God for sending his angel to him. Suddenly, the Savior himself appeared and said to him "peace be to you, Mark, my disciple and evangelist." On the following morning, he was dragged around the city till death.

The Church continued to produce many great Christian leaders throughout the years including St. Athanasius (296-373 A.D.). He was the twentieth Pope of the Coptic Church who effectively defended the Doctrine of Christ's Divinity at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. He was known as the "Father of Orthodoxy" and "the Apostolic." St. Pachonius, St. Cyril, and others were among the most distinguished figures of the Christian Churches.

Monasticism was born in Egypt during the last years of the third century, and it continued to flourish in the fourth century. The world's first Christian monk was a Copt from Egypt by the name of St. Anthony. St. Pachom established rules of monasticism. By the end of the fourth century, there were thousands of cells and caves, and hundreds of monasteries scattered throughout the hills of Egypt.

The Arab conquest of Egypt (639~642 AD.) caused a dramatic effect on the country and its Christian faith. The conquest imposed on the land the culture of Islam and the introduction of the Arabic language. The original culture of the nation was brutally suppressed and made illegal. The Coptic Christians were defined as the "infidels," or "non-believers". The Church suffered persecution under the Moslem reign. The Christians were treated like second rated citizens. Special high tax was imposed on the Copts. They suffered from specific limitations, some of which were serious and interfered with their freedom of worship. The Coptic community was treated in a degrading manner and continued to live under Muslim hostility. Eventually the persecution dwindled. The Coptic language went out of use, and Arabic became the predominant language.

Faith and Practice
The central faith is in the Redeeming Act of the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. The Coptic Orthodox Church believes that one Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, are equal to each other in one Trinity.

Seven Sacraments
The Coptic Church affirms seven Sacraments:

  1. Baptism: Baptism is the holy sacrament in which the person is reborn by emersion in water three times, in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is a means by which one is washed from one's inherited sin and lives a new life in the Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. Confirmation (Chrismation): In the Sacrament of Chrismation, the faithful receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  3. Holy Eucharist (Communion): In this Sacrament, the faithful receive the Body and Blood of our Lord. The Coptic Orthodox Church believes that the bread and wine change into the Body and blood of Christ by the descent of the Holy Spirit through the prayers of the Divine Liturgy.
  4. Repentance and Confession: A Christian whose sins have separated him from the life in Christ is reconciled with Him through repentance and confession.
  5. Unction of the Sick: This sacrament is for the healing of the spiritual and physical ailments.
  6. Matrimony: It is the sacrament through which man and woman are united through the grace of the Holy Spirit, and which is symbolic of the profound union of our Lord and His Church.
  7. Holy Orders: It is the sacred action in which ministers of the Church obtain the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the authority to act in one of the three clerical degrees, bishop, priest, or deacon.
  8. Liturgies: There are three main Divine Liturgies used in the Coptic Church: Saint Basil Bishop of Caesaria, Saint Gregory Bishop of Constantinople, and Saint Cyril I the 24th Patriarch of the Coptic Church. All three languages Coptic, Arabic, and English are used in the liturgies.
  9. Fasts: The Copts fast for over 210 days out of the 365 days of the year. Fasting is abstaining from food and drink for a certain period of time, after which only foods void of animal products may be eaten. All fasts are seen as periods for preparation, preceding a particular feast. For example Lent precedes the feast of the Resurrection (Easter).

The Coptic Church Today
Today, the Coptic Orthodox Church is the largest Church in the Middle East, with about 10 million faithful living in Egypt and 2 million abroad. His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark, heads the church. There are an increasing number of monks and nuns in monasteries and convents in the deserts of Egypt. There are hundreds of churches in North America, Europe, Africa and throughout Asia.

We pray to our Lord Jesus Christ to grant His Church and faithful followers continued protection for years to come.