Overview of the Coptic Orthodox Church

The Copts are the Christian natives of Egypt and are direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians. The term “Copt” is derived from an ancient Egyptian name for Egypt, E-Ka-Ptah. Greek influence modified E-Ka-Ptah to the word Aigyptes, later transformed to “Copt”.

The Coptic Orthodox Church emerged from the evangelism of St. Mark (writer of the second Gospel) in Alexandria, Egypt in 44 AD. Egypt was also blessed earlier by the visit of the Holy Family with the child Jesus. Today, the term Copt refers to an Egyptian Christian. The Orthodox (Nicene) Creed declares the tenets of the Coptic Orthodox faith.

At present, nearly 15% of the population of Egypt are followers of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and there are several thousand Coptic churches. Some of those churches date back to the second century. Under the stewardship of the 117th Successor of St. Mark, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, approximately 120 Coptic churches were founded relatively recently across North America, and 60 others were consecrated in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The Coptic Church is considered as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. “Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud. And will come into Egypt; The idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, … 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.” (Isaiah 19:1, 19 NKJV).

Christianity in Egypt

The Coptic Church is historically known as the apostolic Church of Alexandria (Egypt). St. Mark arrived in Alexandria, Egypt in 43 AD and preached Christianity in all North Africa. He traveled to Rome for a brief period to help St. Paul (2 Timothy 4:11). Shortly after he returned to Alexandria, he was martyred during the Easter service in 68 AD. St. Mark is therefore regarded by the Coptic hierarchy as the first of their unbroken 117 patriarchs and also the first of a stream of Coptic martyrs.

Christianity historians call the Coptic Church “The Church of Martyrs”. Copts gave their lives chanting and proclaiming their love of Christ as Roman rulers put them to death. “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29).

The Coptic Christian Faith

The Coptic Church believes in the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and emphasizes the oneness of the nature and person of Christ Incarnate (the Orthodox Creed, see end of this page), where His divinity and humanity are fully present and united without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration.

The Church treasures and follows the Tradition as observed by the Universal Church until the divisive Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the group termed Oriental, or Non-Chalcedonian, Orthodox churches. The separation between these churches and Europe took place at the Council of Chalcedon.

The Coptic Church recognizes and performs seven Holy sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Penance and Confession, Communion, Unction of the Sick, Matrimony, and Priesthood.

The Copts regard their church as the living body of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Coptic Church, between the Sanctuary, wherein the Lord is always present, and the Narthex, where the worshippers assemble together to obtain the Lord’s blessings, there stands “The Iconostasis.” This is a wooden or a marble screen covered by icons of our Lord, the Virgin Mary, Angels, and Saints.

The Coptic Church provided remarkable contributions to Christianity. Saint Athanasius was just a deacon in the Church of Alexandria when he led theological arguments and discussions in the First Ecumenical Council held in Nicea in 325 AD. He was regarded as the original author of the Nicene Creed. Four years later, he became the Pope of Alexandria and devoted his life to maintaining and defending the divinity of our Lord against the very serious Arian heresy of that era.

Another valuable contribution is monasticism. The Coptic Church is the birthplace of monasticism, which was established in the fourth century by Saint Anthony, the Great Monk.

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