“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. And it will be for a sign and for a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the LORD because of the oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Mighty One, and He will deliver them. Then the LORD will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day, and will make sacrifice and offering; yes, they will make a vow to the LORD and perform it… Blessed be Egypt My people” (Isaiah 19:19-25).
As the Holy Bible, history, and tradition testify, Egypt was the home of our Lord Jesus Christ for three and a half years during his infancy with His mother, the Theotokos (Bearer of God), the Virgin, Saint Mary, and Saint Joseph the Righteous fulfilling the prophecies of Hosea and Isaiah in the Old Testament that the Lord would dwell in Egypt and that there would be an altar in the midst of the land of Egypt. Some interpret this as the physical altar that our Lord Jesus Christ Himself consecrated in the Monastery of the Virgin Mary (el-Moharraq) located in the exact geographical center between the Northern and Southern borders of Egypt. However, this prophecy is also fulfilled in the presence of the Coptic Orthodox Church which since her inception by St. Mark the Evangelist in the first century has offered the rational sacrifice of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ on her altars, more than one million martyrs who shed their blood witnessing to Christ in the face of multiple severe waves of persecution, many Egyptian Church Fathers who defended the faith against numerous heresies, missionaries who spread Christianity to all continents, desert fathers who established the rules of monastic life that have been adopted throughout the world, an uninterrupted succession of Patriarchs since St. Mark, and an unblemished faith and tradition since her foundation that has mirrored the life of the First Church.
The word “Copt” is an equivalent to the Greek Aigyptos/Aigyptioi, but reduced to the root consonants probably through the influence of Arabic from the time of the Muslim conquest of the country in 641 AD This is because, in Arabic, neither vowels nor diphthongs are transcribed. So, in this manner Aigyptos/Aigyptioi became Kpt, and in subsequent pronunciation “Copt”. The name “Copt”, like the name “Egypt”, is derived from Greek Aigyptos which is formed by the Greeks upon the name of the principal sanctuary in the North of Egypt, called Hi-Ku-Ptah, i.e. the House of the Ka (spirit) of [the god] Ptah, which is an epithet for the Old Egyptian Capital, Memphis. In effect, the word “Copt” served to distinguish the native inhabitants of Egypt, the great majority of whom were Christians, from the conquering Arabs, who were Muslims. So, the term “Copt”, [although philologically means Egypt/Egyptians, yet it] took on, and has kept, a meaning that is inseparably ethnic and Christian.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is an Apostolic Church which is steeped in history. It was founded by St. Mark the Evangelist around the middle of the first century. It is known as the Church of Alexandria or the See of St. Mark. The role of the Coptic Church in the development of the Christian faith and the Christian doctrines was illustrious and unparalleled; yet, for over a thousand years, it had been either forgotten or minimized by Western scholarship. The major contributions of the Coptic Orthodox Church to world Christianity during Christianity’s formative years can be summarized in the following few points: As early as the middle of the second century and during the severe persecutions of the Roman authorities against the Christians, the Catechetical School of Alexandria had developed to be quite a reputable theological university. It was the first theological institution in Christendom. Its deans, mentors and graduates produced the most renowned works of explanations and defended the Christian faith against numerous heresies, primarily Gnosticism in the early centuries. In less than two hundred years, the school presented to the world thousands of extensive books in all aspects of Christian disciplines. It was in Alexandria that the basis of any theological curriculum was formulated.
The fourth and fifth centuries may be defined as the age of the Ecumenical Councils which set the basis of the Christian Creed. Here, the role of the Copts was supreme. Their theological and philosophical contributions to Christian doctrines and dogma were unsurpassed. The Ecumenical Movement began with the Council of Nicea (325 AD) where the towering personality of the young Coptic deacon, Athanasius, amazed the Council members. He was still in his mid twenties when he refuted the arguments of the heretic philosopher Arius. Thus the Council entrusted him with the formulation of the creed which has stood the test of time. Athanasius was around thirty when he was enthroned Pope of the Coptic Church. Even while he was exiled, he preached at the Papal Curia in Rome and spread the Coptic ideas and ideals in Gaul (France) and Germany. Athanasius is but one example among many. Pope Timothy, the 22nd Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, was one of the influential figures who attended the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople (381 AD). In fact, the answers that he gave to various questions posed to him were documented and accepted by the Universal Church as canon. The Third Ecumenical Council (431 AD) was presided by Pope Cyril, the 24th Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, who was the primary defender against the Nestorian heresy, the reason for the calling of this council.
Monasticism is the gift of Egypt to Christendom. It came into existence in the third century, and from there it spread over the whole world. The characteristics of Coptic Monasticism are (a) the urge to pray without ceasing; (b) the hunger to meditate on the word of God; and, (c) the disciplining of one’s self by fasting, vigils, celibacy, the subduing of the fleshly desires, willful poverty and the renunciation of worldly concerns. As a movement, monasticism was started by St. Anthony (251–356 AD). In a few decades, pious men from many parts of the world flocked to the Egyptian deserts to sit at the feet of these spiritual giants to learn the art of monasticism. Among them were the Palestinian Hilarion, the Italians Jerome and Rufinus, the Cappadocian Basil the Great, and the Scythian John Cassian who settled in France. They all introduced monasticism into their lands based on the monastic order learned in Egypt established by St. Pachomius, the founder of the coenobitic, i.e. community, way of life. In fact, the Roman Catholic St. Benedict’s monastic order was based on that of St. Pachomius.
Christianity is a missionary religion. St. Mark’s preaching in Egypt was a living testimony of this fact. Many Copts followed in his footsteps. From Pope Athanasius to Verena the simple nurse; they all witnessed to Christ in different lands. That nurse who was accompanying the Theban Legion, preached the Gospel of Christ to the Swiss women while teaching them basic hygiene. St. Verena has become until today, their matron saint. Coptic missionaries reached as far as the British Isles, Europe, Libya, Nubia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Arabia, and India.
The first major schism in the Apostolic Church occurred at the Council of Chalcedon. Although the Nestorian heresy had been condemned in the Council of Ephesus (431 AD), Nestorianism and crypto-Nestorianism continued to permeate throughout the Church. Unfortunately, after continuing to defend the faith against this heresy, the Patriarch of Alexandria, Pope Dioscorus (25th), was excommunicated under the decision of this Council and exiled after being tortured by decree of the Emperor. The Byzantines then forcefully installed an Imperial Patriarch. The Copts retaliated by electing a native rival Coptic Patriarch as the successor of St. Mark. The Byzantines, aided by the civil authorities, persecuted the Copts very severely by massacring them even as they worshipped inside their churches. The aftermath of Chalcedon was one of the saddest periods in the history of Coptic Christianity.
After the Arab conquest of Persia, Syria and Jerusalem (636–38 AD), they turned towards Egypt to invade it. ‛Amr Ibn-al-‛As, the general of the Arab army captured Sinai, the eastern cities and took over the fortress of Babylon near Cairo. At that time Cyrus the Caucasian (al-Muqauqas) was both the civil governor and the Imperial Patriarch in Alexandria. Hearing about the advancement of the Arabs, he surrendered the city hoping that he would be rewarded and be installed by the Arabs as Patriarch of the Coptic Church of Egypt. His dream did not come true. By 642 AD, Egypt had passed from the Byzantine Emperors into the hands of the Arab Muslims; neither were Egyptian. Throughout 14 centuries, the Copts suffered under Arab rule all forms of treatment, from considerable tolerance to severe persecution, depending on the ruler at the time.
In the early centuries, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria extended outside of her national boundaries and established the Coptic Orthodox Church of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan. Under the leadership of H.H. Pope Shenouda III (1971–2012), her mission work had expanded and reached a large number of African countries, being the only Apostolic African Church. Simultaneously, her work in North America, in both the United States and Canada grew beyond recognition, and her mission in Europe and Australia flourished prosperously beyond all expectations. Thus, the Church had come out of isolation. As for the number of her members from various nationalities around the world, a precise estimate is difficult to obtain. However, a moderate estimate numbers them to be well above thirty million people. Our current patriarch is H.H. Pope Tawadros II, the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark (including St. Mark as the first of this unbroken succession of Patriarchs). The Coptic Orthodox Church continues to be dynamic in all aspects of her life, whether spiritual, educational, evangelical, ecumenical or otherwise.
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God"
“Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44-45; 1 Pet 1:16).
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord”
“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (2 Pet 1:5-7).
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mat 20:25-28).
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).