Things to know about the Coptic Christians
Who are the Coptic Christians? And what do we share with them?
First of all, the Coptic Church is among the oldest Christian communities in the world.
Coptic Christians trace the founding of their church to a missionary journey by St. Mark, the evangelist in the year 42. So, according to tradition, Mark spent his final days in Alexandria, which as of that time, was the capital of Greek-influenced Egypt and a center of knowledge and culture in the Mediterranean world.
The first converts Mark had were the native Egyptians which were known as Copts because of the language they spoke, which was the last surviving form of ancient Egyptian. (So, the word Copt is rooted in the ancient Egyptian word that describes a person from Egypt.)
Secondly, since the 5th century, the Coptic Orthodox Church has been out of communion with Rome and with the Eastern Orthodox churches. The Coptic Catholic Church, which is a tradition that split off at the same time, is today in full communion with Rome.
This divisions took place over complex points of theology which is (particularly the understanding of the nature of Christ) and authority following the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is auto cephalic which means , it depends on its own. It also has followers among Egyptian immigrants to other countries in Africa and around the world, including the US, and “daughter churches” in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and it is also in communion with the Oriental Orthodox churches.
The language of the Coptic, which was written using Greek letters, continues to be the official liturgical language of the church, but over the centuries, it has been gradually replaced by Arabic, which is the vernacular of the modern Egypt.
Coptic Orthodox Christians, like many other Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christians, follow the Julian calendar, and they celebrate their Christmas on January 7. Presently, the Coptic Orthodox Church is headquartered in Cairo at St. Mark’s Cathedral, although the symbolic center of Coptic Christian life still exists in Alexandria.
The Coptic Catholic Church is headed by a Patriarch or a bishop who pledges obedience to Pope Francis. Coptic Catholics celebrate their own liturgical rite, and they continue to use the Coptic language for Mass.
The Coptic Catholic Church however, traces its origins to St. Mark and Alexandria, but is today headquarted in Nasr City, which is a suburb of Cairo, at the cathedral of Our Lady of Egypt.
Thirdly, the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox is known as the Pope.
Traditionally, the first Patriarch of Alexandria was ordained by St. Mark himself. Like the Bishop of Rome, the Coptic Orthodox patriarch has been called pappas (“Father”) for so many generations, and presently, the Orthodox Patriarch carries the title of Pope.
On the fourth note, coptic Christians brought to us the first school of catechesis and the blessing of the monastic tradition.
Under the Copts, Alexandria brought a rise to a catechetical school where Christian doctrines took shape. Most of the early Church fathers lived or studied in Alexandria, joining the Greek philosophers and Jewish scholars who already made the city their home.
Aside from catechetical studies, the school taught humanities and mathematics. Its library contained carved wood texts with raised letters so that the blind could study long before the invention of Braille.
On the Fifth note, coptic Christians have undergone persecution at so many times throughout history.
Coptic Orthodox Christians suffered persecution at the hands of Byzantine Christians after the council of Chalcedony, who considered them heretics.
Many people were tortured, imprisoned, and killed, but the Coptic Orthodox remained faithful to their understanding of Christology. With the increase of Islam and the Umayyad conquest of Egypt, and at first, most of the population retained their Coptic Christianity.
Later run, the taxation and limitation of opportunities which were the price of being Christian under Islamic rule drew many Egyptians to convert to Islam. Egypt became a Muslim-majority country gradually, and today Coptic Christians represent only 10%-20% of the population.