The word Copt basically means Egyptian and it is derived from the Greek word Aigyptos by removing the first and last 2 characters in the Greek word Ai and os we have the word gypt which has thus become the words Egypt and Copt. Later on in history, the term Copt was used to refer to the Christians of Egypt who were referred to by Leeder as the modern sons of Pharaohs.
The beginning of Christianity in Egypt
The good news of Christianity arrived to Egypt through St. Mark the Apostle around the year 55 A.D. Hence the Coptic Orthodox church is one of the oldest churches in the world spanning 19 centuries of history. St. Mark was one of the 4 evangelists who wrote the oldest of the four Gospels, the Gospel according to St. Mark.On St. Marks entrance to Alexandria he broke his sandal strap and so he went to a cobbler to repair it, the cobbler accidentally pierced his hand and cried O the One God. St. Mark rejoiced at hearing this expression and miraculously healed the mans wound and began to preach to his cobbler, Anianas about the One True God. Anianas and his family were baptized and many others followed. The apostle appointed Anianas as bishop and ordained 3 priests and 7 deacons to assist him. St. Mark is regarded as the 1st of an unbroken chain of 117 Popes. St. Mark being the 1st, St. Anianas the 2nd Pope and H.H. Pope III the 117th and current Pope.The current Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church is His Holiness Pope Shenouda III whose title is Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. The founder of the Church St. Mark is also the first saint and martyr and many others followed throughout history. He was dragged through the streets of Alexandria by the Pagans on Easter Day in 68 A.D and was tortured until death the next day.
The Church of Martyrs
Truly the Coptic Orthodox Church indeed is the church of martyrs. After the martyrdom of St. Mark in the year 68A.D., the Coptic Church enjoyed an almost unbroken peace until 202A.D. From the years 202 to 642 AD namely during the Roman period 21 persecutions overtook her. The 7th persecution inflamed by the Emperor Diocletion, his reign being between years 284 to 305 AD is considereud by the Copts as the age of persecution. So profound was the impression of the persecution of Diocletion on Coptic life and thought that the Copts decided to adopt for church use a calendar of the martyrs the Anno Martyrum. The 1st year of the calendar was 284 the year of the disastrous reign of Diocletion. The month they use for this calendar are those they inherited from the period of Ancient Egypt. The Coptic calendar has 13 months, 12 of them are thirty days each and the 13th is 5 days or 6 during a leap year. The Coptic New Year begins on the 11th of September. The following are the names of the Coptic month: Tut, Baba, Hator, Keiahk, Toba, Amsher, Baramhat, Baramoda, Bashans Baouna, Abib and Mesra.
The School of Alexandria
The School of Alexandria was undoubtedly the earliest important institution of theological learning in Christian antiquity. It was a school in which many other disciplines were studied from the humanities, sciences and mathematics but its main discipline was religion. According to Eusebius, its founder was St. Mark who appointed Justus as its Dean. Later on Justus became the 6th Patriarch.Most of the eminent leaders of Alexandria were connected with the School either as teachers or students. The first great head of school was Pantaenus, beside been a great teacher he was credited as one of those who adopted the Greek alphabet in the Coptic script. He was elected by Pope Demetrius the first for Christian mission to India. His successor was St. Clement of Alexandria the most illustrious pupil, St. Clement wrote abundantly although much of his work was lost.Origen (185-254 AD) followed St. Clement about the year 215, he was St. Clements most brilliant pupil as a young man he was extremely ascetic by nature. He carried the word of the Gospel literally to the extent of mutilating himself. This fact of becoming an eunuch contributed to his future troubles with Pope Demetrius the first. He wrote many great works, one of the most important being the Hexapla, this was a critical edition of the Old Testament combined in six parallel columns all the available texts in both Greek and Hebrew scripts. Other important Deans of the School are Heraclas and Didymus the blind who formed a system of engraved writing for blind 15 Centuries before Braille.After the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.), the school was closed down due to the persecution from Emperors of Constantinople. In 1893 Pope Cyril V inaugurated a new seminary in Cairo besides this main one H.H. Pope Shenouda III has established another 9 small seminaries in Egypt, USA, UK and Australia.In Egypt two major heresies in succession gained considerable ground throughout the country; one was Gnosticism and other was Arianism. Gnosticism was refuted by Clement, Origen and Athanasius. Arianism said that the Son was not the same essence of the Father was condemned by the 318 bishops at the Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325AD. It was St. Athanasius that defended the faith against Arius and produced the Nicene Creed that is proclaimed in all churches today. There were other heresies produced by Nestorius and Eutyches, which were fought at other councils.The Coptic Church recognizes three ecumenical councils, Nicea in 325 AD, Constantinople in 381 AD and Ephesus in 431 AD.The Coptic Church has been unjustly labeled as being Monophysite, that is only believing in one nature of Christ and that being the Divine Nature. This is not the case, the Coptic Church believes in One Incarnate Nature of God the Word, which was St. Cyril who taught a union of natures in Christ both fully Human and fully Divine at the same time. God made it one with His Divinity without division, without mixture, without confusion and without alternation. His Divinity parted not from His Humanity for a single moment nor for a twinkling of an eye.
The Copts spread the faith in every direction beyond their Geographical frontiers, they preached in North Africa and in Ethiopia where St. Athanasius ordained Frumentius as Bishop there in the 4th Century AD.The Theban Legion from Egypt was sent by Diocletion to Gaul that is France and Switzerland to quarrel a rebellion, it was led by St. Maurice who earned Martyrdom together with the soldiers of the legion for refusing to sacrifice to the idols. His statute stands today in one of the public squares in St. Moritz. The Theban Legion was followed by missionaries who led themselves and reached the lake of Zurich where they baptized converts until they themselves were martyred.St. Verena, who also with the Theban Legion spent the rest of her life in Switzerland educating people to become Christians and teaching them the principles of Hygiene.Finally the Coptic Missionaries reached as far as the British Aisles it is believed that Irish Christianity was influenced by 7 Christian Monks who are now buried in the Desert Uldith.
Truly Egypt's gift to the world is monasticism. Monasticism is basically leading a life of solitude, living in the desert away from the world in life of prayer, contemplation, fasting and other ascetic practices. It is being alone with God where the Monk concentrates all of his life on being with God and doing His will.Monasticism is built on three basic principals, Poverty, Obedience and Chastity. Monasticism was founded by the Egyptian St. Anthony known as the father of monasticism. Other important names in monasticism are St. Macarius and St. Pachomius. It was St. Pachomius who began to constitute monastic rules and began community life.Benedictine Monasticism in the West based his monastic rules on those of St. Pachomius. Many visitors came from the West in the early years of monasticism to learn from the simple Egyptian monks. Monasticism is still thriving today through a revival led by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III. Many young men and woman who are well educated have chosen to leave the world and lead the monastic life for their deep love for God.People such as St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. John Cassian and St. Palladius wrote many books about the lives and sayings of the desert monks of Egypt as they experienced them. There are about 20 inhabited Monasteries and Convents in Egypt as well as new monasteries being established abroad in Europe, the USA and Australia.
Cornerstones of the Coptic Church
The Coptic Church is deeply spiritual and a conservative church who does not want to change any of the doctrines or rituals as handed down to her by the founding fathers of the Church in the early centuries of Christianity. The following are the seven basic corners of the Coptic Church doctrine and practice.
1. The Bible
The Holy Bible is the basic foundation of the Coptic Orthodox Faith and Life. It is used frequently during communal prayers. Bible study groups are conducted in all Churches and every family and individual is encouraged to study it at home.
2. The Creed
In her Liturgies, Sacraments and Prayers and all other ministries, the Coptic Orthodox Church uses the Nicene Creed, it best summarizes her doctrine.
3. The Sacraments
The Sacrament is an invisible grace given under a visible sign. It should be administered by a Canonical Priest. The Coptic Orthodox Church believes in 7 sacraments and these are I) Baptism, II) Chrismation, III) Repentance & Confession, IV) Eucharist V) Unction of the Sick VI) Matrimony and VII) Priesthood.
4. The Virgin Mary
St. Mary is called Theotokos meaning the Mother of God. The Coptic Church believes in the perpetual virginity of St. Mary before, during and after the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Like all other human beings St. Mary was born with original sin but was sanctified by the descending of Holy Spirit since the incarnation of the Son of God.
5. The Intercession
The Church asks not only for the intercession of St. Mary but also for that of all the angels, apostles and martyrs
Fasting for the Coptic Orthodox Church is a spiritual practice for the whole congregation. It is not merely fasting from animal protein but fasting helps one to conquer their bad habits and to express their love for God by trying to come closer to Him. Fasting lasts for more than half of the year on different occasions such as Lent and Advent.7. PrayerBy means of public and private prayers the Church encourages her children to spend as much time with the Lord Christ as possible and to deepen their relationship of Love with Him.
The Coptic Orthodox Church has in the last 30 years spread all over the world. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III has established over 150 churches abroad since his enthronement in 1971. The Coptic Orthodox Church is also very active in the Ecumenical movement having dialogue with many churches such as the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and various Protestant Churches. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III was also one of Presidents of the World Council of Churches in the Middle Eastern Council of ChurchesToday there are 10 million Copts all around the world. In 1999 the Diocese of Melbourne and affiliated regions was established which includes Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, ACT, Tasmania, New Zealand and Fiji.