Overview of the Coptic Orthodox Church

The Copts are the native Christians of Egypt and are direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians. The term “Copt” is derived from the ancient Egyptian name for Egypt, E-Ka-Ptah, which was later modified by Greek influence and transformed into the word Aigyptes, and eventually Copt.

The Coptic Orthodox Church traces its roots to the evangelism of St. Mark, who wrote the second Gospel and preached in Alexandria, Egypt, in 44 AD. Egypt was also visited by the Holy Family with the child Jesus. Today, the term “Copt” refers to any Egyptian Christian. The tenets of the Coptic Orthodox faith are expressed in the Orthodox (Nicene) Creed.

Currently, almost 15% of Egypt’s population are followers of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and there are thousands of Coptic churches, some of which date back to the second century. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Successor of St. Mark, oversaw the founding of approximately 120 Coptic churches in North America and the consecration of 60 others in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The Coptic Church is considered to fulfill 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.

Christianity in Egypt

The Coptic Church, the apostolic Church of Alexandria, has a rich history. In 43 AD, St. Mark arrived in Alexandria, Egypt and preached Christianity throughout North Africa. After a brief period in Rome to assist St. Paul (2 Timothy 4:11), he returned to Alexandria, where he was martyred during the Easter service in 68 AD. St. Mark is venerated as the first of an unbroken line of patriarchs in the Coptic hierarchy and the first of many Coptic martyrs.

The Coptic Church is often referred to as “The Church of Martyrs” by Christian historians, as many Copts willingly gave up their lives for their faith, proclaiming their love of Christ even 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.

The Coptic Christian Faith

The Coptic Church affirms the belief in the Holy Trinity, which includes the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Church emphasizes the oneness of the nature and person of Christ Incarnate, in which His divinity and humanity are fully present and united without mingling, confusion, or alteration.

The Coptic Church adheres to the traditional practices of the Universal Church until the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, which caused a separation between the Oriental Orthodox Church and the European churches. As one of the Oriental, or Non-Chalcedonian, Orthodox churches, the Coptic Orthodox Church continues to treasure and follow these ancient traditions.

The Coptic Church observes seven Holy sacraments, which include Baptism, Confirmation, Penance and Confession, Communion, Unction of the Sick, Matrimony, and Priesthood.

For Copts, their church is the living body of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Iconostasis, a wooden or marble screen adorned with icons of the Lord, the Virgin Mary, Angels, and Saints, stands between the Sanctuary, where the Lord is always present, and the Narthex, where worshippers gather to receive blessings.

The Coptic Church has made significant contributions to Christianity. Saint Athanasius, a deacon in the Church of Alexandria, led theological discussions and arguments at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea in 325 AD. He is recognized as the original author of the Nicene Creed. He later became the Pope of Alexandria and devoted his life to defending the divinity of our Lord against the Arian heresy. 

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