ORIGIN OF WORD “COPTIC”
The word “Coptic” is derived from the Greek word “Aigyptos” meaning “Egyptian”. The modern use of the term “Coptic” describes Egyptian Christians, as well as the last stage of the ancient Egyptian language script. Also, it describes the distinctive art and architecture that developed as an early expression of the new faith.
The Coptic Church was established in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ by St. Mark the Evangelist who brought Christianity to Egypt during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero in the first century, a dozen of years after the Lord’s ascension. He was one of the four evangelists and the one who wrote the oldest canonical gospel. The Coptic Church, which is now more than nineteen centuries old, was the subject of many prophecies in the Old Testament. Isaiah the prophet says “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 19:19).
The Coptic Orthodox Church worships the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Oneness of Nature. We believe in One God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three equal Co-Essential and Co-Indwelling Hypostasis. We Believe that Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten of the Father and Who is One with Him in Essence is the only Savior of the world.
The Coptic church regards itself as a strong defendant of Christian faith. The Nicene Creed, which is recited in all churches throughout the world, has been authored by Saint Athanasius, the Pope of Alexandria for 46 years, from 327 A.D. to 373 A.D. This status is well deserved, after all, Egypt was the refuge that the Holy Family sought in its flight from Judea: “When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son” (Mathew 2:14-15).
CONTRIBUTIONS TO CHRISTIANITY
The contributions of the Coptic Church to the Christian world are many. From the beginning, it played a central role in Christian theology and especially to protect it from the Gnostics heresies. The Coptic Church produced thousands of texts, biblical and theological studies which are important resources for archeology. The Holy Bible was translated to the Coptic language in the second century. Hundreds of scribes used to write copies of the Bible and other liturgical and theological books. Now libraries, museums and universities throughout the world possess hundreds and thousands of Coptic manuscripts.
School of Alexandria:
The Catechetical School of Alexandria is the oldest Catechetical School in the world. Soon after its inception around 190 A.D. by the Christian scholar Pantanaeus, the school of Alexandria became the most important institution of religious learning in the Christian world. Many prominent bishops from many areas of the world were instructed in that school under scholars such as Athenagoras, Clement, Didymus, and the great Origen, who was considered the father of theology and who was also active in the field of commentary and comparative Biblical studies. Origen wrote over 6,000 commentaries of the Bible in addition to his famous Hexapla. Many scholars such as Saint Jerome visited the school of Alexandria to exchange ideas and to communicate directly with its scholars. The scope of the school of Alexandria was not limited to theological subjects, because science, mathematics and the humanities were also taught there: The question and answer method of commentary began there, and 15 centuries before Braille, wood-carving techniques were in use there by blind scholars to read and write. The Theological college of the Catechetical School of Alexandria was re-established in 1893. Today, it has campuses in Alexandria, Cairo, New Jersey, and Los Angeles, where priests-to-be and other qualified men and women are taught among other subjects Christian theology, history, Coptic language and art including chanting, music, iconography, tapestry etc.
Monasticism was born in Egypt and was instrumental in the formation of the Coptic Church’s character of submission and humbleness, thanks to the teachings and writings of the Great Fathers of Egypt’s Deserts. Monasticism started in the last years of the third century and flourished in the fourth century. Saint Anthony, the world’s first Christian monk was a Copt from Upper Egypt. Saint Pachom, who established the rules of monasticism, was a Copt. And, Saint Paul, the world’s first anchorite is also a Copt. Other famous Coptic desert fathers include Saint Makarios, Saint Moses the Black, and Saint Mina the wondrous. By the end of the fourth century, there were hundreds of monasteries, and thousands of cells and caves scattered throughout the Egyptian hills. Many of these monasteries are still flourishing and have new vocations till this day. All Christian monasticism stems, either directly or indirectly, from the Egyptian example: Saint Basil, organiser of the monastic movement in Asia minor visited Egypt around 357 A.D. and his rule is followed by the eastern Churches; Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, came to Egypt around 400 A.D. and left details of his experiences in his letters; Saint Benedict founded monasteries in the sixth century on the model of Saint Pachom, but in a stricter form. And countless pilgrims visited the “Desert Fathers” and emulated their spiritual, disciplined lives. There is even evidence that Copts had missionaries to Nothern Europe. One example is Saint Moritz of the Theban Legion who was drafted from Egypt to serve under the Roman flag and ended up teaching Christianity to inhabitants of the Swiss Alps, where a small town and a Monastery that contains his relics as well as some of his books and belongings are named after him. Another saint from the Theban Legion is Saint Victor, known among Copts as “Boktor”.
Faith of the Coptic Church
The Coptic Orthodox Church worships the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Oneness of Nature. We believe in One God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three equal Co-Essential and Co-Indwelling Hypostasis. The Blessed and Holy Trinity is our One God. We Believe that Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten of the Father and Who is One with Him in Essence is the only Savior of the world.
The Coptic Orthodox Church observe seven canonical sacraments:
- Baptism: The first of the Holy Mysteries is Baptism, which brings us into the Church. As our Lord explained, “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5). Through this Mystery, we become part of the Body of Christ. As the priest submerges us into the waters three times (in the name of the Trinity), we die to the old ways of sin. Our sins are forgiven, and we are born again to a new life in Christ.
- Chrismation (Confirmation): Confirmation is performed immediately after Baptism. In Chrismation, the priest anoints various parts of the body of the newly-baptized with Holy Oil. The oil is a sign of strength and consecration to God. Chrismation emphasizes that each person is a valuable member of the Church, including children. Moreover, it highlights that the Holy Spirit blesses each of us with certain gifts and talents. Our anointing also reminds us that our bodies are valuable and are involved in the process of salvation.
- Eucharist: The Eucharist is called the “Crown of Sacraments.” Bread and wine are sanctified by the priest during the mass. As our Lord said, “ For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.” (John 6:55-57). we believe the bread and wine used in this Sacrament become the literal Body and Blood of Christ. Recipients must fast nine hours before communion and married couples are not to have sexual relations on the eve and day of communion.
- Confession (Penance): When we sin, we distance ourselves from God, from our fellow human beings, and from our true selves. Penance (or Confession) is the Mystery through which we receive God’s forgiveness of our sins. After we confess our sins, our relationship with God and with others is restored and strengthened. We essentially go back to the fullness of our baptismal state, renewed in Christ. As Apostle James said: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16) and John the Evangelist said: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1st John 1:9). Regular confession with a personal priest, called the father of confession, is necessary to receive the Eucharist. It is customary for a whole family to pick the same priest as a father of confession, thus, making of that priest a family counselor.
- Holy Orders: The Holy Spirit preserves the continuity of the Orthodox Church through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Through ordination, men chosen from within the Church are called to serve God. The Orthodox Church ordains only men to become deacons, priests, or bishops. The Church permits men to marry before they enter the Holy Orders, but not after. This practice goes back to the earliest period in the history of the Church. We know some of the Apostles (the first “priests” of the Church) were married. Saint Paul also teaches that clergy are to be “husband of one wife”. Moreover, the 5th and 6th Ecumenical Councils state “if anyone wants to contract a legal marriage with a woman before being admitted to the clergy as subdeacon, or a deacon, or a presbyter previous to ordination, let him do so” (6th Canon). The same canon also says, “no…deacon or presbyter at all, [after ordination] has permission to contract a matrimonial relation for himself; if he should dare to do this, let him be deposed from office.” The the Orthodox Church does not have women priests, because the priest is an image of Christ, who was male.
- Matrimony (Marriage): Through the sacrament of holy Matrimony in the Orthodox Church, God (through the priest) joins a man and a woman as husband and wife. In marriage, they enter into a new relationship with God, the Church, and each other. One focused on mutual love and self-sacrifice. Of all seven sacraments, only Matrimony cannot be performed during a fasting season. Polygamy is illegal, even if recognized by the civil law of the land. Divorce is not allowed except in the case of adultery, annulment due to bigamy, or other extreme circumstances, which must be reviewed by a special council of Bishops. Divorce can be requested by either husband or wife. Civil divorce is not recognized by the Church. The Coptic Orthodox Church does not have and does not mind any civil law of the land as long as it does not interfere with the Church’s sacraments.
- Anointing of the sick (Holy Unction): is the Orthodox Church’s sacrament of physical and spiritual healing. It reminds us that when we are in pain, Christ is present with us through the ministry of His Church. He is among us to offer strength to meet the challenges of life, and even the approach of death. “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders (priests) of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15)
Coptic Church Near You
Daily, in all Coptic Churches all over the world, we pray for the reunion of all Christian Churches. We pray for the world’s peace and for the well-being of the human race. We warmly welcome you and look forward to meeting you in one of our churches:
- For an authoritative bibliography consult W. Kammerer, “A Coptic Bibliography”, compiled by W. Krammerer with the collaboration of Elinor M. Husselman, and Louise A. Shier, University of Michigan General Library Publication, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1950, reprinted 1969.
- The Coptic Encyclopedia (8 vols.), edited by Aziz Sourial Atiya, MacMillan, New York, 1989, provides a comprehensive coverage of the Coptic church, culture, and history.
- The Coptic Network Archives contain a wealth of articles, pictures, and other materials, in addition to a backlog of Copt-Net Newsletters.
- St. Shenouda The Archimandrite Coptic Society contains valuable articles and translations of rare manuscripts.
- The Coptologia Journal Archives contains valuable articles and information.
- “Copts“, Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copts
- “Holy Sacraments in the Orthodox Church”, SaintJohnChurch.org, https://www.saintjohnchurch.org/7-sacraments-orthodox-church/.