The Coptic Orthodox Church is:
An Ancient Christian Church – It is one of the most ancient Churches in the world, having been founded by Saint Mark the Apostle, the writer of the second gospel, in the first Century. The word ‘Coptic’ merely means ‘Egyptian.’ As a conservative Church, the Coptic Church has carefully preserved the Orthodox Christian Faith in its earliest and purest form, handing it down from generation to generation, unaltered and true to the Apostolic doctrines and patterns of worship.
Trinitarian – believing in the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (being one God); and believing that our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, the true Son of God, was incarnate, born of the Virgin Saint Mary, died for us on the Cross that He may grant us Salvation, rose on the third day that He may grant us everlasting life with Him, and ascended to heaven after forty days, sending the Holy Spirit to His disciples as He promised them on the day of Pentecost.
Apostolic – as it was founded by Saint Mark the apostle.
Scriptural (Biblical) – having as its main point of reference the Holy Bible, as depicted in current traditional translations such as, King James, New King James, and the Revised Standard versions.
Traditional – using the teachings of the early Church Fathers as well as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as its statement of Faith.
Sacramental – having seven sacraments, namely: Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation), Repentance and Confession, the Eucharist (Communion), Marriage, Priesthood, and Unction of the Sick.
Conservative – in that it does not change basic matters of Faith, Dogma or Tradition to suit current trends. This does not mean, however, that matters such as language and day-to-day practices are not changed to suit conditions of ministry and the needs of the congregation. Holding on to such matters of faith and practice has not been an easy task, as the Coptic Church has always lived under persecution of one form or another since its establishment in the first century.
Saint Mark the Apostle and Evangelist, one of the seventy two apostles and writer of the oldest gospel, established the Church of Alexandria in about 55 AD. In Alexandria, St. Mark structured the church worship; ordained one bishop and seven deacons; established the famous School of Alexandria; and was martyred there by the Romans in 68 AD.
It was at the house of Saint Mark where the Lord met with His Apostles and celebrated the Passover, where the Lord appeared to them after His Resurrection, and where the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost. Thus, it is well known by all the Apostolic Churches as the first church in the world. Hence, the Coptic Church is one of the oldest churches in the world, spanning 20 centuries of history. By the end of the second century, Christianity was well established and very active in Egypt.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the five most ancient churches in the world and is called the “See of Saint Mark.” The other four ancient sees are the Church of Jerusalem, the Church of Antioch (Antiochian Orthodox Church), the Church of Rome (Roman Catholic Church) and the Church of Athens (Greek Orthodox Church).
The School of Alexandria
Undoubtedly, the School of Alexandria was the earliest and most important institution of theological learning in Christian antiquity. It grew tremendously in the first four centuries of the world. After the Roman Empire officially accepted Christianity in 313 AD, Alexandria became a renowned center of learning, especially in theology. The School was essential in the education of both recent converts and future patriarchs of Christianity throughout the world. Many of the great deans of the school include St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – 254 AD), a gifted author; Origen (185 – 264 AD) the brilliant scholar; and St. Didymus the Blind, who formed a system of engraved writing for the blind fifteen centuries before Braille.
The Ecumenical Councils
As a result of this great tradition of theology, there arose a number of theologians who were well respected and recognized in the Christian world. Many of these scholars played a critical role in the development of Christian theology in the three recognized Ecumenical Councils of Nicea (325 AD), Constantinople (381 AD), and Ephesus (431 AD).
While still a young deacon at Nicea, St. Athanasius, the 20th Patriarch of Alexandria, defended the Divinity of Christ and was one of the writers of the Christian Creed, which is followed by most Christians today. Another Egyptian sage was St. Cyril of Alexandria, who stressed the unity of the Divinity and Humanity of Christ in the third Council of Ephesus (431 AD). Although the Coptic Church has been unjustly labeled as being ‘Monophysite’ (believing in only one nature of Christ), St. Cyril explained centuries ago that the Coptic Church believes in “one incarnated nature of God the Word” – that is, one union of two natures – one fully human nature and one fully divine nature.
The Monastic Movement
The Coptic Church is also famous for its asceticism and monasticism, a long-standing tradition founded by St. Anthony the Great, the “Father of Monasticism” (251 – 356 AD), St. Pachomius, St. Macarius and St. Shenouda the Archimandrite. This monastic order – based on principles of poverty, obedience and chastity – became the foundation from which many western orders developed from.
As Christianity grew, the attempts to quash it became fierce. The Coptic Church is recognized as having suffered one of the most violent waves of persecution in Christian history, and thus our Coptic Calendar commences at the beginning of the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian, at whose hands thousands of Christians died.
The Copts Today
Under the leadership of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, the 118th Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark, the Coptic Orthodox Church is the largest Church in the Middle East, with about 12 million faithful in Egypt.
The Church of Alexandria is by no means introspective or exclusive. The Church takes an active role in trying to restore the unity of the Christian faith. The Church is actively involved in official and unofficial dialogues with the major Christian Churches denominations. Additionally, the church is currently a member of the World Council of Churches, the Middle East Council of Churches, the All African Council of Churches, and other international, regional and local bodies.
At a personal level, the Church promotes the peace, love and unity taught by our Lord Jesus Christ. She teaches her children to be holy, constructive, and peaceful member of society; and to have good relations with all of its members, regardless of race, color or creed, thus enabling us to be worthy ambassadors of Jesus Christ.