The Coptic Orthodox Church

The Coptic Church

Egypt is a land rich with great history, but more importantly, it is a land that was blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

In His infancy, our Lord visited Egypt with His mother the Virgin Saint Mary, and Saint Joseph, during the Holy Family’s flight from Israel at the instruction of the angel, and thus it was their second home; a place of refuge at a time of trouble. When we read the Book of Isaiah we find many important things mentioned about the land of Egypt, the most important of these being that its people were the Lord’s people, and that there would be an altar in the midst of this land to the Lord Himself. The altar spoken of came with the birth of the Coptic Church at the hands of the great evangelist Saint Mark in the first century.

St Mark and Alexandria

St Mark
Saint Mark the Evangelist, one of the seventy disciples, and the writer of one of the four Gospels, was born in Libya three years after the birth of Christ. He was of Jewish parents who later moved to Palestine. Saint Mark’s house was where the Lord used to meet with His Apostles, and where He celebrated the Passover with them. In his house also the Apostles were gathered when the Holy Spirit descended on the Day of Pentecost. Thus, the house of Saint Mark is well known in all Apostolic Churches, as the first church in the world.

His First Mission to Egypt
When Saint Mark entered and walked through the streets of Alexandria, the most famous city in Egypt, his sandals were torn. While Ananias the cobbler was mending Saint Mark’s shoes, his finger was cut from the awl and he cried out: “O the one god!” Saint Mark healed the cobbler’s finger and spoke to him about who the “One God” really was. Ananias invited Saint Mark to his home where he and his household were baptised after having professed their belief in the Christian Faith. Soon afterwards, many others believed and Ananias’s house became the meeting place for the faithful.

In 62 AD, Saint Mark decided to leave Egypt to visit the new believers he had preached in the Pentapolis. Before leaving, he ordained Ananias as bishop. He also founded a church in the Crypt where the Holy Family had taken refuge, thus fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah: “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… Then the Lord will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day” (Isaiah 19:19,21).

His Second Mission and Martyrdom
When Saint Mark returned to Egypt, after the martyrdom of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, he found that the Church had grown so much that he ordained three priests and seven deacons to help Ananias. Saint Mark preached for another seven years against the local pagan gods with such vigor that the feeling of hatred against him became intense. At that time, three races were dwelling in Egypt: the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Jews, in addition to a few Romans. Serapis was the god of the Greeks in Egypt; he was the god of Alexandria. On Easter Day in 68 AD, Saint Mark was administering the Holy Liturgy, and on the same day, the pagans were celebrating the feast of Serapis, the god of Alexandria. Encouraged by the Roman prefect, the pagans rushed and attacked the church where Saint Mark and the faithful were praying. They captured Saint Mark, tied a rope around him and dragged him through the streets of the city. At night he was thrown into prison where an angel appeared to him, strengthening and encouraging him. On the following day he was dragged again through the streets and martyred. Saint Mark is considered the first of the unbroken line of Patriarchs of the Coptic Church; His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, the present patriarch, being Saint Mark’s 117th’ successor- the 118th Pope of Alexandria. The full official title of the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church is `Pope and Patriarch of the great city of Alexandria, the Middle East, Ethiopia, Nubia and the Pentapolis’.


By the end of the second century, Christianity was well established in Egypt, although pockets of paganism continued to co-exist with the new Faith. By 190 AD, the Church of Alexandria was exchanging Paschal epistles with the Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch concerning the date of Easter, and there were about forty dioceses under the Patriarch of Alexandria, in the north of the country, in the Delta area. By 202 AD, there were also Christians in the whole Thebaid, in Upper Egypt, 800 km up the Nile Valley. In his Festal letters, Saint Athanasius mentioned that there were also Christians in the small and large oases in the heart of the desert.

Church of Martyrs
Historians have named the Coptic Church the `Church of the Martyrs’, not only because of their great number, but also because of their desire for martyrdom. When prevented from worship, they did not hide in the catacombs, but worshipped openly. Many went from place to place, seeking the crown of martyrdom, not considering it death, but rather, as entry into the new life.

Waves of Persecution
The first wave of persecution took place in the first century when the Apostle Saint Mark suffered martyrdom in Alexandria by the pagan Egyptians. Commencing from 202 AD and continuing for seven yeass, the Coptic Church also suffered persecution under the reign of Septimus Severus, who, when he visited Egypt and found that Christianity had spread, ordered the ruler to increase the persecution and prevent preaching at any cost. Consequently, the School of Alexandria was closed and its dean, Saint Clement, was compelled to flee.

During the reign of the Roman Emperor Decus, an edict was issued to re-establish the state religion by any means. In 257 and 258 AD, Emperor Valerian issued edicts to destroy the Church, leading to the arrest and exile of Pope Dionesius of Alexandria. In 302 AD, the Roman Emperor Diocletian began his persecution of the Christians by dismissing from the army every soldier who refused to sacrifice to the Romari gods. On 23 February of the following year, he issued his famous edict against the Christians. It was his belief that if he could crush Christianity in Egypt, it would be easier illiminating it from the rest of the world. Hence the persecution of the Christians in Egypt was more intense than in any other country- about 800,000 men, women and children were martyred in Egypt. For this reason, the Coptic Church determined to start its calendar from the year of Diocletian’s assession to the throne in 248 AD, calling the calendar `Anno Martyrii’, meaning, `Of the Martyrs’

Throughout these waves of persecution, many spiritual leaders devoted themselves to strengthening the martyrs and confessors, visiting them in prisons, and accompanying them in their trials, and even to the place of execution. Some of them cared for and buried the saints’ bodies, and wrote the biography of their trials and martyrdom as eye-witnesses, calling their accounts, `The Acts of the Martyrs’.

Among the famous martyrs were Saint Mena the Wonder worker, Saint Reflca and her five children, Saint Catherine, and the Thebean Legion (numbering almost seven thousand soldiers) who, led by Saint Maurice, refused to sacrifice to the gods and were all martyred in Switzerland. The list of the martyrs of the Coptic Orthodox Church is endless.

The Schism
In the fifth century, an archimandrite of a monastery near Constantinople named Eutyches ~egan to spread a new heresy, denying the human nature of Christ, saying that His body was but an ethereal body which passed through the womb of the Virgin Saint Mary.

Subsequently, a local Council was convened by seven bishops, led by Flavianus, Bishop of Constantinople, and supported by the Tome (exposition of the Dogma) of Leo I, Bishop of Rome, which condemned Eutyches as a heretic. Eutyches appealed to all the bishops of Christendom, as well as to Emperor Theodosius the Younger, with the resutt that a second council of Ephesus was held in 449 AD, attended by 130 bishops, under the presidency of Pope Dioscorus of Alexandria, together with Juvenal of Jerusalem and Domnus of Antioch. Eutyches submitted a full written confession, affirming the Nicene Creed, and was found to be Orthodox, thus was acquitted. The bishops who had passed a verdict on Eutyches, based on Leo’s Tome, were excommunicated. Later however, Eutyches proclaimed his heresy once again, and this time he was condemned and excommunicated by a local Coptic council.

Two years later, in AD 451, another Council was convened by Emperor Marcianus at Chalcedon. This Council was characterised by political faetors, shameful prejudices and conspiracies against the Church of Alexandria and against its patriarch, Pope Dioscorus.

Alexandria was merely a city under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire whose capital was Constantinople, Rome being the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Nonetheless, the patriarchs and popes of Alexandria played a leading role in theology in the first centuries of Christianity. Others envied them and began to put them in trouble, saying that the Church of Alexandria had nothing to do but to collect bishops for ecumenical councils and preside over these councils.

At the Council of Chalcedon, the Coptic Church was misquoted and its teachings were wrongly deemed as being Eutychean. The Patriarch of Alexandria was accused of being Eutychean, because he had presided over the second Council of Ephesus which had absolved Eutyches, although a later Coptic council had condemned the teachings of Eutyches, and despite the proved Orthodoxy of Pope Dioscorus who, in defending his Orthodox Faith, gave his famous analogy:

“If a piece of iron, heated to white heat, be struck on an anvil, and although the iron and the heat form an indivisible whole, it is the iron which receives the blows and not the white heat. This unity of the iron and the white heat is symbolic of our Saviour’s Incarnation, whose Divinity never parted from His Humanity, not even for a moment, nor the twinkling of an eye. Yet though His Divinity parted not from His Humanity, their union was without mixing or fusion, or change, like unto the union of the iron and white heat. This unity is defined as ‘the One Nature of God the Logos Incarnate’ and is synonymous with Saint John’s saying, `The Word became flesh’. As for me, I steadfastly uphold the Faith of the Orthodox Church, the one, holy, Universal and Apostolic Church. Neither Eutyches, nor any other person, can make me swerve from this holy Faith”.

When Pope Dioscorus’ Orthodoxy could not be questioned, other accusations were raised, centring around material issues such as the question of preventing Egyptian corn from being sent to other parts of the Empire. Neither Pope Dioscorus nor the civil judges were present when the council handed down the verdict deposing him, mainly for having excommunicated the bishop of Rome and not appearing at the Council session when summoned three times, although he was under house arrest at the time. Because of his Orthodoxy, Pope Dioscorus could neither be degraded of Ecclesiastic honour nor excommunicated.

In a later session of the Council, at which the Egyptian delegation was not present, the supremacy of the Church of Constantinople and Rome was granted over the Church of Alexandria. The Egyptian Church was labelled as’monophysite’, because of its emphasis upon the ‘One Nature of Christ’ (although this title was misinterpreted as covering either one of the Human or Divine natures of our Lord and ignoring the other), being based on the assumption that the Coptic Fathers accepted the Eutychean view.

Historical facts, and the liturgy and doctrines of the Coptic Church, however, prove the Orthodoxy of the Coptic Church, until this day. Furthermore, it is now admitted by those who once accused the Coptic Church of being monophysite that it was a misunderstanding arising from a problem of semantics, the Coptic Church now being referred to as `miaphysite’, that is, recognising both natures of our Lord being joined inseparably in the `One Nature of God the Logos Incarnate’

In the absence of the representation of the Church of Alexandria, the Council of Chalcedon passed statements concerning the two natures of Christ, and ecclesiastic laws, which have not been accepted, to this day, by the Coptic Orthodox Church and the other ancient Churches such as the Syrian Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Indian Orthodox Churches. Therefore, the Council of Chalcedon resulted in the first major schism of the undivided Christian Church. Today, however, most scholars have agreed that the unfortunate events and decisions at the Council of Chalcedon were based upon misunderstandings and a misintetpretation of terms and words, rather than a question of Orthodoxy, and agreement has now been reached on the Nature of Christ.

The events of the Council, however, were to have a long, far reaching effect upon the Coptic Church, which suffered greatly at the hands of the Chalcedonian rulers, and from this time onwards, remained isolated from the rest of the Christian World until the 20th Century.

Pope Dioscorus was exiled to the island of Gangra, off the coast of Asia Minor, where he died. During his exile, he led many to the Christian Faith and bought back numerous heretics to Orthodoxy. In his See in Alexandria, a Melkite (Greek) Patriarch was imposed, but was not accepted by the people of Alexandria, who preferred to remain loyal to their exiled Patriarch. A wave of persecution arose in which an estimated 30,000 people lost their lives. The non-Chalcedonian Coptic Church continued to suffer persecution at the hands of the Byzantine rulers, and the rift within the Apostolic Churches widened.

For a period of almost 150 years, under the rule of nine Byzantine emperors, Egypt experienced periods of fluctuating peace and oppression. However, after the death of Emperor Anastasius, an era of Byzantine persecution and oppression began, lasting for almost 120 years. During this period, patriarchs were banished, intruders were placed on the Patriarchal See, churches were destroyed, and people lost both their lives and possessions. Emperor Justinian closed all the churches, placing guards on them, and persecution against the Coptic Church continued. As a result, Egypt was reduced to an impoverished state while the rest of the Byzantine world enjoyed luxury, freedom and wealth.

The Arab Conquest
When Islam entered Egypt, Pope Benjamin I, the 38th Patriarch, had been away from his throne for 13 years, another Patriarch having been ordained in his place and given all the churches, in order to have the authority to get rid of the Copts, the `Monophysites’ .

For the four centuries that followed the Arab conquest of Egypt, the Coptic Church generally flourished and Egypt remained basically Christian. This was due to a large extent to the fortunate position that the Copts enjoyed, for the Prophet of Islam preached a special kindness towards Copts: “When you conquer Egypt, be kind to the Copts for they are your proteges and kith and kin.” The Copts, therefore, were allowed to freely practice Christianity, provided they continued to pay a special tax, called `Gezya’, that would qualify them as `Ahl Zemma’ proteges (protected). Individuals who could not afford to pay the levy were faced with the choice of either converting to Islam or losing their civil right to be `protected’, which in some instances meant being killed. Despite additional costly laws that were imposed on them in 750-868 AD and 905-935 AD, under the Abbasid Dynasties, the Copts prospered and the Coptic Church enjoyed one of its most peaceful eras.

Throughout that period, the Coptic language remained the language of Egypt, and it was not until the second half of the eleventh century that the first bilingual Coptic-Arabic liturgical manuscripts began to appear. The adoption of the Arabic language as the language used in Egyptians’ everyday life was so slow that even in the l5th century the Coptic language was still largely in use. Up to this day, the Coptic language continues to be the liturgical language of the Church.

The Christian face of Egypt started to change by the beginning of the second millennium AD when the Copts, in addition to the `Gezya’ levy, suffered from specific limitations, some of which were serious and interfered with their freedom of worship. For example, there were restrictions on repairing old churches and building new ones, on testifying in court, on public conduct, on adoption, on inheritance, on public religious activities, and on dress codes. Slowly but steadily, by the end of the l2th century, the face of Egypt changed from being a predominantly Christian to a predominantly Muslim country. The Coptic community occupied an inferior position and lived in some expectation of Muslim hostility, which periodically flared into violence.

The position of the Copts began to improve early in the 19th century under the stability and tolerance of the Mohammed Ali dynasty. The Coptic community ceased to be regarded by the state as an administrative unit. In 1855 AD, the main mark of the Copt’s inferiority, namely the `Gezya’ tax, was lifted. Shortly thereafter, the Copts started to serve in the. Egyptian army. The 1919 AD revolution in Egypt witnesses to the harmony of Egypt’s modern society. Today, it is this harmony which keeps the Egyptian society united against the religious intolerance of extremist groups, who inflict upon the Copts persecution, terror and violence.

Despite persecution, the Coptic Church has never been controlled, or a.llowed itself to control, the governments of Egypt. This position of the Church concerning the separation between State and Religion stems from the words of our Lord Himself, Who says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s ” (Matthew 22:21 ). The Coptic Church has never forcefully resisted authorities or invaders and was never allied with any power, for the words of our Lord are clear: “Put your sword in its place, for all who take by the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

Contributions to Christianity

Ancient Texts
Since its beginning, the Coptic Church has played an important role in Christian Theology. It was a source of thousands of texts, and biblical and theological studies. The Holy Bible was translated into the Coptic language in the second century. Hundreds of scribes made copies of the Bible and of other liturgical and theological books. Today, libraries,’ museums and universities throughout the whole world possess hundreds and thousands of Coptic manuscripts. In the monastery of Abba Pishoi alone, in the Natrun Valley of the Western desert of Egypt, there were about 400 scribes.

The School of Alexandria
Long before the establishment of Christianity in Egypt, Alexandria was famous for its various schools, among which was the `Museum’, the greatest philosophical school in the East containing in its library between two hundred thousand and half a million books and manuscripts. It was a unique center of a brilliant intellectual life where Egyptian, Greek and Jewish cultures were taught.

As recorded by Saint Jerome, Saint Mark himself founded the School of Alexandria. He established it for the teaching of Christianity as the only means of giving Christianity a firm foundation in the city. The School became very famous; it was the oldest center for sacred sciences in the history of Christianity. Many prominent bishops from different parts of the world were instructed there. It introduced into the world many scholars and saints, such as Athenagoras, Clement, Saint Dionysius, Saint Peter the Seal of Martyrs, Saint Didymus the Blind, and the great Origen, who was considered the father of theology and was active in the field of commentary and the comparative study of the Bible.
The metaphorical way of commentary, with its deep spiritual meanings, began in Egypt. Origen composed over 6,000 commentaries of the Bible in addition to his famous Hexapla. In this context, the historian Rees states, “The most renowned intellectual institution in the early Christian world was undoubtedly the Catechetical School of Alexandria, and its primary concern was the study of the Bible. The preoccupation of this school was to discover everywhere the spiritual sense underlying the written word of the Scripture”. The School rivalled the `Museum’, and attracted and converted some of its philosophers who later became Church leaders. Many scholars such as Saint Jerome visited the School of Alexandria to communicate directly with its scholars. Saint Didymus the Blind was dean at the time. Of their meeting, Saint Jerome said that he learnt much from Saint Didymus and wished he could spend more time with him.

Famous Deans
Athenaglcoras the Apologist was the head of the Alexandrian Academy and was determined to write against Christianity. After reading the Holy Scriptures, however, he became a defender of the Faith Pantaenus the Philosopher was one of the greatest deans of the Catechetical School of Alexandria; so much so that the historian Eusebius believed that he was its first dean. Saint Clement spoke of him as the greatest and most perfect teacher.

Saint Clement was born of pagan parents. He was a disciple of Pantanaeus and was converted to Christianity and ordained a priest in Alexandria. He succeeded Pantanaeus as dean of the School. Among his disciples were Origen and Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem.

Origen, who due to his zeal in preaching and teaching Christianity, was appointed dean of the School when he was eighteen years of age, by Saint Dimitrius, Pope of Alexandria. Not only did he devote his life to studying and teaching the Holy Scriptures, but his life was exemplary of the evangelic life. His disciple, Saint Gregory the `wonder-worker’ said of him, “He influenced us by his deeds more than by the doctrines he taught”. Origen prepared people not only for baptism, but all the more for martyrdom.

Saint Dionysius of Alexandria, also called the `Teacher of the Universal Church’, was a disciple of Origen. He was head of the School for about sixteen years, was ordained deacon by Pope Demetrius, and priest by Pope Hercules. In 247 AD, he was elected as Pope of Alexandria and had the difficult task of preserving the Church amidst persecution.
Saint Peter the Last Martyr, was ordained Pope of Alexandria during the Diocletian persecution in 302 AD. When he was imprisoned, he warned his disciples against Arius for he had seen our Lord in a vision with His garments torn, and when he asked Him about the cause, He answered that it was Arius. In 311 AD, when the crowds surrounded the prison to save their Pope Saint Peter, he sent secretly to the commander to plan for his martyrdom without killing his people, in order to avoid any bloodshed.

Saint Didymus the Blind, lost his eyesight at the age of four, but due to his ardent desire for learning, invented the method of engraved writing for reading with his fingers, fifteen centuries before Braille. By this method, he learnt by heart the Holy Bible and the Church doctrines. He became dean of the School of Alexandria, and among his disciples were Saint Gregory of Nazienza, Saint Jerome, Rufinus and Palladius. In his dispute with the Arians, he conquered them. Saint Anthony said to Saint Didymus: “Do not be sad that you have no eyesight with which the animals, and even the insects, share, but remember that you have divine insight with which you can see the light of divinity”.
Saint Athanasius the Apostolic, , in defending the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, wrote his famous series of four books “Contra Arianus”. Saint Jerome said that at one time, the whole world would have fallen into Arianism, had it not been for Saint Athanasius. He was ordained Patriarch of Alexandria in 328 AD, and shepherded the Church for forty-six years, seventeen of which he spent in exile on account of his vigorous opposition to the spreading of Arianism, which had the support of certain emperors. He was exiled five times, during which he went from country to country, continent to continent, forming holy synods, maintaining the Faith, and explaining the Divinity of our Lord.

Its Growth
The Christian School began as a catechetical school where candidates were admitted to learn the Christian Faith, along with some Biblical studies to qualify for baptism. Admittance was open to everyone, regardless of their culture, age or background. By the second century, the School had become quite influential in the life of the Church as can be seen from the following:
• It was able to quench the thirst of the Alexandrian Christians for religious knowledge, encourage higher studies, and create research fields in various areas.
• It gave rise to numerous spiritual leaders over the years, many of whom were to sit on the throne of Saint Mark.
• Through its missionary zeal, it was able to win souls to Christianity from within Egypt and abroad.
• It attracted students from other nations, many of whom became spiritual leaders and bishops in their Churches.
• It used philosophy as a weapon against pagan philosophers, thus beating them at their own game.

Its Program
At the time of Saint Clement of Alexandria, three courses were taught:
1. A special course for non-Christians, introducing the candidate to the principles of Christianity.
2. A course on Christian morals.
3. An advanced course on Divine wisdom, and sufficient knowledge for the spiritual Christian.
The subjects of the School of Alexandria were not limited to theology, but science,mathematics and the humanities were also taught. Worship went alongside study. Teachers and their students practised prayer, fasting and various forms of asceticism. In purity and integrity their lives were exemplary. Celibacy was a recommended example, followed by many.

The Ecumenical Councils
In the first ecumenical councils, the Alexandrian theologians were leaders and pioneers of the Christian Faith, their strength lying in their deep, spiritual, pious, theological and biblical thought and studies. Due to their adherence to the Orthodox Faith since early Christianity, the Copts played a positive role in solving many theological problems in both East and West. They did not interfere in other Churches’ problems, but because of their spirit of love and unity, were consulted by them.
While Christianity and the monastic movement were spreading in Egypt, heresies within the Church began to arise, threatening to undermine the very essence of Orthodox Christianity and destroy the basic fibre of the Church. Battles for the Holy Orthodox and Apostolic Faith were being waged in Alexandria and in ecclesiastic centres throughout the Christian world. Peace from the persecutions had not only brought growth and expansion within the Church, but had also provided an ideal climate for fostering dissension and heresy. As a result of heresies, the Christian Church saw the need to define its doctrines more clearly and to formulate its creeds of Faith.
The Coptic Orthodox Church played an important part in the first three Ecumenical Councils, which convened to put a stop to heresies, to formulate the Orthodox and Apostolic creeds and doctrines, and to document the Apostolic canons of the Church.

The First Ecumenical Council
This council was convened in Nicea, in AD 325, because of the heretical teaching of Arius, a priest from Libya, who denied the Divinity of Christ and taught that Christ had been created within time. It was attended by 318 bishops, including Pope Alexandros, the 19~’ Patriarch of the See of Alexandria, twenty Coptic bishops and Saint Athanasius, at the time a deacon twenty years of age. Saint Athanasius skilfully defended the Orthodox Faith, and the Council refuted Arius’ heresy, affirmed the Divinity of Christ and formulated the Nicene, or Athanasian, Creed of Faith, which is still faithfully adhered to by the Coptic Orthodox Church, and used in part or in whole by most of the Churches of the East and West, till this day.
The Creed was worded by Pope Alexandros, deacon Athanasius, and Leontius, Bishop of Caeserea in Cappadocia, and was approved and signed by the members of the Council. Other issues, such as the date of the celebration of Easter, the question of re-baptism of apostates, the question of celibacy or non-celibacy of the clergy, as well as a number of other questions, were considered. The Patriarch of Alexandria was given the responsibility of writing a Paschal letter to all the other patriarchs and bishops, advising them of the date of Easter. The outcome of all these issues and debates was the formulation of twenty canons regulating Church matters.

The Second Ecumenical Council
Held in Constantinople in 381 AD, and attended by 150 bishops, this Council convened to refute a new heresy being proclaimed by Macedonius, bishop of Constantinople, who denied the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. The Council, including the Alexandrian delegation led by Pope Timotheus, the 22″d Patriarch, affirmed the Divinity of the Holy Spirit and added the last clause to the Nicene creed, concerning the Holy Spirit, affirming faith in the Universal Church, the oneness of Baptism, and the awaiting of the resurection of the dead and eternal life.

The Third Ecumenical Council
In Ephesus, in 431 AD, this Council convened to refute the heresy of Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, who stated that Christ had two separate natures, and that the Human Christ alone suffered and died on the Cross, apart from the Divine Christ. He also denied the title of `Theotokos’ or `Mother/Birthgiver of God’ given to the Virgin Saint Mary.
The Council was attended by 200 bishops, among whom was Pope Cyril I, also known as `Pillar of the Faith’, the 24th’ Patriarch of the Church of Alexandria, who had previously convened two local councils of the bishops and heads of the See of Alexandria, and circulated many letters concerning the Nestorian heresy. It was Saint Cyril who worded the Introduction to the Creed, which was affirmed and accepted by the first Council of Alexandria, and which is still recited in the Coptic Church as a prefix to the Athanasian, or Nicene, Creed. Among the Egyptian delegation to the Council also were Saint Shenouda of Akhmim and Saint Dioscorus. Under the presidency of Pope Cyil I, the council condemned the teaching of Nestorius, excommunicated him, reaffirmed the perfect union of Christ’s Divinity with His Humanity, and acknowledged the Virgin Saint Mary as the `Theotokos’ or `Mother/Birthgiver of God’.



Monasticism began in the Coptic Church towards the end of the third century, and flourished in the fourth. There were hundreds of monasteries and thousands of caves in the mountains of Egypt. Saint John Cassian said that the traveller from Alexandria in the North to Luxor in the South, would have in his ears along the whole journey, the sounds of prayers and hymns of the monks, scattered in the desert, from the monasteries and from the caves, from monks, hermits and anchorites. For the monks, monasticism was the life of prayer, contemplation, solitude, worship and purity of heart. They had nothing in their minds, hearts and feelings except God alone. They lived the calm and quiet life abiding in the Lord, detaching themselves from everything and everyone, to be attached to Him alone.

Forms of Monasticism
Monasticism took three main forms, all of which are still to be found in the Church today.

(a) Monarchism
The anchorites or hermits lived in complete seclusion, only visiting the abbot when they needed counsel. Each hermit organized his own prayer, clothing, food and work. The first anchorite in the world was Saint Paul. He lived for eighty years in the Egyptian desert without seeing a single person. Some hermits entered into the inner deserts and settled there for tens of years, seeing no one. Saint Mary of Egypt was one of these, and is also considered as one of those hermits who are called “Pilgrims”, who had no specific cell but lived homeless, wandering in the wilderness.

(b) The Coenobitic System
Under this system, founded by Saint Pachomius in Upper Egypt, the monks lived in a community inside the walls of the monastery, in association with each other, governed by an abbot and by rules. Even through this system Christian monasticism never lost its yearning for monarchism.

(c) The Communal System or Semi-eremitic Life
This form of monasticism is mid-way between monarchism and the coenobitic system. The mode of Saint Anthony’s life as described by Saint Athanasius was actually semi-eremitic in essence, for the monks lived in separate caves or cells and assembled occasionally for the Divine Liturgy or spiritual meetings. Thus Saint Anthony prepared the way for the communal order. In the wildernesses of Nitria and Scetis the communal order was established by Saint Amoun and Saint Macarius the Great. There, the ascetics lived not in absolute isolation, but in cells built at such a distance that they could neither see nor hear one another. They gathered for communal prayer on Saturdays and Sundays.

Monasticism’s Famous Personalities
Saint Paul, of the lower Thebaid in Egypt, was the first hermit. In 250 AD, upon the death of his parents when he was 16 years old, he inherited great wealth. He fled to the desert where he lived over ninety years. Each day a raven would bring him half aloaf of bread. His biography was written by Saint Jerome in 3 74AD.
Saint Anthony , (251-356AD) was born in Middle Egypt. He was eighteen years old when he entered the church and heard the words of the Gospel: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell all you have and give to the poor; and come, follow Me ” (Matthew 19:21). He sold his land, entrusted his sister with a community of virgins, and lived in a hut under the guidance of a recluse. He visited Alexandria in 316 AD to assist the martyrs and in 352 AD to help Saint Athanasius in his fight against Arianism.
Saint Pachomius , (290-), was born in Upper Egypt. He was converted to Christianity in Upper Egypt, when he witnessed the generosity of Christians and their love even of their enemies. He left the army and was baptised in 307 AD, becoming a disciple of Palamon the Hermit. He established the Ceonobetic System. He founded two monasteries in Egypt, and two nunneries under the guidance of his sister. He laid the ceonobetic laws which were later translated into Greek and Latin and used by Saint Basil the Great.
Saint Macarius the Great, (300-390 AD) founded the communal order in the desert of Scetis, and visited Saint Anthony at least twice.
Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite (“Head of the Anchorites”) was the Abbott of the White Monastery of Atribe in the desert of Thebes for more than 65 years (in the 4th and 5th” centuries), heading 2,200 monks and 1,800 nuns. In 431 AD, he accompanied Saint Cyril the Great to the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus.
Saint Sarah the Abbess , lived in Pelusium, and was endowed with the grace of true leadership and spiritual discernment. Her sayings were treasured by the desert fathers.
Saint Syncletica founded the first monastic community for women in the world in Alexandria. Her biography and teachings were preserved by Pope Athanasius.

Effects of Coptic Monasticism on the World
Coptic Monasticism is considered the most profound spiritual revival in the history of the Church. The news of the spiritual life of the monks spread everywhere. They did not write about themselves- there is no Coptic history about the Coptic monks. But people came from everywhere in order to hear a word from one of the monks, and to take it as a word of spiritual guidance and benefit throughout their life. Saint Palladius visited many monks and wrote his famous book, the `Paradise of the Fathers’, from which we learnt about these holy fathers, who neither spoke nor wrote, but kept silent. They were not preachers but they were living sermons, they were examples of the true life, they were the image of God on earth. They influenced monasticism in the world:

1. Pope Athanasius was greatly responsible for the introduction of the monastic movement to the Roman religious life, during his exile in Treve and his flight to Rome in 339 AD. He also wrote “The Life of Anthony”, read the
world over.
2. The Pachomian rules were translated into Greek by Palladius, and into Latin by Saint Jerome.
3. The rules of Benedict of Nursia (480 – 550) were based on the Pachomian ones.
4. Saint John Cassian (360 -435 AD) dwelt in Egypt for seven years, and wrote his two famous books, “Institutes” and “Conferences”.
5. Evagrius Ponticus, who occupied a central role in the history of Christian spirituality, lived as a monk for two years in Nitria and then fourteen years in the “Cells”.
6. Saint Jerome and Saint Rufinus visited Egypt.
7. Saint Hilarious of Palestine became a disciple of Saint Anthony and returned to his own land to practice ascetiscm.
8. Etheria (Egaria), a Spanish abbess in the fourth century, visited Egypt.
9. Saint Melania the elder, a Roman lady, visited the desert of Egypt.
10. Saint John Chrysostom stayed in one of the Pachomian monasteries for 8 years.
11. Orphenus came to Egypt and wrote `The Desert Fathers’.
12. Saint Epiphanius (315 -403 AD), Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, was instructed in Coptic monastic thought.

Mission in the Church
Organised groups, individuals, monks, clergymen, merchants, soldiers and devout women from Egypt went out to almost every part of world and spread the Gospel. Pantaenus is well-known for his work in India. The School of Alexandria sent out m:ssionaries to pagan tribes in Libya, Phrygia, Sinai, Arabia Felix, the Thebaid and Upper Egypt. Christianity was first introduced into Ethiopia by Egyptian merchants through their commercial and maritime relations, and into the Sudan in the 6th century.
In Europe, Saint Athanasius founded a church in Belgia during one of his exiles. In Switzerland, the Theban Legion, led by Saint Maurice, watered the land with the blood of their martyrdom when they refused to sacrifice to the gods; hence the place was named Saint Moritz. Felix, his sister and their friend spread the Gospel in Zurich, and the official seal of the country of Zurich still bears the picture of these three Coptic evangelists. In Ireland, seven Coptic monks were among the pioneers of the Faith, and left many traces in the life and art of the people; three manuscripts in the Royal Academy of Dublin confirm this.


Coptic Faith

Dogma is what is believed, taught, confessed and practiced. Dogmas, to the Coptic Orthodox Church, are not merely theological concepts concerning God, man, the Church, eternal life, heavenly creatures, demons, and other such matters, which are to be discussed among clergymen, scholars and laymen, but rather, they are, in essence, daily experiences which each member of the Church should live. In other words, dogmas representing our faith in God have one message, namely, our communion with God the Father in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, by His Holy Spirit.

The Sacraments
Church Sacraments or Mysteries are sacred actions by which the believers receive invisible graces, through material or visible signs. The Coptic Church observes seven sacraments: Baptism, Chrismation, Repentance and Confession, the Eucharist, Matrimony, Priesthood and the Unction of the Sick.
Three of the sacraments give permanent seals and thus are not to be repeated, namely, Baptism, Chrismation and Priesthood. The minister of the sacraments, whether a bishop or priest, administers them in the name of Christ.

Baptism is the holy sacrament in which the person is reborn by emersion in water three times, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism has been given various names by the Early Fathers of the Church, including the `new birth’, `sanctification’, `washing’, `seal’ and `illumination’. Baptism is a sacrament established by our Lord Himself (Matthew 28:18,19), and is essential for salvation (John 3:5). The Coptic Church continues the Apostolic Tradition of infant baptism (Paedobaptism), which is implied from the Scriptures through the rite of circumcision, which was a type of Baptism. Infant Baptism was also mentioned by many of the early Church Fathers. The graces received in Baptism include new spiritual creation (John 3:3-8), forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), adoption as God’s sons (Galatians 3:26-29) and inheritance of eternal life (Titus3:5-7).

In the Sacrament of Chrismation, the faithful receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This sacrament was established by Christ (John 7:37-39) and is administered directly after Baptism (Acts 8:14-17). It was described as anointment by the Holy Bible (1 John 2:20) and also by the Church Fathers. The graces received in Chrismation include spiritual power (Romans 8:13) and the consecration of the soul to God.

The Eucharist
The Eucharist is the sacrament of all sacraments in which the faithful receive the Body and Blood of Christ. The Coptic Orthodox Church believes that the bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Christ by the descent of the Holy Spirit through the prayers of the Divine Liturgy. The Church continues to teach the biblical and Apostolic Tradition of the actual presence of Christ in this sacrament (John 6:5). Saint Justine, a martyr of the second century, writes, “We have been taught that the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic Prayer set down by Him, and which through its change nourishes our flesh and blood, is both the Flesh and Blood of the Incarnate Christ”.
Saint John Chrysostom says, “How many now say, `I wish to see His form, His clothes, His feet’? Lo! You see Him, you touch Him, you eat Him… He gives Himself to you not only to see, but also to touch and eat and receive within you… He mixed Himself with us, not by faith only, but also indeed makes us His body… That which the angels tremble when they behold, and dare not so much as look up at without awe on account of the brightness that comes thence, with this we are fed, with this we are commingled, and we are made one body and one flesh with Christ” (Homilies on Saint Matthew).
Besides being a sacrament, the Eucharist is also a sacrifice. It is the same Sacrifice of the Cross, present continually on the altar of the Church, as an intercession for all the living and the departed, and for all creation (lCorinthians 10:18-21). The Eucharist was described as a Sacrifice by the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea, and by many Church Fathers. The Coptic Liturgy says, “Today, on this table is present with us Emmanuel our God, the Lamb of God Who carries the sins of the whole world”.

The Coptic Church has never departed from the tradition of administering both the Body and Blood of our Lord to all the faithful (John 6:53). Children of all ages share in the Eucharist. The Coptic Church also uses ordinary (that is, leavened) bread, for the offering. The Coptic Church has always taught, what most scholars now acknowledge, that the Last Supper took place one day before the Passover, and thus Christ used leavened bread in it.

Repentance and Confession
A Christian whose sins have separated him from the life in Christ is reconciled with Him in the Sacrament of Repentance and Confession. By the forgiveness of sins, and reconciliation with God, this sacrament renews the baptismal graces of adoption, salvation and having the hope of eternal life. The Church Fathers have also called it reconciliation, absolution, and second baptism. Penance consists of a feeling of sorrow for sin, with a will to repent; it also needs faith in Christ, verbal confession to a priest, and the priest’s absolution. Verbal confession has been practiced since the time of the Apostles (Acts 19:18). Priests have received from Christ the power to absolve sins (Matthew 18:18). The priest may ask the repentant to observe certain disciplines, such as fasting, prayer, or delay of communion. These are remedies for the soul and aid in its struggle for the spiritual life, they are in no way considered punishments or atonement for sins. Christ is the propitiation for all sins (1 John 2:2).

Anointing of the Sick

If spiritual healing is obtained through Penance, the sacrament of Anointing the Sick was established in the Church for the healing of both spiritual and physical ailments. Many of the Church Fathers mentioned it and referred to its biblical origin in the words of Saint James: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and Iet them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven ” (James 5: 14,15).

Marriage is a natural and sacred law established since the creation of man (Genesis 1:27,28 & 2:18-24). The Lord Jesus Christ attended the marriage at Cana where He performed His first miracle. Marriage is considered a mystery by Saint Paul (Ephesus 5:32). It is the sacrament in which a man and a woman are united through the grace of the Holy Spirit, and which refers to the profound union of Christ and the Church.
Christian marriage is characterised by its unity (Matthew 19:4) and indissolubility except by death. Divorce, for any reason other than adultery, has been forbidden by Christ: “So, then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate… Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 19:6,9). The Church has followed these rules from the beginning.

Holy Orders
The sacrament of Holy Orders is the sacred action in which ministers of the Church obtain the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the authority to act in one of the three clerical degrees, bishop, priest or deacon. This sacrament was established by our Lord when He gave the Holy Spirit to the Apostles (Matthew 28:18-20). Those called to the priesthood are ordained by the laying of hands and prayers of the bishops (Acts 6:6). By their Apostolic Succession, bishops have the power of guiding, teaching and celebrating the sacraments, the three acts of Christ which He bestowed upon the Church. With the permission of their bishops, priests can guide the Church, teach and administer all sacraments except for ordination (Acts 14:22). Deacons are consecrated to assist in the liturgy, serve the poor, and teach, but only with the permission of the bishop (Acts 6:1-8).

The Holy Bible and Church canons warn against the quick ordination of Church ministers. They must be qualified in every aspect of their lives; obtain good theological training and lead a virtuous life. Most importantly, they should be chosen by the people whom they are going to serve.

There are three main Divine Liturgies used in the Coptic Church, namely:

+ The Liturgy of Saint Basil, Bishop of Caesaria
+ The Liturgy of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople
+ The Liturgy of Saint Cyril I, the 24th Patriarch of the Coptic Church

The bulk of Saint Cyril’s liturgy is based on that used by Saint Mark in the first century. It was memorised by the bishops and priests of the Church, until it was translated into the Coptic language from the Greek. Today, these three liturgies, with some additions, are still in use, the Liturgy of Saint Basil being the most commonly used.

The Coptic Church has seasons of fasting matched by no other Christian Church. Out of the 36S days of the year, Copts fast for over 210 days. Fasting is abstaining from food and drink for a certain period of time, after which only foods void of animal products may be eaten. These strict fasting rules may be relaxed on an individual basis by the father confessor to accommodate for illness or weakness. Lent, known as the “Great Fast”, is largely observed by all Copts. It starts with a pre-Lent fast for one week, followed by a 40 day fast commemorating Christ’s fast in the wilderness, followed by the Holy (Passion) Week, the most holy week of the Coptic Calendar. Other fasts include Advent, the Apostles’ Fast, the Virgin Saint Mary’s Fast, the Fast of the people of Ninevah, and Wednesdays (commemorating our Lord’s betrayal) and Fridays (commemorating His crucifixion) throughout the year, except for the 50 joyful days following the feast of the Resurrection.

The Veneration of the Saints
The worship of saints is expressly forbidden by the Church, however, asking for their intercessions, is central in any Coptic service. Coptic churches are named after saints. Among all saints, the Virgin Saint Mary, the Theotokos, occupies a special place in the heart of all Copts.

The Coptic Orthodox prayer book of the hours, the `Agpeya’ (Coptic for `Hours’) contains seven prayers to be said at various times of the day and night:

The First Hour  (Matins)  Rising
The Third Hour  (Terce)  9 am
The Sixth Hour  (Sext)  12 pm
The Ninth Hour  (None)  3 pm
The Eleventh Hour  (Vespers)  6 pm
The Twelvth Hour  (Compline)  9 pm

The First Hour commemorates the hour in which the Lord arose from the dead.
The Third Hour commemorates the hour in which the Holy Spirit rested upon the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost. It is also the hour in which the Lord was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate on Good Friday.
The Sixth Hour commemorates the hour in which the Lord was nailed to the cross at Golgotha.
The Ninth Hour is the hour in which the Lord died for our redemption, and in which He accepted the Penitant Thief into Paradise.
At the Eleventh Hour, the Lord’s body was taken down from the Cross, wrapped in linen and anointed with spices.
The Twelvth Hour commemorates the laying down of the Lord’s body in the tomb.
The Midnight Prayer commemorates the three prayers of our Lord in Gethsemane during Holy Week.

The Church Building

The Exterior
The Church building is usually built in one of the three following shapes:

– Cross  Symbol of Salvation
– Ship  Noah’s Ark, outside of which no one was saved
– Circle  Symbol of eternal life with God

The Interior
The church was originally divided into three sections: the narthex, the nave and the sanctuary. The reason was that the people who participated in the public services of the church were separated into three distinctive groups:
First, the clergy (bishops, priests, and deacons), who officiated at the services. Second, the laymen, the Christian faithful who attended the services; and third, the catechumens, the people who wanted to become Christians, who were being taught the Christian faith, but who had not been baptized. Each part was designated for one of the groups of participants in the divine Liturgy and other church services: the nave for the Christian faithful, the narthex for the catechumens, and the sanctuary for the clergy.

Coptic Culture

Art and music are the most ancient languages of worship which have led man to a heavenly atmosphere, helping him in his fellowship with God. Worship is the expression of man’s response to God’s infinite love. Man feels that mere words are inadequate to express this response, therefore he uses his gift in arts in his worship. It is man’s desire to offer his life and devote all his culture to express his deep, unspeakable love for God. At the same time, it is God’s beneficience that He longs to sanctify man’s being, life and culture as a sign of man’s great value in God’s sight. God loves man as a whole; He accepts his soul as His dwelling place and does not despise his body and human culture, for both these can be sanctified by the Holy Spirit to act spiritually as instruments of righteousness, for the edification of God’s Church on earth.

Coptic Art
In the early Christian era, many thousands of Copts preferred to live in the wilderness out of their longing for the angelic life. For those who remained in the cities and countries, the Christian Faith penetrated their daily life, even their eating, drinking, literature and arts. There is evidence that Christian symbols and images were inscribed on their rings, painted on their walls, doors, cups, plates, chairs, and the like.

Coptic Iconography
The word `icon’ denotes a religious picture which is used to depict the image of God. Today the word `icon’ is primarily associated with the paintings of the Orthodox Churches.
Historians date the appearance of the iconographic style to the first three centuries of Christianity. The idea behind the use of icons in the early Church was due to the unique experience that the Church faced. As many Christian converts had difficulty understanding Biblical teachings and their spiritual meanings, the early Church leaders permitted the use of icons to help them.
With the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine (307 337 AD) to Christianity, came a dramatic change. He hastened the triumph of Christianity over paganism by forbidding idolatry. The statues of the pagan gods were removed from the capital, and icons were used to decorate churches and state buildings. In the following century, Pope Cyril I (404 – 430 AD), the 24th Coptic Patriarch, permitted icons to be hung in the patriarchate and in all the churches of Egypt.
Icons are not meant to be worshipped or venerated as something holy in themselves, in the way that idols were; the reverence shown to an icon is not to the artwork, but rather to the person or event which it portrays. An ican is meant to be a window into the spiritual world, used to help the believer to contemplate spiritual matters and to put him into a prayerful frame of mind, as a reminder of events in the Bible, and of the life of Christ and the saints. The center of the Christian Faith is that “the Word became flesh” (John l:l), and thus it is not surprising that the loving and merciful face of our Lord Jesus Christ is the subject of many icons
The art of making Orthodox icons follows specific symbolism which carries meaningful messages. Some of these characteristics are, for example: firstly, large and wide eyes, symbolising the spiritual eye that looks beyond the material world, for the Bible says, “the light of the body is the eye ” (Matthew 6:22); secondly, large ears, which listen to the word of God, for the Bible says, `If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:23); and thirdly, gentle lips to glorify and praise the Lord, for the Bible says, `My mouth shall praise You with joyful lips”
(Psalm 63:5).
The eyes and ears on a figure in an icon are disproportionately large because a spiritual person spends much time listening to God’s word and seeking to do God’s will. On the other hand, the mouth, which can also often be the source of empty or harmful words, is small. The nose, which is seen as sensual, is also small. When an evil character is portrayed in an icon, it is always in profile, as it is not desirable to make eye contact with such a person and thus to dwell or meditate upon them. Figures in Coptic icons often have large heads, meaning that they are individuals devoted to contemplation and prayer.
Icons portraying saints who suffered and were tortured for their faith, depict them with peaceful and smiling faces, showing that their inner peace was not disturbed, even by the hardships they endured and suffered willingly and joyfully for the Lord. It is noteworthy to mention that from time to time, miracles are performed through icons. In the last few years, for instance, there have been icons that have `wept’ oil, leading to the healing of many, the conversion of some non-Christians, and the strengthening of the faith of believers. This happened in many places both in Egypt and in our churches in other countries.

Coptic Music
The Copts inherited a very ancient musical tradition from their ancestors the pharaohs. One of the foremost Coptic musical scholars, Dr. Ragheb Muftah, says, “Scientific research has proven that the music of the Coptic Church is the most ancient ecclesiastical music in existance, and constitutes the oldest school of music which the world now possesses. The Coptic Church owes the preservation of this monumental and invaluable heritage of its ecclesiastical music to its conservative nature inherited from ancient times.”
Dr. Dryioton, a renowned Egyptologist, also writes, “The key to the mystery of Pharaonic music will then be found in a good edition of Coptic ecclesiastical music in use in our days”. The English scholar, Earnest Newlandsmith of Oxford and London Universities, who spent winters in Egypt (1927 – 1936), invited by Dr. Moftah, specially noted the Coptic hymns, said:
“Coptic music is a great music and may be called one of the seven wonders of the world, and indeed, if a Caruso filled with the Spirit of God were trying to sing some of the Coptic themes in the form of a great oratorio, it would be enough to rekindle Christendom (spiritually). This music, which has been handed down from untold centuries within the Coptic Church, should be a bridge between East and West, and would place a new idiom at the disposal of the western musicians. It is lofty, noble and great, specially in the element of the infinite, which is lacking today. Western music has its origin in ancient Egypt”.

The Church Today

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Coptic Church underwent phases of new development. In 1853, Pope Cyril IV established the first modern Coptic school, including the first Egyptian school for girls. He also founded a printing press, which was the second national press in the country, the first having been established by the government at an earlier date. Pope Cyril IV entertained very friendly relations with other Churches, to the extent that when the Greek patriarch in Egypt had to absent himself for a long time outside the country, he left his Church under the guidance of the Coptic Patriarch.

The Theological College of the School of Alexandria was re established in 1893. It began its new history with five students, one of whom was later to become its dean. Today, it has campuses in Alexandria, Cairo, various dioceses throughout Egypt, New Jersey and Los Angeles, Australia, and now in the United Kingdom, where potential clergymen and other qualified men and women are taught, among other subjects, Christian theology, history, and Coptic language and art.

Today, the Coptic Orthodox Church is the largest Church in the Middle East, with about 10 million faithful in Egypt. There is an increasing number in monasteries and convents in the deserts of Egypt, and an increasing number of well-educated young men and women who are consecrating their lives to the ministry as parish priests, monks, nuns, deacons and deaconesses.

The Holy Synod of the Coptic Church comprises over one hundred and twenty metropolitans and bishops, headed by His Holiness Pope Tawadros II. The Coptic Church is an active member of the World Council of Churches, the Middle East Council of Churches, the All Africa Conference of Churches, and many other such bodies in many countries around the world. It was the founding member of the Middle East Council of Churches in 1974.

As head of the oldest Church in Africa, the previous Pope, Pope Shenouda III was keen to extend the Apostolic Mission of Saint Mark across all Africa. In June 1976, His Holiness ordained Bishop Antonious Markos to commence missionary work among the African tribes in Kenya. Today there are 14 Coptic churches, two monasteries and a vocational center in Kenya, as well as churches in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.

Outside Egypt, there are over sixty churches in the United States, as well as two theological colleges and a monastery in California, whilst in Canada, there are fifteen churches. In Europe, there are forty-one churches across eleven countries. There now exist: Saint Anthony’s Monastery in Frankfurt, Saint Shenouda s Monastery in Milan, a new monastery in France, a retreat center in Birmingham, and a Church Center and Theological College in Stevenage.

His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, being a great ambassador for the Coptic Church, and Christendom in general, is currently president of the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches.

In this same spirit, the Coptic Church is currently engaged in either official or unofficial dialogues with most Christian denominations, continuing its work for unity and the reuniting of the one, holy, universal Church.


* Statistics used in this page are constantly changing due to the growing and expanding nature of the Church and its activities, and thus, the figures used are those available at the time of the compilation of this content.