The Coptic Orthodox Church
The Coptic Church was established in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by St. Mark the Evangelist in the city of Alexandria around 43 A.D. The church adheres to the Nicene Creed. St. Athanasius (296-373 A.D.), the twentieth Pope of the Coptic Church effectively defended the Doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ's Divinity at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. His affirmation of the doctrine earned him the title; "Father of Orthodoxy" and St. Athanasius "the Apostolic".
The term "Coptic" is derived from the Greek "Aigyptos" meaning "Egyptian". When the Arabs arrived in Egypt in the seventh century, they called the Egyptians "qibt". Thus the Arabic word "qibt" came to mean both "Egyptians" and "Christians".
The term "Orthodoxy" here refers to the preservation of the "Original Faith" by the Copts who, throughout the ages, defended the Old Creed against the numerous attacks aimed at it.
The Coptic Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Trinity: God The Father, God The Son, and God The Holy Spirit, are equal to each other in one unity; and that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world. Less changes have taken place in the Coptic Church than in any other church whether in the ritual or doctrine aspects and that the succession of the Coptic Patriarchs, Bishops, priests and Deacons has been continuous.
The Founder of our Church
The good news of Christianity arrived to Egypt through Saint Mark the apostle around 55 A.D.. Hence the Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the oldest churches in the world, spanning 20 centuries of history. Saint Mark was one of the four evangelists who wrote the oldest of the four Gospels ‘‘The Gospel According to Saint Mark.’’ On entering Alexandria, he broke his sandal strap and went to a cobbler to repair it. The cobbler accidentally pierced his hand and cried out, ‘‘O the one God.’’ Saint Mark rejoiced at hearing this expression and miraculously healed the man’s wound and began to preach to this cobbler Anianus about the one God. Anianus and his family were baptised and many others followed.
The apostle appointed Anianus as bishop and ordained three priests and seven deacons to assist him. Saint Mark is regarded as the first of an unbroken chain of 117 popes.
The current pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church is His Holiness Pope Tawadros II whose title is, ‘‘Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the see of Saint Mark.’’ The founder of the church, Saint 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 Resurrection Eve in 68 A.D. and was tortured until death the next day.
Church of Martyrs
After the martyrdom of Saint Mark in 68 A.D., the Coptic Orthodox Church enjoyed an almost unbroken peace until 202 A.D.. From 202-642 A.D., namely during the Roman period, twenty one persecutions overtook her. The seventh persecution inflamed by emperor Diocletian; his reign (c. 284 A.D.-c. 305) is considered by the Copts as the age of persecution. So profound was the impression of the persecution of Diocletian on Coptic life and thought that the Copts decided to adopt for Church use a calendar of the martyrs, the ‘‘Anno Martyri.’’
The first year of the calendar was 284 A.D., the year of the disastrous accession of Diocletian. The months used for this calendar are those inherited from the period of ancient Egypt. The Coptic calendar has 13 months, 12 of them are 30 days each and the 13th is 5 days (or 6 during a leap year). The Coptic New Year begins on 11 September.
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, science and mathematics; but its main discipline was religion. According to Eusebius, its founder was Saint Mark who appointed Justus as its dean (later on, Justus became the sixth patriarch).
Most of the eminent leaders of Alexandria were known to have been connected with it, either as teachers or students. The first great head of school was Pantaenus. Besides being 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 I for Christian mission to India. His successor was Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 A.D. – c. 215 A.D.), the most illustrious pupil. Clement wrote abundantly although much of his work was lost. Origen (c. 185 A.D. – c. 254 A.D.) followed Clement about the year 215 A.D. He was Clement’s most brilliant pupil. As a young man he was extremely ascetic by nature. He carried the word of the Gospel (Matthew 19:12) literally and to the extent of mutilating himself.