Coptic Church
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is the largest Christian church in Egypt. The Church belongs to the Oriental Orthodox communion, which has been a distinct church body since the Council of Chalcedon in 451AD, when it separated from the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches, (then still in union). The differences in theology that caused the split are still disputed, and highly technical: they concern the Nature of Christ and the Trinity. The foundational root of the Church is based in Egypt, but it has a worldwide following.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is the Church of Alexandria that was established by Saint Mark, the apostle and evangelist, in approximately 42AD. The head of the church, and the See of Alexandria, is the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy See of Saint Mark. More than 95% of Egypt's Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, though other churches also claim Patriarchates and Patriarchs of Alexandria, among them: The Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria, The Coptic Catholic Church of Alexandria, The Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem.

History
Egypt is identified in the Bible as the place of refuge that the Holy Family (with the baby Jesus) 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 the Great, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt I called My Son" (Matthew 2:12-23). The Egyptian Church, one of the earliest Christian churches, regards itself as the subject of many prophecies in the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah said "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" (Is. 19:19).
The first Christians in Egypt were mainly Alexandrian Jews such as Theophilus, who Saint Luke the Apostle addresses in the introductory chapter of his gospel. When the church was founded by Saint Mark during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, a great multitude of native Egyptians embraced the Christian faith. Christianity spread throughout Egypt within fifty years of Saint Mark's arrival in Alexandria as shown by the New Testament writings found in Bahnasa, in Middle Egypt, which date around 200AD, and a fragment of the Gospel of John, written in Coptic, which was found in Upper Egypt and can be dated to about 130AD. In the second century, Christianity began to spread to the rural areas, and scriptures were translated into the local language: Coptic.

Contributions to Christianity
The Catechetical School of Alexandria is the oldest catechetical school in the world. St. Jerome records that the Christian School of Alexandria was founded by St. Mark himself. Around 190AD under the leadership of the scholar Pantanaeus, the school of Alexandria became an important institution of religious learning, where students were taught by scholars such as Athenagoras, Clement, Didymus, and the native Egyptian Origen, who is 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 St Jerome visited the school of Alexandria to exchange ideas and to communicate directly with its scholars. The school was not limited to theological subjects; science, mathematics and humanities were also taught. The question-and-answer method of commentary began there, and 15 centuries before Braille, wood-carving techniques were used so blind scholars could read and write. The Theological college of the catechetical school of Alexandria was re-established in 1893. The new school currently has campuses in Alexandria, and Cairo in Egypt, New Jersey, and Los Angeles in USA. Coptic candidates for priesthood and other qualified men and women are taught Christian theology, history, Coptic language and art - including chanting, music, iconography, and tapestry
among other subjects.

The Cradle of Monasticism and missionary work
Many Egyptian Christians went to the desert during the 3rd century, and remained there to pray, work and dedicate their lives to seclusion and worship of God. This was the beginning of the monastic movement, which was organized by Anthony the Great, Saint Paul, the world's first anchorite (which means 'hermit or religious recluse'), Saint Macarius the Great and Saint Pachomius the Cenobite in the 4th century. Christian Monasticism was born in Egypt and resulted in the formation of the Coptic Orthodox Church's character of submission, simplicity and humility, following the teachings and writings of the Great Fathers of Egypt's Deserts. By the end of the fifth century, there were hundreds of monasteries, and thousands of monastic cells and caves scattered throughout the Egyptian desert. A great number of these monasteries still exist to this day.

All Christian monasticism stems, either directly or indirectly, from the Egyptian example: Saint Basil the Great Archbishop of Ceasaria of Cappadocia, founder and organiser of the monastic movement in Asia Minor, visited Egypt around 357AD and his rule is followed by the Eastern Orthodox Churches; Saint Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin, came to Egypt, while en route to Jerusalem, around 400AD and left details of his experiences in his letters; Benedict founded the Benedictine Order in the sixth century on the model of Saint Pachomius, but in a stricter form. Countless pilgrims have visited the "Desert Fathers" to emulate their spiritual, disciplined lives.

Coptics and the Ecumenical Councils
In the 4th century, an Alexandrian presbyter named Arius began a theological dispute about the nature of Christ that spread throughout the Christian world and is now known as Arianism. The Ecumenical Council of Nicea 325AD was convened by Constantine under the presidency of Saint Hosius of Cordova and Saint Alexander of Alexandria to resolve the dispute and eventually led to the formulation of the Symbol of Faith, also known as the Nicene Creed. The Creed, which is now recited throughout the Christian world, was based largely on the teaching put forth by a man who eventually would become Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, the chief opponent of Arius.
In 381AD, Saint Timothy I of Alexandria presided over the second ecumenical council known as the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, which completed the Nicene Creed with this confirmation of the divinity of the Holy Spirit: "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified who spoke by the Prophets and in One, Holy, Universal, and Apostolic Church. We confess one Baptism for the remission of sins and we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the coming age, Amen."
 
More theological disagreement occurred over the teachings of Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople who taught that God the Word was not hypostatically joined with human nature, but rather was an entity which existed inside the man Jesus. Consequently, he denied the title "Mother of God" (Theotokos) to the Virgin Mary, declaring her instead to be "Mother of Christ" Christotokos. When reports of this reached the Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark, Pope Saint Cyril I of Alexandria acted quickly to correct this breach with orthodoxy, demanding that Nestorius repent. When he refused, the Synod of Alexandria met in emergency session and a unanimous agreement was reached: Pope Cyril I of Alexandria, supported by the entire See, sent a letter to Nestorius known as "The Third Epistle of Saint Cyril to Nestorius." This epistle drew heavily on the established Patristic Constitutions and contained the most famous article of Alexandrian Orthodoxy: "The Twelve Anathemas of Saint Cyril." In these anathemas (which in this sense means 'thing that is detested'), Cyril excommunicated anyone who followed the teachings of Nestorius. For example, "Anyone who dares to deny the Holy Virgin the title Theotokos is Anathema!"(anathema in this sense means 'excommunicated' or 'thrown out of the church'). Nestorius however, still would not repent and so this led to the convening of the First Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, 431AD, over which Cyril I of Alexandria presided. The First Ecumenical Council of Ephesus confirmed the teachings of Saint Athanasius and confirmed the title of Mary as "Mother of God". It also clearly stated that anyone who separated Christ into two hypostases was anathema, as Athanasius had said that there is "One Nature and One Hypostasis for God the Word Incarnate". Also, the introduction to the creed was formulated: "We magnify you O Mother of the True Light and we glorify you O saint and Mother of God (Theotokos) for you have borne unto us the Saviour of the world. Glory to you O our Master and King: Christ, the pride of the Apostles, the crown of the martyrs, the rejoicing of the righteous, firmness of the churches and the forgiveness of sins. We proclaim the Holy Trinity in One Godhead: we worship Him, we glorify Him, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord bless us, Amen."
In 451AD, Emperor Marcianus attempted to heal divisions in the Church: the response of Pope Dioscorus (the Pope of Alexandria who was later exiled) was that the emperor should not intervene in the affairs of the Church. It was at Chalcedon that the emperor, through the Imperial delegates, enforced harsh disciplinary measures against Pope Dioscorus in response to this.
When the Council of Chalcedon deviated from the approved Cyrillian terminology and declared that Christ was one hypostasis in two natures this differed with the Alexandrine perspective  However, in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the phrase "Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary," which is the basis of the definition according to the Non-Chalcedonian adherents, is valid Christology of Cyril of Alexandria.The Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonians) Christology (understanding of the nature of Christ) is that Christ is "One Nature - the Logos Incarnate," of full humanity and full divinity intermixed. The Chalcedonians understanding is that Christ is in two seperate natures, full humanity and full divinity. According to Oriental Orthodoxy the nature of Christ is like this: Just as humans are of their mothers and fathers and not in their mothers and fathers, so too Christ is in full humanity and in full divinity, so then He is separate in two persons as the Nestorians teach. This is the doctrinal difference which separated the Oriental Orthodox from the Eastern Orthodox.

The Council of Chalcedon's findings were rejected by many, including Egyptians, Syrians, and Armenians. From that point onward, Alexandria would have two patriarchs: the non-Chalcedonian native Egyptian one, now known as the Coptic Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of St. Mark and the "Melkite" or Imperial Patriarch, now known as the Greek Orthodox Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa. Almost the entire Egyptian population rejected the terms of the Council of Chalcedon and remained faithful to the native Egyptian Church (now known as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria). Those who supported the Chalcedonian definition remained in communion with the churches of Rome and Constantinople. The non-Chalcedonian party became what is today called the Oriental Orthodox Church.

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria regards itself as having been misunderstood at the Council of Chalcedon. There was an opinion in the Church that perhaps the Council understood the Church of Alexandria correctly, but wanted to curtail the power of the Alexandrine Hierarch, especially after the events that happened several years before at Constantinople from Pope Theophilus of Alexandria towards Patriarch John Chrysostom and the events of the Second Council of Ephesus in 449AD, where Eutichus misled Pope Dioscoros and the Council in confessing the Orthodox Faith in writing and then renouncing it after the Council, which in turn, had upset Rome, especially as the document which was sent was not read during the Council sessions.

The contribution of Pope Leo of Rome, according to the Alexandria School of Theology, was influenced by Nestorian heretical teachings, Particularly on the nature of Christ. Because of this, the Hierarchs of Alexandria were considered too powerful. Due to the conflict of the Schools of Theology Pope Disocoros was excommunicated.

By vigorously denouncing Pope Leo, and his Alexandrine Theology, Pope Discoros was found guilty of denouncing him. The Tome of Leo (Leo's contribution to the Council of Chalcedon) was not a subject of heresy in the first place. However, the reasons behind it not having been either acknowledged or read at the Second Council of Ephesus in 449AD needed explaining. It is important to note that Pope Dioscorus of Alexandria was never labeled as heretic by the council's canons.

Copts also believe that the Pope of Alexandria was forcibly prevented from attending the third congregation of the council apparently the result of a conspiracy tailored by the Roman delegates.

Before the current positive era of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox dialogues, Chalcedonians sometimes used to call the non-Chalcedonians "monophysites", though the Coptic Orthodox Church in reality regards monophysitism as a heresy. The Chalcedonian doctrine in turn came to be known as "dyophysite". A better term for Coptic Orthodoxy is miaphysite, which means a conjoined nature for Christ, both human and divine, united indivisibly in the Incarnate Logos. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria believes that Christ is perfect in His divinity, and He is perfect in His humanity, but His divinity and His humanity were united in one nature called "the nature of the incarnate word", which was reiterated by Saint Cyril of Alexandria. Coptic belief is in two natures "human" and "divine" that are united in one hypostasis "without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration". These two natures "did not separate for a moment or the twinkling of an eye" (Coptic Liturgy of Saint Basil of Caesarea).

From Chalcedon to the Arab conquest of Egypt
Copts were oppressed by the rule of the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire. The Melkite Patriarchs, appointed by the emperors as both spiritual leaders and civil governors, massacred the Egyptian population whom they considered heretics. Many Egyptians were tortured and martyred to accept the terms of Chalcedon, but Egyptians remained loyal to the faith of their fathers and to the Cyrillian view of Christology. One of the most renowned Egyptian saints of that period is Saint Samuel the Confessor.

The Arab-Muslim conquest of Egypt
The Muslims conquered Egypt in 639AD. Despite the political upheaval, Egypt remained a mainly Christian land, although the gradual conversions to Islam over the centuries changed Egypt from a mainly Christian to a mainly Muslim country by the end of the 12th century. This process was sped along by persecutions during and following the reign of the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (reigned 996-1021AD) and the Crusades, and also by the acceptance of Arabic as a liturgical language by the Pope of Alexandria Gabriel ibn-Turaik. During Islamic rule, the Copts needed to pay a special tax called the jizya in order to be defended by Muslim armies, as non-Muslims were not allowed to serve in the army. This tax was abolished in 1855.

From the 19th century to the 1952 revolution
The position of the Copts began to improve early in the 19th century under the stability and tolerance of Muhammad Ali's dynasty. The Coptic community ceased to be regarded by the state as an administrative unit and, by 1855, the main mark of Copts' suppression, the Jizya tax, was lifted. Shortly after Christians started to serve in the Egyptian army. The 1919 revolution in Egypt, the first grassroots display of Egyptian identity in centuries, stands as a witness to the homogeneity of Egypt's modern society with both its Muslim and Christian components.

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria today
There are about 15 million Coptic Orthodox Christians in the world: they are found primarily in Egypt under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria (roughly 11 million). There are also about 4 million in countries such as the United States of America, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, and Sudan.  In addition, there are between 350,000 and 400,000 native African adherents in East, Central and South Africa. Although under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Church, these adherents are not considered Copts, since they are not ethnic Egyptians.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (about 45 million adherents), and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church (about 2.5 million), are daughter churches of the Church of Alexandria, but they are autocephalous (independent and self governing) churches. In 1959, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church was granted its first own Patriarch by Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria. Furthermore, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church became independent of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church in 1994, when four bishops were consecrated by Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria to form the basis of a local Holy Synod of the Eritrean Church. In 1998, the Eritrean Church gained its autocephelacy from the Coptic Orthodox Church when its first Patriarch was enthroned by Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria.

These three churches remain in full communion with each other and with the other Oriental Orthodox churches. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church acknowledge the Honorary Supremacy of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, since the Church of Alexandria is technically their Mother Church. Upon their selection, both Patriarchs (Ethiopian & Eritrean) must receive the approval and communion from the Holy Synod of the Apostolic See of Alexandria before their enthronement.

In addition to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria whose adherents make 93% of Egypt's Christian population of 12 million adherents. The country also includes Christian minorities that belong other Christian denominations:

The Coptic Evangelical Church (a Protestant Church) has about 300,000 members in Egypt.

The Coptic Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic Church) has about 275,000 members in Egypt and roughly 50,000 adherents abroad. It is headed by the Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria.

The Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria (an Eastern Orthodox Church) has about 250,000 adherents in Egypt: approximately 45,000 are of Greek (Hellenic) descent. The Church has another 1.5 million adherents in Africa: approximately 200,000 of which are of Greek Hellenic descent and the rest are native African converts (1.3 million). There are also between 10,000 and 15,000 ex-patriates in Europe, North and South America. The current Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria is Pope Theodoros II.

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic Church) has about 35,000 members in Egypt. The eparchy of Egypt is looked after by a Protosyncellus, and has about 20,000 members in Europe, North and South America, and Australia.

The Armenian Apostolic Church (an Oriental Orthodox Church) has about 20,000 adherents in Egypt. Most of them follow the Holy See of Echmiadzin in Armenia, rather than the Holy See of Cilicia in Lebanon.

The Roman Catholic Church has about 18,000 adherents in Egypt. Most are citizens born in Egypt but of foreign descent, like Italians, Maltese and French, or members of the foreign Diplomatic Corps in Egypt. There are very few native Christian Egyptians who belong to the Roman Catholic Church, and those who do (several hundreds) do so mainly through marriage.

The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East (a Protestant Church known in Egypt as the Anglican Church) has about 15,000 members in Egypt.

The Maronite Church (an Eastern Catholic Church) has about 11,000 adherents in Egypt.

The Armenian Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic Church), The Chaldean Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic Church) and The Syriac Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic Church) have about 15,000 adherents between them in Egypt.

The Syriac Orthodox Church (an Oriental Orthodox Church) has a very small population in Egypt, about 500 who are mostly students of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, or foreign students studying in Egyptian Universities.

Ecumenical Progress
Since the 1980s theologians from the Oriental (Non-Chalcedonian) Orthodox and Eastern (Chalcedonian) Orthodox churches have been meeting in a bid to resolve the theological differences, and have concluded that many of the differences are caused by the two groups using different terminology to describe the same thing. In 2001, the Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Patriarchates of Alexandria mutually recognized baptisms and marriages performed in each other's churches. Previously, if a Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox wanted to marry, the marriage had to be performed twice, once in each church, for it to be recognized by both. 

According to Christian Tradition and Canon Law, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria only ordains men, and if they wish to be married, they must be married before they are ordained. In this respect they follow the same practices as does the Eastern Orthodox Church. Traditionally, the Coptic language was used in church services, and the scriptures were written in the Coptic alphabet. However, due to the Arabisation of Egypt, service in churches started to witness increased use of Arabic, while preaching is done entirely in Arabic. Native languages are used, in conjunction with Coptic and Arabic, during services outside of Egypt. Coptic Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January (Gregorian Calendar), which coincides with the 25th of December according to the Julian Calendar. The Coptic Orthodox Church uses the Julian Calendar as its Ecclesiastical Calendar. It is known as the Coptic calendar or the Alexandrian Calendar. This calendar is in turn based on the old Egyptian calendar of Ancient Egypt. The Coptic Orthodox Church is thus considered an Old Calendrist Church. Christmas according to the Coptic calendar was adopted as an official national holiday in Egypt since 2002.

There are Coptic churches all over the world: Africa, Asia, Australia/New Zealand, Europe, North America and Canada and South America.


The episcopal titles of the Pope of Alexandria
The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, is known as Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa on the Holy See of St. Mark the Apostle.
His full title is Pope and Lord Archbishop of the Great City of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Orthodox and Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle that is, in Egypt, Pentapolis, Libya, Nubia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and all Africa.
The Successor of St. Mark the Evangelist, Holy Apostle and Martyr, on the Holy Apostolic Throne of the Great City of Alexandria.
Pope of Alexandria, being the Diocesan Bishop of the Great and Ancient Metropolis of Alexandria, that is in Alexandria and the metropolitan province of Greater Cairo.
Elder Metropolitan Archbishop of the Egyptian Province.
Primate of Egypt, Pentapolis, Libya, Nubia and Sudan.
Patriarch of All Africa.
Father of Fathers.
Shepherd of Shepherds.
Hierarch of all Hierarchs.

Honorary titles of the Pope of Alexandria
The Dean of the Great Catechetical School of Theology of Alexandria.
The Ecumenical (Universal) Judge (Arbitrator) of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic (Universal) Church.
The Thirteenth among the Holy Apostles.
The Pillar and Defender of the Holy, Catholic (Universal), Apostolic Church and of the Orthodox Doctrine.

Historical evolution of the ecclesiastical title
The Bishop of Alexandria was first known just as the Bishop of Alexandria, until the Church grew within and all over the Egyptian Province, and many Bishops were consecrated for the newly founded parishes all over the towns and cities. The Bishop of Alexandria, being the successor of the first Bishop in Egypt consecrated by Saint Mark, was honored by the other Bishops, as first among equals "Primus enter Pares". This was in addition to the appropriate honorary dignity, by virtue of being the Senior Bishop of the main Metropolis of the Province, Alexandria, which is also the Capital and the main Port of the Province. This honor made the Senior Bishop an “Archbishop,” so presiding in dignity of honor over all the Alexandrine and Egyptian Bishops.
The title “Pope” has been attributed to the Bishop of Alexandria since the Episcopate of Heraclas, the thirteenth Bishop of Alexandria. All the clergy of Alexandria and Lower Egypt honored him with the appellation “Papas,” which means “Our Father,” as the Senior and Elder Bishop among all bishops, within the Egyptian Province, who are under his jurisdiction. This is because Alexandria was the Capital of the Province, and the preaching center and the place of martyrdom of Saint Mark the Evangelist and Apostle.
The title “Patriarch” means the Head or the Leader of a Tribe or a Community. Ecclesiastically it means the Head of the Fathers (Bishops) and their congregation of faithful. This title is historically known as “Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa on the Holy Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark the Evangelist,” that is “of Alexandria and of all Africa.” The title of “Patriarch” was first used around the time of the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, convened in 431 AD, and ratified at Chalcedon in 451 AD.

Only the Patriarch of Alexandria has the double title of Pope and Patriarch among the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox Thrones.

Jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria outside Egypt
Besides Egypt, the Church of Alexandria has jurisdiction over Pentapolis, Libya, Nubia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and all Africa.
Both the Patriarchate of Addis Ababa & all Ethiopia and the Patriarchate of Asmara & all Eritrea do acknowledge the supremacy of honor & dignity of the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria on the basis that both Patriarchates were established by the Throne of Alexandria and that they have their roots in the Apostolic Church of Alexandria, and acknowledge that Saint Mark the Apostle is the founder of their Churches through the heritage and Apostolic evangelization of the Fathers of Alexandria. In other words, the Patriarchate of Addis Ababa & all Ethiopia and the Patriarchate of Asmara & all Eritrea are daughter Churches of the Holy Apostolic Patriarchate of Alexandria.

In addition to the above, the countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, the Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Botswana, Malawi, Angola, Namibia and South Africa are under the jurisdiction and the evangelization of the Throne of Alexandria. It is still expanding in the vast continent of Africa.
 
The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria is headed by the Patriarch of Alexandria and the members are the Metropolitans, Bishops, Chorbishops and Patriarchal Vicars of the Church of Alexandria.



Links
The official Site for the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Midlands & Affiliated regions, U.K.

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