The term "Orthodox"
refers to the preservation of the "Original Faith" by the Copts who,
throughout the ages, defended the original faith against numerous heresies
and handed it down from generation to generation without any change.
In the land of the Pharaohs, the ancient Egyptians believed in life after
death. They also believed in judgment after death, which paved the way for
Christianity to spread rapidly in Egypt upon hearing Saint Mark's preaching.
The Egyptians easily related to Saint Mark's teaching about the Holy
Trinity, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and His Second
Coming to judge the living and the dead.
In a relatively short time Egypt became a Christian land, which was called "Aigyptos"
in Greek. Many Egyptians converted to Islam, however, when Egypt came under
the Arabic rule in the 7th Century AD and mingled in marriage with the
Arabs. Being unable to pronounce the word "Aigyptos", the Arabs corrupted it
and pronounced it as "Gypt" or "Kipt". The Egyptians who remained Christians
preserved their Egyptian bloodline and therefore, were called Copt.
In the early church, Alexandria was considered the seat of the highest
learning and scholarship center in the world. The famous 'Theological School
of Alexandria' with its leading theologians, philosophers, scholars, and
teachers was established in the 1st century. By the 4th century, Alexandria
became the seat of Christian learning of the entire world, proudly hosting
the 'Library of Alexandria', the largest in the world at that time.
Egypt is the only land in the world to be blessed and honored by a long
visit of the 'Holy Family' (about 3 years). "When he [Joseph] arose, he took
the young child [Jesus] and His mother [Mary] by night, and departed into
Egypt. And remained there until the death of Herod; that it might be
fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet saying 'Out of Egypt
have I called my Son'" (Matt 2: 14-15). There are many prophecies about the
spread of Christianity in Egypt: "Blessed be my people Egypt" (Isaiah
19:24); "On that day, there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the
land of Egypt" (Isaiah 19:19); and "Behold, the Lord rides upon a swift
cloud and shall come to Egypt" (Isaiah 19:1).
The Coptic Church is deeply spiritual and conservative. It kept the doctrine
and the rituals as handed down by St. Mark and the successive Popes until
today. No changes have taken place in the Church of Egypt compared to any
other Church in the world.
The succession of Coptic patriarchs, bishops, priests, and deacons has been
continuous. His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, the 118th successor of St. Mark
is the present Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of the Sea of St. Mark.
Doctrines of the Coptic Church
The Coptic Church asserts that its doctrines are obtained from the
Scriptures. It is well recognized that all Churches have the same claim to
the very same Scriptures. But it could be said that the doctrines of this
Church have been the same, with no additions or alterations from the
teachings of early Christianity. On the one hand, its theology is based on
nothing outside the Scriptures. On the other, its doctrines agree in all
parts with those of the early Church, i.e. the Tradition.
We treasure, and follow, the Tradition as the proper interpretation and
application of the teachings of our Lord and the Apostles, as understood and
practiced by the early Christians and leaders of the Church during the
period of the One Universal Church until the division of the Council of
Chalcedony in 451 AD.The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the group called
Oriental, or Non-Chalcedonian, Orthodox Churches. The separation between
these churches and Europe took place in 451 AD at the Council of Chalcedony.
The controversy was about the nature of our Lord, whether He would be
described as having one or two natures. The Oriental Churches clung to the
idea of the One Nature in Him, and are therefore called Monophysites, in
contrast with the Duophysites of the West. Recently, in 1991, a declaration
derived by theologians from the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox
more accurately described our faith as Miaphysites, which means two natures
in One. At the Council of Chalcedony, the Western Churches adopted Pope Leo
of Rome’s tome which spoke about two natures of the Lord. The one, the
Divine, is resplendent with miracles, the other, the Human, submits to
insults. The Orientals felt that this Duophysitism meant that there was in
Christ only a fellowship between the divinity and the humanity of Jesus, not
an unity. This belief shook the foundation of our Salvation which could only
be based on the ground that Christ has one composite nature.
We believe that there was no moment in history at which existed a separate
human nature of the Lord to be united to His Divine nature, "not even for a
twinkle of the eye", as we pray in our Liturgy. This is true from the moment
of His incarnation into the womb of the Virgin, through baptism,
crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension and henceforth until His Second
Coming (Revelation 1: 17-18).
On the Cross, Jesus Christ, the Son of God/Son of Man shed His precious
divine blood in payment for humanity’s original sin. Jesus the Son of Man,
representing humanity, paid its debt to God the Father by Christ’s divine
blood. He is our Redeemer. He is the "Chief Cornerstone" (Psalms 118:22).
Peter referred to Him and said, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for
there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be
saved" (Acts 4:12).
In the Gregorian Mass of our liturgical service we raise our supplications
to the Son and address Him by those beautiful expressions: ‘0 You who are,
who were, the Everlasting, and Perpetual; Co-Essential, Co-Enthroned and
Co-Creator with the Father". Our Eucharist is a spiritual journey to worship
Christ in heaven. There, we join the heavenly hosts, the Four Living
Creatures, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, to praise and glorify God saying:
"Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty" (Rev. 4:8, Isaiah 6:2-3). We offer our
oblation to the Lord -- bread and wine. We receive back a Divine Gift -- His
Holy Body and Honored Blood.
Here, in the U.S., the Coptic Liturgy is still celebrated in Coptic with
parts in English and parts in Arabic. It is one of the most enchanting
features of our Church. According to tradition, it was orally transmitted by
Saint Mark, the Apostle, to other generations until finally it was recorded
by Saint Cyril the Great, the 24th Pope of Alexandria, in the fifth century.
It is regarded as the greatest, the oldest and the most complete text of the
Divine Liturgy in existence.
the Seven Sacraments of the Coptic Church
A sacrament is an invisible grace given under a material sign and
administered by a canonical priest. We believe in Seven Sacraments. We call
them the "Means of Salvation" or the "Means of Grace". They are actions
through which the believer is made part of, and to grow on, the Lord. We
obtain salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Salvation is a road that must be walked by the believer to the end. To us,
salvation is only reached after a life long strife and struggle. Faith,
Repentance and Baptism are the gates to Salvation. In the Sacrament of
Baptism (Romans 6:34), we wash away the original sin through the blood of
Jesus Christ, we are buried and raised with Him, receive a new life and
become "children of God" (I John 3.2).Coming out of the holy baptismal
water, we receive the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Confirmation or
Chrismation and become "temples of the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 6.19).
This sacrament was originally officiated by the laying of the Bishops hands
(Acts 19:2-7, Hebrews 6:2). But now, our Church uses the holy oil. This holy
oil, called the Meyroun, was first made by the Apostles of the spices and
ointments that were prepared by the women for the Holy Body of the Lord
after His burial (Luke 23:56, 24:1). Since then, new spices and ointments,
with the same proportions, are added to the original Meyroun before it is
depleted. This is done by the Pope and many Bishops in a great ceremony with
special prayers, and distributed to all the priests of the Coptic churches
in Egypt and elsewhere.
Yet, the "New Life" as children of God requires constant nourishment and
continuous growth. It is not easy. We are to "enter by the narrow gate"
(Matthew 7:13-14). We are to guard against the old self and its natural
vulnerability to sin (Romans 6: 19). A Christian is susceptible to
committing mistakes; so there must be a way available to him/her to be
continuously cleansed and restored to full communion with Christ. Like
Peter, in the day of the Last Supper, a Christian has to offer his dirty
feet to the Church, which it washes and dries. If we refrain from doing this
we lose our position with the Lord; just like Jesus told Peter in that same
day, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me" (John 13:8). But, "if
we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to
cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). The Sacrament of Penance
and Confession is diligently practiced by the Coptic church "with fear and
trembling" (Philip 2:12).
Coupled with penance and confession, the Sacrament of the Eucharist or
Communion is reverently and continuously practiced by us for the "remission
of sins" (Matthew 26:26-28). "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood
abides in Me and I in him" (John 6:56). The Church allows children to
partake of the Holy Communion since baptism. As members of the Body of
Christ, children must continue to be nourished on the heavenly bread and can
not be spiritually starved.
The Sacrament of the Unction of the Sick (James 5:14-15) has a clear place
in the life of our Coptic Church. Whenever a believer is sick, he may ask to
be anointed. The Unction of the sick is not reserved only for those who are
at the point of death.
Unlike the five sacraments explained above, the last two may not necessarily
be practiced by all Christians, but are life-long covenants. Those who are
blessed with the Sacramcnt of Priesthood (Matthew 28:18-20) never retire
from it. The Sacrament of Marriage (Ephesians 5:31-32) is not a contractual
agreement but rather an union in Christ "What God has joined together let
not man separate" (Matthew 19:6).
Blessed is Egypt my people
Egypt is the only land in the world to be
blessed and honored by a long visit of the 'Holy Family' (about 3 years). "
When he [Joseph] arose, he took the young child [Jesus] and His mother
[Mary] by night, and departed into Egypt. And remained there until the death
of Herod; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the
prophet saying "Out of Egypt have I called my Son" (Matt 2: 14-15).
Churches, monasteries and landmarks have been built across Egypt at places
where the holy family stayed or passed by. These landmarks are living
testimonies to this blessed event in the history of Egypt.
At the southern-most point in Egypt, where the holy family lived for six
months, in a cave, a church was built in the first century. Its altar is
set in that cave. Until now liturgical prayers are raised there daily. Next
to the church, Egypt's largest monastery is built on a twenty- acre land
that includes this blessed church.
The era of Saint Athanasius, Saint Cyril the Great and Saint Anthony the
Great, the Father of Monasticism, marks the golden age of the Oriental
Orthodox Church. At the hands of Saint Athanasius and Saint Cyril the
heretical movements of Arianism and Nestorism were defeated.
Saint Athanasius is behind most of the text of the Nicaene
Creed. When still a young deacon, he came to the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD
with his old patriarch, Bishop Alexander. In 328 AD, Bishop Alexander
reposed in the Lord and Saint Athanasius succeeded him into a stormy reign.
He was banished five times from his See, and spent more than 17 years in
exile. His pastoral care is shown by his Episcopal Visitations, his Paschal
Letters and numerous books and treaties. He reposed in the Lord in 373 AD.
He was the 206th Coptic Pope Successor of Saint Mark.
The following century saw yet another peer of Saint Athanasius, Saint Cyril
the Great (412 - 444 AD), the 24th Pope of Alexandria, called the Pillar of
the Faith. The greatest conflict of Saint Cyril's life was with Nestorius,
the formidable Patriarch of Constantinople. Nestorius rejected the use of
the term Theotokos - the Mother of God, for Saint Mary, whom he wanted to be
called the Mother of Christ. This was a lead to the heresy that Jesus was a
human being, in whom the Holy Spirit came to dwell at His baptism, and that
in Him there is fellowship but not unity, between His divinity and His
humanity. This concept was refuted by Saint Cyril of Alexandria and all the
Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, as being a denial that Jesus Christ is God
Incarnate. Saint Cyril left a tremendous number of works in Theology,
Exegesis, Homilies, and Apologetics. His Theology is regarded by the Coptic
Church as the key Reference of Orthodoxy.