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Introduction to the Coptic Church

The Coptic Orthodox 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. He was one of the four evangelists and the one who wrote the oldest canonical gospel. Christianity spread throughout Egypt within half a century of Saint Mark's arrival in Alexandria.


The term Coptic is derived from the Greek Aigypto meaning 'Egyptian'. When the Arabs arrived in Egypt in the seventh century, they called the Egyptians Qibt. Thus the Arabic word Qibt, or 'Copt' in English, came to mean both 'Egyptian' and 'Christian'.


The Coptic Church, which is now more than nineteen centuries old, adheres to the Nicene-Constantinople Creed. The Coptic Church has never believed in monophysitism the way it was portrayed in the Council of Chalcedon in 451! The Coptic Church never followed the teachings of Eutyches, who believed in monophysitism; the doctrine that the Lord Jesus Christ has only one nature, the divine, not two natures, the human as well as the divine.


The Coptic Church has always believed that the Lord 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. Copts, thus, believe in two natures "human" and "divine" that are united in one "without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration" (from the declaration of faith at the end of the Coptic divine liturgy). These two natures "did not separate for a moment or the twinkling of an eye" (also from the declaration of faith at the end of the Coptic divine liturgy).


Copts observe seven canonical sacraments: Baptism, Christmation (Confirmation), Eucharist, Confession (Penance), Orders, Matrimony, and Unction of the sick. Baptism is performed few weeks after birth by immersing the whole body of the newborn into especially consecrated water three times. Confirmation is performed immediately after Baptism. Regular confession with a personal priest, called the father of confession, is necessary to receive the Eucharist. It is customary for a whole family to pick the same priest as a father of confession, thus, making that priest a family counselor. Of all seven sacraments, only Matrimony cannot be performed during a fasting season. Polygamy is illegal, even if recognized by the civil law of the land. Divorce is not allowed except in the case of adultery; annulment due to bigamy, or other extreme circumstances, must be reviewed by a special council of Bishops. Annulment can be requested by either husband or wife. Civil divorce is not recognized by the Church.


The Coptic Orthodox Church does not have and does not mind any civil law of the land as long as it does not interfere with the Church's sacraments. The Church has always maintained that Church and State should be separate. The Church does not have, and actually refuses to canonize, an official position vis-à-vis some controversial issues (e.g. abortion). While the church has clear teachings about such matters (e.g. abortion interferes with God's will), it is the position of the Church that such matters are better resolved on a case-by-case basis by the father of confession, as opposed to having a blanket canon that makes a sin of such practices.


There are three main Liturgies in the Coptic Church: The Liturgy according to Saint Basil, Bishop of Caesarea; The Liturgy according to Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople; and The Liturgy according to Saint Cyril I, the 24th Pope of the Coptic Church. The bulk of Saint Cyril's Liturgy is from the one that Saint Mark used (in Greek) in the first century. It was memorized by the Bishops and priests of the Coptic Church until it was translated into the Coptic Language by Saint Cyril I. Today, these three Liturgies, with some added sections (e.g. the intercessions), are still in use; the Liturgy of Saint Basil is the most commonly used in the Coptic Orthodox Church.  The Coptic Church believes in the real presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.


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 a Patron Saint. Among all Saints, the Virgin Saint Mary (Theotokos) occupies a special place in the heart of all Copts.


Copts celebrate seven major Holy feasts and seven minor Holy feasts. The major feasts commemorate Annunciation, Christmas, Theophany, Palm Sunday, Easter, Ascension, and the Pentecost. Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. The Coptic Church emphasizes the Resurrection of Christ (Easter) as much as His Advent (Christmas), if not more. Easter is usually on the second Sunday after the first full moon in Spring. The Coptic Calendar of Martyrs is full of other feasts usually commemorating the martyrdom of popular Saints (e.g. Saint Mark, Saint Mina, Saint George, Saint Barbara) from Coptic History.


The Copts have seasons of fasting matched by no other Christian community. Out of the 365 days of the year, Copts fast for over 210 days. During fasting, no animal products (meat, poultry, milk, eggs, butter, etc.) are allowed. Lent, known as "the Great Fast", is largely observed by all Copts. It starts with a pre-Lent fast of one week, followed by a 40-day fast commemorating Christ's fasting on the mountain, followed by the Holy Week. Holy Week, called Pascha in Coptic, is the most sacred week of the Coptic Calendar, which climaxes with the Crucifixion on Good Friday and ends with the joyous Easter. Other fasting seasons of the Coptic Church include the Fast of the Nativity (Advent), the Fast of the Apostles, the Fast of the Virgin Saint Mary, and the Fast of Nineveh.


The Coptic Orthodox Church's clergy is headed by the Pope of Alexandria and includes Bishops who oversee the priests ordained in their dioceses. Both the Pope and the Bishops must be monks; they are all members of the Holy Synod (Council) of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, which meets regularly to oversee matters of faith and pastoral care of the Church. The Pope of the Coptic Church, although highly regarded by all Copts, does not enjoy any state of supremacy or infallibility. His official Episcopal title is Pope and Lord Archbishop of the Great City of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa on the Holy Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle. Today, there are over 60 Coptic Bishops governing dioceses inside Egypt as well as dioceses outside Egypt, such as in Jerusalem, Sudan, Western Africa, France, England, and the United States. The direct pastoral responsibility of Coptic congregations in all dioceses falls on Priests, who are permitted to be married.



To learn more about the Coptic Orthodox Church please visit this link:  The Coptic Orthodox Church


To learn more about the Coptic Calendar or dates of Feasts please visit this link:  Coptic Calendar

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