The Coptic Orthodox Church
A Brief Outline
Who are the Copts?
The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the most ancient Churches in the world, founded in the First Century in Egypt by Saint Mark the Apostle, the writer of the second gospel of the New Testament. It has carefully preserved the Orthodox Christian Faith in its earliest and purest form, handing it down from generation to generation, unaltered and true to the Apostolic doctrines and patterns of worship.
The word ‘Coptic’ comes from the Pharaonic word ‘gypt’ and the subsequent Greek word ‘Aigyptus’ meaning Egypt, and thus ‘Coptic’ means ‘Egyptian’. Copts are the Christian and indigenous people of Egypt, direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians, a people with perhaps the longest recorded history.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is:
Trinitarian, believing in the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (being one God), and that our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, the true Son of God, was Incarnate, born of the Virgin Saint Mary. He ascended to and died on the Cross that He may grant us salvation, rising from the dead on the third day that He may grant us everlasting life with Him. He ascended to Heaven after forty days, sending the Holy Spirit to His disciples, as He promised them, on the day of Pentecost. He awaits us in His Kingdom.
Scriptural (Biblical), having as its main point of reference the Holy Bible, with its Old and New Testaments, and the Deuterocanonical Books.
Apostolic, having been founded by Saint Mark the Apostle.
Traditional, relying on the early Church Fathers as a source of teaching and understanding. The Coptic Orthodox Church uses as its statement of Faith the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, drafted by Saint Athanasius, our twentieth Pope, which is also used by all of the ancient, Apostolic, Traditional Churches.
Sacramental, observing and practising all the Traditional Sacraments, namely: Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation), Repentance and Confession, the Eucharist (Communion), Priesthood, Holy Matrimony and Unction of the Sick.
While the Church has not altered its Theology or Doctrine for Centuries, it is however responsive in adapting language and day-to-day practice in line with the contextual needs of pastoral ministry and sacramental life. Holding on to Faith and practice in this manner has not been without its challenges and sacrifices, as the Coptic Church has always lived persecution of one form or another since its establishment.
The Spread of Christianity in Egypt
Saint Mark the Evangelist, one of the seventy Apostles, preached Christianity in Egypt and established the Church of Alexandria in the middle of the First Century.Saint Mark’s house was where the Lord met with His Apostles and celebrated the Passover with them, and where the Apostles were also gathered when the Holy Spirit descended upon them on the Day of Pentecost; thus, it is acknowledged by all Apostolic churches as the first church in the world. By the end of the Second Century, Christianity was well established and very active throughout Egypt, although pockets of paganism continued to co-exist with the new Faith. The relatively smooth spread of Christianity in Egypt came because it carried on from the established Ancient Egyptian spiritual concepts and understanding of resurrection of the dead and the afterlife, among others. One of the greatest blessings of the Coptic Orthodox Church is the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, prompting us to recall the words of the book of Isaiah the Prophet, “Blessed is Egypt My people” (Isaiah 19:24).
The era of the Fourth and Fifth Centuries was a time of great growth and Christian witness for the Church of Alexandria, and a time during which it made significant contributions to the whole world.
Being a philosophical and cultural centre at the time of Greek supremacy and the rule of Alexander the Great, Alexandria was a focal point for the world. The Catechetical School of Alexandria was established, and through it there arose a number of theologians like Saint Athanasius the Apostolic, Saint Cyril of Alexandria and many others, who were well respected and recognised across the Christian world.
Although the Church of Alexandria was one of the smallest, it proved to have a substantial role in the three Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea (325 AD), Constantinople (381 AD) and Ephesus (431 AD). Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, who was still a deacon at the first Ecumenical Council, was instrumental in the drafting of the Christian Creed, which every Christian Church and denomination still uses today.
At the same time as the Coptic Orthodox Church was playing such an important role in the theological arena, another parallel, but very different, line of growth was developing. Monasticism and monastic order were established by the fathers of the Egyptian desert like Saint Anthony the Great, Saint Pakhomius, Saint Shenute and Saint Macarious the Great, and the monastic mothers Saint Marina, Saint Thiopista and Saint Mary of Egypt. With visits by western monastic figures like John Cassian, Jerome and Benedict, and their subsequent return to the West, monasticism spread from the deserts of Egypt to the whole world, and continues with this common origin until this day.
As Christianity grew, the attempts to quash it became more fierce. The Coptic Orthodox Church is recognised as having suffered one of the most violent waves of persecution in Christian history during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian in the Third Century. Thus, our Coptic Calendar commences at the beginning of his reign in 284 AD, to honour and commemorate the commitment and witness of our martyrs, recognising the importance and value of our Christian Faith. This has been done without internalising a spirit of victimhood, but a resilience that continues to be the bedrock of the Church today.
The Church Today
Today, the Coptic Orthodox Church is the largest Church in the Middle East, with about 15 million faithful in Egypt and between 1.5 to 2 million abroad.
Under the leadership of His Holiness the Late Pope Shenouda III, 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark, there was a substantial increase in the number of monasteries and convents established in the deserts of Egypt, and an increasing number of young men and women who consecrated their lives to ministry as parish priests, monks, nuns, deacons and deaconesses.
This expansion continues today under the vision and leadership of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is a dynamic Church, always looking at the needs of her children and trying to satisfy them to the best of her ability. Accordingly, in response to increased migration since the 1970s, there are now hundreds of Coptic churches throughout the world, in Asia, Australia, Canada, across Europe, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and throughout Africa and the Middle East.
This necessary presence of churches and pastoral care is because of the great focus on care for the individual in a concentrated pastoral approach, and the need of the Church to be present and a living image of our Lord Jesus Christ, promoting a life of Biblical principles and values leading to an everlasting life of joy and majesty with the Lord in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Children and Young People
Recognising the vital role of education in preserving and passing on our Faith through the generations, the Church has an active children’s ministry, which has flourished since the revival of the Sunday School Movement a century ago.
Following on from this, the vision of Coptic Youth Mission in the United Kingdom is inspired by the words of His Holiness, the Late Pope Shenouda III: “A Church without youth is a Church without
a future”, and the response that “Youth without a Church are youth without a future.” It aims to serve the future of the Church of God and the future
of His children through vibrant Christian Education programmes, conferences, retreats and sporting events designed to bring our young people together in fellowship and fun. This pastoral support continues through their lives with a succession of ministries focused on young couples, families and elders.
While focused on caring for her faithful, the Church of Alexandria is by no means introspective or exclusive. Locally, regionally and globally, the Church takes an active role in working for Christian co-operation, collaboration and unity, being involved in either official or unofficial dialogue with the major Christian Churches and denominations around the world. The Coptic Orthodox Church is currently a member of the World Council of Churches, the Middle East Council of Churches and the Egyptian Council of Churches (as a founding member), the All African Conference of Churches, and other similar international, regional and local bodies.
Society and Stewardship
At the social level, the Church promotes the peace, love and unity taught by our Lord, for she teaches her children to be good, constructive and peaceful members of society, and to have good relations with all of its members, regardless of race, colour or creed, thus enabling us to be worthy ambassadors of Jesus Christ. This becomes manifest in her commitment to and engagement with inter-religious dialogue, matters of advocacy and social justice, and environmental stewardship.
The Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom
The Coptic Orthodox Church is relatively young in the United Kingdom, with Copts arriving mainly from the 1970s onwards.
In this short time, we now have approximately forty thousand faithful, served by forty parishes and sixty clergy, three major centres and a monastery.
In London, the Coptic Orthodox Church has a number of dynamic ministries serving local communities as well as its own members. These include a registered charity working with young people, food ministry for the homeless, an office for advocacy and public policy, outreach and evangelism, and a vibrant youth mission, including pastoral support, conferences, sports tournaments, retreats, apologetics, and campus-based fellowship meetings for students. This lifelong pastoral ministry continues through to fellowship meetings for young couples, professionals, families and senior members of our communities.
The Sanctuary is the Diocesan hub for the Coptic Orthodox Church in London. It is located in St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, St Andrew's Hill, London EC4V 5DE
Copyright © 2023 ServingLondon.com - All Rights Reserved.
Powered by CopticOrthodox.London