Egypt is considered the birthplace of Christianity; Jesus lived and preached there during his time on Earth. Coptic Christians have endured much persecution throughout their history but remain strong Christian communities today.
Early in Christianity’s existence, Egyptian Christians often practiced monasticism. This fostered a sense of religious devotion that can still be found among Coptic Christian community today.
Monasticism is a disciplined Christian lifestyle that emphasizes prayer, solitude and purity of heart. Monastic practices stem from Jesus’ words to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Monastic life takes many different forms depending on its time and place of occurrence, with Christian monasticism being most popularly practiced as an eremitical form (“desert-living”) monasticism that emphasizes isolation and spiritual purification for its adherents. Today this practiced among various Christian groups such as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy Churches.
Other forms of monasticism, like cenobotic (“common-life”) monasticism, place more emphasis on community. First developed in Egypt by St. Pachomius and spreading across the globe via Saint Basil the Great’s Orthodox Church of Cappadocia – cenobotic monasticism has since become widely practiced throughout its global reach.
monks have long been held up as heroes and models by Christians across history, inspiring countless spiritual writings by churches like the Coptic Church and others.
Arabic translations of several texts related to early monastic movements within the Coptic Church provide us with rich material for studying their formation and evolution, as well as studying Arabic-Coptic relations.
Coptic monasticism has an extensive and significant history, dating back to Antony the Great – considered “Father of Monasticism”. For thirty-five years he resided in an isolated cave in Egypt while facing spiritual and physical trials before finally recovering his health to become an example for a generation of monks.
At this time, Egypt was home to monasteries and monks living lives of solitude, prayer and piety. Christian monks abandoned all worldly pursuits to focus on following Christ’s radical call and spiritual development.
Egyptian desert monastic movements played a central role in the expansion of Coptic church. Monastics played an integral part of church life, helping unify liturgical practice and clarify doctrinal disputes; their monasteries served as hubs of knowledge storage as well as important hubs of social contact; many also functioned as an additional church serving priesthood and laity alike.
Coptic Christians in Egypt had long been subject to political unrest and religious debate during their history, which Emperor Constantine saw as essential in unifying his empire and providing order in its many outlying regions. With Emperor Constantine as their advocate and strong interest in unifying Christianity for him being shared across multiple denominations by each local Church leader he felt obliged to bring together as many churches under one umbrella as possible under his guidance.
Constantine had secured freedom for Church leaders after receiving the Edict of Milan, yet that had not put an end to controversies regarding Jesus and his relationship to God the Father. These disputes caused great discomfort to Constantine as they threatened his interests and the stability of his empire.
Arius, an Alexandria priest and later known by its acronym Arianism, promoted a heresy in which Christ had an artificial and finite nature rather than sharing equal divinity with God the Father and denied that Christ was God’s first product.
Arius’ heresy was condemned in Alexandria at a synod of 100 bishops led by Alexander of Alexandria, where it was also denounced and Arius was publicly denounced. Additionally, this meeting decided to write a creed (statement of belief that all Christians must agree upon in order to become members of Christianity).
After the council, Arius was excommunicated and went into hiding in Syria for several years before returning to Egypt where he quickly gained popularity as a preacher – earning the support of Eusebius of Nicomedia, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine at that time.
Arius’ beliefs caused immense friction within the early Christian Church, eventually prompting most to reject them outright. Part of this may have been because of Arius’ writings – some such as Thalia poem have survived to this day while many more were destroyed as heretical by Athanasius who would become one of its leading defenders against Arianism such as Church Father Athanasius himself – ultimately his views were suppressed during the 7th century though his beliefs continue to influence modern religious groups such as Jehove’s Witnesses and Mormons who still hold onto Arius ideas today.
The Coptic Church has played an essential role in Christian history, producing thousands of texts and biblical studies which remain vital resources in libraries and universities worldwide. Their translation of the Bible remains a major contributor to Christianity even today and can still be seen being read worldwide by Christians worldwide.
Eutyches was a prominent monastic in the 4th century who served as head of an influential monastery near Constantinople. His primary concern was challenging the teachings of Patriarch Nestorius (428-436) who believed Christ possessed two independent natures – divine and human – simultaneously.
Eutyches soon returned from Ephesus to oppose Nestorius and his followers. For his actions he was condemned at a church synod in Constantinople in 448 and exiled for Monophysitism accusations; eventually though he repented and was reinstated by Pope Dioscorus and his bishops of Ephesus.
Eutyches was exonerated at the Second Council of Ephesus, held in 449, which featured 130 bishops led by Dioscorus as president. When Eutyches submitted his written confession affirming the Nicene Creed, he was immediately exonerated and reinstated into Coptic Church membership.
Chalcedon Council was an important event in Coptic Christians history in 451. The council was marked by political factors and prejudices which caused persecutions against the Coptic Church, prompting spiritual leaders of this denomination to strengthen martyrs and confessors by visiting prisons or accompanying them on trials or execution sites.
As a result, numerous Saints from the Coptic Church were martyred, such as St. Mena the Wonderworker, St. Reflca and her five children, St. Catherine and Thebean Legion – to name only a few. You can find more martyrs listed in their Calendar of Martyrs.
Coptic Churches are widely known for celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter, the second Sunday after the first full moon in Spring (Easter). Additionally, Copts also observe various holy days and feasts including Saint George, Abba Tekla himanot, Archangel Michael and their Orthodox calendar.
The Church of the Martyrs
Coptic Christians have become known for their courage, resilience and perseverance when facing persecution from Muslim rulers in Egypt. This has long been their story.
Martyrs were staunch Christians who never compromised their religious convictions; they courageously witness for Christ without fearing death or retreating when faced with persecution or death. At mass, churches remember these martyrs by reading aloud from scripture at Mass: Synaxarium is one reading used in Divine Liturgy to commemorate their sacrifice.
Egypt recently inaugurated a church dedicated to 21 Coptic Martyrs from Libya who died during a military operation. This church can be found in al-Our village where 13 of these martyred individuals resided at the time of their martyrdom.
Martyrs were not only known for their courage, but also frequently turned to prayer as another form of support and comfort during times of hardship and persecution. Praying to saints for intercession as well as God for guidance provided through prayers helped these courageous individuals endure.
God blessed their lives and filled them with His Holy Spirit, making their whole spirit, soul and body holy. Faith in Jesus Christ grew, while they harvested its Fruit of the Spirit – including Generosity, Love, Forgiveness, Humility and Selflessness.
They were not afraid of death; they believed the sacrifice they paid would be worthwhile in sharing Jesus. Only by making that ultimate sacrifice could they truly witness for him.
What distinguishes them from other Christians is their stoicism when facing hardship; something which sets the Coptic Christians apart from other denominations that tend to take a more conservative approach in church leadership.
Coptic Orthodox Church differs by having both a Pope who leads its clergy, and Bishops who oversee parishes within their dioceses. Both Pope and Bishop must also be monks; both serve on the Coptic Orthodox Synod which meets regularly to discuss faith-related and pastoral matters.
The Coptic Church observes various feast days to honor Mary, mother of Jesus. Their calendar began in 284 A.D. when Emperor Diocletian severely persecuted Christians living under his jurisdiction.