The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is the official name for the largest Christian church in Egypt and the Middle East.
The Church belongs to the Oriental Orthodox family of churches, which has been a distinct church body since the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, when it took a different position over Christological theology from that of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
The precise differences in theology that caused the split with the Coptic Christians are still disputed, highly technical, and mainly concerned with the nature of Christ. The foundational roots of the Church are based in Egypt, but it has a worldwide following.
According to tradition, the church was established by St Mark, the evangelist, in approximately 42 AD.
Copts remember that Egypt is identified in the Bible as the place of refuge that the Holy Family sought in its flight from Judea:
When he [Joseph] 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 Desert Fathers (there were also Desert Mothers) were Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD. The Apophthegmata Patrum is a collection of their wisdom, still in print as Sayings of the Desert Fathers.
Christian monasticism was born in Egypt. By the end of the 5th century, there were hundreds of monasteries, and thousands of cells and caves scattered throughout the Egyptian desert. A great number of these monasteries are still flourishing and have new vocations to this day.
The Egyptian Coptic Church has a distinctive, living icon painting traditions. Beginning in the 4th century, churches painted their walls and made icons to reflect an authentic expression of their faith.
In 2012, about 10% of Egyptians belonged to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. The community has been caught up in the recent political tensions in Egypt with many churches being burnt and communities affected by violence. We can easily forget how fortunate we are in the freedom we have to worship.
Let’s remember to pray for our fellow Christians who need courage to live our shared faith.
God, Our Father, have mercy on the Middle East.
Your faithful servants – young and old alike –
are called to witness to Christ.
May they be strengthened during this time of turmoil
as they seek to follow your beloved Son,
who Himself walked their ancient homelands.
In union with Francis, our Pope, we pray that Christians in the Middle East
may be enabled to live their Faith in full freedom.
Embolden them to act as instruments
of peace and reconciliation,
united with all the citizens of their countries.
Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Amen.