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A Message For You
have been talking about our church: about how special and holy
it is and how it leads us into being a new creation, into the
way of life in Jesus Christ. But what do we know about our
Coptic Orthodox Church? What do we know about its formation,
about its history, about its place in the world and in
There is a
very good article on our St. Anthony’s church web site entitled,
“History of the Coptic Orthodox Church” by Father Marcos A.
Marcos. This is a long article, but let’s see if we can take a
little bit from it to better understand our Church:
As you well
know, Christianity began in Egypt when the disciple, St. Mark,
first brought the word of Christ somewhere between 48 and 61 AD.
Before his martyrdom in Alexandria in 68 AD, St. Mark won many
converts to Christianity and founded the Christian Church in
Christianity spread very quickly in Egypt and, so with it, did
persecutions. Persecution means to punish or hurt someone
because of what they believe.
first persecuted the Copts according to the edict (order) of 202
AD, which said that Christian conversion must be stopped at all
costs. The edict required citizens of the Roman Empire to carry
a certificate showing that they had offered sacrifice to the
Roman gods. Those who refused – among them Coptic men, women,
and children – were tortured and killed.
Some of the
worst of these persecutions against the Copts came during the
reign of the Roman emperor, Diocletian. So severe were the mass
tortures and killings of the Coptic people under Emperor
Diocletian that the Copts took the day of Diocletian’s election
as emperor – in 284 AD – as the beginning of the Coptic Church
calendar. Thus, 284 AD is known as Anno Martyrum (AM), the Year
of the Martyrs.
But it was
during these tortures and trials by the Romans that, through the
second century, our Coptic Church grew and became fully
established. By the third century the hierarchy (the priestly
ranks) of the Coptic Church was formed: from our holy Patriarch
in Alexandria (currently His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the 117
Patriarch of the See of Alexandria) down to the humble priests
and monks who serve our Church. The Coptic Church so is marked
and identified with persecution and martyrdom (by the Romans,
Byzantines, and many others) in the name of Christ Jesus.
history the Coptic Church was important in forming and shaping
Christian understanding and teaching.
Catechetical School in Alexandria was the earliest, important
institution for theological education regarding Christianity.
The deans and teachers of this school along with its graduates
formed and organized Christian theology and doctrine. This
Coptic institution defined Christianity for all ages to come.
Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Dionysius (the Great) of
Alexandria, and many others came from this school.
Council of Nicea (in 325 AD) St. Athanasius was chosen by Anba
Alexandros (the 19th Pope of the See of Alexandria)
to speak against the heresy of Arius and his followers. St
Athanasius very well and successfully defended, and so helped
define the Orthodox faith against the false beliefs of the
Arians. For this St. Athanasius was commended by the council and
by Emperor Constantine. St. Athanasius also formulated the text
of the Orthodox Creed, which was accepted by this council. Two
other ecumenical councils followed (the Council of
Constantinople and the Council of Ephesus) which defined the
true Christian faith against various heresies. In all of these
the Coptic Church played leading and important roles.
most of us know, the Coptic Church gave birth to monasticism.
Monasticism is characterized by the urge, in love, to be with
God all the time: to pray without ceasing, to hunger for
meditation on the word of God, and to discipline one’s self by
fasting, vigils, obedience, celibacy, subduing the flesh,
willfully taking on poverty, and giving up worldly concerns. St.
Antony the Great (251-356 AD) is considered the father of all
monks. Though he was not the first to go to the deserts of
Egypt, St. Antony was the first to take up true monasticism in
his struggle for the Lord.
Christianity is a missionary religion and the Copts have long
been very active as missionaries and in defending the Orthodox
faith. St. Athanasius was exiled (sent far away as a prisoner)
five times for his keeping of the true faith in strong
opposition to the Arian heresies. While in exile he helped to
establish Orthodox Christianity and monasticism in Western
Europe. The soldiers of the Theban Legion (a detachment of
Coptic Christians in the Roman army) were all martyred because
they refused to worship the idols of Emperor Maximian.
spread the word of the Lord and the Orthodox faith in Britain,
Ireland, Africa (for example the Ethiopian Church, which is
under the Coptic Patriarch), Arabia, Persia, throughout Europe,
and now in North America, South America, Australia, and many
other places. Likewise, many clergy and other people from other
countries and faiths have come to the fathers of our Church and
have learned from and been influenced by our Coptic Orthodox
Church has endured many trials and persecutions including those
resulting from the terrible schism (division or breakup) of the
Christian Apostolic Church around the Council of Chalcedon in
451 AD and the Arab conquest of Egypt in 642 AD (If you like,
you can read more about these on our web site).
Copts number about six million and the liturgy is still
celebrated in its ancient, original form. The Church in the past
century has been undergoing a significant revival in education
and inter-working with other churches. This includes youth
ministries and new theological seminaries among other works. We
mentioned above Coptic missionary work to many countries.
Included also are the establishment of churches Kuwait, Libya,
Lebanon, and the Caribbean Islands. New churches have been
built, new monasteries and convents have been established, and
the number of monks and nuns has been increasing in the past
fifty years. And our Church meets regularly with other churches,
both Catholic and Protestant. Dialogues between the Coptic
Church and other Churches have been initiated and carried out by
our Patriarch himself in brotherly love towards the achievement
of the oneness of faith.
I hope from this you can see the great importance that our
Coptic Church has had throughout history, within Christianity,
and in the whole world. Ours is an enduring, vital, and very
spiritual Church. We are all part of the Lord’s great movement
within our Church and we need every minute to remember and
respect this as we worship in His name.
A Quiz To Do --
we are talking about our Coptic Orthodox Church, why don't we do a
quiz that shows us a little of what the early Christian Church was
like at the time of the apostles right after Jesus' ascension
into heaven. To do this let's look in the Bible at the
book of Acts, Chapter 4, verses 32 through 37 and Chapter 5,
verses 12 through 16.
The text for this quiz is taken from the Revised Standard
Version of the Bible. Your Bible may be a different version and
so the wording may be a little different from what is used here.
Mom and Dad, please
feel free to help the younger kids:
First, in Acts Chapter 4, verses
32 through 37:
1. In verse 32, in what way did the company of those who believed [this is the
Church] act toward one another?
2. In verse 32, how
did the believers treat their possessions?
In verse 33, in what way did the apostles give testimony to the
resurrection of the Lord Jesus?
In verses 34 through 35, how were the needy among the believers
In verses 36 through 37, what was the name of the native of
Cyprus who sold a field which belonged to him?
Then in Acts, Chapter 5, verses 12 through 16:
In verse 12, what was done among the people by the hands of the
In verse 12, where were the believers all together?
In verse 13, how did the other people feel about the believers?
In verse 15, whom did the people carry into the streets?
In verse 15, what part of St. Peter at least did the people want
to fall on the sick?
In verse 16, from where did the people gather bringing the sick
and those afflicted with unclean spirits?
In verse 16, what happened to the sick and those afflicted with
Answers to the
And Some Useful Links --
Kid Corner (Stories, quizzes, word
search, puzzles, games, Coptic language lessons,
Sunday school lessons, and more)
St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church, Washington DC (A
very full web site concerning the youth at St.
Mark's church who are very active. Though some of
the web site is related to activities at St. Mark's,
there is still lots to read that is of a general
nature, and perhaps there are some good ideas for
us to explore)