Below you will find a history of this unique Early Church founded by The Apostle Mark,. The Coptic Church exists as the largest Christian Church in the Middle East to this day. A vibrant church that extends to all the world.
The Copts are the native Egyptian Christians (Coptic: ⲟⲩⲢⲉⲙ̀ⲛⲭⲏⲙⲓ ̀ⲛ̀Ⲭⲣⲏⲥⲧⲓ̀ⲁⲛⲟⲥ ou.Remenkīmi en.Ekhristianos; Egyptian Arabic: اقباط, IPA: [ɑʔˈbɑːtˤ]), a major ethnoreligious group in Egypt and the largest Christian group there. Christianity was the majority religion during the 4th to 6th centuries AD and until the Muslim conquest of Egypt and remains the faith of a significant minority population. Historically they spoke the Coptic language, a direct descendant of the Demotic Egyptian spoken in the Roman era, but it has been near-extinct and mostly limited to liturgical use since the 18th century. They now speak Arabic.
Copts in Egypt constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East, as well as the largest religious minority in the region, accounting for an estimated 10% of Egyptian population. Most Copts adhere to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. The remainder of around 800,000 are divided between the Coptic Catholic and various Coptic Protestant churches.
The word Copt was adopted in English in the 17th century, from New Latin Coptus, Cophtus, which is derived from Arabic collective qubṭ, qibṭ قبط "the Copts" with nisba adjective qubṭī, qibṭī قبطي, plural aqbāṭ أقباط; Also quftī, qiftī, Arabic /f/ representing historical Coptic /p/. an Arabisation of the Coptic word kubti (Bohairic) and/or kuptaion (Sahidic). The Coptic word is in turn an adaptation of the Greek Αἰγύπτιος "Egyptian" ultimately related to Caphtor.
The term is thus ultimately derived from the Greek designation of the native Egyptian population in Roman Egypt (as distinct from Greeks, Romans, Jews, etc.). After the Muslim conquest of Egypt, it became restricted to those Egyptians adhering to the Christian religion.
The Greek term for Egypt, Αἰγύπτος, is itself derived from the Egyptian language, but dates to a much earlier period, being attested already in Mycenean Greek as a3-ku-pi-ti-jo (lit. "Egyptian"; used here as a man's name). This Mycenaean form is likely from Middle Egyptian ḥwt-k3-ptḥ ("Hut-ka-Ptah"), literally "Estate (or 'House') of the Spirit of Ptah" (cf. Akkadian āluḫi-ku-up-ta-aḫ), the name of the temple complex of the god Ptah at Memphis.
In their own Coptic language, the Copts referred to themselves as rem en kēme (Sahidic) ⲣⲙⲛⲕⲏⲙⲉ, lem en kēmi (Fayyumic), rem en khēmi (Bohairic) ⲣⲉⲙ̀ⲛⲭⲏⲙⲓ, which literally means "people of Egypt" or "Egyptians"; cf. Egyptian rmṯ n kmt, Demotic rmt n kmỉ.
The Arabic word qibṭ "Copt" has also been connected to the Greek name of the town of Κόπτος Coptos (modern day Qifṭ; Coptic Kebt and Keft). It is possible that this association has contributed to making Copt the settled form of the name.
In the 20th century, some Egyptian nationalists and intellectuals in the context of Pharaonism began using the term qubṭ in the historical sense. For example, Markos Pasha Semeika, founder of the Coptic Museum, addressed a group of Egyptian students saying: "All of you are Copts. Some of you are Muslim Copts, others are Christian Copts, but all of you are descended from the Ancient Egyptians".
The Copts are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East. Although integrated in the larger Egyptian nation, the Copts have survived as a distinct religious community forming around 10–20% of the population, though estimates vary. They pride themselves on the apostolicity of the Egyptian Church whose founder was the first in an unbroken chain of patriarchs. The main body for 16 centuries has been out of communion with both the Roman Catholic Church (in Rome) and the various Eastern orthodox churches.
According to ancient tradition, Christianity was introduced to the Egyptians by Saint Mark in Alexandria, shortly after the ascension of Christ and during the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius around 42 AD. The legacy that Saint Mark left in Egypt was a considerable Christian community in Alexandria. From Alexandria, Christianity spread throughout Egypt within half a century of Saint Mark's arrival in Alexandria, as is clear from a fragment of the Gospel of John, written in Coptic, which was found in Upper Egypt and can be dated to the first half of the 2nd century, and the New Testament writings found in Oxyrhynchus, in Middle Egypt, which date around the year 200 AD. In the 2nd century, Christianity began to spread to the rural areas, and scriptures were translated into the local language, today known as the Coptic language, but known as the Egyptian language at the time. By the beginning of the 3rd century AD, Christians constituted the majority of Egypt’s population, and the Church of Alexandria was recognized as one of Christendom's four Apostolic Sees, second in honor only to the Church of Rome. The Church of Alexandria is therefore the oldest Christian church in Africa.
Egyptians contributed immensely to Christian tradition. The Catechetical School of Alexandria was the oldest catechetical school in the world. Founded around 190 AD by the scholar Pantanaeus, the school of Alexandria became an important institution of religious learning, where students were taught by scholars such as Athenagoras, Clement, Didymus, and Origen, the father of theology and who was also active in the field of commentary and comparative Biblical studies. However, the scope of this school was not limited to theological subjects; science, mathematics and humanities were also taught there. The question-and-answer method of commentary began there, and 15 centuries before Braille, wood-carving techniques were in use there by blind scholars to read and write.
Another major contribution made by the Egyptians to Christianity was the creation and organization of monasticism. Worldwide Christian monasticism stems, either directly or indirectly, from the Egyptian example. The most prominent figures of the monastic movement were Anthony the Great, Paul of Thebes, Macarius the Great, Shenouda the Archimandrite and Pachomius the Cenobite. By the end of the 5th century, there were hundreds of monasteries, and thousands of cells and caves scattered throughout the Egyptian desert. Since then pilgrims have visited the Egyptian Desert Fathers to emulate their spiritual, disciplined lives. Saint Basil the Great Archbishop of Caesarea Mazaca, and the founder and organiser of the monastic movement in Asia Minor, visited Egypt around 357 AD and his monastic rules are followed by the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, came to Egypt while en route to Jerusalem around 400 AD and left details of his experiences in his letters. Saint Benedict founded the Benedictine Order in the 6th century on the model of Saint Pachomius, although in a stricter form.
The major contributions that the See of Alexandria has contributed to the establishment of early Christian theology and dogma are attested to by fact that the first three Ecumenical councils in the history of Christianity were headed by Egyptian patriarchs. The Council of Nicaea (325 AD) was presided over by St. Alexander, Patriarch of Alexandria, along with Saint Hosius of Córdoba. In addition, the most prominent figure of the council was the future Patriarch of Alexandria Athanasius, who played the major role in the formulation of the Nicene Creed, recited today in most Christian churches of different denominations. One of the council's decisions was to entrust the Patriarch of Alexandria with calculating and annually announcing the exact date of Easter to the rest of the Christian churches. The Council of Constantinople (381 AD) was presided over by Patriarch Timothy of Alexandria, while the Council of Ephesus (431 AD) was presided over by Cyril of Alexandria.
In 451 AD, following the Council of Chalcedon, the Church of Alexandria was divided into two branches. Those who accepted the terms of the Council became known as Chalcedonians or Melkites. Those who did not abide by the Council's terms were labeled non-Chalcedonians or Monophysites and later Jacobites after Jacob Baradaeus. The non-Chalcedonians, however, rejected the term Monophysites as erroneous and referred to themselves as Miaphysites. The majority of the Egyptians belonged to the Miaphysite branch, which led to their persecution by the Byzantines in Egypt.
The position of the Copts did not begin to improve until the rule of Muhammad Ali in the early 19th century, who abolished the Jizya (a tax on non-muslims) and allowed Egyptians (Copts as well as Muslims) to enroll in the army. Conditions continued to improve throughout the 19th century under the leadership of the great reformer Pope Cyril IV, and in the first half of the 20th century (known as the Golden Age by the Copts) during Egypt's liberal period. Copts participated in the Egyptian national movement for independence and occupied many influential positions. Two significant cultural achievements include the founding of the Coptic Museum in 1910 and the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies in 1954. Some prominent Coptic thinkers from this period are Salama Moussa, Louis Awad and Secretary General of the Wafd Party Makram Ebeid. Following the 1952 coup d'état by the Free Officers, the conditions of the Copts have been slowly deteriorating and their human rights are often violated.
In 1952, Nasser led some army officers in a coup d'état against King Farouk, which overthrew the Kingdom of Egypt and established a republic. Nasser's mainstream policy was pan-Arab nationalism and socialism. The Copts were severely affected by Nasser's nationalization policies because, though they represented about 10–20% of the population, they were so economically prosperous that they held more than 50% of the country's wealth. In addition, Nasser's pan-Arab policies undermined the Copts' strong attachment to and sense of identity about their Egyptian pre-Arab, and certainly non-Arab, identity; permits to construct churches were delayed, Christian religious courts were closed, and the regime confiscated land and Church properties from Copts. As a result, many Copts left their country for Australia, North America, or Europe.
Today, members of the non-Chalcedonian Coptic Orthodox Church constitute the majority of the Egyptian Christian population. Mainly through emigration and partly through European, American, and other missionary work and conversions, the Egyptian Christian community now also includes other Christian denominations such as Protestants (known in Arabic as Evangelicals), Roman and Eastern Rite Catholics, and other Orthodox congregations. The term Coptic remains exclusive however to the Egyptian natives, as opposed to the Christians of non-Egyptian origins. Some Protestant churches for instance are called "Coptic Evangelical Church", thus helping differentiate their native Egyptian congregations from churches attended by non-Egyptian immigrant communities such as Europeans or Americans.
The last head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, died 17 March 2012. As of April 2012, no successor had been appointed.
Sudan has a native Coptic minority, although many Copts in Sudan are descended from more recent Egyptian immigrants. Copts in Sudan live mostly in northern cities, including Al Obeid, Atbara, Dongola, Khartoum, Omdurman, Port Sudan, and Wad Medani. They number up to 500,000, or slightly over 1% of the Sudanese population. Due to their advanced education, their role in the life of the country has been more significant than their numbers suggest. They have occasionally faced forced conversion to Islam, resulting in their emigration and decrease in number.
Modern immigration of Copts to Sudan peaked in the early 19th century, and they generally received a tolerant welcome there. However, this was interrupted by a decade of persecution under Mahdist rule at the end of the 19th century. As a result of this persecution, many were forced to relinquish their faith, adopt Islam, and intermarry with the native Sudanese. The Anglo-Egyptian invasion in 1898 allowed Copts greater religious and economic freedom, and they extended their original roles as artisans and merchants into trading, banking, engineering, medicine, and the civil service. Proficiency in business and administration made them a privileged minority. However, the return of militant Islam in the mid-1960s and subsequent demands by radicals for an Islamic constitution prompted Copts to join in public opposition to religious rule.
Gaafar Nimeiry's introduction of Islamic Sharia law in 1983 began a new phase of oppressive treatment of Copts, among other non-Muslims. After the overthrow of Nimeiry, Coptic leaders supported a secular candidate in the 1986 elections. However, when the National Islamic Front overthrew the elected government of Sadiq al-Mahdi with the help of the military, discrimination against Copts returned in earnest. Hundreds of Copts were dismissed from the civil service and judiciary.
In February 1991, a Coptic pilot working for Sudan Airways was executed for illegal possession of foreign currency. Before his execution, he had been offered amnesty and money if he converted to Islam, but he refused. Thousands attended his funeral, and the execution was taken as a warning by many Copts, who began to flee the country.
Restrictions on the Copts' rights to Sudanese nationality followed, and it became difficult for them to obtain Sudanese nationality by birth or by naturalization, resulting in problems when attempting to travel abroad. The confiscation of Christian schools and the imposition of an Arab-Islamic emphasis in language and history teaching were accompanied by harassment of Christian children and the introduction of hijab dress laws. A Coptic child was flogged for failing to recite a Koranic verse. In contrast with the extensive media broadcasting of the Muslim Friday prayers, the radio ceased coverage of the Christian Sunday service. As the civil war raged throughout the 1990s, the government focused its religious fervour on the south. Although experiencing discrimination, the Copts and other long-established Christian groups in the north had fewer restrictions than Christians in South Sudan.
Today, the Coptic Church in Sudan is officially registered with the government, and is exempt from property tax. In 2005, the Sudanese government of National Unity (GNU) named a Coptic Orthodox priest to a government position, though the ruling Islamist party's continued dominance under the GNU provides ample reason to doubt its commitment to broader religious or ethnic representation.
Living in a country of Muslim majority, the size of the population of Copts is a continuously disputed matter, frequently for reasons of religious jealousy and animosity. Some official estimates state that Christians represent from 5% to 10% or less of a population of over 83 million Egyptians while other independent and Christian sources estimate much higher numbers, up to 23% of the population.
Coptic population in Sudan is at about half a million or 1% of Sudanese population.
Outside of Egypt and Sudan, the largest Coptic diaspora population is in the United States and Canada, US population numbering about 200,000 (estimates of Coptic organizations ranging as high as a million).
It is noted that Copts also live in Denmark, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia and Sweden.
This is a good place to also discuss the damage the US Invasion into Iraq has caused that Early Christian Church. With American Occupation came the almost total destruction and murder of all Christians in Iraq. What was once an ancient and growing community it has now largely died due to attacks by Radical Islamic Groups unleashed with the removal of the Iraqi Police and Army by US forces. Thereby giving the USA the distinction of having helped erase Christianity from yet another nation by it's incursion.
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Modern persecution of
Religious freedom in Egypt is hampered to varying degrees by discriminatory and restrictive government policies. Coptic Christians, being the largest religious minority in Egypt, are also negatively affected. Copts have faced increasing marginalization after the 1952 coup d'état led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Until recently, Christians were required to obtain presidential approval for even minor repairs in churches. Although the law was eased in 2005 by handing down the authority of approval to the governors, Copts continue to face many obstacles and restrictions in building new churches. These restrictions do not apply for building mosques.
The Coptic community has been targeted by hate crimes and physical assaults. The most significant was the 2000–01 El Kosheh attacks, in which Muslims and Christians were involved in bloody inter-religious clashes following a dispute between a Muslim and a Christian. "Twenty Christians and one Muslim were killed after violence broke out in the town of el-Kosheh, 440 kilometres (270 mi) south of Cairo". International Christian Concern reported that in February 2001, Muslims burned a new Egyptian church and the homes of 35 Christians, and that in April 2001 a 14-year-old Egyptian Christian girl was kidnapped because her parents were believed to be harboring a person who had converted from Islam to Christianity.
In 2006, one person attacked three churches in Alexandria, killing one person and injuring 5-16. The attacker was not linked to any organisation and described as "psychologically disturbed" by the Ministry of Interior. In May 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported increasing "waves of mob assaults" by Muslims against Copts, forcing many Christians to flee their homes. Despite frantic calls for help, the police typically arrived after the violence was over. The police also coerced the Copts to accept "reconciliation" with their attackers to avoid prosecuting them, with no Muslims convicted for any of the attacks. In Marsa Matrouh, a mob of 3,000 Muslims attacked the city's Coptic population, with 400 Copts having to barricade themselves in their church while the mob destroyed 18 homes, 23 shops and 16 cars.
Members of U.S. Congress have expressed concern about "human trafficking" of Coptic women and girls who are victims of abductions, forced conversion to Islam, sexual exploitation and forced marriage to Muslim men.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali is a Copt who served as Egypt's acting foreign minister twice under President Anwar Sadat (1977 and 1978–1979). Although Boutros Boutros-Ghali later became the United Nations Secretary-General, his appointment as an only acting foreign minister depicted Egypt's systematic elimination of Copts from all governmental influential positions. Today, only two Copts are on Egypt's governmental cabinet: Finance Minister Youssef Boutros Ghali and Environment Minister Magued George. There is also currently one Coptic governor out of 25, that of the Upper Egyptian governorate of Qena, and the first Coptic governor in a few decades. In addition, Naguib Sawiris, an extremely successful businessman and one of the world's 100 wealthiest people, is a Copt. In 2002, under the Mubarak government, Coptic Christmas (January the 7th) was recognized as an official holiday. However, many Copts continue to complain of being minimally represented in law enforcement, state security and public office, and of being discriminated against in the workforce on the basis of their religion. Most Copts do not support independence or separation movement from other Egyptians.
While freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution, according to Human Rights Watch, "Egyptians are able to convert to Islam generally without difficulty, but Muslims who convert to Christianity face difficulties in getting new identity papers and some have been arrested for allegedly forging such documents. The Coptic community, however, takes pains to prevent conversions from Christianity to Islam due to the ease with which Christians can often become Muslim. Public officials, being conservative themselves, intensify the complexity of the legal procedures required to recognize the religion change as required by law. Security agencies will sometimes claim that such conversions from Islam to Christianity (or occasionally vice versa) may stir social unrest, and thereby justify themselves in wrongfully detaining the subjects, insisting that they are simply taking steps to prevent likely social troubles from happening. In 2007, a Cairo administrative court denied 45 citizens the right to obtain identity papers documenting their reversion to Christianity after converting to Islam. However, in February 2008 the Supreme Administrative Court overturned the decision, allowing 12 citizens who had reverted back to Christianity to re-list their religion on identity cards, but they will specify that they had adopted Islam for a brief period of time.
The Egyptian Census of 1897 reported the percentage of Non-Muslims in Urban Provinces as 14.7%( 13.2% Christians, 1.4% Jews). The Egyptian Census of 1986 reported the percentage of Non-Muslims in Urban Provinces as 6.1%( 5.7% Christians, 0% Jews). The decline in the Jewish representation is interpreted through the creation of the state of Israel, and the subsequent emigration of the Egyptian Jews. There is no explanation for a 55% decline in the percentage of Christians in Egypt. It has been suggested that Egyptian censuses held after 1952 have been politicised to under-represent the Christian population.
The Coptic language is the last stage of the Egyptian language.
Coptic should more correctly be used to refer to the script rather than the language itself. Even though this script was introduced as far back as the 1st century BC, it has been applied to the writing of the Egyptian language from the 1st century AD to the present day. Coptic remained the spoken language of all Egyptians until it was slowly replaced by Masri (colloquial Egyptian Arabic) around the 17th century, although it may have survived in isolated pockets for a little longer.
Today, Coptic is the native language of only about 300 Copts around the world. It is also the liturgical language of the native Egyptian Churches (the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Coptic Catholic Church). It is taught worldwide in many prestigious institutions, but its teaching within Egypt remains restricted.Coptic calendar
The Coptic calendar, also called the Alexandrian calendar, is used by the Coptic Orthodox Church and also by Ethiopia as its official calendar (with different names). This calendar is based on the ancient Egyptian calendar. To avoid the calendar creep of the latter, a reform of the ancient Egyptian calendar was introduced at the time of Ptolemy III (Decree of Canopus, in 238 BC) which consisted of the intercalation of a sixth epagomenal day every fourth year. However, this reform was opposed by the Egyptian priests, and the idea was not adopted until 25 BC, when the Roman Emperor Augustus formally reformed the calendar of Egypt, keeping it forever synchronized with the newly introduced Julian calendar. To distinguish it from the Ancient Egyptian calendar, which remained in use by some astronomers until medieval times, this reformed calendar is known as the Coptic calendar. Its years and months coincide with those of the Ethiopian calendar but have different numbers and names.
The Coptic year is the extension of the ancient Egyptian civil year, retaining its subdivision into the three seasons, four months each. The three seasons are commemorated by special prayers in the Coptic Liturgy. This calendar is still in use all over Egypt by farmers to keep track of the various agricultural seasons. The Coptic calendar has 13 months, 12 of 30 days each and an intercalary month at the end of the year of 5 or 6 days, depending whether the year is a leap year or not. The year starts on 29 August in the Julian Calendar or on the 30th in the year before (Julian) Leap Years. The Coptic Leap Year follows the same rules as the Julian Calendar so that the extra month always has six days in the year before a Julian Leap Year.
The Feast of Neyrouz marks the first day of the Coptic year. Ignorant of the Egyptian language for the most part, the Arabs confused the Egyptian new year's celebrations, which the Egyptians called the feast of Ni-Yarouou (the feast the rivers), with the Persian feast of Nowruz. The misnomer remains today, and the celebrations of the Egyptian new year on the first day of the month of Thout are known as the Neyrouz. Its celebration falls on the 1st day of the month of Thout, the first month of the Egyptian year, which for AD 1901 to 2098 usually coincides with 11 September, except before a Gregorian leap year when it's September 12. Coptic years are counted from AD 284, the year Diocletian became Roman Emperor, whose reign was marked by tortures and mass executions of Christians, especially in Egypt. Hence, the Coptic year is identified by the abbreviation A.M. (for Anno Martyrum or "Year of the Martyrs"). The A.M. abbreviation is also used for the unrelated Jewish year (Anno Mundi).
Every fourth Coptic year is a leap year without exception, as in the Julian calendar, so the above mentioned new year dates apply only between AD 1900 and 2099 inclusive in the Gregorian Calendar. In the Julian Calendar, the new year is always 29 August, except before a Julian leap year when it's August 30. Easter is reckoned by the Julian Calendar in the Old Calendarist way.
To obtain the Coptic year number, subtract from the Julian year number either 283 (before the Julian new year) or 284 (after it).
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