Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria

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The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria (Coptic: Ϯⲉⲕ̀ⲕⲗⲏⲥⲓⲁ ̀ⲛⲣⲉⲙ̀ⲛⲭⲏⲙⲓ ⲛⲟⲣⲑⲟⲇⲟⲝⲟⲥ, romanized: ti.eklyseya en.remenkimi en.orthodoxos, lit. 'The Egyptian Orthodox Church') is an Oriental Orthodox Christian church based in Egypt, Africa and the Middle East. The head of the church and the See of Alexandria is the Patriarch of Alexandria on the Holy See of Saint Mark, who also carries the title of Coptic Pope. The See of Alexandria is titular, and today the Coptic Pope presides from Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in the Abbassia District in Cairo. The church follows the Alexandrian Rite for its liturgy, prayer and devotional patrimony. With approximately 10 million members worldwide, it is the country's largest Christian denomination.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria
Ϯⲉⲕ̀ⲕⲗⲏⲥⲓⲁ ̀ⲛⲣⲉⲙ̀ⲛⲭⲏⲙⲓ ⲛⲟⲣⲑⲟⲇⲟⲝⲟⲥ
ClassificationEastern Christian
OrientationOriental Orthodox
GovernanceHoly Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church
HeadPope Tawadros II
RegionEgypt, Libya, Sudan, South Sudan, Middle East, and diaspora
LiturgyAlexandrian Rite
HeadquartersSaint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, Cairo, Egypt
FounderSt. Mark the Evangelist (Traditional)
OriginAD 42
Alexandria, Egypt
SeparationsCoptic Catholic Church (1895)
British Orthodox Church (2015)
Members10 million[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]
Other name(s)Coptic Church
Coptic Orthodox Church

According to its tradition, the Coptic Church was established by Saint Mark, an apostle and evangelist, during the middle of the 1st century (c. AD 42).[8] Due to disputes concerning the nature of Christ, it split from the rest of Christendom after the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, resulting in a rivalry with the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria. In the 4–7th centuries the Coptic Church gradually expanded due to the Christianization of the Aksumite Empire and of two of the three Nubian kingdoms, Nobatia and Alodia, while the third Nubian kingdom, Makuria, recognized the Coptic patriarch after initially being aligned to the State church of the Roman Empire.

After AD 639 Egypt was ruled by its Islamic conquerors from Arabia, and the treatment of the Coptic Christians ranged from tolerance to open persecution. In the 12th century, the church relocated its seat from Alexandria to Cairo. The same century also saw the Copts become a religious minority. During the 14th and 15th centuries, Nubian Christianity was supplanted by Islam. In 1959, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church was granted autocephaly. This was extended to the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church in 1998 following the successful Eritrean War of Independence from Ethiopia. Since the Arab Spring in 2011, the Copts have been suffering increased religious discrimination and violence.[9]


Apostolic foundationEdit

The Egyptian Church is traditionally believed to be founded by St Mark at around AD 42,[8] and regards itself as the subject of many prophecies in the Old Testament. Isaiah the prophet, in Chapter 19, Verse 19 says "In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border". The first Christians in Egypt were common people who spoke Egyptian Coptic.[10] There were also Alexandrian Jewish people such as Theophilus, whom Saint Luke the Evangelist addresses in the introductory chapter of his gospel. When the church was founded by Saint Mark during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, a great multitude of native Egyptians (as opposed to Greeks or Jews) embraced the Christian faith.[10][11]

Christianity spread throughout Egypt within half a century of Saint Mark's arrival in Alexandria, as is clear from the New Testament writings found in Bahnasa, in Middle Egypt, which date around the year AD 200, and 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. In the 2nd century, Christianity began to spread to the rural areas, and scriptures were translated into the local languages, namely Coptic.

Coptic Language in the ChurchEdit

The Coptic language is a universal language used in Coptic churches in every country. It is derived from ancient Egyptian and uses Greek letters. Many of the hymns in the liturgy are in Coptic and have been passed down for several thousand years. The language is used to preserve Egypt's original language, which was banned by the Arab invaders, who ordered Arabic to be used instead.[12] Some examples of these hymns are Coptic: Ⲡⲟⳙⲣⲟ, romanized: ep.ouro, lit. 'The King',Coptic: Ⲉⲕⲥⲙⲁⲣⲱⲟⲩⲧ, romanized: ek.esmaro'oot, lit. '(Thou) Blessed', Coptic: Ⲧⲁⲓϣⲟⲩⲣⲏ, romanized: tai.shouri, lit. 'This Censer', and many more.

Contributions to ChristianityEdit

Catechetical School of AlexandriaEdit

The Catechetical School of Alexandria is the oldest catechetical school in the world. St. Jerome records that the Christian School of Alexandria was founded by Saint Mark himself.[13] Around AD 190, under the leadership of 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 the native Egyptian Origen, who was considered the father of theology and who was also active in the field of commentary and comparative Biblical studies.

Many scholars such as Jerome visited the school of Alexandria to exchange ideas and to communicate directly with its scholars. 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.

The theological college of the catechetical school was re-established in 1893.[14] The new school currently has campuses in Ireland, Cairo, New Jersey, and Los Angeles, where Coptic priests-to-be and other qualified men and women are taught among other subjects Christian theology, history, the Coptic language and art–including chanting, music, iconography, and tapestry.

Cradle of monasticism and its missionary workEdit

Many Egyptian Christians went to the desert during the 3rd century, and remained there to pray and work and dedicate their lives to seclusion and worship of God. This was the beginning of the monastic movement, which was organized by Anthony the Great, Saint Paul of Thebes, the world's first anchorite, Saint Macarius the Great and Saint Pachomius the Cenobite in the 4th century.

Christian monasticism was born in Egypt and was instrumental in the formation of the Coptic Orthodox Church character of submission, simplicity and humility, thanks to the teachings and writings of the Great Fathers of Egypt's Deserts. 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.

All Christian monasticism stems, either directly or indirectly, from the Egyptian example: Saint Basil the Great Archbishop of Caesarea of Cappadocia, founder and organizer of the monastic movement in Asia Minor, visited Egypt around AD 357 and his rule is followed by the Eastern Orthodox churches; Saint Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin, came to Egypt, while en route to Jerusalem, around AD 400 and left details of his experiences in his letters; Benedict founded the Benedictine Order in the 6th century on the model of Saint Pachomius, but in a stricter form. Countless pilgrims have visited the Desert Fathers to emulate their spiritual, disciplined lives.

Role and participation in the Ecumenical CouncilsEdit

Council of NicaeaEdit

In the 4th century, an Alexandrian presbyter named Arius began a theological dispute about the nature of Christ that spread throughout the Christian world and is now known as Arianism. The Ecumenical Council of Nicea AD 325 was convened by Constantine after the Pope Alexander I of Alexandria requested to hold a Council to respond to heresies,[15] under the presidency of Saint Hosius of Cordova to resolve the dispute. This eventually led to the formulation of the Symbol of Faith, also known as the Nicene Creed.[16] The Creed, which is now recited throughout the Christian world, was based largely on the teaching put forth by a man who eventually would become Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, the chief opponent of Arius, and 20th bishop of Alexandria and therefor a Pope according to Coptic Christians.

Council of ConstantinopleEdit

In the year AD 381, Pope Timothy I of Alexandria presided over the second ecumenical council known as the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, to judge Macedonius, who denied the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. This council completed the Nicene Creed with this confirmation of the divinity of the Holy Spirit:

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father through the Son is worshiped and glorified who spoke by the Prophets and in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church. We confess one Baptism for the remission of sins and we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the coming age, Amen.

Council of EphesusEdit

Coptic Icon in the Coptic Altar of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Another theological dispute in the 5th century occurred over the teachings of Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople who taught that God the Word was not hypostatically joined with human nature, but rather dwelt in the man Jesus. As a consequence of this, he denied the title "Mother of God" (Theotokos) to the Virgin Mary, declaring her instead to be "Mother of Christ" Christotokos.

When reports of this reached the Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark, Pope Saint Cyril I of Alexandria acted quickly to correct this breach with orthodoxy, requesting that Nestorius repent. When he would not, the Synod of Alexandria met in an emergency session and a unanimous agreement was reached. The Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyril I of Alexandria, supported by the entire See, sent a letter to Nestorius known as "The Third Epistle of Saint Cyril to Nestorius." This epistle drew heavily on the established Patristic Constitutions and contained the most famous article of Alexandrian Orthodoxy: "The Twelve Anathemas of Saint Cyril." In these anathemas, Cyril excommunicated anyone who followed the teachings of Nestorius. For example, "Anyone who dares to deny the Holy Virgin the title Theotokos is Anathema!" Nestorius however, still would not repent and so this led to the convening of the First Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (AD 431), over which Cyril presided.[citation needed]

The Council confirmed the teachings of Saint Athanasius and confirmed the title of Mary as "Mother of God". It also clearly stated that anyone who separated Christ into two hypostases was anathema, as Cyril had said that there is "One Nature [and One Hypostasis] for God the Word Incarnate" (Mia Physis tou Theou Logou Sesarkōmenē). Also, the introduction to the creed was formulated as follows:

We magnify you O Mother of the True Light and we glorify you O saint and Mother of God (Theotokos) for you have borne unto us the Saviour of the world. Glory to you O our Master and King: Christ, the pride of the Apostles, the crown of the martyrs, the rejoicing of the righteous, firmness of the churches and the forgiveness of sins. We proclaim the Holy Trinity in One Godhead: we worship Him, we glorify Him, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord bless us, Amen. [not dissimilar to the "Axion Estin" Chant still used in Orthodoxy]

Council of ChalcedonEdit

When in AD 451 Emperor Marcian attempted to heal divisions in the Church, the response of Pope Dioscorus–the Pope of Alexandria who was later exiled–as that the emperor should not intervene in the affairs of the Church. It was at Chalcedon that the emperor, through the imperial delegates, enforced harsh disciplinary measures against Pope Dioscorus in response to his boldness. In AD 449, Pope Dioscorus headed the 2nd Council of Ephesus, called the "Robber Council" by Chalcedonian historians. It held to the Miaphysite formula which upheld the Christology of "One Incarnate Nature of God the Word" (Greek: μία φύσις Θεοῦ Λόγου σεσαρκωμένη (mia physis Theou Logou sesarkōmenē)),[17] and upheld the heretic Eutyches claiming he was orthodox.

The Council of Chalcedon summoned Dioscorus three times to appear at the council, after which he was deposed. The Council of Chalcedon further deposed him for his support of Eutyches, but not necessarily for Eutychian Monophysitism. Dioscorus appealed to the conciliar fathers to allow for a more Miaphysite interpretation of Christology at the council, but was denied. Following his being deposed, the Coptic Church and its faithful felt unfairly underrepresented at the council and oppressed politically by the Byzantine Empire. After the Byzantines appointed Proterius of Alexandria as Patriarch to represent the Chalcedonian Church, the Coptic Church appointed their own Patriarch Timothy Aelurus and broke from the State church of the Roman Empire.

The Council of Chalcedon, from the perspective of the Alexandrine Christology, has deviated from the approved Cyrillian terminology and declared that Christ was one hypostasis in two natures. However, in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, "Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary," thus the foundation of the definition according to the Non-Chalcedonian adherents, according to the Christology of Cyril of Alexandria is valid. There is a change in the Non-Chalcedonian definition here, as the Nicene creed clearly uses the terms "of", rather than "in."[citation needed]

In terms of Christology, the Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonians) understanding is that Christ is "One Nature—the Logos Incarnate," of the full humanity and full divinity. The Chalcedonians' understanding is that Christ is recognized in two natures, full humanity and full divinity. Oriental Orthodoxy contends that such a formulation is no different from what the Nestorians teach.[18] This is the doctrinal perception that makes the apparent difference which separated the Oriental Orthodox from the Eastern Orthodox.

The council's findings were rejected by many of the Christians on the fringes of the Byzantine Empire, including Egyptians, Syriacs, Armenians, and others.

From that point onward, Alexandria would have two patriarchs: the non-Chalcedonian native Egyptian one, now known as the Coptic Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of St. Mark, and the Melkite or Imperial Patriarch, now known as the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria.[19]

Almost the entire Egyptian population rejected the terms of the Council of Chalcedon and remained faithful to the native Egyptian Church (now known as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria).[20] Those who supported the Chalcedonian definition remained in communion with the other leading imperial churches of Rome and Constantinople. The non-Chalcedonian party became what is today called the Oriental Orthodox Church.

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria regards itself as having been misunderstood at the Council of Chalcedon. There was an opinion in the Church that viewed that perhaps the Council understood the Church of Alexandria correctly, but wanted to curtail the existing power of the Alexandrine Hierarch, especially after the events that happened several years before at Constantinople from Pope Theophilus of Alexandria towards Patriarch John Chrysostom and the unfortunate turnouts of the Second Council of Ephesus in AD 449, where Eutychus misled Pope Dioscorus and the Council in confessing the Orthodox Faith in writing and then renouncing it after the council, which in turn, had upset Rome, especially that the tome which was sent was not read during the council sessions.

To make things even worse, the Tome of Pope Leo of Rome was, according to the Alexandria School of Theology,[citation needed] particularly in regards to the definition of Christology, considered influenced by Nestorian heretical teachings. So, due to the above-mentioned, especially in the consecutive sequences of events, the Hierarchs of Alexandria were considered holding too much of power from one hand, and on the other hand, due to the conflict of the Schools of Theology, there would be an impasse and a scapegoat, i.e. Pope Dioscorus. The Tome of Leo has been widely criticized (surprisingly by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scholars) in the past 50 years as a much less than perfect orthodox theological doctrine.[citation needed] By anathematizing Pope Leo because of the tone and content of his tome, as per Alexandrine Theology perception, Pope Dioscorus was found guilty of doing so without due process; in other words, the Tome of Leo was not a subject of heresy in the first place, but it was a question of questioning the reasons behind not having it either acknowledged or read at the Second Council of Ephesus in AD 449. Pope Dioscorus of Alexandria was never labeled as heretic by the council's canons. Copts also believe that the Pope of Alexandria was forcibly prevented from attending the third congregation of the council from which he was ousted, apparently the result of a conspiracy tailored by the Roman delegates.[21]

Before the current positive era of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox dialogues, Chalcedonians sometimes used to call the non-Chalcedonians "Monophysites", though the Coptic Orthodox Church in reality regards Monophysitism as a heresy. The Chalcedonian doctrine in turn came to be known as "Dyophysite". A term that comes closer to Coptic Orthodoxy is Miaphysite, which refers to a conjoined nature for Christ, both human and divine, united indivisibly in the Incarnate Logos. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria believes that Christ is perfect in his divinity, and he is perfect in his humanity, but his divinity and his humanity were united in one nature called "the nature of the incarnate word", which was reiterated by Saint Cyril of Alexandria. Copts, thus, believe in two natures "human" and "divine" that are united in one hypostasis "without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration". These two natures "did not separate for a moment or the twinkling of an eye" (Coptic Liturgy of Saint Basil of Caesarea).

From Chalcedon to the Arab conquest of EgyptEdit

Prior to Chalcedon, the Imperial Church's main division stemmed from Nestorianism, eventually leading the Church of the East to declare its independence in AD 424. After the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, the Coptic Church and its hierarchy felt suspicious of what they believed were Nestorian elements within the Chalcedonian Church. As a result, the anti-Chalcedon partisan, Timotheos Aelurus, consigned himself to depose the Chalcedonian Pope of Alexandria, Proterius of Alexandria, and to set himself up as the Pope of Alexandria in opposition to the Chalcedonian Church. Copts suffered under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. The Melkite patriarchs, appointed by the emperors as both spiritual leaders and civil governors, massacred those Egyptians they considered heretics. Many were tortured and martyred in attempts to force their acceptance of the Chalcedonian terms, but the Egyptians remained loyal to the Cyrillian Miaphysitism. One of the most renowned Egyptian saints of the period is Saint Samuel the Confessor.

Muslim conquest of EgyptEdit

Makurian wall painting depicting a Nubian bishop and Virgin Mary (11th century)

The Muslim invasion of Egypt took place in AD 639. Relying on eyewitness testimony, Bishop John of Nikiu in his Chronicle provides a graphic account of the invasion from a Coptic perspective. Although the Chronicle has only been preserved in an Ethiopic (Ge'ez) text, some scholars believe that it was originally written in Coptic.[22] John's account is critical of the invaders who he says "despoiled the Egyptians of their possessions and dealt cruelly with them",[23] and he vividly details the atrocities committed by the Muslims against the native population during the conquest:

And when with great toil and exertion they had cast down the walls of the city, they forthwith made themselves masters of it, and put to the sword thousands of its inhabitants and of the soldiers, and they gained an enormous booty, and took the women and children captive and divided them amongst themselves, and they made that city a desolation.[24]

Though critical of the Muslim commander (Amr ibn al-As), who, during the campaign, he says "had no mercy on the Egyptians, and did not observe the covenant they had made with him, for he was of a barbaric race",[25] he does note that following the completion of the conquest, Amr "took none of the property of the Churches, and he committed no act of spoilation or plunder, and he preserved them throughout all his days."[26]

Despite the political upheaval, the Egyptian population remained mainly Christian. However, gradual conversions to Islam over the centuries had changed Egypt from a Christian to a largely Muslim country by the end of the 12th century.[27] Another scholar writes that a combination of "repression of Coptic revolts", Arab-Muslim immigration, and Coptic conversion to Islam resulted in the demographic decline of the Copts.[28] Egypt's Umayyad rulers taxed Christians at a higher rate than Muslims, driving merchants towards Islam and undermining the economic base of the Coptic Church.[29] Although the Coptic Church did not disappear, the Umayyad tax policies made it difficult for the church to retain the Egyptian elites.[30]

Under Islamic rule (640–1800)Edit

The church suffered greatly under the many regimes of Islamic rule. Sometime during the 2nd millennium AD, the leadership of the church, including the Pope, moved from Alexandria to Cairo.[citation needed] In 1798, the French invaded Egypt unsuccessfully and the British helped the Turks to regain power over Egypt under the Muhammad Ali dynasty.[31]

From the 19th century to the 1952 revolutionEdit

The position of Copts began to improve early in the 19th century under the stability and tolerance of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty. The Coptic community ceased to be regarded by the state as an administrative unit. In 1855 the jizya tax was abolished by Sa'id Pasha.[32] Shortly thereafter, the Copts started to serve in the Egyptian army.[33]

Coptic monks, between 1898 and 1914

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Coptic Church underwent phases of new development. In 1853, Pope Cyril IV established the first modern Coptic schools, including the first Egyptian school for girls. He also founded a printing press, which was only the second national press in the country. The Pope established very friendly relations with other denominations, to the extent that when the Greek Patriarch in Egypt had to absent himself from the country for a long period of time, he left his Church under the guidance of the Coptic Patriarch.[33]

The Theological College of the School of Alexandria was reestablished in 1893.[14] It began its new history with five students, one of whom was later to become its dean. Today it has campuses in Alexandria and Cairo, and in various dioceses throughout Egypt, as well as outside Egypt. It has campuses in New Jersey, Los Angeles, Sydney, Melbourne, and London, where potential clergymen and other qualified men and women study many subjects, including theology, church history, missionary studies, and the Coptic language.[33]

Present dayEdit

A modern Coptic cathedral in Aswan.

In 1959, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church was granted its first own Patriarch by Pope Cyril VI. Furthermore, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church similarly became independent of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in 1994, when four bishops were consecrated by Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria to form the basis of a local Holy Synod of the Eritrean Church. In 1998, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church gained its autocephaly from the Coptic Orthodox Church when its first Patriarch was enthroned by Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria.

These three churches remain in full communion with each other and with the other Oriental Orthodox churches. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church do acknowledge the Honorary Supremacy of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, since the Church of Alexandria is technically their Mother Church. Upon their selection, both Patriarchs (Ethiopian & Eritrean) must receive the approval and communion from the Holy Synod of the Apostolic See of Alexandria before their enthronement.

Since the 1980s theologians from the Oriental (non-Chalcedonian) Orthodox and Eastern (Chalcedonian) Orthodox churches have been meeting in a bid to resolve theological differences, and have concluded that many of the differences are caused by the two groups using different terminology to describe the same thing.[34]

In the summer of 2001, the Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Patriarchates of Alexandria agreed to mutually recognize baptisms performed in each other's churches, making re-baptisms unnecessary, and to recognize the sacrament of marriage as celebrated by the other.[35] Previously, if a Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox wanted to get married, the marriage had to be performed twice, once in each church, for it to be recognized by both. Now it can be done in only one church and be recognized by both.

In Tahrir Square, Cairo, on Wednesday 2 February 2011, Coptic Christians joined hands to provide a protective cordon around their Muslim neighbors during salat (prayers) in the midst of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.[36]

On 17 March 2012, the Coptic Orthodox Pope, Pope Shenouda III died, leaving many Copts mourning and worrying as tensions rose with Muslims. Pope Shenouda III constantly met with Muslim leaders in order to create peace. Many were worried about Muslims controlling Egypt as the Muslim Brotherhood won 70% of the parliamentary elections.[37][38]

On 4 November 2012, Bishop Tawadros was chosen as the 118th Pope. In a ritual filled with prayer, chants and incense at Abbasiya cathedral in Cairo, the 60-year-old bishop's name was picked by a blindfolded child from a glass bowl in which the names of two other candidates had also been placed. The enthronement was scheduled on 18 November 2012.

Fasting, liturgy and canonical hoursEdit

The Agpeya is a breviary used in Coptic Orthodox Christianity to pray the canonical hours at seven fixed prayer times of the day, in the eastward direction.[39]

According to Christian tradition and Canon Law, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria only ordains men to the priesthood and episcopate, and if they wish to be married, they must be married before they are ordained. In this respect they follow the same practices as all other Oriental Orthodox Churches, as well as all of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Traditionally, the Coptic language was used in church services, and the scriptures were written in the Coptic alphabet. However, due to the Arabisation of Egypt, service in churches started to witness increased use of Arabic, while preaching is done entirely in Arabic. Native languages are used, in conjunction with Coptic, during services outside Egypt.

The liturgical calendar of the Coptic Orthodox Church is the Coptic calendar (also called the Alexandrian Calendar). This calendar is based on the Egyptian calendar of Ancient Egypt. Coptic Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on 29 Koiak, which corresponds to 7 January in the Gregorian Calendar and 25 December in the Julian Calendar. Coptic Christmas was adopted as an official national holiday in Egypt in 2002.

Communicants of the Coptic Orthodox Church use a breviary known as the Agpeya to pray the canonical hours at seven fixed prayer times while facing in the eastward direction, in anticipation of the Second Coming of Jesus; this Christian practice has its roots in Psalm 118:164, in which the prophet David prays to God seven times a day.[40][39][41] Church bells enjoin Christians to pray at these hours.[42] Before praying, they wash their hands and face in order to be clean before and present their best to God; shoes are removed in order to acknowledge that one is offering prayer before a holy God.[40][43] During each of the seven fixed prayer times, Coptic Orthodox Christians pray "prostrating three times in the name of the Trinity; at the end of each Psalm … while saying the ‘Alleluia’;" and forty-one times for each of the Kyrie eleisons present in a canonical hour.[43] In the Coptic Orthodox Church, it is customary for women to wear a Christian headcovering when praying.[44]

All churches of the Coptic Orthodox Church are designed to face the eastward direction of prayer and efforts are made to remodel churches obtained from other Christian denominations that are not built in this fashion.[45]

With respect to Eucharistic discipline, Coptic Orthodox Christians fast from midnight onwards before receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion.[46] They fast every Wednesday and Friday of the year (Wednesdays in remembrance of the betrayal of Christ, and on Fridays, in remembrance of His crucifixion and death).[46] In total, the number of fast days in a year for Coptic Orthodox Christians numbers around 240, with the fasts for Advent and Lent being forty-three days and fifty-five days, respectively.[46] In August, before the celebration of the Dormition of the Mother of God, Coptic Christians fast fifteen days; fasting is also done before the feast of Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, starting from the day of Pentecost.[46]


Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria of the Coptic Orthodox Church revived Ignatius Aphrem II Patriarch of Antioch and All East of the Syriac Orthodox Church Aram I Catholicose of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church in Lebanon.

Available Egyptian census figures and other third party survey reports have not reported more than 4 million Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt.[1][2] However media and other agencies, sometimes taking into account the claims of the Church itself, generally approximate the Coptic Orthodox population at 10% of the Egyptian population or 10 million people.[3][4][5][6][7] The majority of them live in Egypt under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Since 2006, Egyptian censuses have not reported on religion and church leaders have alleged that Christians were under-counted in government surveys. In 2017, a government owned newspaper Al Ahram estimated the percentage of Copts at 10 to 15% and the membership claimed by the Coptic Orthodox Church is in the range of 20 to 25 million.[47][48][49][50][51][52]

There are also significant numbers in the diaspora outside Africa in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, France, and Germany. The exact number of Egyptian born Coptic Orthodox Christians in the diaspora is hard to determine and is roughly estimated to be close to 1 million.[53][54][55][4][56]

There are between 150,000 and 200,000 adherents in Sudan.[57][58] Although under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Church, these adherents are not considered Copts, since they are not ethnic Egyptians.


While Copts have cited instances of persecution throughout their history, Human Rights Watch has noted "growing religious intolerance" and sectarian violence against Coptic Christians in recent years, and a failure by the Egyptian government to effectively investigate properly and prosecute those responsible.[59][60] Over a hundred Egyptian copts have been killed in sectarian clashes from 2011 to 2017, and many homes and businesses destroyed. In just one province (Minya), 77 cases of sectarian attacks on Copts between 2011 and 2016 have been documented by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.[61] The abduction and disappearance of Coptic Christian women and girls also remains a serious ongoing problem.[62][63]

Jurisdiction outside EgyptEdit

Besides Egypt, the Church of Alexandria has jurisdiction over all of Africa.

In addition, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church are daughter churches of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Both the Patriarchate of Addis Ababa and all Ethiopia and the Patriarchate of Asmara and all Eritrea acknowledge the supremacy of honor and dignity of the Pope of Alexandria on the basis that both patriarchates were established by the Throne of Alexandria and that they have their roots in the Apostolic Church of Alexandria, and acknowledge that Saint Mark the Apostle is the founder of their Churches through the heritage and Apostolic evangelization of the Fathers of Alexandria.

Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo ChurchEdit

Ethiopia received Christianity next to Jerusalem, through Jesus's own apostle, only a year after Jesus was crucified (Acts 8: 26–39). Christianity became a national religion of Ethiopia, under the dominion of the Church of Alexandria, in the 4th century. The first bishop of Ethiopia, Saint Frumentius, was consecrated as Bishop of Axum by Pope Athanasius of Alexandria in AD 328. From then on, until 1959, the Pope of Alexandria, as Patriarch of All Africa, always named an Egyptian (a Copt) to be the Archbishop of the Ethiopian Church. On 13 July 1948, the Coptic Church of Alexandria and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church reached an agreement concerning the relationship between the two churches. In 1950, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church was granted autocephaly by Pope Joseph II of Alexandria, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.[citation needed] Five Ethiopian bishops were immediately consecrated by the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa, and were empowered to elect a new Patriarch for their church. This promotion was completed when Joseph II consecrated the first Ethiopian-born Archbishop, Abuna Basilios, as head of the Ethiopian Church on 14 January 1951. In 1959, Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria crowned Abuna Basilios as the first Patriarch of Ethiopia.

Patriarch Basilios died in 1971, and was succeeded on the same year by Abuna Theophilos. With the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia in 1974, the new Marxist government arrested Abuna Theophilos and secretly executed him in 1979. The Ethiopian government then ordered the Ethiopian Church to elect Abuna Takla Haymanot as Patriarch of Ethiopia.[citation needed] The Coptic Orthodox Church refused to recognize the election and enthronement of Abuna Takla Haymanot on the grounds that the Synod of the Ethiopian Church had not removed Abuna Theophilos, and that the Ethiopian government had not publicly acknowledged his death, and he was thus still legitimate Patriarch of Ethiopia. Formal relations between the two churches were halted, although they remained in communion with each other.

After the death of Abuna Takla Haymanot in 1988, Abune Merkorios who had close ties to the Derg (Communist) government was elected Patriarch of Ethiopia. Following the fall of the Derg regime in 1991, Abune Merkorios abdicated under public and governmental pressure and went to exile in the United States. The newly elected Patriarch, Abune Paulos was officially recognized by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in 1992 as the legitimate Patriarch of Ethiopia. Formal relations between the Coptic Church of Alexandria and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church were resumed on 13 July 2007. Abune Paulos died in August 2012.

Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo ChurchEdit

Following the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993, the newly independent Eritrean government appealed to Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria for Eritrean Orthodox autocephaly. In 1994, Pope Shenouda ordained Abune Phillipos as first Archbishop of Eritrea. The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church obtained autocephaly on 7 May 1998, and Abune Phillipos was subsequently consecrated as first Patriarch of Eritrea. The two churches remain in full communion with each other and with the other Oriental Orthodox Churches, although the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, along with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church does not recognize the deposition of the third Patriarch of Eritrea, Abune Antonios.

Around the worldEdit

St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Bellaire, Texas
Archangel Raphael Coptic Orthodox Church -- Houston, Clear Lake City, Texas
St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church in London, England.

The Coptic Orthodox Church has a presence in many countries outside Egypt, including:

Official titles of the Patriarch of AlexandriaEdit

Episcopal titlesEdit

Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Patriarch of Alexandria on the Holy Apostolic See of Saint Mark the Evangelist (1971–2012).

Honorary titlesEdit

Historical evolution of the ecclesiastical titleEdit

The patriarch of Alexandria was originally known merely as bishop of Alexandria. However, this title continued to evolve as the Church grew under Theophilus and his nephew and successor Cyril (AD 376–444), and especially in the 5th century when the Church developed its hierarchy.

The bishop of Alexandria, being the successor of the first bishop in Roman Egypt consecrated by Saint Mark, was honored by the other bishops as first among equals primus inter pares. Under the sixth canon of the Council of Nicaea, Cyril was raised to prelate or chief bishop at the head of the episcopates of Egypt, Libya, and the Pentapolis without the existence of intermediate archbishops as existed in other ecclesiastic provinces.[64] He had the privilege of choosing and consecrating bishops.[64]

The title of "pope" has been attributed to the Patriarch of Alexandria since the episcopate of Heraclas, the 13th Patriarch of Alexandria. All the clergy of Alexandria and Lower Egypt honored him with the title papas, which means "father" as the archbishop and metropolitan having authority over all bishops, within the Egyptian province, who are under his jurisdiction. Alexandria, while the ecclesiastical and provincial capital, also had the distinction as being the place where Saint Mark was martyred.

The title "Patriarch" originally referred to a clan leader or head of a familial lineage. Ecclesiastically it means a bishop of high rank and was originally used as a title for the bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria. For the Coptic patriarch, this title was "Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa on the Holy Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark the Evangelist," that is "of Egypt". The title of "Patriarch" was first used around the time of the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, convened in AD 431, and ratified at Chalcedon in AD 451.

Only the Patriarch of Alexandria has the double title of "Pope" and "Patriarch" among the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox ecumenical church heads.


Internal Church DisputesEdit

Pope Shenouda Vs. Father Matta El MeskeenEdit

Pope Shenouda III was criticized by the prominent monk Father Matta El Meskeen for the church's strong links with the Egyptian government under then dictator Hosni Mubarak. As the dispute began to grow, Shenouda explicitly denounced Matta's thoughts, labelling some of his writings "heresies". In turn, Matta promoted a radical focus upon personal faith in contrast to institutional religion and ecclesiastical authority. Shenouda, however, was heavily involved in politics and keen to extend the church’s influence over the social lives of Copts.[65][66]

Pope Shenouda III, eventually banned Matta's books in coptic churches- a ban which would be maintained for four-decades. He also restricted Father Matta to the monastery. Despite this Fr. Matta's writings continued to widely influential across the christian world, most notably among theological giants like the Russian Orthodox Seraphim Rose of Alaska and the Protestant Roger Schultz of Taizé.

After Fr Matta's death Pope Shenouda sought to eliminate the theologian's legacy and break up his following in the Monastery of St. Macarius. The Pope moved some his sympathizes away and brought in monks who were loyal to the papacy.

When Tawadros became pope, he reversed the decisions of pope Shenouda. He ended the ban on Fr. Matta's writings and even installed a follower of Matta as the bishop over the monastery.

Consolidation of Papal ControlEdit

Under the guidance of Pope Shenouda, the church underwent a large transformation that allowed him to hold greater authority than any previous pope. Writing in 2013, the theologian Samuel Tadros stated "Today's Coptic Church as an institution is built solely on his vision".[67]

Child sexual abuse casesEdit

Priest Isak Soliman (aka Isaac Sullivan)Edit

In 2008, a lawsuit was filed against the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States, alleging a coverup of sexual abuse of a minor by the alias of Stephanie M. [68]

She alleges that she was assaulted multiple times by Isaac Sullivan between 1999 and 2001 in St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church. The alleged claims to have reported the incident several years thereafter to other church officials. The church officials did not report the Sullivan to the authorities. [68]

In court the church argued that their actions amounted to negligence in (1) not preventing their clergy from committing these assaults and (2) in not creating an effective system where by assaults can be properly reported. Negligence is protected with a two year statute of limitations. Whereas being accomplice to abuse of a minor carries a five year statue of limitations and would put the diocese at risk of being found at fault. [68]

In 2009, the court issued a decision finding that the church actions was negligence falling outside the statutes of limitations. [68]

In 2011 this decision was overturned in favour of the alleged victim. The judge cited a Texas Supreme Court decision finding that those who negligently and knowingly supervised and allowed for sexual abuse of minors to persists are liable to paying damages to the victims in the same manner as the perpetrator. The church churches alleged cover up would fall within the 5 year limit. The defendants claim remains in court.[68]

Hegomen Reweis Aziz Khalil (Now: Yousef Aziz Khalil)Edit

On 14 July 2020, Sally Zakhari began a series of posts on Facebook and Instagram (@Sallyzeeee[69] & @copticsuvivor [70]) in which she accused the now defrocked Hegomen Reweis Aziz Khalil of sexual assault.[71][72][73][74][75][76] In one leaked report the priest is referred to as Reweis Aziz Khalil. Zakhari showed evidence that church leaders were aware of several sexual assaults perpetrated by Khalil in his service as a priest across North America for around 22 years.[77] The incident has sparked many reports of sexual assault and generated debate among church laity.

Zakhari maintains that she was assaulted around the age of 11-12 (1998-1999) during the sacrament of confession, while he was serving temporarily in the church of St. Mary and Archangel Michael's Coptic Orthodox Church in Orlando Florida. She reported the incident to Bishop Youssef of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States at the age of 17 (likely in 2003-2004). Youssef informed her that he was well aware of Khalil's proclivities and that several other girls had accused him of similar actions. Consequently, Khalil was sent to Egypt where he was later promoted to the position of hegomen. Zakhari persisted for years to bring about accountability by contacting many members of the Coptic Church hierarchy, including correspondence with the offices of Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and the late Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, neither took any concrete actions in bringing Khalil to justice.[71]

After learning that Khalil continued to serve across the U.S., Egypt, and Canada, with several images showing him serving as a guest in churches for decades, and that he abused many victims after her, Zakhari wanted him excommunicated. An investigation was conducted by Fr. Samuel Thabet in Chicago, Illinois and another priest assisting with the investigation in October 2019 and the final report was hand delivered to Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria on 12 Feb 2020. She did not receive any response despite several attempts at following up. In order to pressure the church into action Zakhari made her complaint public on social media on 12 July 2020 (6 months after Pope Tawadros received the final report declaring Reweis guilty of pedophilia and sexually assaulting multiple girls and women).[71][78]

Following a series of hierarchal mishandlings during the week Zakhari publicly demanded Reweis’s excommunication, on 18 July 2020 Pope Tawadros officially laicized Khalil, he was returned to his pre-ordination name of Yousef Aziz Khalil.[77] Despite the laicization and calls for the excommunication of Khalil, the pope has refused to excommunicate him and Khalil has not (as of 28 July 2020) been reported to any authorities whether in Egypt or the US.

Leaked ReportEdit

The redacted report included summaries of interviews from 3 priests and 2 medical doctors, who's names were all redacted. the interviewees corroborated Sally's story and revealed new details. The report is present in its entirety on the instagram page @copticsurvivor, select details from within and referred to in published news sources.[69][71][72][73][74][75][76][79]

Priest #1 indicated that he was aware of 4 other assault committed by Fr. Khalil. He reported the incidents to Bishop Youssef of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States, who sanctioned Khalil from serving in the diocese.[78]

Priest #2 knew Zakhari for 15 years and received her report. He notified Bishop Youssef and Bishop David of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of New York and New England.[78]

Priest #3 indicated that he was aware of an incident where Khalil had raped a married woman during confession and with several young girls. He indicated that Bishop Youssef moved Khalil to another diocese and tried to prosecute him in an ecclesiastical council. Fr. Khalil did not show up. Priest #3 indicates that Pope Shenouda was aware of the incidents and barred him Fr. Khalil from service. Despite this, Fr. Khalil served in community where they were lacking priests, after several young women were assaulted the parishioners kicked him out of their church.[78]

Doctor #1 was a doctor who was put into contact with several of Fr. Khalil's victims. He elaborated that he was aware of a married woman who was raped in the altar by Khalil. Doctor #1 explained that he did not report the incidents because he believed that Khalil would likely be killed in prison. He also indicated that he personally met with Pope Tawadros II at a monastery in 2016 to discuss this issue.[78]

Doctor #2 Interacted personally with Sally Zakhari. She indicated that a committee of three bishops including Bishop David and Bishop Thomas (diocese unknown) had investigated the claims. Doctor #2 indicated that she was afraid that "the victims may defame the Coptic Church and resort to courts similar to what happened in the Catholic Church." She was also concerned that if this matter became public the church leaders who covered up the actions would be put on trial.[78]

The Priest who authored the report concluded that the church council must act to reprimand Fr. Kahlil, but that they must also cover up his actions to prevent his prosecution in order to protect the church's image and to protect Khalil from prison violence.[78]

Interview with Church SpokespersonEdit

In an Arabic interview, the church spokesperson presented a widely unpopular opinion regarding church policy about pedophilia, prompting some church priests, like Fr. Pishoy Salama, Fr. Marcos Ghali and Fr. David Ramez Milad to speak against the policy. The priests expressed their disappointment at the video and maintained that the policy demonstrated the churches myopic view regarding victim's rights.[80]

Some of the policy was explained as such:[80]

  • The Church will NOT take immediate action to reprimand a priest when at fault but gives him one, two, three...TEN or TWENTY chances at repentance, as long as he is willing to change!
  • In VERY FEW and scarce cases, the Church removes the priest from Holy Orders only when it sees that there is no improvement
  • When the Church announces the removal of this priest from his position, it is for the reason of informing the public of his misconduct, but also to prevent him from collecting donations from the people!
  • The fact that he fell in sin is NOT a disaster! What is more important is that he repents.

Growing pressure and policy changesEdit

Starting under the hashtags #copticsurvivor [81] and #copticmetoo [82] many copts began posting on social media regarding their own personal experiences with sexual harassment and assault within the church. The instagram account @theburningbush20 [83] began publishing accounts of individuals who had suffered abuse within the church.

Consequently, many diocese, including the north American diocese implicated in this scandal (Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States and the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of New York and New England) released statements outlining their new plans of reinforcing the child protective measures that they had. This included but was not limited to:[84]

  • The establishment of servant training
  • Enforcing state mandated reporting
  • The creation of a committee to assess, council and report these instances


Coptic icon of Saint Mark the Evangelist, the apostolic founder of the Church of Alexandria

The Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria is governed by its Holy Synod, which is headed by the Patriarch of Alexandria. Under his authority are the metropolitan archbishops, metropolitan bishops, diocesan bishops, patriarchal exarchs, missionary bishops, auxiliary bishops, suffragan bishops, assistant bishops, chorbishops and the patriarchal vicars for the Church of Alexandria. They are organized as follows:

  • Current Pope is Pope Tawadrous the Second Pope number 118
  • 16 metropolitanates, out of which 12 metropolitanates are in Egypt, one metropolitanate in the Near East, one in Europe, one in the US and one in Africa; served by two metropolitan archbishops and 14 metropolitan bishops; out of the 16 hierarchs, one metropolitan archbishop is in the Near East, one metropolitan archbishop in Egypt, while 11 metropolitan bishops are in Egypt, one metropolitan bishop in Europe, one metropolitan bishop in the US and one metropolitan bishop in Africa.
  • 67 dioceses with 41 diocesan bishops are in Egypt, 13 diocesan bishops are in Europe, 7 diocesan bishops are in North America, two diocesan bishops are in South America, two diocesan bishops are in Sudan, and finally two diocesan bishops are in Australia.
  • one suffragan dioceses, with one suffragan bishop in North America.
  • six auxiliary bishops, with two auxiliary bishops for dioceses in Egypt and four auxiliary bishops in North America.
  • 12 assistant bishops in Egypt for 12 suffragan dioceses within an archdiocese under the Patriarch's jurisdiction;
  • five patriarchal exarchates, with one patriarchal exarch in Africa, one patriarchal exarch in North America and three patriarchal exarchs in Egypt.
  • 13 bishop abbots for 11 patriarchal monasteries in Egypt, one patriarchal monastery in Australia and one patriarchal monastery in Germany
  • two general bishops, patriarchal emissary at large in Egypt and abroad.
  • five general bishops, administrators of patriarchal institutions in Egypt.
  • one hegumen in the capacity of grand economos, patriarchal vicar for Alexandria.
  • one hegumen as administrative patriarchal vicar for Cairo.



See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit