Back to OWR Homepage Back to Christianity Flowchart

Back to
Early Christianity

Coptic Orthodox Church

Doctrines The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the five so-called monophysite churches, characterised by their acceptance of the first three ecumenical councils and rejection of the Council of Chalcedon (451). In contrast to Chalcedon's doctrine that Christ is one person existing in two natures the Coptic Church affirms that Christ's humanity cannot be separated from his divinity. After the incarnation, the thoughts and actions of Jesus were those of a single unitary being. This doctrine has sometimes been described as monophysitism because it ascribes to Christ one nature.

History The Coptic Church is the ancient church of Egypt. According to tradition its founder was Mark the Evangelist. The church became separated from mainstream Christianity after the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Because of their rejection of Chalcedon the Copts were subjected to a wave of persecution by the Byzantine empire. In response to this persecution the Copts elected their own national patriarch. The Islamic conquest of Egypt in 641 relieved the church from Greek persecution but led gradually to the assimilation of most Egyptians into the Islamic faith. During the 18th and 19th centuries the Russian Orthodox Church and the Anglican Church sought unsuccessfully to merge with the Copts. Since 1954 the Coptic Church has been active in the World Council of Churches.

Symbols Ostrich eggs hang from the vault of Coptic churches to symbolise steadfast watchfulness. They bring to mind the way the ostrich buries her eggs in the sand and keeps her eyes fixed on the spot.
The bread of the eucharist consists of small round cakes with a cross stamped in the middle surrounded by twelve smaller crosses. The eucharistic wine is unfermented grape juice. The main utensil of the eucharistic celebration is the ark, a cubical box with paintings of the Last Supper, the Virgin Mary, an angel and the patron saint of the church. The vestments used by the priests are always white, symbolising purity and chastity.

Adherents There is considerable controversy surrounding the size of the membership of the Coptic church. According to government figures there are 2 million Copts in Egypt. According to Coptic sources there are some 7 million members in Egypt.
There are about 10 million Copts world-wide with followers in Egypt, the Sudan, other African countries, the U.S.A. (115,000), Canada, Europe and the Middle East (Europa Publications Limited 1995, 1:1073, 2:3289).

Main Centre
 St Mark Cathedral, POB 9035, Ana Ruess, 222 Ramses St, Abbasiya, Cairo.