“…On one hand, its theology is based on nothing outside the scriptures. On the other hand, the doctrines agree in all parts with those of the Early Church i.e. the tradition which has the proper interpretation and application of the teachings of our Lord and the Apostles as understood and practiced by the Christians and the leaders of the Church during the period of the One Universal Church until the division of 451 A.D.”
-Bishop Athanasius of Ben-Swef and Bahnassa (1977)
The Coptic Church was established in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by St. Mark the Evangelist in the city of Alexandria around 61 A.D. The church adheres to the Nicene Creed. St. Athanasius (296-373 A.D.), the twentieth Pope of the Coptic Church effectively defended the Doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ’s Divinity at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. His affirmation of the doctrine earned him the titles “Father of Orthodoxy” and St. Athanasius “the Apostolic”.
The term “Coptic” is derived from the Greek “Aegyptos” meaning “Egyptian”. When the Arabs arrived in Egypt in the seventh century, they called the Egyptians “qibt”. Thus the Arabic word “qibt” came to mean both “Egyptians” and “Christians”.
The term “Orthodoxy” here refers to the preservation of the original faith by the Copts who, throughout the ages, defended the Creed against numerous attacks.
The Coptic Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Trinity: God The Father, God The Son, and God The Holy Spirit, are equal to each other in one unity; and that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world.
The Coptic Language is the fourth and last step of evolution of the Ancient Egyptian language, after Hieroglyphs, Heratic, and Demotic. All four differ in their system of writing. Coptic, just as Ancient Egyptian, is a Hamito-semitic language, similar to many North African languages and with few similarities to semitic languages, such as Hebrew and Arabic. Its alphabet is derived from the Greek alphabet, with seven extra letters that represent sounds peculiar to the Egyptian language and non-existent in Greek.
Coptic remained the language of native Egyptians until the Arab invasion of Egypt in 641 AD. Subsequently the official language of Egypt became Arabic. For a number of centuries Copts remained bilingual but by the thirteenth century, they were predominantly Arabic-speaking. However, Coptic remained the liturgical language of the Coptic Church, and a strong symbol of the resistance of the Copts to the efforts of their Arabization. Today, some Copts desire to teach the native language of their country in public schools, but the strong Islamic orientation of the Egyptian society prevents any alteration to the Arabic educational system. Few families in Egypt and in the diaspora have adopted Coptic as their native language, and Coptic schools and universities have been inaugurated in North America, Australia, and Europe. Coptic Language is also taught worldwide in many prestigious institutions, but in Egypt it is limited to Coptic schools and to the American University in Cairo.
Source: St. Abanoub Coptic Orthodox Church USA
The Coptic Orthodox Church was established in the middle of the first century A.D. by St. Mark the Apostle and Evangelist who preached the message of Christianity in Egypt and established the Church in Alexandria. The word “Coptic” is derived from the Greek Aegyptos, and simply means Egyptian. Since then, the Church has preserved the original faith established by Jesus Christ and preached by the Apostles through an unbroken line of Patriarchs, Bishops, and Priests who were ordained by the sacramental laying of hands from St. Mark to the current day. Some of the key beliefs of the Coptic Orthodox Church are summarized below.
Perhaps the most widely recognized Christian statement of faith is the Nicene Creed. It was written by the fathers attending the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. and subsequently revised by the fathers attending the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. One of its defenders was St. Athanasius, the 20th Bishop of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. This Creed summarizes many of the central tenets of the faith of the Coptic Orthodox Church:
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Pantocrator, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, The only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not created; of one essence with the Father; by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried, and on the third day He rose from the dead according to the Scriptures. Ascended into the heavens; He sits at the right hand of His Father, and He is coming again in His glory to judge the living and the dead, whose Kingdom shall have no end.
Yes, we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son, is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets.
And in one, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic Church. We confess one baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come. Amen.”
As stated in the Nicene Creed, the Coptic Church believes in the existence in one, and only one God who is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:7). These are referred to as the three persons (or more accurately, hypostases) of the Holy Trinity. The Father, the Son (Word or Logos), and the Holy Spirit are equal in their divinity. That is, the Father is God, not a God or a god, but God. Similarly, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Further, the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is One God. Each hypostasis of the Trinity has characteristics that are distinct to that Hypostasis. For example, the Father is the source of all (Romans 11:33-36), the Son is begotten of the Father (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (John 15:26).
God is omniscient (all-knowing) (Psalm 147:5, 1 John 3:20), omnipotent (all powerful) (Matthew 19:26, Revelation 1:8), and omnibenevolent (all-good) (James 1:17). God is infinite, without beginning or end, eternal, and timeless (Genesis 1:1, Revelation 1:8, Revelation 4:8). He is the creator of the whole universe, and nothing exists without Him (John 1:1-3). God does not change (James 1:17).
Humanity was created by God in the image and likeness of God as recounted in Chapter 1 and 2 of the Book of Genesis in the Holy Bible. God created Humanity in two distinct and equal genders, man and woman (Genesis 1:27). The first man, Adam, was created from the dust of the earth and received life through the breath of God (Genesis 2:7). The first woman, Eve, was created from a rib which God took from Adam’s side (Genesis 2:21-23). Humanity was created by God out of His love and to live in communion with Him, living according to God’s commandments. However, humanity sinned by violating God’s commandments through the temptation of the Devil (Genesis 3). The penalty for violating God’s commandments was, and is, death – separation from God (Genesis 2:16-17, James 1:13-15). Thus, humanity, the pinnacle of God’s creation, was corrupted and corruption entered the whole world. Hence, from the beginning humanity needed a savior to restore them into full communion with God. Because man sinned, man must pay the price of sin (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). Thus, the savior must be fully human. However, to be able to atone for the sins of all humankind, the savior must be infinite and, therefore, fully divine.
Jesus Christ is God. He is fully divine and fully human. He is the incarnation of the Son, the second hypostasis of the Holy Trinity. In Jesus, the divinity is fully united with the perfect humanity, like us in every way except for sin, without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration. This is referred to by St. Cyril of Alexandria as the One Nature of the Incarnate Logos. Being fully human and fully divine, Jesus Christ could fully atone for the sins of all humanity (Hebrews 2:14-17, 1 John 2:1-2). Jesus’ earthly ministry here on Earth is described in the Bible in the four accounts of the Gospel (according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).
According to the good will of the Father, at the conclusion of His earthly ministry Jesus saved humanity by offering Himself as a perfect sacrifice on the cross (Hebrews 9 & 10). The immortal God paid for the sins of all humanity by accepting to die. And, through His death, he overcame death when He rose from the dead by His own power after three days in the tomb (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20). Jesus ascended to Heaven forty days after His resurrection (Luke 24:50-53) and sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in all believers on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after His resurrection (Acts 2). In the fullness of time, which is known only to God, Jesus will return in glory to judge all humanity when the righteous will join Him in Heaven, while the unrighteous will receive eternal condemnation (Acts 1:10-11, Matthew 25:31-46).
Because humanity violated, and continues to violate, God’s commandments by sinning we need salvation (Romans 3:21-23). When man fell, God had many options. He could have destroyed the creation and created a new humanity. He could have forgiven mankind without consequence. He could have insisted that all humanity pay the price of sin indefinitely. However, the only solution that was consistent with God’s sovereignty, justice, and mercy, was for Him to become man and being fully divine and fully human, to pay the price of sin for all humanity.
This plan for salvation was realized through the incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Salvation is a free gift offered to humanity collectively, and to each person individually (Romans 5:15-18). We cannot earn our salvation. However, there are certain things that we must do to accept the gift of God’s salvation. We must believe in the One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Acts 16:30-31). We must live this faith by abiding by God’s commandments and reflecting our living faith through our works (James 2:14-26). We must take hold of the instruments of grace that God gives us through His Church, namely the sacraments that are necessary for salvation being Baptism (John 3:3-6), Chrismation (Acts 19:1-6), Repentance & Confession (John 13:5-10, John 20:19-23), and the Eucharist (John 6:51).
The Church is not merely a building that is used as a place of worship. Rather, it is the community of the faithful, the members of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), and the Bride of the true Bridegroom (Matthew 22:1-13, Matthew 25:1-13, Ephesians 5:22-23, Revelation 21:9-27). The church was established by Jesus when He taught his followers the true faith, instituted the sacraments, and gave his holy Disciples and saintly and honored Apostles the authority to administer spiritual matters here on Earth (Matthew 16:15-19, John 20:19-23). Thus, according to the Nicene Creed, the Church has several characteristics that we must recognize. The Church is one. There is no division in the church and there is no multiplicity of paths that lead to God. The Church is holy in that it was established by God and is set aside, consecrated, for the worship of the true God. The church is catholic, meaning universal. It is open to all humankind and every human regardless of background is welcomed and invited to be a member of the Body of Christ in His Church. Finally, the Church is apostolic. It was established by Jesus Christ and handed to His disciples who in turn passed on the true faith. Thus, the church is apostolic in that it preserves the true apostolic faith that was handed to the Apostles by Christ and also in that it is preserved by an unbroken line of clergy who can trace their priesthood directly to the Apostles.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is a biblical Church. We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God that was recorded by holy authors and preserved in the Church through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Bible consists of both the Old and the New Testaments which are both equally authoritative and both equally divinely inspired. The Old Testament consists of 46 books. In addition to the 39 widely recognized books of the Old Testament, the Coptic Orthodox Church recognizes the canonicity of seven additional books that are included in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament and were recognized as canonical by the early church in the first centuries A.D. The New Testament consists of 27 books including gospels, epistles, history, and prophecy. The Bible is the story of God’s love for mankind and His plan for our salvation. As the inspired Word of God the scripture is “…profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, [and] for instruction in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16). Also, “…no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation,” (2 Peter 1:20) and thus the Bible must be correctly understood through the teachings and interpretations of the fathers that have been preserved through the generations by the Church.
The Bible defines two types of tradition: the tradition of men and holy tradition. Christ, in His dialogue with the scribes and the Pharisees warns against invalidating the law of God by upholding the tradition of men (Mark 7:8-9). However, St. Paul talks about a different type of tradition, one that should be upheld. This is the holy tradition received from the Apostles and handed down through the church. Disregarding this holy tradition is equated to disorderliness by St. Paul (2 Thessalonians 3:6). He further explains that this holy tradition may be taught through word of mouth or in writing (2 Thessalonians 2:15). In the conclusion of his Gospel, St. John states that the world could not contain all the books that would be written if everything that Jesus did (and by extension everything that He taught) were to be written down (John 21:25). Thus, we can discern that Jesus must have conveyed doctrine and rituals to his Disciples and Apostles orally which they in turn transmitted to the Church orally through holy tradition. It is on this scriptural and ideological basis that the Church upholds the importance of preserving the holy tradition. One important characteristic of the holy tradition is that, when properly understood, it will not conflict with the command of God in Scripture (when properly interpreted). Any such conflict between tradition and Scripture would indicate either an incorrect understanding of the tradition, an incorrect interpretation of the Scripture, or a tradition of men.
A sacrament is a tangible rite performed by people that conveys an intangible grace accomplished by God. The way in which this grace acts in us is not fully revealed. As such, sacraments are also called mysteries because the way God acts in the sacraments is mysterious. The Church recognizes seven Sacraments, all of which are biblically founded and supported. These Sacraments include:
Sacraments are performed by canonically ordained clergy. Among the sacraments four, Baptism, Chrismation, Repentance & Confession, and Eucharist, are necessary for salvation and should be performed for all those who wish to be saved. Baptism and Chrismation are performed once in the life of a person while Repentance & Confession and Eucharist are practiced regularly throughout one’s life. The others are performed on specific people at specific times for specific purposes.
Human beings consist of a mortal body and an immortal spirit. When we depart, our spirits depart from our bodies. This is our physical death. However, our spirits continue to live. We see in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 6:19-31) that there are different places prepared for the spirits of the righteous (like Lazarus) and the unrighteous (like the rich man). When the spirits of the righteous depart from their bodies they ascend to Paradise (Luke 23:43), while the spirits of the unrighteous descend to Hades (Matthew 11:23). These are temporary waiting places where the spirits wait until the final judgement. In the final judgement Christ will grant the righteous to inherit the eternal kingdom, Heaven, while the unrighteous will be condemned to everlasting fire, Hell (Matthew 25). We also understand from the Scripture that the final judgement will be accompanied by a bodily resurrection of those who departed (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) for it is not suitable that the body which aided us in our spiritual struggle not be rewarded with the spirit. The new heaven and the new earth and the new Jerusalem, the heavenly kingdom, are described in beautiful poetic detail in Revelation 21 to give us hope in the joy of eternal life.
We understand that those who have departed from this life are not spiritually dead but have departed. As such, those who have departed and those who are still here on earth are all still members of the Body of Christ. Thus, they pray on our behalf, and we pray on their behalf. As we often decorate our homes with pictures of our departed loved ones so also we decorate our churches with icons of our beloved departed saints. As we learn from the examples of those people in our lives, our families, and our professions who have preceded us, so also, we learn from the spiritual examples of those righteous people who loved the Lord and successfully completed their struggles in this life by God’s grace. We honor the saints for their lives of righteousness, and we learn from their examples. We venerate them, but we do not worship them. We worship God alone. We honor the saints because of their faithful love to God.
St. Mary the Theotokos (Mother of God) is a human being who received a distinct honor from God, to bear Him in her womb, to give birth to Him, and to nurture Him as a child after His incarnation. Because she was found worthy by God of this great honor, we also honor her according to her own prophetic words “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48) We recognize that St. Mary was born as any other human being and was herself in need of a savior as are we all, according to her own admission, “And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:47) We acknowledge that St. Mary was perpetually a virgin. That is, she did not know a man before the conception of Christ, but rather Christ was conceived in her by the work of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:31-35). We understand also that Ezekiel’s prophecy of the eastern gate (Ezekiel 43:1-4, 44:1-2) points to the perpetual virginity of St. Mary, the Mother of God. The eastern gate through which the Lord passed represents the womb of the Theotokos through which the King of Kings passed into this world. This gate remained thoroughly shut after He passed through it as it was before He passed through it pointing to the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos.
Marriage is a holy sacrament in the Coptic Orthodox Church. The Church follows God’s original design for marriage as being between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24). The church does not permit divorce and re-marriage except in extreme cases as an exception (Matthew 19:3-9). Marriage is an honorable relationship and the holiness of the intimate conjugal relationship between husband wife is a Godly gift to be preserved (Hebrews 13:4). God’s insistence on the sanctity of marriage as being a blessed union between one man and one woman is clarified by St. Paul when he elucidates that the marital relationship is a figure of the relationship between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:22-33).