Thursday, June 17, 2010

Copts in Egypt

"When Israel was a child then I loved him, and I called him out of Egypt." --Hosiah 11:1

There are two thousand years of Coptic history. Otto Meinardus writes about this fascinating story in his book of the same title, Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity. "The history begins with the traditions of the visit of the holy family to Egypt... to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy" regarding the coming of the One, The Christ. "Undoubtedly Egyptians filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit... returned to their homes along the Nile Valley, and established there the first Christian communities," so records the Bible verse, Acts 2:10. Regarding Saint Mark the Evangelist as the founder of their church, Coptics, as did Saint Mark, suffered much persecution for their faith.

Yet today few realize "that Egypt once was a great Christian nation." Following its initial establishment in Egypt in the earliest of the common years, the Coptics became a firm part of Egyptian life from the second century onward. In Alexandria, with Constantine's rule in 313C.E. the Church emerged to face numerous conflicts with their neighbors. By the sixth century there is recorded to have been 600 hundred monasteries in and around Alexandria. Saint Cyril is by tradition said to have constructed the first Egyptian cathedral. However the Copts split from the Byzantine church in 451 C.E. The most famous Coptic Theologian of the early period is Origen, who settled in Alexandria and founded a school there which had great influence over the Coptics.

Also in the early church there arose a disagreement regarding the understanding of the "body of Christ." Further developments led to schisms and emerged with four groups, including the Nestorians claiming ascendancy. With these divisions in place, the Coptic Church was further weakened by the arrival of the Muslim invaders, under which many more adopted the beliefs of Mohammed, the Prophet.

Currently, writes Meinardus, the Coptics have been revitalized and are increasing. The "Africa Project," whereby the Church of Alexandria joins forces with the ancient churches of Africa has yielded a harvest for both groups, strengthening them and enriching their ancient traditions. Today the style of worship remains in the ancient Coptic language and her song remains equally vibrant fulled with ancient rhythms.

No comments: