Coptic Orthodox Church

Principal Christian church in Egypt.

Until the 19th century it was called simply the Egyptian Church. It agrees doctrinally with Eastern Orthodoxy except that it holds that Jesus has a purely divine nature and never became human, a belief the Council of Chalcedon rejected (see Monophysite heresy) in AD 451. After the Arab conquest (7th century), service books were written with Coptic and Arabic in parallel texts. Church government is democratic, and the patriarch, who resides in Cairo, is elected. There are congregations outside Egypt, especially in Australia and the U.S., and the church is in communion with the Ethiopian, Armenian, and Syrian Jacobite churches.

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also called  Coptic Church, 
      principal Christian church in predominantly Muslim Egypt. The people of Egypt before the Arab conquest in the 7th century identified themselves and their language in Greek as Aigyptios (Arabic qibṭ, Westernized as Copt); when Egyptian Muslims later ceased to call themselves Aigyptioi, the term became the distinctive name of the Christian minority. From the 5th century onward, these Christians belonged to a monophysite church (acknowledging only one nature in Christ), calling themselves simply the Egyptian Church. In the 19th and 20th centuries they began to call themselves Coptic Orthodox to be distinguished from Copts who had converted to Roman Catholicism and from Eastern Orthodox, who are mostly Greek.

      In the 4th and 5th centuries a theological conflict arose between the Copts and the Greek-speaking Romans, or Melchites (Melchite) (“Emperor's Men”), in Egypt over the Council of Chalcedon (451), which rejected Monophysite doctrine.

      After the Arab conquest of Egypt in the 7th century, the Copts ceased speaking Greek, and the language barrier added to the controversy. Various attempts at compromise by the Byzantine emperors came to naught. Later, the Arab caliphs, although they tended to favour those who adopted Islām, did not interfere much in the internal affairs of the Christian church.

      Apart from the Monophysite question, the Coptic and the Eastern Orthodox churches agree in doctrinal matters. Arabic (Arabic language) is now used in the services of the Coptic Orthodox Church for the lessons from the Bible and for many of the variable hymns; only certain short refrains that churchgoing people all understand are not in Arabic. The service books, using the liturgies attributed to St. Mark, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus, are written in Coptic (the Bohairic dialect of Alexandria), with the Arabic text in parallel columns.

      The Coptic Orthodox Church developed a democratic system of government after the 1890s. The patriarch and the 12 diocesan bishops, with the assistance of community councils in which the laity is well represented, regulate the finances of the churches and schools and the administration of the rules relating to marriage, inheritance, and other matters of personal status. When the patriarch dies, an electoral college, predominantly of laymen, selects three duly qualified monks at least 50 years of age as candidates for the office of patriarch. Among these three, the final choice is made by lot after prayer.

      The patriarch of Alexandria resides in Cairo. The church has its own primary and secondary schools in many places in Egypt, as well as a strong Sunday-school movement for the religious education of children unable to go to Coptic schools. There is an Institute of Coptic Studies in Cairo, a theological college connected with the institute, and a Coptic museum; the teaching of the Coptic Orthodox Church has even become the basis of the syllabus used in the religious instruction of Christian children in government schools.

      There is a Coptic Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, and there are a few other churches in the Holy Land, built in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as a Coptic bishopric in Khartoum, Sudan. The Ethiopian, Armenian, and Syrian Jacobite churches are in communion with the Coptic Orthodox Church.

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Universalium. 2010.

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