The Coptic Orthodox Church

The Coptic Orthodox Church is considered to be one of the oldest churches in the world. Copts believe that their Church dates back to around 50 AD and was established by the Apostle Mark. Therefore, Mark is regarded as the first Pope of Alexandria. This makes it one of the earliest Christian groups outside the Holy Land. Moreover, Egypt’s Copts are the largest Christian minority of any country in the Middle East; estimates ranged from 6 to 11 million; 6% (official estimate) to 20% (Church estimate) of the population. 

written by Professor Tarek Mousa, Lecturer in Arabic in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Characteristics of the Coptic Orthodox Church: 

  • It is the only church prophesied about in the Holy Bible in the Old Testament where it said in Isaiah 19:19, “In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the LORD at its border.” That Alter was not meant to be for the unbelievers as it was meant to be for God, and it was not for the Jews as it was outside Jerusalem. Therefore, Coptic Christians believe it was meant for the Coptic Orthodox Church.  
  • Egypt is the only country that Jesus visited while He was on earth besides where he was born. Prophet Isaiah spoke of this in Isaiah 19:1 “the LORD rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt.” Hosea 11:1, told of His return from Egypt where the prophecy said: “out of Egypt I called my son,” referring to Jesus leaving Egypt. 
  • The Coptic Orthodox Church is considered the keeper of the faith. In The Council of Nicaea, one of the church’s heroes, Saint Athanasios, established the Orthodox Creed, accepted by all Christians worldwide.   
  • The Coptic Orthodox Church was the first church to establish a theology school by Apostle Mark. 
  • The Coptic Orthodox Church was the first church to establish monasticism by Saint Anthony and the monastery living by Saint Pachomius. 

Structure of the Coptic Church

While Coptic Christians can be found across the world, the church’s governing body has always been located in Egypt where the church was founded. The church is organized as follows: 

The Pope: The Pope is chairman and head of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria.  The Pope is chosen by a process where the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church votes. The names of the three candidates that receive the most votes are put in a glass chalice. A blindfolded boy is then asked to pick one name out of the three. The picked name then becomes the new Patriarch of Alexandria and this person is believed to have been chosen by ‘Divine Choice’, as the boy is believed to be guided by the hand of God.

The Holy Synod: is the highest authority in the Church of Alexandria. The Holy Synod formulates the rules and regulations regarding matters of the church’s organization, faith, and order.

Bishops: Bishops are considered to hold the highest authority in the Coptic Church after the pope. According to the Diocese of New England Website: A bishop is appointed through the following process: 

  1. A special Diocesan Assembly is convened at which the gathered delegates (each parish body usually has clergy and a lay delegate representing them at this special Assembly) nominate a candidate. The candidate must be a celibate (never-married or presently widowed) Orthodox Christian man of at least 35 years of age (in practice, of at least 30 years of age), who has no impediments that would impede his service as a bishop. In the Church, the word “impediment” means a specific condition or situation that might disqualify a person from holding a particular office or carrying out a specific role. For example, one impediment to consecration as a bishop would be if the candidate in question was physically unable to perform the rites of the Church. Another impediment to consecration as a bishop would be that there is some circumstance in a given candidate’s life that is properly private and confidential, but, which (if by some unfortunate occurrence that matter became publicly known) would be a source of serious scandal to the Church. It is incumbent upon any man being considered for election and consecration as a bishop to decline to be considered if he knows he has such a history—he need not be specific about the matter, he just has to indicate that he does not wish to be considered any longer.
  2. It is not permissible to nominate a man who is already a Diocesan Bishop elsewhere. That man already has his responsibilities. (The OCA Holy Synod of Bishops has been known in the past to transfer a bishop from one diocese to another, if such an action seems, for weighty reasons, to be proper. Our Diocese of New England has, at least twice, had a bishop transferred away from us to another diocese of the OCA.)
  3. At the time of his nomination, the nominee does not have to be an ordained person—pious laymen have been elected as bishops, and subsequently gone through all the steps necessary to be consecrated to the episcopacy. (Saint Ambrose of Milan was famously elected to be a bishop while still a catechumen, not yet a baptized Christian. This took place in AD 374. He was subsequently baptized, and then, over the course of seven days, went through all the steps necessary to be consecrated a bishop.) The nominee must be willing to take, at least, preliminary monastic vows, and he must be willing to accept consecration to the episcopacy.
  4. Consecration of a bishop takes place during the Divine Liturgy. Bishops are consecrated by other bishops. Usually, this consecration is accomplished by, at minimum, three other bishops. Before being consecrated a bishop nowadays, one must have been a tonsured Reader, a set-apart Subdeacon, an ordained Deacon, and be, presently, an ordained Priest in good standing. One must, also, as mentioned already, have taken at least preliminary monastic vows—that is why the bishop dresses in a monastic habit. (Bishops are often in the stage of monasticism titled rasophore—also sometimes spelled riasaphor. This is the stage of monasticism where the candidate receives monastic tonsure, is given the distinctive clothing (“habit”) of a monk, and, in fact, takes on the responsibilities of monastic life, but does not actually pronounce the full, formal vows of a monastic.
  5.  Once the Diocese nominates a candidate, he is examined by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), under the chairmanship of the Metropolitan. Once the Synod examines the candidate, they either elect him or refuse to elect him as the new bishop. (If refusal of the nominee occurs, then the Diocese must reconvene an Assembly in order to nominate a different candidate.)
  6. If for whatever reason, the Diocese fails to nominate a candidate, the Holy Synod does have the right and privilege to elect their own choice as the duly elected Diocesan bishop.
  7. Once elected by the Holy Synod, the bishop-elect proceeds through whatever steps are necessary for him to serve as bishop, including formal episcopal consecration by his fellow bishops at a Divine Liturgy, and then is formally enthroned as the new Diocesan hierarch. Upon consecration as a bishop, or if already a bishop, the bishop-elect has all the prerogatives of Diocesan bishop, even if not yet formally enthroned.
  8. All the above being said, it should be noted, that in the Orthodox Church generally speaking, bishops are elected by bishops, from among eligible candidates identified by the existing bishops. Thus, strictly speaking, nomination by the Diocese is not absolutely necessary. The OCA Statute does specify a nomination process, but this is a local procedure of the OCA, not a universal (or even common) Orthodox practice—and, even in the OCA, the formal and canonical election of a bishop is accomplished by the Holy Synod of Bishops.

Priests: Priests in the Coptic Church are chosen through a process of nomination and then election by the church members. Once a person is chosen to be a priest, a bishop lays his hands on the head of the elected candidate, so that the Holy Spirit will descend on him and grant him one of the priestly ranks. He is then given the authority to officiate the Sacraments of the church, doctrines, and others. In the Coptic Church, the word “priest” is designated for a clergyman who spiritually serves people and their needs and the priest is a member of the priesthood who performs religious rites. 

Coptic Church in the United States

According to an article published in The Atlantic, there are more than 250 Coptic Churches in the United States, with strongholds in New Jersey, California, Florida and New York. 

Celebrating Good Friday

Christians believe that when Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” Romans 5:12-14. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned.” However, God promised that man’s offspring shall crush the serpent’s head, which means to redeem. The principle of redemption is that a soul must die to save another, which constitutes the principle of sacrifice and redemption. Because sin against God was unlimited, the sacrifice must also be unlimited, and the only one that is unlimited is God; thus, He is the only one that can atone for Adam’s sin.  However, because God is only a soul and does not have a body and has no human nature, He can’t die. Therefore, how can he save man? This was fulfilled through Christ, who took on the human body as the Bible says in John 1, and the Word became flesh and dwelled amongst us, and God appeared in the flesh (1 Timothy 3). By doing so, Christ became susceptible to death while still keeping his divine nature. By doing so, Christ was able to present salvation to every human being from the beginning of Adam to the last child that would be born before the second coming of Christ. 

Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on April 9th, and He was crucified on Friday, April 14th. That is why Jesus is said to be the sacrificial lamb, and the lamb used to be chosen on April 9th and kept to the 14th till sacrificed at 3 o’clock as the Bible states. 

How were Easter and Good Friday determined? It was stated in Apostolorum chapter 31 that Easter: 

  1. Must be on a Sunday as Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, as stated in all four gospels. 
  2. Shall be after the Jewish Passover and shall not be on the same day as the Jewish Passover. 
  3. Shall be during spring which comes in April, which is during the harvest season, which determines the Jewish Passover where the Jews make their offerings. 

After the establishment of the Apacte, according to the Egyptian scientist Batlimos El Faramay during the time of Pope Demtros in the second century A.D. (Egypt was well advanced in the science of astrology at that time) and was accepted by Western Churches at the Council of Rome in 198 A.D. under the leadership of Pope Victor. The church of Alexandria was in charge of determining the Day of Easter, and this was the practice till 1582 A.D. This practice was changed when the Gregorian calendar was introduced, and the Western Churches altered the time of Easter. In contrast, the Orthodox Churches continued to celebrate Easter using the Aposolorum guidance.   


BBC (2009):

Diocese of New England:

The Atlantic: The Americanization of an Ancient Faith: