The word Copt is an English word taken from the Arabic word Gypt, which literally means Egyptian. However, in contemporary usage, Coptic refers to Egyptian Christians. Today, Copts form almost 13 to 15% of Egypt’s population. Even though they are not ethnically distinct from other Egyptians, they are fully integrated into the body of the Modern Egyptian Nation.
In 451 CE, Anatolius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, convened the council of Chalcedon in an attempt to settle theological controversy about the nature of Jesus Christ.
The council affirmed that Jesus was “fully human and fully divine”, two natures united in one person. Not all agreed, with the “oriental orthodox” bishops believing instead that Jesus is of one nature; one nature consisting of humanity and divinity. The difference may seem slight, but it was enough to trigger the first major schism within Christianity. The result was the Coptic orthodox church of Alexandria, the largest christian church in Egypt and northeast Africa.
However, even before Chalcedon, Christianity in Egypt had taken a distinctive form, and dated back to a time shortly after the death of Christ. Although, the coptic cross does appear to predate Christ’s coming, and there are those who speculate that there were Egyptian Christians who foretold the coming of christ almost 500 years BC.
They use the local language of Coptic (instead of Greek or Latin) and adopted practices of desert monasticism. The history of the Coptic Church is basically the history of Christianity in Egypt. Copts relate that the blessing of Christianity on their country goes back to the days when Jesus was a young boy. This is when the family of 3 moved to Egypt to escape the king Herod who wanted him dead.
The head of the Coptic Church is the Pope of Alexandria, believed to be a successor to the Apostle Mark, who founded the first church in Egypt approximately in the year 42 AD. While monasticism is widespread in religious traditions, Christian monastic practices are widely held to originate with the communities and individuals who isolated themselves from worldly life in the Egyptian deserts and inspired the ascetic spirituality of the Coptic Church.
Copts use a liturgical calendar, based on ancient Egyptian traditions, consisting of 13 months and 3 seasons, which are Inundation, sowing, and harvest. The writings of the Desert Fathers, especially their sermons, are highly influential for Coptic Christian spirituality. In particular, and in following in the footsteps of Saint Anthony, the tradition of hesychasm, from the Greek word for “stillness” is of the utmost importance.
In the Hesychastic tradition, Coptics emphasize practices of withdrawal and abstention – sometimes to complete isolation and silence. This is to enable believers to devote themselves fully to a life of prayer and contemplation. Today, there are over 9 Million Copts in Egypt, as well as an additional 1.2 million immigrant Copts who practice their faith around the world.