“Coptic” comes from the Greek term meaning “Egyptian.” Originating in the city of Alexandria, Coptics were founded in the first century, in Egypt, and consider John Mark (the author of the Gospel of Mark) as their founder and first bishop.
The church places heavy emphasis on asceticism which, as the Coptic church puts it, is the practice of self-denial in an effort to become closer to God. and although the Coptic Christian Church shares many beliefs and practices with the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church, it is decidedly independent.
Where Did the Coptic Church Come From?
Before there was The Great Reformation, Martin Luther, and the Protestant Church splitting from the Roman Catholic Church, there was the Coptic Christians. Starting at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D 451, the Coptic Christians were separated from the rest of the Council because they could not agree on the Incarnation of Christ.
According to the Council, Christ was one person who shared two natures – that He is both God and man, in one person. The majority who were present agreed, setting the standard orthodoxy for Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Protestant churches. Coptics, however, disagreed. They believed Christ is one nature from two natures – human nature and divine nature – thus making him the Logos Incarnate.
What Does the Coptic Church Believe?
One of the most important foundational beliefs of the Coptic Christian Church is that both God and man are responsible for personal salvation.
God, through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ death, provided forgiveness of sins, but that is not enough. Humans must also work for their salvation through fasting, almsgiving, and receiving of the sacraments such as infant and adult baptism, a liturgy of prayer, and the anointing with oil.
Much like the Catholic Church, Coptics believe verbal confession to a priest is essential in the process of forgiving sins.
The feeling of embarrassment before a leader of the church is consider part of the process and penalty for sin.
As in all Christian faiths, communion plays a pivotal role in the life and faith of a Coptic.
Unlike other Christian faiths, however, Coptics believe the recipients of communion must fast for nine hours prior to the event and, if married, couples are expected to refrain from having sex on the day of as well as the day before taking communion. Woman on their menstrual cycle are not permitted to receive communion.
Coptics believe in the Trinity of God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
However, and perhaps most importantly, Coptics believe that Jesus was created by God and that, unlike God the Father, Jesus is a finite being who is not eternal or divine, in and of Himself.
The Coptic Church does not worship the saints and icons of Christ.
They do, however, have the saints painted on wood, and believe saints act as intercessors for our prayers.
How Is the Coptic Church Different than the Orthodox Catholic Church?
Although there are many similarities between the Coptic and Catholic church, outside of theology, there are more than a few differences.
The Church: For the Roman Catholic, the church is traditional, whereas in the Coptic church views the church as both traditional and biblical.
Communion: In the Catholic church, Eucharistic Ministers are lay people (both men and women) who have been granted permission to administer Communion once the Body and the Blood of Christ has been consecrated by the priest. Any remnants left over can be used for another Mass. For the Coptic church, the Body and Blood of Christ must be handed out by the priest with no part being left over for future use.
Marriage: Catholics are not permitted to marry non-Catholics, unless the non-Catholic agrees to raise their children in the faith and practices of a Catholic. Interfaith is strongly discouraged in the Catholic church, but they also believe they cannot control its members and who they choose to marry. The Coptic church disagrees. In the Coptic church, an Orthodox person can only marry someone confirmed in the Orthodox faith.
Divorce: Divorce is not permitted in the Coptic church, except in the case of sexual immorality. Catholics, although discourage divorce, have a more relaxed view. Their stance is more on remarriage. If the marriage that was ended was a valid and recognized by the church and state, then remarriage is not permitted.
Mass: For the Coptic church, the same alter cannot be used more than once in a day. For the Catholic church, however, several masses are permitted to occur on the same alter in the same day.
Can I Find a Coptic Church in the United States?
Although centralized in Egypt, there is a growing presence of the Coptic church in the United States. Often referred to as Copts, the Coptic church began its migration to the United States in the late 1940’s and early 50’s with its first official establishment in the late 1960’s, St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church located in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Since then, the Coptic Church has grown to numbers between 350,000 to roughly 420,000. There are even some estimates who place that number closer to 700,000 to a million.
The Coptic church has members and churches spread all throughout the northeast, some central states including Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky, as well as through the southern border states, extending all the way to southern California.
After several generations of persecution, dating as far back as the Roman Empire and Byzantine rulers, as well as cultural and language changes throughout the Middle East, the Coptic church has struggled to maintain its footing in its original homeland of Egypt. While many have converted to Islam, there is still a small population of Coptic Christians living and worshipping in Alexandria. Most, however, have relocated to countries across the world with its population ranging between 10 and 60 million.