Copts, the Christians of Egypt

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The story of the Copts, the largest Christian group in Egypt and one of the oldest in the world

History of the Copts

The Copts are one of the oldest Christian ethno-religious groups in the world, so much so that their very name is nothing more than an Arab corruption of the Greek term “Αἴγυπτος” (Aígyptos), which means “Egypt”. Their origins date back to St. Mark the Evangelist, who came to Alexandria from his native Cyrene around 42 AD, thus forming the very first Christian community in Africa; around 200 it also expanded into rural areas, becoming, in the third century, the main faith of the country. This great and rapid development also coincided with the increasing importance of this reality, one of the most important and fundamental in the entire history of Christianity, so much so that it was here that things like the “Catechetical School of Alexandria” were born, the very first center of catechesis in the world, and the very concept of monk. This allowed it to immediately establish itself as the absolute center of Christianity, so much so that the first three ecumenical councils (Nicea 325, Constantinople 381 and Ephesus 431) were led by the patriarch of Alexandria; it was that of Chalcedon in 451, however, which separated them from much of the rest of Christianity.

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The latter was held to face the new doctrine of Monophysism proposed by the archimandrite Eutiche who affirmed that in Jesus the divine nature absorbed the human one. The winning theory was the Diophysite theory (human and divine nature are both present and in balance) , still practiced today by the majority of the churches of the world. However, the majority of Egypt and Syria did not agree, thus dividing themselves from the rest of the communities and affirming Myphysitism (divine and human nature are perfectly fused); this will lead the Byzantines to heavy persecutions, probably facilitating the arrival of the Arabs and Islam. Under the latter the Copts, while remaining the majority confession until the 14th century, were increasingly placed as subordinates, so much so that only with the ascent to the throne of Muhammad Ali in the 18th century did they regain part of the luster and power of the past. With the arrival of Nasser and pan-Arabism, however, problems arose due to the claimed Greek origin, favoring a new series of injustices which, unfortunately, in part still survive in the country today. To date, their number should be between 15 and 20 million faithful, the majority of whom still live in Egypt today, with 1-2 million who instead live abroad. The vast majority of them follow the Coptic Orthodox Church, but the Coptic Catholic Church and Protestantism are also present; both Coptic churches follow the Alexandrian rite and the liturgical language is Coptic.

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