By Sandra Birungi
The Coptic Orthodox church has gone under the microscope after one of its church members, released a controversial Muslim film, Innocence of Muslims which sparked protests in Libya, Egypt and Yemen leading to the death of a US ambassador.
The church of Alexandria is called the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and it is the largest of its kind in Egypt and the Middle East. It was established by Saint Mark the apostle and evangelist in the middle of the 1st century and is headed is the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy See of Saint Mark.
The Coptic Orthodox Church has its formations on Christian monasticism which was born in Egypt. It concentrates on the Church character of submission, simplicity and humility.
During the 3rd century, many Egyptian Christians went to the desert to pray and work and dedicate their lives to seclusion and worship of God which gave birth to the monastic movement.
The nature of Christ came under dispute by an Alexandrian presbyter named Arius. The dispute led to the convening of the Ecumenical Council of Nicea AD 325. It was convened by Constantine and a Symbol of Faith, also known as the Nicene Creed was formed as a result. The creed is based largely on the teaching put forth by Pope Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, the chief opponent of Arius.
In the year AD 381, Pope Timothy I of Alexandria presided over the second ecumenical council known as the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, to judge Macedonious, who denied the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. This council completed the Nicene Creed with this confirmation of the divinity of the Holy Spirit.”I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father through the Son is worshiped and glorified who spoke by the Prophets and in One, Holy, Universal, and Apostolic church. I confess one Baptism for the remission of sins and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the coming age, Amen.”
Another theological dispute in the 5th century occurred over the teachings of Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople who taught that God the Word was not hypostatically joined with human nature, but rather dwelt in the man Jesus. As a consequence of this, he denied the title “Mother of God” (Theotokos) to the Virgin Mary, declaring her instead to be “Mother of Christ” Christotokos. News reached the Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark, Pope Saint Cyril I of Alexandria who asked Nestorius to repent but refused. This marked as “The Third Epistle of Saint Cyril to Nestorius” after the Synod of Alexandria met in an emergency session and Pope Cyril I of Alexandria sent a letter to Nestorius. It read, “Anyone who dares to deny the Holy Virgin the title Theotokos is Anathema!”
The title of Mary as “Mother of God” was confirmed
“We magnify you O Mother of the True Light and we glorify you O saint and Mother of God (Theotokos) for you have borne unto us the Savior of the world. Glory to you O our Master and King: Christ, the pride of the Apostles, the crown of the martyrs, the rejoicing of the righteous, firmness of the churches and the forgiveness of sins. We proclaim the Holy Trinity in One Godhead: we worship Him, we glorify Him, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord bless us, Amen.”
The Muslim evaded Egypt in AD 639 and although the Egyptian population remained Christian, gradual conversions to Islam took place and soon, Egypt became a largely Muslim country by the end of the 12th century.
There are currently18 million Coptic Orthodox Christians in the world and of these, 10 – 14 million are found in Egypt under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.
Though they do not seem radical, it is important to note that since they first arrived in Egypt, they lay claim to it and the Muslim intervention did more harm than good which puts a conflict in the country.