Coptic Orthodox

Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church, Egypt, April 2009
Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church, Egypt, April 2009. Source: Benjamín Núñez González (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The word ‘Coptic’ means Egyptian and it is used to describe the native people of Egypt who overwhelmingly subscribe to the beliefs of the Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the world’s oldest Christian churches and the largest Christian church in Egypt and the Middle East. They account for approximately 10% of the Egyptian population and large numbers of Copts, or Coptic Orthodox, have migrated to Western countries, such as the USA, Canada and Australia.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is officially known as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, which was founded in the first century AD by Saint Mark, the Apostle. The Church belongs to the Oriental Orthodox Churches, as it differs in some areas of theology to the Eastern Orthodox Church (eg the Antiochian Orthodox Church). The Coptic Orthodox Church’s major contributions to Christianity have been in its early followers being leaders in monasticism and in establishing the world’s first Catechetical School in Alexandria.

Christianity, through the Coptic Orthodox Church, was the predominant religion of Egyptians for several centuries. The arrival of Arab Muslims to Egypt in the seventh century saw gradual conversion to Islam and by the end of the 12th century, the face of Egypt had changed from being predominantly Christian to a largely Muslim country. Over the centuries and to the present day, the Coptic Christians of Egypt have experienced periods of discrimination and persecution in their homeland, which has compelled many to migrate across the world; there are an estimated 10 million Copts living in more than 50 countries.

Religious Observances

Coptic church in Egypt
Coptic church in Egypt. Source: Хомелка (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Coptic Orthodox celebrate the usual Christian celebrations of Christmas and Easter, with rituals and traditions practised in the lead up to Easter that are consistent with those of the Christian Orthodox Church. However, they use the Julian Calendar (also known as the Coptic Calendar or the Alexandrian Calendar) and based on this calendar, they celebrate Christmas on 7 January.

The Church liturgy is mostly conducted in Arabic and in some parishes, it is also conducted in conjunction with the Coptic language. The Coptic Orthodox observe strict fasting for lengthy periods and mark major life events, such as birth, marriage, and death, within the traditions of Orthodox Christianity. See Encyclopedia Coptica for further information on significant feast days and on customs that honour religious sacraments.

Presence in Australia

In Victoria, Australia, the large Coptic community is served by seven churches, two schools, two monasteries, a theological college and aged care facility. Some of the churches based in Melbourne also support the coordination of social support groups. You can locate these in our Directory.

Further Reading & Materials