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Who we are ? Continued…

The Catechetical School of Alexandria:

The Catechetical School of Alexandria is the oldest Catechetical School in the world. Soon after its inception around 190 A.D. by the Christian scholar Pantanaeus, the school of Alexandria became the most important institution of religious learning in Christendom. Many prominent bishops from many areas of the world were instructed in that school under scholars such as Athenagoras, Clement, Didymus, and the great Origen, who was considered the father of theology and who was also active in the field of commentary and comparative Biblical studies. Origen wrote over 6,000 commentaries of the Bible in addition to his famous Hexapla. Many scholars such as Saint Jerome visited the school of Alexandria to exchange ideas and to communicate directly with its scholars. The scope of the school of Alexandria was not limited to theological subjects, because science, mathematics and the humanities were also taught there: The question and answer method of commentary began there, and 15 centuries before Braille, wood-carving techniques were in use there by blind scholars to read and write. The Theological College of the Catechetical School of Alexandria was re-established in 1893. Today, it has campuses in Alexandria, Cairo, New Jersey, and Los Angeles, where priests-to-be and other qualified men and women are taught among other subjects Christian theology, history, Coptic language and art—including chanting, music, iconography, tapestry etc.

Monasticism:

Monasticism was born in Egypt and was instrumental in the formation of the Coptic Church’s character of submission and humbleness, thanks to the teachings and writings of the Great Fathers of Egypt’s Deserts. Monasticism started in the last years of the third century and flourished in the fourth century. Saint Anthony, the world’s first Christian monk was a Copt from Upper Egypt. Saint Pachom, who established the rules of monasticism, was a Copt. And, Saint Paul, the world’s first anchorite is also a Copt. Other famous Coptic desert fathers include Saint Makarios; Saint Moses the Black, and Saint Mina the wondrous. The more contemporary desert fathers include the late Pope Cyril VI and his disciple Bishop Mina Abba Mina. By the end of the fourth century, there were hundreds of monasteries, and thousands of cells and caves scattered throughout the Egyptian hills. Many of these monasteries are still flourishing and have new vocations till this day. All Christian monasticism stems, either directly or indirectly, from the Egyptian example: Saint Basil, organizer of the monastic movement in Asia minor visited Egypt around 357 A.D. and his rule is followed by the eastern Churches; Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, came to Egypt around 400 A.D. and left details of his experiences in his letters; Saint Benedict founded monasteries in the sixth century on the model of Saint Pachom, but in a stricter form. And countless pilgrims visited the “Desert Fathers” and emulated their spiritual, disciplined lives. There is even evidence that Copts had missionaries to Northern Europe. One example is Saint Moritz of the Theban Legion who was drafted from Egypt to serve under the Roman flag and ended up teaching Christianity to inhabitants of the Swiss Alps, where a small town and a Monastery that contains his relics as well as some of his books and belongings are named after him. Another saint from the Theban Legion is Saint Victor, known among Copts as “Boktor”.

The Church Of Alexandria leads the world in Theology:

Under the authority of the Eastern Roman Empire of Constantinople (as opposed to the western empire of Rome), the Patriarchs and Popes of Alexandria played leading roles in Christian theology. They were invited everywhere to speak about the Christian faith. Saint Cyril, Pope of Alexandria, was the head of the Ecumenical Council, which was held in Ephesus in the year 430 A.D. It was said that the bishops of the Church of Alexandria did nothing but spend all their time in meetings. This leading role, however, did not fare well when politics started to intermingle with Church affairs. It all started when the Emperor Marcianus interfered with matters of faith in the Church. The response of Saint Dioscorus, the Pope of Alexandria who was later exiled, to this interference was clear: “You have nothing to do with the Church.” These political motives became even more apparent in Chalcedon in 451, when the Coptic Church was unfairly accused of following the teachings of Eutyches, who believed in monophysitism. This doctrine maintains that the Lord Jesus Christ has only one nature, the divine, not two natures, the human as well as the divine.

The Coptic Church has never believed in monophysitism the way it was portrayed in the Council of Chalcedon! In that Council, monophysitism meant believing in one nature. Copts believe that the Lord is perfect in His divinity, and He is perfect in His humanity, but His divinity and His humanity were united in one nature called “the nature of the incarnate word”, which was reiterated by Saint Cyril of Alexandria. Copts, thus, believe in two natures “human” and “divine” that are united in one “without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration” (from the declaration of faith at the end of the Coptic divine liturgy). These two natures “did not separate for a moment or the twinkling of an eye” (also from the declaration of faith at the end of the Coptic divine liturgy).

The Council of Chalcedon – what had happened?

The Coptic Church was misunderstood in the 5th century at the Council of Chalcedon. Perhaps the Council understood the Church correctly, but they wanted to exile the Church, to isolate it and to abolish the Egyptian, independent Pope, who maintained that Church and State should be separate. Despite all of this, the Coptic Church has remained very strict and steadfast in its faith. Whether it was a conspiracy from the Western Churches to exile the Coptic Church as a punishment for its refusal to be politically influenced, or whether Pope Dioscurus didn’t quite go the extra mile to make the point that Copts are not monophysitism, the Coptic Church has always felt a mandate to reconcile “semantic” differences between all Christian Churches. This is aptly expressed by the current 117th successor of Saint Mark, Pope Shenouda III: “To the Coptic Church, faith is more important than anything, and others must know that semantics and terminology are of little importance to us.” Throughout this century, the Coptic Church has played an important role in the ecumenical movement. The Coptic Church is one of the founders of the World Council of Churches. It has remained a member of that council since 1948 A.D. The Coptic Church is a member of the all African Council of Churches (AACC) and the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). The Church plays an important role in the Christian movement by conducting dialogues aiming at resolving the theological differences with the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterian, and Evangelical Churches.

Perhaps the greatest glory of the Coptic Church is its Cross-. Copts take pride in the persecution they have sustained as early as May 8, 68 A.D., when their Patron Saint Mark was slain on Easter Monday after being dragged from his feet by Roman soldiers all over Alexandria’s streets and alleys. Almost every ruler of Egypt has persecuted the Copts. Their Clergymen have been tortured and exiled even by their Christian brothers after the schism of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. and until the Arab’s conquest of Egypt in 641 A.D. To emphasize their pride in their cross, Copts adopted a calendar, called the Calendar of the Martyrs, which begins its era on August 29, 284 A.D., in commemoration of those who died for their faith during the rule of Diocletian the Roman Emperor. This calendar is still in use all over Egypt by farmers to keep track of the various agricultural seasons and in the Coptic Church Lectionary.

 

To be continued..