1. Religion & Spirituality

Coptic Christian Beliefs and Practices

Explore the Longstanding Beliefs of Coptic Christian Churches

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Members of the Coptic Christian Church believe both God and man play roles in salvation, God through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ and humans through works of merit, such as fasting, almsgiving, and receiving the sacraments.

Founded in the first century in Egypt, the Coptic Christian Church shares many beliefs and practices with the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church. "Coptic" is derived from a Greek term meaning "Egyptian."

The Coptic Orthodox Church claims apostolic succession through John Mark, author of the Gospel of Mark. Copts believe Mark was one of the 72 sent by Christ to evangelize (Luke 10:1).

However, Copts split from the Catholic Church in 451 A.D. and have their own pope and bishops. The church is steeped in ritual and tradition and places a heavy emphasis on asceticism, or denying the self.

Coptic Christian Beliefs

Baptism - Baptism is performed by immersing the baby three times in sanctified water. The sacrament also involves a liturgy of prayer and anointing with oil. Under Levitical law, the mother waits 40 days after the birth of a male child and 80 days after the birth of a female child to have the baby baptized. In the case of adult baptism, the person undresses, enters the baptismal font up to their neck, and their head is dipped three times by the priest. The priest stands behind a curtain while immersing the head of a woman.

Confession - Copts believe verbal confession to a priest is necessary for forgiveness of sins. Embarrassment during confession is considered part of the penalty for sin. In confession, the priest is considered a father, judge, and a teacher.

Communion - The Eucharist is called the "Crown of Sacraments." Bread and wine are sanctified by the priest during the mass. Recipients must fast nine hours before communion. Married couples are not to have sexual relations on the eve and day of communion, and menstruating women may not receive communion.

Trinity - Copts hold a monotheistic belief in the Trinity, three persons in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Holy Spirit - The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, the life-giver. God lives by his own Spirit and had no other source.

Jesus Christ - Christ is the manifestation of God, the living Word, sent by the Father as a sacrifice for humanity's sins.

The Bible - The Coptic Christian Church considers the Bible "an encounter with God and an interaction with Him in a spirit of worship and piety."

Creed - Athanasius (296-373 A.D.), a Coptic bishop in Alexandria, Egypt, was a staunch opponent of Arianism. The Athanasian Creed, an early statement of faith, is attributed to him.

Saints and Icons - Copts venerate (not worship) saints and icons, which are images of saints and Christ painted on wood. The Coptic Christian Church teaches that saints act as intercessors for the prayers of the faithful.

Salvation - Coptic Christians teach that both God and man have roles in human salvation: God, through Christ's atoning death and resurrection; man, through good works, which are the fruits of faith.

Coptic Christian Practices

Sacraments - Copts practice seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, confession (penance), the Eucharist (communion), matrimony, unction of the sick, and ordination. Sacraments are considered a way to receive God's grace, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and remission of sins.

Fasting - Fasting plays a key role in Coptic Christianity, taught as "an offering of inward love offered by the heart as well as the body." Abstaining from food is equated with abstaining from selfishness. Fasting means contrition and repentance, mixed with spiritual joy and consolation.

Worship Service - Coptic Orthodox Churches celebrate the mass, which includes traditional liturgical prayers from a lectionary, readings from the Bible, singing or chanting, alms giving, a sermon, consecration of the bread and wine, and communion. The order of service has changed little since the first century. Services are usually held in the local language.

To learn more about Coptic Christian beliefs, visit the official Coptic Orthodox Church Network Website.

(Sources: CopticChurch.net, www.antonius.org, and newadvent.org)

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