Coptic Church · History & Tradition

Who are the Copts? Part 2

St. Mark the Founder

The Coptic Orthodox Church is an Apostolic Church.  It was founded by St. Mark the Apostle and Evangelist in the first century.  It is also known as “The Church of Alexandria” or “The See of St. Mark.”  It was one of the earliest four “sees” or “patriarchates”: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome.  The see of Constantinople was founded in the fourth century.

With the establishment of the Church in Alexandria, St. Mark ordained deacons, priests and a bishop to assist him in his ministry.  Through an unbroken chain of apostolic succession, the present day patriarch, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, is the 117th successor of St. Mark.

St. Mark was a forward-thinking apostle; his ministry was productive and covered numerous spheres of activities, including the following:

Preaching in Egypt and Pentapolis, next to Judea, Cyprus, Asia Minor and Italy; during this time he ordained bishops, priests and deacons;

Authoring the first and oldest Gospel, most probably in Egypt. (65-68 A.D.);

Authoring the Holy Eucharistic Liturgy, which is still used to this day in Coptic Orthodox liturgical services; and

Establishing the Chatechetical School of Alexandria, which defended Christianity against the secular philosophical School of Alexandria, and conceived a number of great and famous fathers.

St. Mark was martyred in Alexandria in 68 A.D.  His head is preserved in the great Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria, and his relic is at the Coptic Patriarchate located in Cairo, Egypt.

School of Alexandria

The Catechetical School of Alexandria was established in the first century of Christianity by St. Mark.   It became renown in areas of study such as theology, dogma and doctrine, history, biblical studies and patrology.  Numerous scholars were among its most prominent students, who taught in it later, such as Athenagoras, Pentaenous, Clement, Origen, Didymus, Athanasius the Apostolic, Cyril of Alexandria and Dioscorus. 

Origen alone composed more than 6000 commentaries on the Bible.  He wrote his Hexapla in which the Old Testament was written in six columns.  He was also responsible for all the translations of that time.  St. Didymus the Blind was the dean of the school during the time of St. Athanasius the Apostolic.  He learned to read and write using carved wood, fifteen centuries before the introduction of Braille.

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