You may recall that on new years’s day this year, a Coptic church in Alexandria was bombed as the worshippers were leaving mass, and 21 people were killed. The Alexandrian governor accused al-Qaida of being responsible, though no group has claimed responsibility.
Since January 25th, Egypt has been in a complex progress of rapid political change. But of course Egypt sits in the Middle East – having a border as well as peace with Israel. Its stability is crucial to the whole region. Though it is a Muslim majority nation, Egypt also has the largest single group of indigenous Christians in the Middle East- the Copts. At least 9% of the 80 million Egyptians are Coptic Christians – roughly equal to the whole population of the state of Israel.
The Copts split from the rest of the church very early – at the council of Chalcedonin AD 451. The council of Chalcedon met to discuss the incarnation of Christ and declared that Christ was “one hypostasis in two natures” (i.e., one person who shares two distinct natures). This became standard orthodoxy for Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant churches from then on. It was a highly divisive issue at the time- even though the reasons for the original argument may not be so clear to the modern mind.
Leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church later believed that their position had been misunderstood at the Council of Chalcedon and they now go to great lengths to ensure that they are not understood as Monophysites (a ‘heresy’ denying the two natures of Christ), but rather as “Miaphysites” (their nuanced doctrine of one composite/conjoined nature from two). Some Copt historians believe that perhaps the council understood the church correctly, but wanted to exile the church for its refusal to take part in politics. They also sometimes suggest that the rivalry between the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Rome may have been the real reason for the split
To find out a bit more about the Middle-East’s largest Christian church, our guest on the Goodlife is Coptic (Egyptian) priest Fr Shenouda Mansour, based here in Australia. He’s also on the executive of the Australian National Council of Churches , and is vice president of the NSW ACT Ecumenical Council.
To Listen to the interview – CLICK HERE