Seminar für Ägyptologie und Koptologie

The Egyptian Church

According to a tradition transmitted, among others, by the church father Eusebius, Christianity came to Egypt in the middle of the first century AD. From these origins emerges one of the most important Christian churches of Antiquity, which in the second and third century reaches an important first bloom with church fathers such as Clement and Origen. This church emerges strengthened From the last great persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire by the Emperor Diocletian (284-305 AD). After the end of the persecution, the number of Egyptian Christians grew rapidly, and by the end of the fourth century they formed the great majority of the population. Even today, Egyptian church fathers such as Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria are known names not only among theologians but among Christians around the world. In the 5th century, with the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE), a process lasting several centuries began which was to separate the majority of the Egyptian Christians, later the Coptic Orthodox Church, from the Greek Orthodox Church with its centre Constantinople (today: Istanbul). Today, the reasons for this separation are no longer seen in fundamentally different views about the main issue of the Council, the relationship between the human and divine natures in Jesus Christ, but in church politics, which overshadowed interpretative nuances of essentially similar theological ideas. The two main pillars of Egyptian Christianity originate in this early period. One of them is the veneration of the witnesses of faith in the great persecutions. Even today the Egyptian Christians count their years after the "era of the martyrs". The self-identification of the Coptic Church as a "Church of the Martyrs" has also contributed significantly to the survival and cohesion of the Church under often very difficult conditions after Egypt was conquered by a Muslim army in the seventh century and a process of Islamisation began. In the course of the following centuries the Egyptian Christians gradually became a - significant - minority in the country, a situation that continues to this day.
The other pillar is the worship of the great ascetic and monastic saints of Late Antiquity. Both hermits and spiritual leaders of the smaller ascetic communities such as Anthony (d. 356) and Macarius, as well as the heads of cenobitic (communal) monasteries such as Pachomius (d. 346) and Shenoute (d. 465) enjoyed the admiration of the contemporaries at home and abroad and were venerated by subsequent generations.
This church has left a wealth of texts and other sources of great interest to a number of stakeholders: scholars from various disciplines who are interested in Egypt in the first millennium, especially Biblical scholars and church historians, scholars of Late Antiquity, Egyptologists, historians of the early Islamic period and, last but not least, the members of the Coptic Orthodox Church itself, today perhaps the most important and certainly the most numerous of the so-called "Oriental Orthodox" churches.