Who Are Egypt’s Coptic Christians And What Do They Believe?

Attacks on two Coptic Christian churches left dozens dead on Palm Sunday.

Coptic Christians trace their founding to the apostle St. Mark. Tradition holds that Mark brought Christianity to Egypt and founded the Coptic church during the first century. It is one of the oldest Christian churches in the Middle East and was the first founded in Africa.

 

Bombs exploded at two Coptic churches in the northern Egyptian cities of Tanta and Alexandria as worshippers were celebrating Palm Sunday on April 9. 2017.

Deadly bombings at two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt this weekend have brought attention to a long-persecuted religious minority with ancient roots.

Bombs went off at two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt on Sunday, killing more than 40 people and injuring dozens of others. The attacks occurred on Palm Sunday ― one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, and Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency in response.

The first bombing took place in Tanta, a city roughly 60 miles north of Cairo, during Palm Sunday services at St. George Church. The attack killed at least 27 people and injured some 78 others, the Ministry of Health said. The second bomb went off a few hours later at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, the historic seat of the Coptic Pope. That blast killed 18 civilians and four police officers, and left some 48 others injured.

“Egyptians will mourn this event and they will mean it, but many of them will also fail to recognize the fundamental challenge of religious discrimination that rests as the foundation of Sunday’s violence,” wrote political analyst Timothy E. Kaldas in a CNN op-edon Sunday. “The widespread perception of Christian Egyptians as lesser citizens with lesser rights creates fertile ground for those who seek to incite violence against them.”

Due to misunderstandings regarding their theology and political allegiances, Coptic Christians have been persecuted for centuries. Here’s what you need to know about this religious minority:

The Coptic Orthodox Church split away from the broader Christian community in 451 A.D. The Coptic Church diverged from other Christians during the 5th century in part due to differing beliefs about the nature of Christ. Coptic Christians believe that Christ had two natures ― one human and one divine ― united as one “without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration.” Catholics and other Christian denominations believe in the incarnation of Jesus, which similarly holds that Christ was both fully human and fully divine. But at the time of the split, Coptic Christians were accused of believing in monophysitism ― the belief that Christ had only one, divine nature.

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