Christianity: Egypt’s 2nd largest religion
Descending from Judaism, Christianity’s central belief maintains Jesus of Nazareth is the promised messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures, and that his life, death, and resurrection will provide salvation for the world. Christianity is one of the three monotheistic Abrahamic faiths, along with Islam and Judaism, which traces its spiritual lineage to Abraham of the Hebrew Scriptures. Its sacred Basic Groupings are:
· Catholicism (Roman Catholicism). This is the oldest established western Christian church and the world’s largest single religious body. It is supranational and recognizes a hierarchical structure with the Pope, or Bishop of Rome, as its head, located at the Vatican.
- · Mormonism (including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).
- · Jehovah’s Witnesses structure their faith on the Christian Bible, but their rejection of the Trinity is distinct from mainstream Christianity.
- · Protestant Christianity which originated in the 16th century as an attempt to reform Roman Catholicism’s practices, dogma, and theology.
Many people think of the land of Israel, and Palestine when you talk about New Testament, the places where Jesus was born and preached. Egypt, however, also provides a key location in his story, a safe haven for the holy family. In the Gospel of Matthew, Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus flee from Jerusalem and King Herod, who wanted to kill the child. The family stayed in Egypt until the danger had passed.
Related tour: Egypt Coptic Christian Legacy: A 10-Day Holy Family Tour
Christianity in Egypt:
Christianity is the second-largest religion in Egypt. The vast majority of Egyptian Christians are Copts. The word (Copt) is indirectly derived from the Greek (Aegyptus) meaning simply ‘Egypt’. Egyptian Christians believe that the Patriarchate of Alexandria was founded by Mark the Evangelist around 33 AD and that Christianity entered Egypt because of the Apostle Mark.
Before Christianity became a state religion under Constantine, the Egyptian Christian community suffered heavy persecution. An important part of the Roman state religion was the cult of the Emperor. For Jews and Christians, who both believed in one god, this practice presented a problem. However, the Jews received a special exemption: they did not need to join the ruler cult, for religious reasons.
The Christians were first seen as Jews, but when they became a separate religious group, they did not receive the same status. In the third century, AD persecution of the Christians grew particularly intense, for example under Septimius Severus in 201 AD. In the reign of Decius in 249 AD there was the first persecution across the whole empire.
Under Gallienus (253 – 268 AD) the persecutions were reserved by an edict, by which the Christians received their freedom. However, under Diocletian (248 – 305 AD) there was again heavy persecution. So intense that the Coptic Church dates its years not to the birth of Christ (BC-AD) but to the “Era of Martyrs” starting from the first year of the reign of the persecuting emperor Diocletian. The oppression ended finally on the 30th of April 311, when an edict was released establishing Christianity as a permitted religion (religio licita).
Over the course of the 4th century, paganism was suppressed and lost its followers as the Poet Palladius bitterly noted. Graffiti at Philae proves worship of Isis persisted at its temples into the 5th century. Alexandria became the center of the first great Schism in the Christian world. Between the Arians, named for the Alexandrian priest Arius and their opponents, represented by Athanasius, who became Archbishop of Alexandria in 326 AD after the first council of Nicaea rejected Arius’s views.
The Arian controversy caused years of riots and rebellion throughout most of the 4th century. In the course of one of these, the great Temple of Serapis, the stronghold of paganism was destroyed. Athanasius was alternately expelled from Alexandria and reinstated as its Archbishop between five and seven times. Another religious development in Egypt was the monasticism of the Desert Fathers. Monasticism renounced the material world in order to live a life of poverty in devotion to the church.
Under Byzantine rule, the Monophysite strand of Christianity was also subject to persecution. As the imperial authorities struggled to impose orthodoxy from Constantinople. The division between Monophysite and orthodox Christianity has been seen as a major factor contributing to the defeat of Byzantine forces in Egypt and Syria in the mid-seventh century at the Arab conquest of Egypt in 642 AD.
During most of the Islamic period, Christians formed the backbone of the country’s administration. Many, along with people of the other faiths such as Jews, rose to ministerial positions. Like all non-Muslims, they paid a special poll tax. At certain periods and despite clear Islamic teachings on tolerance, they endured certain restrictions, often because of complaints about their undue influence.
Their conversion to Islam was a long process. The European crusades, instigated by Pope Urban II in 1095, must have had a particularly negative impact. Local Christian population probably sided most often with their Muslim compatriots, while some Muslims sided with the Frankish invaders. The crusaders may be one main reason why more Egyptian Christians converted to Islam.
Despite sporadic times of discord, as in the reign of the eccentric but brilliant Fatimid ruler Al-Hakim. The story of the Copts in Egypt reflects a generally tolerant country by comparison with the fate of religious minorities in medieval and later Europe.
Christianity in modern Egypt:
The Copts have remained an influential group in Egypt into the modern era. Under the British colony, two Copts held the post of prime minister. Copts continued to hold large land estates and own wealthy businesses. The community lost prestige, after the 1952 revolution. As various reforms under the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser disproportionately affected upper and middle-class Copts and Muslims and sparked a wave of emigration.
The Nasser era also saw a strengthening of the influence of the Coptic Pope. Coinciding with the strengthening of the Patriarchy was the election of Pope Shenouda III in 1971. After Shenouda’s death in 2012, his successor, Pope Tawadros II, promised to take a less politicized approach than his predecessor. He undertook a number of structural policies that favored the reversal of the overtly social role of the church in the life of the Copts.
Christians in Egypt account for 10% of the population. 96% of the Christians are Coptic Orthodox, while 3% are Coptic Catholic. Protestant churches claim a membership of about 300,000 Egyptians.
Non-native Christian communities are largely found in urban regions of Alexandria and Cairo and are members of the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria. The Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, or Syriac Orthodox Church.
Christians in Egypt celebrate many of their festivals, but national holidays are:
The Coptic Christmas is on the 7th of January.
The Coptic Easter in April.
The Sham El Naseem (Spring Festival), Monday after Easter.
To be continued….