This past week, events in Egypt have raised the profile of “Copts.” (The man behind the anti-Muslim film that may—or may not—have sparked riots in Egypt is a Copt living in California.) Here are nine things you should know about Coptic Christians.
1. The word Copt is derived from the Greek word for Egyptian. After the Muslim conquest of Egypt, it became restricted to those Egyptians adhering to Christianity.
2. Approximately 12 percent of the Egyptian population—roughly 12 million people—are Christians. Egypt’s Copts are considered the largest community of Christians in the Middle East.
3. The majority of Copts belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. About 800,000 are divided between the Coptic Catholic and various Coptic Protestant churches.
4. According to tradition, the Coptic church was established in Alexandria by St. Mark the Evangelist circa AD 49, during the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius.
5. The Copts were persecuted by the Byzantine Empire before the Islamic invasion of Egypt brought on persecution by Muslims.
6. About 300,000 Copts live in the U.S., with the largest concentrations in New York, New Jersey, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, and Los Angeles
7. The Copts were the originators of Christian monasticism.
8. The Ecumenical Council of Nicea was convened as a result of a theological dispute over the nature of Christ which was begun by Arius, an Alexandrian presbyter.
9. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria has their own pope. His official title is Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic Seat of Saint Mark the Evangelist of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. (Not to be confused with the the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria head bishop, who is also referred to as the “Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa” and whose full title is “His Most Divine Beatitude the Pope and Patriarch of the Great City of Alexandria, Libya, Pentapolis, Ethiopia, all the land of Egypt, and all Africa, Father of Fathers, Shepherd of Shepherds, Prelate of Prelates, thirteenth of the Apostles, and Judge of the Œcumene.”)