Egypt’s 15 million Coptic Christians join national celebrations with renewed hope
LONDON: On Sunday, the 15 million Coptic Christians in Egypt and another 2 million in migrant communities scattered around the world celebrate Orthodox Easter.
The following day, along with Egyptians of all faiths, Coptic Christians will celebrate the national holiday of Sham Ennessim.
Like the Copts themselves, the Spring Festival, whose origins date back millennia to the time of the pharaohs, survived the Arabization of Egypt in the 7th century to become an integral part of Egyptian society.
In a Minority Report special, Arab News tells the extraordinary story of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, which broke away from the rest of Christianity in the fifth century after a fundamental disagreement over the nature of Christ’s divinity.
Founded in the great city of Alexandria by Mark the Evangelist around AD 60, the church and its followers endured centuries of turmoil.
In Roman times, Coptic Christians faced bloody persecution, and St. Mark himself was brutally martyred in AD 68.
During the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian (245-313 AD), what became known as the Diocletian Persecution saw countless hundreds of Christians massacred in Alexandria alone. Among them was Peter, the Patriarch of Alexandria, who was beheaded.
After the rise of Islam and the conquest of Egypt in the 7th century, although there were isolated periods of persecution, over the centuries the Copts were treated quite well.
But the pressure of higher taxes imposed on non-Muslims has seen many Christians convert to Islam, while the rapid spread of Arabic culture has caused the Coptic language to fall into disuse.
Although rarely heard outside the churches, today the language, a direct descendant of the ancient Egyptian language spoken in the time of the pharaohs, lives on in the liturgies and monasteries of the faith.
In modern times, Copts in Egypt have faced waves of violence from Islamists, who bombed Coptic churches and murdered believers.
The filmed murders of 20 Coptic migrant workers in Libya in 2015 shocked the world, while a wave of attacks on Copts and their churches in Egypt in 2017 left dozens dead.
“One of the most important things for Copts today, in Egypt and abroad, is that over the past decade we have seen a much greater and more harmonious existence between Christians and Muslims. .”
Msgr. Anba Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London
Since the 1970s, many Copts, driven by fear or economic pressures, have emigrated to seek a new future in the West, mainly in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Wherever they have established themselves, the Coptic communities and their churches have flourished and maintain close ties with Egypt and the faith.
Today, Coptic leaders look optimistically to a better future.
“One of the most important things for Copts today, in Egypt and abroad, is that over the past decade we have seen a much greater and harmonious existence between Christians and Muslims,” said Bishop Anba Angaelos, leader of the Coptic Church in the UK. Arab News exclusively said.
In “The Coptic Miracle,” Arab News recounts how Egypt’s historic Christian church not only survived, but flourished, at home and abroad.