What is Coptic Orthodox?

What is Coptic Orthodox?



The term 'Orthodox' is of Greek origin. 'Ortho' means straight, and 'doxa' mean glorification. So, 'Orthodox' is straight praise/ teachings, followed by established traditions and beliefs, conforming to established 'doctrine'.



The sources of Orthodox spirituality are;

  1. The Holy Scriptures,
  2. The dogmatic definitions of the Ecumenical Councils,
  3. Holy Tradition, and
  4. The spiritual teachings of the early Orthodox Fathers.


Orthodox spirituality is mainly expressed through prayers, and daily worship, which ultimately lead to union with the uncreated divine Light.



Dogma is defined as:

  1. Doctrine, teaching, belief, and creed.
  2. A principle or idea considered to be the absolute truth.
  3. Doctrine proclaimed to be true by leaders of a religious group.




The Fathers understood their position to be witnesses only, and not interpreters of the Holy Scriptures. The first requirement was honesty, not learning. They recognized only one duty and responsibility, 'to hand down to other faithful men that good thing the Church had received according to the command of GOD.' (Jude 3)


The Fathers were not called upon to answer 'what do I think is probable or even certain' of the Holy Scriptures. Rather, 'what I was taught and have been entrusted upon to hand down to others'. This is The Traditional Faith of the Church.


Now, let us study the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, in 50AD; 16 years after the Lord's Ascension into the Heavens;

When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the entire church, including the apostles and elders. They reported on what God had been doing through their ministry. However, some men, who had been Pharisees before their conversion, stood up and declared that all Gentile converts must be circumcised and are required to follow the law of Moses.


  • The apostles and church elders gathered in a meeting, and after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them emphasizing the following:


  1. God acknowledged the sincere faith of the Gentiles at Cornelius' house by giving them the Holy Spirit; and
  2. God purified their hearts from all defilement. God makes no distinction between races in offering the gift of salvation in Christ, free from the yoke of the Mosaic Law.


Apostolic preaching understands salvation in three tenses:

Past: We have been saved, in baptism

Present: We are being saved, working out our salvation with God's help (Phil.2:12, 13)

Future: We shall be saved on Judgment Day.

St. James Bishop of the Jerusalem Church, revealed the 'Orthodox teaching', is composed of four parts:


  1. Gentile believers did not have to be circumcised, for circumcision was a resemblance for the true act in Holy Baptism.
  2. They should stay away from food sacrificed to idols (if this food is polluted by idols, it would relate to the problem of Revelation 2:14),
  3. Refrain from sexual immorality, which was a common part of idol worship (referring to the marriage laws of Leviticus 18:6-20), and
  4. Refrain from consuming blood (reflecting the biblical teaching that the life of an animal is in its blood-Leviticus 17:14) or eating meat of strangled animals.


In this judgment we see clearly that St. James, along with the Jerusalem Council, have been:


  1. Witnesses only, they did not interpret or explain the biblical text according to their understanding.
  2. Messengers in handing down what they were taught, to other faithful members, such as the church of Antioch.
  3. Honest, and in doing so, disregarding that they themselves were Jewish.




  1. THE ECUMENICAL COUNCILS CLAIMED FOR THEMSELVES AN IMMUNITY FROM ERROR IN their doctrinal and moral teaching, resting such claim upon the promise of the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The Council looked upon themselves as setting forth once for all delivered to the Saints (Jude 3), and not as revealing any new truth. The decisions, therefore, were ecumenical through the mind and body of both, clerical and lay believers.
  3. By then, Church teachings revealed that ecumenical consensus, was considered free from the suspicion of error, guarded-as believed by the Lord Jesus, by the Lord's promise that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against His Church.




Historical Background About The First Ecumenical Council of Nice(a):

318 Holy Fathers assembled in the city of Nice(a), in Bithynia, in the year 325AD, at the order of Emperor Constantine the Great. [Nicene & Post Nicene Fathers, second series, vol. XIV, p.8)


The Thoughts of the Fathers As They Are Witnessing:


The Fathers of the Council at Nice(a) were, at one time, ready to accede to the request of some of the bishops and use only Scriptural expressions in their definitions.

However, after several attempts, they determined there may be explanations drifted from the focal point or message.


St. Athanasius explains after many attempts, the Orthodox proposed expressions, and found something clearer and more unequivocal to be adopted,

real unity of faith was to be attained. Accordingly the word 'homousios' was if adopted.


  • As the Council's expression referenced above, so is St. Athanasius' teachings which state: 'That the Son is not only like the Father, but that, as His image, He the same as the Father; that He is of the Father; and that the resemblance of is the Son to the Father, and His immutability, are different from ours: for in us they  are something acquired, and arise from our fulfilling the divine commands.
  • The Son is not only like the Father, but inseparable from the substance or essence of the Father, that He and the Father are ONE and the same, as the


Son Himself said; "The Logos is always in the Father, and, the Father always in the Logos", as the sun and its splendor are inseparable.

[Nicene & Post Nicene Fathers, second series, vol. XIV, Introduction to Nicene Creed]


Quick Hints Concerning The Orthodoxy of the Decree:

We believe in One God: Gen.1 :27; Ex.20:3; Deut.6:4; ls.45:5,21; Matt.19:17; Rom.3:30

God the Father the Pantocrator: Psalm 45:3,4; Ps.68:5; 1 Cor.8:6; Eph.4:5,6; Gal.1 :1,3

Creator of heaven and earth, of all things; seen and unseen: Ex.20:11; Neh.9:6; Rev.10:6; Col.1 :16

We believe in One Lord Jesus Christ: the only-begotten Son of the Father, before all ages: Psalm 2:7; Acts 13:33; Heb.1 :5; 5:5; ls.9:6; Micah 5:2; John 1:14,18; 3:16; 1Cor.8:6; Eph.4:5; Phil.2:11; Rom.5:17; Jude 25

Light of Light, true God of true God. Begotten not created: ls.6:1-3; John 3:19; 12:35; 8:12,42; 16:38

Of one essence (same substance) with the Father: John 1:1; 10:30,38; 14:11-18' 16:15; 17:21,22

By Whom all things were made: Gn.1 :3,6,8-11, 14,20,22,24,26,28,29; John 1 :3; Eph.3:9; Col.1 :16; Heb.1 :2; Rev.4:11; Ps. 33:6

Who for us men, and for our salvation: Rom.5:6,8; 1 Peter2:21; 3:18

Came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit: John3:13; 6:38; Matt.1 :18,20

And of the Virgin Mary, He took flesh: ls.7:14; Luke 1 :35; Gal. 4:4

Was crucified for us, under-during the reign of Pontius Pilate; suffered and was buried: ls.53:4-9; Matt.27:26; Heb.2:9, 10, 18; 1 Peter 2:21; 3:18

He rose from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures: Matt.28:6; Rom.14:9; 1Cor.15:4; 1Thess.4:14

Ascended into the heavens, and sat at the right hand of His Father: Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; Acts 7:55

He is coming again in His glory, to judge the living and the dead: Matt.16:27; Luke 19:26; Acts 1 :11; 10:42; 2Tim.4:1; 1 Peter4:5

Whose kingdom shall have no end: Dan.7:13,14; Luke 1:33


150 Holy Fathers set forth the continuation or second part of the Creed, which is consonant with the holy and great synod of Nice (a)


  • The council convened during the reign of Emperor Theodosius, the Great. Bishops from many provinces assembled in Constantinople.
  • Many remarkable bishops, some known for their holiness of their life, zeal for the faith, their eminence of their Sees, as well as others whose names appear with honor in history .. convened to refute the heresy of Macedonius, Patriarch of Constantinople, who denied the deity of the Holy Spirit.
  • The Second of the Ecumenical Councils-Synods rests upon its Creed having found a reception in the whole world.


Orthodoxy Is Practiced In The Decree of This Council:

The First Canon says: The Faith of the 318 Fathers assembled at Nice(a) in Bithynia, shall not be set aside, but shall remain firm.

-Every heresy shall be anathematized, particularly that of the Arians and the Semi-Arians, Macedonians or Pneumatomachi (as the Macedonians are called by the Catholics), Sabellians, as well as that of the Apollinarians.


The Semi-Arian, Macedonians Heresy:

This heresy was adopted by Macedonius, who occupied the see of Constantinople. The divinity of the Holy Spirit was denied, and that was their capital error.


The Sabellians Heresy:

This heresy regarded the Son and the Holy Spirit as aspects and modes of, or as emanations from, the One Person of the Father. Such a view tended to directly dissolve Christian belief in the Holy Trinity and in the divine Incarnation.


The Apollinarians Heresy:

In his zeal for the true deity of Christ, and fear of a double personality, Apollinarius fell into the error of a partial denial of Jesus' true humanity. He made Christ a 'middle being' between God and man. One part divine and two parts human were fused in the unity of a new nature.


He said, Christ is neither whole man, nor God, but a mixture of God and man. On the other hand, he regarded the Orthodox view of a union of full humanity with a full divinity in one person-of two whole entities, i.e. in one whole entity, as an absurdity.

[Nicene & Post Nicene Fathers, second series, vol. XIV, p.172•174]



Yes, we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, Giver of Life: Matt.9:38; John 3:6; 6:45; Acts 5:3,4; 13:2,4; 1Cor.2:13; 2Cor.3:17; Heb.6:4; 2Peter1 :21; 2Tim.3:16; 1 John5:4

Who proceeds from the Father: John 15:26

Is worshiped and glorified, with the Father and the Son: John 4:24; 1John5:7

Who spoke by the prophets: 2Peter1 :21

And in one, holy, catholic-universal, and Apostolic Church: Matt.18:17; Acts 2:1; 1Cor.11:18,22; Gal.3:28; Eph.2:20

We confess one baptism for the remission of sins: Acts 2:38; Rom.6:4; Eph.4:5; Col.2:12; 1 Peter3:21

We look for the resurrection of the dead; and the life of the age to come. Amen: Matt.25:32; John 5:29' 1 Cor.15: 12-58



This Council was to bestow on St. Mary the Title of 'Theotokos', which was understood, however, not formulated in the church. This Council assembled to refute the heresy of Nestorius, who said that St. Mary is the Mother of Jesus in flesh, but not the Mother-of-God!


  • St. Cyril, the 24th Patriarch of Alexandria-Egypt, was the successor of St. Theophilus, Pope of Alexandria. He learned the wisdom of the desert monks when he entered the Monastery of St. Macarius. He was ordained as a priest and rose through the hierarchy and was later ordained Pope. He began to combat the heresy and apostasy of Nestorius.
  • St. Cyril wrote a letter to Nestorius explaining why his idea of two individual beings in the one person of Christ was heretical. He sent copies of the letter to other Popes in Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Aleppo, as well as the Imperial Court. Nestorius answered only with contempt, and became more and more stubborn. He even antagonized Emperor Theodosius against St. Cyril.
  • This controversy eventually became so great that the calling of a synod of bishops seemed the only solution. Emperor Theodosius called for the Council of Ephesus, to address the heresy. It was held in 431AD.
  • St. Cyril to preside as chief of the Council.. Nestorius did not attend and refused to appear before the Council. His beliefs were deemed heretical and a sentence of ex-communication was passed by two hundred bishops. The Emperor vindicated St. Cyril with honor and ordered to exile Nestorius.
  • St. Mary was known to be the Mother-of-God Incarnate, for, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel." [Isaiah 7:14] Immanuel means 'God with us'. Also, Luke 1 :30-35 "Then the angel of the Lord said to Mary, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God, and behold you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest .. and His kingdom shall have no end, .. also, that Holy One who is born of you will be called the Son of God."
  • The Council drafted a prayer to be added to the Christian prayers exalting St. Mary as 'Mother of God', 'Mother of the True Light', and 'Mother of the Savior of the world'.
  • In the liturgical prayers of the Coptic Orthodox Church, this prayer precedes the Creed. The prayer says; "We exalt you, 0 Mother of True Light .. "
  • Later St. Cyril was declared a Doctor of the Church, for his work defending the faith in the Council of Ephesus, as well as for the liturgy that bears his name. This had been passed down verbally beginning with St. Mark the Apostle himself; however, St. Cyril completed it and wrote it all down so it would not be forgotten.




1 -Ancient Christian Writers, The Didache, vol.6, p.1-25

2 -The Nicene & Post Nicene Fathers, second series, vol. XIV, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, p. 2,3,4-56; 172-174; 3 - NKJV-Nelsons Study Bible

4 - Septuagint Version

5 - Webster's Dictionary

6 - Wikipedia Internet


Father Markos Hanna was ordained presbyter by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III on Friday, February 19, 1988 in St. Mark Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt. He served at St. Mark’s in Los Angeles from 1988-2002 and is currently serving at Archangel Michael in Simi Valley. He has written and translated many church books from Arabic to English. Amazon published one of his books; MORAL ISSUES in 2012.


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