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What is a Copt?

Today, roughly 10% of Egyptians say they are Coptic.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2014
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A Copt is a Christian native to Egypt and is sometimes called a Coptic Christian or an Egyptian Christian. The religious practice of the Copt is one of the earliest forms of Christianity practiced, and was established by St. Mark in Alexandria. Today, the majority of Christians in the Middle Eastern world are Coptic Christians.

Not all who call themselves a Copt practice exactly the same faith. Usually a Copt is a member of one of the following churches: The Coptic Orthodox Church, the Coptic Catholic Church, or the Protestant Church. Of these, the longest standing is the Coptic Orthodox Church, which practices dogma similar to the Greek Orthodox Church.

Some further make the distinction that a true Copt must be of the Coptic Orthodox Church. To practice another form of Christianity diverges from the purpose of being a Copt. Also issues arise since many who call themselves Coptic were not born in Egypt. However, many look to the current climate of Christian/Islamic relations in the Middle East and certainly excuse the immigration of the Copt to places more open to religious freedom.

To many who view the Middle East as a predominantly Islamic province, it may be hard to imagine that the Copt population was once preeminent in Egypt. In fact, by the third century A.D., most Egyptians practiced Christianity. Naturally, many would convert after the teachings of Mohammed reached Egypt.

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In current day, only about 10% of Egypt’s population still claims to be Coptic. Practicing Copts have endured persecution by extremist Muslims. There have been numerous terrorist attacks on Copt churches and their members. As well, laws still exist which discriminate against the Copt in modern Egypt.

Several traditions in Coptic Christianity are not practiced elsewhere, and could be lost if persecuted into extinction. Coptic traditions include services held in Coptic language, or Egyptian. As well, the Copt calendar differs from the Gregorian calendar. The beginning of the Common Era in Coptic religion is 284 CE.

The Copt uses this year in particular because it marks the succession of Diocletian to the throne of Rome. Diocletian was horribly anti-Christian and his rule was marked by numerous executions of those who practiced Christianity. Coptic Christians use A.M. instead of A.D. or C.E. In this case, A.M. stands for the “Year of the Martyrs.”

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