LONDON: On Sunday, the 15 million Coptic Christians in Egypt and 2 million more in scattered migrant communities across the world celebrate Orthodox Easter.
The following day, together with Egyptians of all faiths, Coptic Christians will celebrate the national holiday of Sham Ennessim.
Like the Copts themselves, the festival of spring, whose origins date back millennia to the days of the pharaohs, survived the Arabization of Egypt in the seventh century to become an integral part of Egyptian society.
In a special Minority Report, Arab News tells the extraordinary story of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, which parted company with the rest of Christendom 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 in about A.D. 60, the church and its followers have undergone centuries of turmoil.
During the Roman era, Coptic Christians were singled out for bloody persecution, with St. Mark himself brutally martyred in A.D. 68.
During the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian (A.D. 245-313), what became known as the Diocletianic 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 seventh century, although there were isolated periods of persecution, over the centuries the Copts were treated well enough.
But the pressure of rising taxes imposed on non-Muslims saw many Christians convert to Islam, while the rapid spread of Arabic culture caused the Coptic language to fall into disuse.
Although rarely heard outside the churches, today the language, a direct descendant of the ancient Egyptian tongue spoken in the time of the pharaohs, lives on in the liturgies and monasteries of the faith.
In modern times, the Copts in Egypt have faced waves of violence at the hands of Islamists, who have bombed Coptic churches and murdered believers.
The filmed killings of 20 migrant Coptic 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, harmonious existence between Christians and Muslims.”
Archbishop Anba Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London
Since the 1970s, many Copts, driven either by fear or economic pressures, have emigrated to seek new futures in the West, mainly in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK.
Wherever they have put down roots, Coptic communities and their churches have blossomed, and maintain close links with Egypt and the faith.
Today, Coptic leaders look optimistically toward a brighter 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, harmonious existence between Christians and Muslims,” Archbishop Anba Angaelos, head of the Coptic Church in the UK, exclusively told Arab News.
In “The Coptic Miracle,” Arab News tells the story of how Egypt’s historic Christian church not only survived but thrived, at home and abroad.