Introduction

Today, the Coptic Church is experiencing an unprecedented renaissance. It is the purpose of this volume to unfold this story and acquaint the visitor to the land of the Nile with one of the most remarkable developments of world Christianity toward the end of the second millenium.

The history of Christian Egypt begins with the traditions of the visit of the holy family to Egypt, which were circulated to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt" (Hos. 11:1). The feast of the coming of the Lord to Egypt (June 1) is one of the important feasts for many Egyptian Christians. Undoubtedly, Egyptians filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit on the first day of Pentecost returned to their homes along the Nile Valley (Acts 2:10) and established there the first Christian communities. The Copts regard Saint Mark the Evangelist as the founder of their church. In Alexandria he preached and suffered martyrdom. The theology of the great Alexandrian doctors of the church, Clement, Origen, Athanasius, and Cyril, has had a profound influence on the development of Christian thought and piety. Both the eremitical and cenobitic forms of monasticism had their origin in Egypt: Saint Antony, the great hermit of the Eastern Desert, inspired thousands of Christians to follow his example; Pachomius became the founder of the Christian communal life.

At the same time, Coptic Christianity went through numerous trials, persecutions, and afflictions. The vast numbers of their martyrs are a testimony to their unshaken faith. During the Middle Ages, the Coptic Church kept the lamp of their faith burning amid trials and tribulations of all kinds.

With an ever increasing number of visitors to Egypt and greatly improved facilities for travel within the country, there is now an imperative need for an introductory volume to the history and theology of the Coptic Orthodox church and the topography of its principal churches, monasteries, and monuments. To this day, large numbers of visitors flock annually to the ancient pharaonic monuments in Luxor and Aswan to behold the magnificent achievements of the ancient Egyptians. Few of them realize, however, that

Egypt was once a great Christian nation, with its churches, monasteries, institutions, and culture established throughout the Nile Valley. Indeed, one of the objectives of the present volume is to encourage scholars and visitors to depart from the tracks beaten by tourists and to discover some of the ancient and modern Christian monuments for themselves.

This work combines in a single volume some of the specific Coptic material of my former studies Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern (Cairo 1965, 1977) and Christian Egypt, Faith and Life (Cairo 1970). Due to the rapid and dynamic developments within the Coptic Orthodox Church during the last thirty years, numerous additions and corrections to the original texts became obligatory. Moreover, in view of the major theme of this book, it was necessary to limit a certain amount of the material. Therefore, descriptions and references to the other Christian communities in Egypt, along with the Greek, Armenian, and Syrian Orthodox churches, the various Catholic and Uniate churches, and the Episocopal and Protestant churches have been omitted; this should not be seen as an assessment of their religious importance in Egyptian society.

In duty bound I want to thank Zora O'Neill, who has carefully read the manuscript and offered many valuable suggestions. Her priceless computer expertise has made the publication of this volume possible. In conclusion, I should like to express my gratitude to the director and staff of the American University in Cairo Press, who have assisted me in the process of publication.

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