THE COPTIC CHURCH
THE ECUMENICAL LIFE
THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT
IN THE EARLY COPTIC CHURCH
FR. TADROS Y. MALATY
The "Ecumenical movement" has priority in most church's
organisation, for even though the purpose of church unity
differs from one church to another, I think that every church
deeply desires the Church unity on an ecumenical level. For
the early Alexandrian Church, "Ecumenism" was not a
church organisation, nor a plan in the mind of the church
leaders, who aimed at realising the leadership of the Egyptian
Church in theological studies and ascetic life, but was a
natural thought and a daily life the church enjoyed. The
Church of Egypt has always been a bride of Christ, she never
looks for temporal glory by admitting other churches to her
or by seeking for unity to attain authority. She sincerely
longed to serve every soul through love, desiring the
salvation of everybody, regardless of his nationality. Through
love, the Coptic Church was involved in serving the whole
world, and was beloved by many Christians all over the
The ecumenical thought appeared in the Church of Alexandria, as a result of the following:
The early Copts, clergymen, monks, deans of the School of Alexandria or laymen, were known for their inflamed desire to witness to Christ. In the Roman army there were Coptic officers and soldiers who witnessed to Christ among their pagan colleges, in Egypt or abroad, and many gave up their lives as a price to this witnessing. Some Coptic merchants and sailors played the same role through their trips. This attitude is clarified by the transmission of Coptic culture and arts to many countries of Europe!
A Theaban legion arrived in Switzerland in 285, led by St.
Maurituis of Garagos, in Upper-Egypt, who was martyred in
Switzerland for refusing to offer sacrifices to the idols. His
statue stands today in one of the public squares of the city of
St. Moritz. All the legion had been martyred with him for the
same reason. His sister Warina followed him to Switzerland
where she also suffered martyrdom. His three friends: a
legionary Felix, his sister Regula and Exuperantuis hid
themselves, and ultimately reached the lake of Zurich, where
they baptized converts, until the ruler heard about them and
they were beheadless saints, (with heads in hands are the
subject of the shield of the city of Zurich).
A parallel story has been recounted about the town of
Solothurn, with some variation. Its hero is St. Victor
(Boctor), whose relics were transferred to Geneva in the fifth
A Coptic missionary reached as far as the British Isles, a
long time before the advent of St. Augustine of Canterbury
In Africa, Ethiopia accepted Christianity through Alexan-
drian preaching; so did the Sudan and Nubia. Recent
archaeological excavations in Nubia reveal the close relation
between the Copts and Nubians in all aspects of life, religion,
culture, arts etc.
SECOND : EDUCATION
The Alexandrian religious thought was spread all over the
world, through establishing the School of Alexandria by St.
Mark. In the second century it was well-known in all Chris-
tendom, by the serious efforts of its deans: Athenaghores,
Pantaenus, Clement, Origen and others who attracted leaders
from the East and West to be trained by the Coptic
Moreover, the deans of the School used to make trips
abroad guided by their ecumenical spirit. St. Clement visited
Italy and Greece, and during the persecution he escaped to
Palestine and Syria to teach there . Origen visited Rome
during the pontificate of Zephyrinus and transferred the
Alexandrian theological thought to it. He also visited Arabia
several times by the invitation of its governor. Mamaea, the
emperor's mother summoned Origen to come to Antioch. He
visited Greece and also established his school in Palestine.
Pantaenus had preaching and educational activities in India
and in Asia.
THIRD: ECUMENICAL COUNCILS
Studying the three Ecumenical Councils (Nicea in 325,
Constantinople in 381 and Ephesus in 431) reveals the real
role of the Church of Alexandria in defending the Christian
faith on an ecumenical level. It was sufficient to refer to the
name of her leaders like SS. Athanasius and Cyril to confirm
the Orthodoxy of any dogma and its theological verification.
FOURTH: SPREADING THE MONASTIC THOUGHT
In our book: "The Coptic Orthodox Church as an Ascetic
Church," we see the leading role of the Coptic Church in
spreading the monastic life in all its forms (monashism,
cenobitic and communal systems), all over Christendom, through the following methods2:
1. Publishing the biographies of some pioneers in asceticism, like "Vita Antonii" written by St. Athanasius.
2. The Eastern and Western pilgrims who visited Egypt and settled among its monks, like SS. Jerome, John Cassian, Melania the Elder etc..
3. Many leaders in the ascetic life outside Egypt started their monastic life under the guidance of Egyptian pioneers, like St. Eugin.
4. The transfer of the Egyptian monastic orders abroad by translating their regulation and adopting them as Benedict the father of the Western monasticism did.
See; Atiya: Hist. of Eastern Christianity, p. 54. Murad Kamel: Coptic Egypt,
Samir F. Girgis: The significant contribution of the Copts to the early evangelization
is Switzerland, Zurich 1984.
2. Fr. T. Y. Malaty: The Coptic orthodox Church...., 1986, p.78- 82.
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