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What is a Coptic Christian?

As riots and clashes continue in Egypt between Muslims, security forces, and Coptic Christians, some people might be wondering about the Coptic Christian religion.

Marinus Iwuchukwu, Professor of Theology at Duquesne University, explains that the Coptic Christian Church was formed in the first century of Christianity. According to tradition, the apostle Mark first brought Christianity to Egypt (and also wrote the Gospel According to Mark). Copts today are the largest religious minority in Egypt, making up about 10% of the 80 million population.

Iwuchukwu said that while many Copts struggle to show that they are as Egyptian as Muslim citizens, they are still targeted by Salafis, an ultra-conservative Muslim group. Many Salafis wish to diminish Christians' rights.

Iwuchukwu says that the Coptic Church separated from the Roman Catholic Church after the Council of Chalcedon in 451. "At this council, the church fathers defined the identity of Christ with what is called the Hypostatic union: that Jesus has two natures in one person. But the Christians from the east, from Alexandria, had maintained that Jesus had one nature," said Iwuchukwu. "Consequently when the council decided this in 451, the Christians from Egypt were now considered like a heretical group and they separated from the mainline church."

Outside of Egypt, the largest groups of Coptic Christians are in Sudan (half million), the U.S.(300,000) and Canada (255,000). There are 10 Coptic Christian churches in Pennsylvania, including St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in Ambridge, Beaver County and St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in Altoona. Copts follow the same seven sacraments and share the beliefs of most Catholic and Orthodox Christians.