5. The Early Heroes of Faith:
It is sufficient here to mention two very distinguished characters, namely:* St. Athanasius the Apostolic from the fourth century, and St. Cyril the First from the fifth century.The Christian Creed laid down by the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea has been formulated by the Alexandrian Deacon Athanasius. Athansius is that genius Coptic person who defended faith against Arius the heretic and refuted his claims. As a result, Arius was ex-communicated by the holy ecumenical council in 325 AD. Athanasius was the leading theological mind amidst 318 bishops representing the churches of the whole world.
When St. Athanasius became Patriarch, he compiled his famous book "Contra Arianos" in four parts, where he refuted the wrong concept concerning some verses of the Holy Bible held by the Arian Because of his defence of faith, councils were convened, emperors resisted him, and he was exiled four times from his see. When they said to him [the whole world is against you,Athanasius], he replied [And I also am against the World].Due to his steadfastness, faith has been kept for us, as St. Jerome said:
[There has been a time when the whole world was about to be Arian but for Athansius].
St. Athanasius was a Coptic Pope, but in fact he became the king of the whole Christian world,and the father of all theologians.
The strong basis for our Christian Creed is St. Athanasius'book "Incarnation of the Word",
which he wrote when yet a young deacon - probably in his twenties. All theologians depend on this book as a strong reliable reference written by the ecumenical scholar St. Athansius the hero of faith.Athanasius steadfastness encouraged the Fathers to be steadfast.
* St. Hilary of Poitiers who, when he wrote his book "De Trintate" refuting the Arians, was called Athanasius of the West. Thus Athanasius became a symbol and a model.
* St. Cyril the Great is the hero of faith against the Nestorians. He exposed the heresy of Nestorius who was the Patriarch of Constantinople the Capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. St. Cyril explained to him the faith, but as he disobeyed and continued in his heresy, St. Cyril wrote against himtwelveAnathemas which have become part of the Church Laws. Nestorius was then ex-communicated by the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus which was convened in 431AD and headed by St. Cyril of Alexandria.Thus Pope Cyril became one of the Fathers of the Apostolic Catholic Church, and his sayings an authoritative source of theology from which many learnt.
* A third example is St. Timothy of Alexandria St. Timothy is the twenty- third Patriarch of Alexandria. When this Coptic Pope participated in the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 AD, he was asked about some church issues, and whatever answer he gave was deemed a church law for the Apostolic Catholic Church. This fact is mentioned in the Collection of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Vol. XIV. This part of the Collection includes the laws set by many Father Patriarchs of the Coptic Church which were received as laws for the Catholic Church. Among these laws are:
* The laws of Pope Dionysius (the 14th Patriarch)
* The laws of Pope Peter the Seal of Martyrs (the 17th Patriarch)
* The laws of Pope Athanasius (the 20th Patriarch)
* The laws of Pope Timothy (the 22nd Patriarch)
* The laws of Pope Theophilus (the 23rd Patriarch)
* The laws of Pope Cyril (the 24th Patriarch).
6. A Church of Martyrs
It is true that martyrdom extended to the churches of the whole world, however, the Coptic Church is distinguished for two main things:
a. Martyrdom that extended to whole cities like the martyrs of Akhmime, the martyrs of Isna,and martyrdom that included thousands of people as the martyrdom of the whole Thebaea Legion.
b. Martyrdom that extended throughout ages, whereas other churches were either enjoying peace after the heathen era or suffering underoppressive authority.The martyrdom movement that happened in Egypt in the Roman Era ? especially in the epoch of Diocletian the Emperor ? was so severe that the Church changed her calendar to start with the year 284 ( the year when Diocletian started his reign) as the Martyrs Calendar Year The Coptic Church suffered another period of martyrdom inflicted by her Christian brethren after the dissention of Chalcedon from 451-644 AD. During this period the Church offered tens of thousands of martyrs. This persecution extended to the Father Patriarchs whose churches were taken possession of by the Romans, and other Malikite Patriarchs were appointed in their places. The latter were given civil authority besides the Holy Orders authority. An example is
Mokawkas the Roman Governor who ruled at the time of the entry of the Arabs into Egypt when Pope Benjamine the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch was exiled form his see for 13 years.
Martyrdom continued, especially in the epoch of Al Hakem Bi Amr Allah and in the days of Memlouks and Ottomans.
The Coptic Church indeed has a distinct glorious history, but many historians do ignore the basic features while speaking about particular details and facts.