Book Reviews2Christians in Egypt: Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant communities past and present

Book by Otto R. A. Meinardus

When people hear of modern day Egypt, they think that the majority of its people are Muslim.  However, many Christians also reside there.  The largest group is part of the Coptic Orthodox Church whose leader is Pope Shenuda III, the Patriarch of Alexandria and the successor of St. Mark the Evangelist. 

Coptic Christians are descendants of Egyptians who lived during the time of the pharaohs.  As Otto Meinardus presents in this book, which is the final part of a trilogy on Egyptian Christians (Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity (1999) and Coptic Saints and Pilgrimages (2002)), Christian monasticism has its roots in the Egyptian desert.  St Antony or Anthony the Great is considered the founder or father of monasticism, especially eremitic (hermit) monasticism; while St. Pachomius is considered the founder or father of cenobitic (community) monasticism.  Christian Egypt also produced some of the great Fathers of the Church like St. Athanasius, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others.

The Coptic Christians split from the rest of Christianity over the nature of Christ.  The Coptic Church was able to continue to grow in Egypt and to expand down the Nile River into Sudan and Ethiopia.  There are other Christians in Egypt, but these groups are not as numerous as the Coptics.  They include the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and various Protestant groups.

When Arab invaders for Islam came to Egypt, they defeated the local inhabitants and forced them to either to die, convert to Islam or become like second-class citizens.  Rule under the Muslims for the Christians in Egypt varied from ruler to ruler with some being persecutors of Christians. 

Today Christians in Egypt do not have an easy life.  They have restrictions placed on them by the government and are limited regarding the establishment of new churches. Pope Shenuda III was arrested after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat because the government thought Coptics had a role in the assassination. 

Meinardus has six chapters in his book which discuss Egyptian Christianity and its pharaonic heritage; Christians living in a Muslim country in the middle ages; various churches in Egypt; various Christian agencies, social and ecumenical organizations; Christian feasts in Egypt; various leaders of the churches; and multicultural and ecumenical spirituality in Egypt. 

This book is recommended to those interested in the study the various churches or who are interested in Egypt. 

Otto Meinardus is the author of the books mentioned above and of Christian Egypt (2002), Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert (1989), The Holy Family in Egypt (1987) and of other books. 

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