Did you know

30 Jan 2024

Did you know? The Copts in Cyprus

The Copts are an ethno-religious group that primarily inhabit the area of modern Egypt, where they are the largest Christian denomination.

In 451 AD, following the Council of Chalcedon, the Church of Alexandria was divided into two branches. Those who accepted the terms of the Council became known as Chalcedonians and those who did not abide by the Council's terms were labelled non-Chalcedonians or Monophysites. The non-Chalcedonians, however, rejected the term Monophysites as erroneous and referred to themselves as Miaphysites. The majority of the Egyptians belonged to the Miaphysite branch, which led to their persecution by the Byzantines in Egypt.

Today it seems that the Coptic church and the Orthodox church have come to an agreement and recognise each other and should unite. But that has not become official.

The earliest mention of Copts in Cyprus comes from a traveller, Iohann van Kootwyck, who writes that they arrived following the capture of Jerusalem by Salah al-Din in 1187 (Burmester, 1942, pp. 11-12).

A letter of benediction dated from Christmas 1508 from the 94th Patriarch of Alexandria, John XIII (1484-1524) gives a list of the bishops submitting to his jurisdiction. There was then an Anba Mikhail, metropolitan of Cyprus and afterwards of Rhodes. This presupposes a fairly large Coptic community on the island.

The latest mention of the Coptic community occurs in 1646 in a colophon of an Arabic commentary on the last three books of the Pentateuch that was copied in Cyprus and now is in possession of the Coptic Patriarchate. Between 1646 and 1777, therefore, the Coptic community of Nicosia, the capital city, disappeared for an unknown reason. In a census taken by the Turks in 1777, Copts were conspicuously absent and presumably did not then form part of the island's population.

The ‘Did You Know’ series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus) and the Active Citizens Fund.

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