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Early Christianity in Egypt

Early Christianity in Egypt

According to tradition, Saint Mark brought Christianity to Egypt in the reign of the Roman emperor Nero in the first century. Some of the early converts to the new faith came from within the Jewish community in Egypt, which represented the largest concentration outside of Palestine at that time.


Christianity spread throughout Egypt within half a century of Saint Mark's arrival in Alexandria, as is clear form the New Testament writings found in Bahnasa in Middle Egypt, which date around the year 200, and a fragment of the Gospel of Saint John, which was found in Upper Egypt. The Gospel is written in Coptic and dates back to the first half of the second century.

Monasticism

In its spread in Egypt, Christianity had seen the development of hermeticism; the voluntary retreat of religious men and women in Egypt. The monastic tradition in fact antedated Christianity in Egypt. The Christian anchorites were distinguished from the jewish ones by the extremes of asceticism the pursued. Such individuals as Anthony (252-357) and Paul (235-341) led lives of total deprivation cut off as much as possible from all human contact.

In the 4th century, monasticism developed as an organized movement under the direction of Pachomius. Pachomius gathered monks into religious communities under strict discipline and the direction of a spiritual head. These communities located in both urban and rural settings. They had two forms; monasteries where the monks lived together as a group, and Lauras cells isolated from the main monastery physically but under its jurisdiction.

Aside from their religious and theological role, the monasteries became in time a part of the Egyptian economy during the Christian era, producing items which its quality were highly priced. By the time of the Muslim conquest the monasteries had also assumed a role in local administration as tax collectors and overseers of government policy in rural areas.

Coptic monasteries survived down to modern times as places of contemplation, learning, scholarship and retreat, though in the twentieth century far fewer young men have been drawn into the monastic life.

Last Updated on Sunday 16th January 2011

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