Egypt: integral to Christianity's rise

CAIRO (BP)--Calls for a change in leadership have swelled into demonstrations and violent clashes in Egypt, two weeks after Tunisia's government toppled amid revolution.

Followers of Christ in Egypt are waiting prayerfully to see what implications these events will have on the spread of the Gospel in the region.

Egypt is the Arab world's most populous nation, with nearly 80 million people. The Arab Republic of Egypt is transcontinental, with a land bridge between Africa and Asia.

Egypt long has been a pivotal place. It was from Egypt that God delivered the Israelites out of exodus and on Egypt's Mount Sinai that He gave the Ten Commandments to Moses.

The history of Christianity in Egypt has been one of both tribulation and blessing. Since its beginning, Christianity in Egypt has been influential in shaping doctrine and the way believers follow Christ.

TIMELINE

-- 2-3 A.D. Shortly after Jesus' birth, Joseph and Mary took Him to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod.

-- 43 A.D. Mark, the Gospel writer, took Christ's message to the Egyptians and saw many converts. While in the city of Alexandria, Mark meets Ananias, a shoemaker, who became the first convert of that great Christian city. Mark later made Ananias the bishop of Alexandria. Ananias is said to be the first bishop of the Coptic Church, which today is one of the oldest churches in Christianity.

-- 64 A.D. Nero persecutes Christians throughout the Roman Empire after the fire of Rome. The largest numbers of converts during Nero's persecution were not the Jews or the Greeks but Egyptians. Egyptian believers were bold in their faith and worshipped Christ in the open -- even building churches in full view of the empire.

-- 200 A.D. Many Egyptian Christians move to the wilderness and form the first monastic societies. Anthony the Great and Macarius of Egypt were among the many monks who became known as the "Desert Fathers" and taught Christians the values of asceticism and a simple lifestyle in pursuing God and holiness.

-- 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issues the Edict of Milan granting religious tolerance throughout the Roman Empire. Alexandria then becomes one of the three centers of Christianity alongside Rome and Antioch.

-- 325 A.D. Egyptian Christian and theologian Athanasius goes to the Council of Nicaea to defend Christianity against the Arianism heresy that denied the divinity of Christ. This was one of the major turning points in defining a Christian doctrine.

-- 412 A.D. Cyril of Alexandria, an important Christian theologian, defends against the Nestorian heresy, which claimed Christ had two separate natures -- one that was God and one that was human. The work of Cyril and other early Egyptian Christians helps modern believers to better understand Jesus Christ as presented in the Bible.

-- 451 A.D. After the Council of Chalcedon, which outlined the nature of the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ in the Chalcedonian Creed, the Coptic Church of Egypt split from Rome and has been a distinct church ever since.

-- 639 A.D. Invading Muslim Arabs absorbed Egypt into the Islamic Caliphate (political system). A small segment of the Coptic Church continued throughout this reign.

-- 1517 A.D. The Ottoman Turks took control of Egypt from the Islamic Caliphate.

-- 1801 A.D. The Ottomans (along with British forces) fended off the invading French under Napoleon Bonaparte.

-- 1953 A.D. The Republic of Egypt was established.

-- 2010 A.D. Egyptian Muslims began to conflict with the Coptic Christians, culminating in the suicide bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria on New Year's Day 2011.

-- January 2011 A.D. Following political unrest in Tunisia and Yemen, Egyptian citizens cry for reforms in their government and freedom they have not had since the rule of Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt from 1970 until his assassination in 1981.


Trent Parker is an International Mission Board writer based in Europe.

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