Roman Persecution

     The Roman Emperors concentrated in their persecution on Christians of Egypt, especially in Alexandria, for the following reasons:

1) The success of the Church of Alexandria and its School in attracting even philosophers to the new faith.

2) Alexandria represented a vital center that provided the Roman capital with products. For this reason the Emperors were afraid of any revolution in Egypt.

3) The courage of the Egyptians and their sincere desire to attain the crowns of martyrdom perplexed the persecutors, so that Diocletian went to Alexandria to practice persecution by himself.

 

     The Coptic Orthodox Church is known as “The Church of Martyrs” because of the myriads of Copts who gave their lives in witness to Christ, thus preserving the Church and the Christian faith for future generations.  Tertullian, a famous contemporary historian of the early Christian era stated, “If the martyrs throughout the world were to be put on one side of the scale and the Coptic martyrs alone on the other side of the scale, the latter would outweigh the former.”

 

     The historian who called the Coptic Church, “The Church of Martyrs,” not only did so because of the sheer number of martyrs, but also because of the ardent desire that its members had shown toward martyrdom.  When they were prevented from worship in churches, they never fled to catacombs or tombs to worship; instead, they worshiped openly and fearlessly in the fields.  Living the Scriptures in which the Apostle Paul teaches, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,” it was not uncommon that many Copts traveled to seek the opportunity to witness to Christ and share in His sufferings and obtain the “Crown of Martyrdom.”  Women and children were no less courageous than men.  The Copts believed that their suffering is a sign of love to God, who suffered and died for us.  Hence they longed to share in His suffering, even to the point of death. 

 

     Many Copts traveled from one place to another seeking the crowns of martyrdom. The waves of persecution in Egypt began since the first century when the Apostle St. Mark was martyred by the enraged pagan populace; and it continues to these days.

 

     The Copts insisted on starting their calendar by the beginning of the reign of Diocletian, in 248 AD, calling it "Anno Martyri," for in his reign the Church gained numerous numbers of martyrs, who are now glorified in Paradise. About the eleventh of September of every year we celebrate the commencement of a new Coptic year, calling it "Feast of Nayrouz," in which we celebrate the Feast of Martyrs, as a spiritual preparation for starting a new year.