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Is there a theological difference between the Greek Orthodox church and the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox church?

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The correct answer to this question is by @Samn, not gmoothart. –  Matthew Moisen Mar 15 '14 at 8:15

4 Answers 4

The Coptics have a non-Chalcedonian christology, and are technically Nestorian heretics. From Wikipedia:

The Chalcedonians' understanding is that Christ is in two natures, full humanity and full divinity. Just as humans are of their mothers and fathers and not in their mothers and fathers, so too is the nature of Christ according to Oriental Orthodoxy. If Christ is in full humanity and in full divinity, then He is separate in two persons as the Nestorians teach.[8] This is the doctrinal perception that makes the apparent difference which separated the Oriental Orthodox from the Eastern Orthodox.

Although it's a common opinion that Nestorius got shafted and was more misunderstood than heretical.

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I think modern Copts will tend to deny that they are Nestorians anyway. I remember reading something like that on the website of a Coptic Church in the US recently. Possibly the rejection of Chalcedon, in this view, was more of a political issue than a theological one. –  Ben Dunlap Dec 24 '11 at 16:24
No, they are not nestorians. Nestorians believed that Christ was formed of two distinct persons. Monophysitism is very strictly antinestorian –  zefciu May 8 '12 at 12:30
Both the Copts and the Greeks accept the Council of Ephesus of 431 that condemned Nestorius. The great theological hero of the Copts is St Cyrill, Nestorius' arch-enemy. For a recent, very detailed discussion of why Nestorius' theology is heretical from an Orthodox Christian perspective and not simply 'misunderstood', see John Behr's book The Case against Diodore and Theodore. –  Samn Sep 12 '12 at 18:47
Copts are Mono/Miaphysites which are the total opposite of Nestorians. The Oriental Church accepted the Council at Ephesus, only breaking on the Council at Chalcedonia. The former council condemned Nestorians, and the Oriental church agrees with this. The latter council condemned Mono/miaphysites (in addition to condemning Nestorius again), and this is why the OOC broke off. –  Matthew Moisen Oct 15 '13 at 22:06

The basic between the two is over the Christological definition accepted at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, where Christ was recognized as being worshiped both 'in' two natures that exist 'inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably'. The Copts and other miaphysites believed that this definition was ambiguous and could be understood in a Nestorian manner. They preferred to speak of Christ being worshiped in one human-divine nature 'out of' two natures. Much of the difficulty here arises from the ambiguity of the term 'nature'-- is it a particular, in the manner the Nestorians used it (equivalent to hypostasis) or a universal (equivalent to 'ousia', essence)? If it is the former, then the story of the Incarnation is the story of the Word of God uniting to a particular human being named Jesus at the moment of his conception, which is in fact how Nestorius and his followers understood the incarnation. If 'nature' is a universal, however, then the Incarnation is the story of the Word of God uniting with human nature and becoming Jesus. That is, in this theology, the person of Jesus is identical to the person of the Word of God who has taken on humanity, not a person who is somehow united to the Word. In any case, the Second Council of Constantinople of 553 affirms the latter narrative as the understanding of the Incarnation accepted by the Greeks as well.

So, at this point, the differences between Coptic and Greek theology become a very subtle game of parsing technical language. However, the Copts do not officially accept any of the ecumenical councils accepted by the Greeks, from Chalcedon on. This leads to the often-overlooked theological difference of Copts speaking of one will in Christ while Greeks, following the Third Council of Council of Constantinople of 680-681, speak of two wills in Christ, human and divine in perfect harmony.

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As a Copt that attended Eastern Orthodox churches, i can tell you that no, there's not a major theological difference between the two churches. Yes, Copts are Oriental Orthodox and non-chacedonian, but that's a long story of historical matter. Today, we're pretty much the same :-)

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I think the problem of the Chalcedon Council was solved because it wasn't a theological problem but a misunderstanding problem, especially a translation problem, actually maybe there are not serious theological differences anymore, just some small differences like the sign of the cross ......

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Welcome to the site! I'd invite you to read the help page, as well as these posts: What makes a good, supported answer? This reads more like a comment than an answer. –  David Stratton Aug 19 '13 at 4:05
Whether Christ is of one nature or two is a significant theological difference. If it was merely a matter of vocabulary and translation, the two groups would have reconciled over the 1500 years this has taken place. –  Matthew Moisen Mar 15 '14 at 8:19

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