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


4 Answers 4


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.


Christology basically,

The Coptic Church (Also known as the Alexandrian Church) is part of a larger "[Old] Oriental Orthodox" group encompassing Orthodox Churches of Syria, Armenia, Malankara-Indian, Eritrea and Ethiopia - which are in full communion with one another. These do not accept the Christologies of the Arians, Apolinarians, Nestorians, Eutychians as well as Chalcedonians among others. In fact, they accept only the first three Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus. They reject Chalcedonian council (AD451) which proclaimed that Jesus has 'two natures in one person'. The Oriental Orthodox Churches are more conveniently known as "Miaphysites" - a direct reference to their Christology based on the Cyrilian formula or simply "Non-chalcedonians".

The Alexandrian (Coptic) stand in Chalcedon was that the use of the term 'two natures' by the council is an acute opposition to the Christology of earlier Fathers as stated in the latest manifestations in the previous council (1st Ephesus in AD431) with no significant changes to the Nestorian theology. These wordings are also against the famous formula of St. Cyril of Alexandria (adopted later by the Council of Ephesus AD431 as being the orthodox Christology) which says μία φύσις τοῦ θεοῦ λόγου σεσαρκωμένη -- "mía phýsis toû theoû lógou sesarkōménē" -- "The One Nature of The Word of God Incarnate" -- (Please, refer to the 12 anathemas of St. Cyril the Great). For this reason the Oriental Orthodox are called "Miaphysites". 'One-Naturists' if one may.

The Greek Orthodox Christology on the other hand (also called as 'Chalcedonian Confession' or 'Creed of Chalcedon') is based on the famous Tome of Leo (A letter by Leo the great, bishop of Rome sent to the second council of Ephesus in AD449) which speaks of the union in Christ as 'acknowledged in two natures', αναγνώρισε σε δύο φύσεις which 'come together into one person and one hypostasis'. The formula was adopted in AD451 by the council of Chalcedon as beeing the orthodox creed. (Please, refer to the letter of Leo of Rome.) For this reason the Chalcedonian churches are also named as "Dyophysitic". and that is to mean 'Two Natures'.

(Note: however, that designating the Oriental churches including Copts as 'Monophysite' is a severe misconception of their Christology which is clearly distinct from the Christologies of Arius, Apolinarios, Nestorios, and importantly from Eutyches).

The difference between 'Monophysitism' [naturally a Eutychian theology] and 'Miaphysitism' [a Cyrilian formula] is that the former refers to a "Simple One Nature" where Christ's humanity is sucked by his divinity or a distinct set of premieses leading to only one of the perfect natures of Christ preserved after union. In such a case, Jesus is not consubstantial either with us or with the Father. Where in the later (Miaphysitism), Jesus has two perfect natures - fully Divine and fully Human. And these two natures are perfectly united into a "Composite One Nature" where a different third substance is not created, neither did the two composing natures lose their substance. In other words, Christ is consubstantial with us as much as He is with God the father. Consequently, the difference between 'Monophysitism' and 'Miaphysitism' entails a great separation of 'Single Nature' - which is a simple one, and 'One Nature' - which is a composite one, respectively.

Technically speaking, when we say the Oriental Orthodox hold the union not to be into a 'simple one' or a 'single one' as alleged by Eutychians (monophysites) is to avoid saying that either of the natures banished after the union. And 'composite one' is found favorable to express the two perfect natures - divine and human mysteriously united with no lesser or greater proportion than 100% into "'One Nature' of God the Word Incarnate" - (more famously described as without changing, mingling, alteration, interpenetration, confusion, addition or mixing).

Such a Christology is drastically opposite to 'monophysitism' and thus the Orientals are plainly against all the ideals of 'monophysitism'. The Oriental Orthodox have been vocal in that it is wrong to label them as such which is a caricature (misrepresentation of Alexandrine Christology) made for the first time by the council of Chalcedon; a council which met to excommunicate Eutyches of a monophysitic creed but ended up excommunicating St. Dioscorus of Alexandria who was a persistent objector of 'monophysitism' and 'Eutychianism'. Many argue and it is clear from records that St. Dioscorus held a Cyrilian Christology and was excommunicated simply for predominantly ethical allegations.

Some of the prominent Coptic Apologists include St. Dioscorus of Alexandria (Champion of Orthodoxy - AD444), St. Cyril of Alexandria (Pillar of Faith - AD412), St. Timothy of Alexandria (The Great - AD378), St. Athanasius of Alexandria (The Apostolic - AD328), St. Alexander of Alexandria (The Great - AD313), St. Peter of Alexandria (Seal of Martyrs - AD300), St. Dionisius of Alexandria (AD265), St. Demetrius of Alexandria (AD188), St. Mark the Apostle (the Evangelist - AD48),... For the Coptic Church please visit: The Christian Coptic Orthodox Church Of Egypt and for Christology particularly Monophysitism Reconsidered.

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    The frustrating thing about this difference is that if you read the sources in the original language the entire argument boils down to a single letter in a two-letter word -- it's ἐν versus ἐκ, "in" or "from". The entire Definition apart from this little word issue was agreed on by both sides! I once argued, and my grad school prof agreed, that if Greek had had just one more word for "nature" the split wouldn't have happened because that word could have been assigned to the Word made flesh, the Incarnate Christ, which would have been defined by the four "uns" (un mixed, etc.).
    – Traildude
    Jan 16 at 22:33

The Copts have a non-Chalcedonian (miaphysite) Christology, and are considered heretics by the Greek Orthodox Church. From Wikipedia:

The Chalcedonians' understanding is that Christ is recognized in two natures, full humanity and full divinity. Oriental Orthodoxy contends that such a formulation is no different from what the Nestorians teach. 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 they got shafted and were more misunderstood than heretical.

  • They did get shafted. I regard Chalcedon as a broken council because it was not ended by prayer and discussion towards agreement but by the whim of an emperor who told them to decide NOW so he could go off on a military campaign, and if they didn't he would ask the pope in Rome to settle it. No council in the East was going to accept that, so they called a vote and cut the council short. That's obvious because if you read the sources in the Greek the two sides are in complete agreement as to what the errors in the several heresies were, they just had different emphases.
    – Traildude
    Jan 16 at 22:39

"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."

This wiki explanation is difficult to follow because of the grammar violations and also the narrative flow violation.

Written one way, the Coptic thinking is merely about a 'misunderstanding'. Written another way, it is a heresy in contradiction to the Holy Spirit inspired 'Greek' understanding. I think it matters that The Judaic Texts were translated into Greek in a miraculous manner, as a sign that this translation is the one that Our Lord wanted the world to follow as accurately conveying the message of God and the history of God and his people.

Christ Himself called Himself the Son of God, and chastises Philip -(to paraphrase) "have you been with me so long and don't realise that I the Son am in God -the Trinity seen as a singular unit- and God the Father is in Me (all Three of Us are Always in Unity and Undivisble, even though I have put on the flesh of my most prized servant ...in other words We Three-The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit- are of one Essence, One Mind and One Nature....whereas as the God-Man, Christ is of two natures in one Person.) We don't have a fourth person in the Trinity. Christ-Incarnate means simply that, the Son of God hath put on Flesh with all its properties bodily, soul and spirit, different than the Divine Properties, but akin to them; to effect the Great Salvific Ekonomia of His People ie to save them from their sins.

This is the difference, very simply put, and using simple grammatical language. Furthermore the Coptic and Nestorian understanding lends itself to the Avatar notion of trans-positioning (i don't know the precise term) wherein they could say God the Son attached Himself to "Jesus" a unique person, separate from the Essential Unique Son of the Trinity as was explained above. This fusion of mis conceptions and grammatical error will prove useful to confusing people into being led to understand the Hypostatic God as a mere man....a very prominent freemasonic, muslim and buddhist notion and, furthermore, new age. I remember that when I was a buddhist, the gurus told us that Christ (yes, Christ-God) was meditating somewhere in France. I remember in my deluded state being so pleased with hearing that, and i even Thanked Jesus for allowing me to be a buddhist. I remember even being encouraged to work harder in my meditation. That is how far the delusion can go and ofcourse Christ couldn't allow me to go on in that state, but that is another story.

So I wish the Coptics and Nestorians would get it together and admit their error...and reform at least for the sake of the souls of the people who they are entrusted to pastor.

I know we have to be kind and such, but the truth is the Coptics are just being stubborn. Plain and simple...and they in this regard need to realise the danger they are leading their peoples in.

Im sorry if some feel i am preaching or being judgmental. Jugmental (in secular context) means condemning. I am not condemning, nor am i preaching. I am being very frank. I have not condemn anyone to hell, I am just stating facts.

Im not going to deny my experience or historical experience either. Here is the quote in its entirety. I think my personal experience highlights the danger that people will enter into when we are exposed to wrong thinkings about Christ as the God-Man, one of the three persons of the Trinity, Singular and yet Three Distinct Persons.

Below is the source of the above quote: 14 John 1-11.

14 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.

2 In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.

5 Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?

6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.

8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.

9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?

10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.

11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.

  • What is this quote from? Christ Himself called Himself the Son of God, and chastises Philip "have you been with me so long and don't realise that I the Son am in God, the Trinity, and God the Father is in Me
    – user3961
    Jul 9, 2015 at 23:17
  • The preachy stuff at the end doesn't fit on this site. This site is neutral, as in, no preaching allowed and no judgments made. Academic and apathetic. Please edit those parts out.
    – user3961
    Jul 9, 2015 at 23:20
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    You said: "So I wish the Coptics and Nestorians would get it together and admit their error...and reform at least for the sake of the souls of the people who they are entrusted to pastor." First, we don't care and aren't offended. Have whatever opinion you want. Second, this site is explicitly not about judgement calls on who's right or wrong. Consider these meta posts:
    – user3961
    Jul 13, 2015 at 5:54
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    This article describes well what the academic study of religion is. The first parts of your post are good, though they would be better if they were sourced. The last parts are judgement calls and are out of place on this site.
    – user3961
    Jul 13, 2015 at 5:58

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