One might be forgiven for believing that the people of modern-day Egypt – or at least the majority - are all Muslims. There are in fact a good number of Christians living in Egypt today. The largest group is the Coptic Orthodox Church whose leader, Pope Shenuda III, is the Patriarch of Alexandria and is also known as the successor of St. Mark the Evangelist. Coptic Christians are descendants of Egyptians who lived during the time of the pharaohs. As Otto Meinardus presents in Christians in Egypt (which is the final part of a trilogy on Egyptian Christians, following Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity  and Coptic Saints and Pilgrimages ), Christian monasticism has its roots in the Egyptian desert. St. Antony, or Anthony the Great, is considered the father of monasticism, especially eremitic (hermit) monasticism. St. Pachomius is considered the founder of cenobitic (community) monasticism. Christian Egypt also produced some of the great Fathers of the Catholic Church like St. Athanasius, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others.
The Coptic Christians split from the rest of Christianity over the issue of the nature of Christ. The Coptic Church continued to grow in Egypt and to expand down the Nile River into Sudan and into Ethiopia. There are other Christians in Egypt, but none as numerous as the Coptics: the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and others. There are also various Protestant churches in Egypt, and Meinardus examines each of these groups.
When Arab invaders for Islam came to Egypt, they defeated the local inhabitants and forced them to either convert to Islam, become second-class citizens, or die. Rule under the Muslims for Christians in Egypt varied from ruler to ruler. Some were stricter than others, and some were outright persecutors of Christians. Christians did often serve in the Muslim governments, though. Today, Christians in Egypt still do not have an easy life. They are limited by the government in building new churches and other activities. Pope Shenuda III was arrested after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat; the government believed that Coptics had a role in the assassination. The Pope was eventually released.
The first chapter in Meinardus’s book is on Egyptian Christianity and its pharaonic heritage. The second is on Christians living in a Muslim country during the middle ages. The third is on the various churches in Egypt. The fourth is on various Christian agencies, social and ecumenical organizations. The fifth chapter is on Christian feasts in Egypt. The sixth is on the various leaders of the churches. The seventh is on multicultural and ecumenical spirituality in Egypt. There are three maps of the Coptic Church’s dioceses, plus endnotes, a bibliography and an index. There are no illustrations.
This book might be considered to be on the exotic side since it is about Christians in Egypt, and especially about the Coptic Church. This book is recommended to those interested in the study the various churches or who are interested in Egypt.
Otto Meinardus is the author of the books mentioned above and of Christian Egypt (2002), Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert (1989), The Holy Family in Egypt (1987) and of other books.