Christianity in Africa has apostolic roots. St. Mark the Evangelist brought the Gospel to the Egyptian city of Alexandria — second only to Rome in the ancient Mediterranean world — and established a church there as early as A.D. 42.
Though persecuted by the Romans — Mark died a martyr’s death around A.D. 67 — the Church of Alexandria blossomed. The city’s theologians led the raucous debates of the early church regarding the person and nature of Jesus Christ. Her scholars provided the church with the philosophical footing and theological vocabulary that helped form the body of faith as defined by the ecumenical councils. Christian monasticism began in the arid wilderness outside Alexandria, introducing a form of Christian life that would become the bedrock of the universal church.
The Church of Alexandria was not confined to cosmopolitan Alexandria or Egypt alone. Over time it grew to include the entire African continent: The churches of Eritrea and Ethiopia, for example, are daughter churches with extensive cultural, historical and liturgical ties.
As the church grew cultural and linguistic differences, theological nuances and ethnic nationalism divided the Church of Alexandria.
Today, the Alexandrian Church includes more than 60 million faithful belonging to the Coptic Catholic, Evangelical and Orthodox churches; the Eritrean and Ethiopian Catholic and Orthodox churches; as well as those Christians of Greek, Kenyan and Ugandan nationality who make up the Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Alexandria.
Alexandrian Christianity ceased to dominate Egyptian culture and national identity some 600 years after the forces of Islam invaded Egypt and took Alexandria in 641. Yet Coptic Christians, who account for a tenth of all Egyptians, continue to play important roles in the life and development of modern Egypt.
Even as the Church of Alexandria declined in the city where it began, its reach in the Horn of Africa inspired an independent Christian kingdom that for some 1,600 years withstood colonialism, Arab Muslim and European Christian.
Today, the nations of Eritrea and Ethiopia are bolstered by millions of Christians whose faith can be traced directly to Christ via Sts. Mark, Frumentius, Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria.