Dogma to the Coptic Orthodox Church is not merely limited theological concepts concerning God, man, church, eternal life, heavenly creatures, and demons to be discussed among clergymen, scholars and laymen. Dogma is daily experience that each member of the church has to live. Thus, we conceive of our redemption, and our membership of the church, a deep understanding of the Holy Bible, an acceptance of the Kingdom of God within our souls, a communion with the heavenly creatures and the experience of eternal life.
The Church is not merely a school involved in research and teaching dogma, but an institution that worships God and serves mankind. It works for the transformation and the renewal of this world, and hopefully awaits the world to come.
Dogma interprets our whole philosophy through practice of our faith through Holy Tradition (the holy scriptures, worship, behavior, and preaching). All these elements represent different aspects of the one inseparable church life.
Dogma in fact is a mirror of the holy scriptures. They explain the holy scriptures and attract men to enjoy its spirit. They correlate to our ascetic attitude.
The early Alexandrian theologians and clergymen were true ascetics and as a result asceticism still strongly affects our theology. This is not by denying the needs of our bodies, as some scholars charge, but by insisting on the solitariological aspect. The early Coptic ascetics were involved in enjoying the redeeming deeds of the Holy Trinity, e.g. enjoying the sanctification of the soul, mind, body, and gifts through communion with the Father in His Son through the Holy Spirit.
Dogma is what is Believed, Taught, Confessed and Practiced
Dogma is the interpretation of our experience of God, in the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus Christ. This experience throughout the ages does not change, for our Lord Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:18). The disciples and apostles (and bishops afterwards) did not sit around a table and agree to teach new dogmas, but rather they preached their Christian experience. As St. John says, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you” (1 Jn 1:3). Thus all Christian dogma resulted from the Church’s experience of the Crucified and Risen Christ, “truth” and “love” at the same time. We receive this dogma as the unchangeable truth that we must holdfast with love.
The Alexandrian popes (bishops), as theologians and pastors, looked to dogma as an expression of evangelic truth integrated with love. They were very zealous in defending the Orthodox faith and dogma against any heresy, not only in Egypt but also in all Christendom, offering their lives as sacrifices on behalf of the Church. They were very firm and strict concerning the faith they had once received (2 Tim 12:14).
The Coptic Orthodox Church is well known as a conservative Church, especially in dogma and doctrines. At the same time, it progresses not by embracing new doctrines or new “articles of faith” but by explaining the same faith “once given to the saints” in a contemporary language.