Q:I saw a magazine article that mentioned discrimination against Coptic Christians in Egypt. Are Coptic Christians a separate church or is that just a name for Christians in Egypt. Do they belong to different Christian churches? — Lakesha, Oklahoma City A:The Christian Coptic Orthodox Church is a separate church that is part of the little-known group of Christians called the Oriental Orthodox. Oriental Orthodox churches are not the same as the more familiar Eastern Orthodox group, which includes the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. Most Americans are aware of the split in Christianity caused by the Reformation led by Martin Luther and his contemporaries in the 1500s. Many also know Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians split over various issues in 1054. Few, however, are familiar with events in 451 that caused the Oriental Orthodox and the rest of Christianity to divide. The early Christian church attempted to understand how believers should relate to Christ, what was required of worshippers and how to instruct converts to the faith by holding church councils to discuss and decide such matters. Chapter 15 in the New Testament Book of Acts reports the first of these meetings, known as the Council of Jerusalem, which decided whether Gentile converts must first be circumcised and whether they must also follow food laws and other regulations given to Moses. More councils followed to deal with theological issues concerning the Trinity and the nature of Christ. Whether Jesus was human or divine was a frequent issue the early church attempted to understand. In 451, a council to discuss Jesus' nature was held at Chalcedon in Bithynia, today part of Turkey. The theological argument concerned whether Jesus was only human, only God, both human and divine, human at one point and divine at another and so on, with every imaginable variation. A misunderstanding developed between the Oriental Orthodox churches — sometimes called the non-Chalcedonian churches — and the rest of the Christian world. The Roman and Constantinopolitan delegates incorrectly believed the Coptic and other Oriental Orthodox churches said Christ had only one nature. The church as a whole insisted that Jesus had two natures — human and divine — which existed at the same time. What the Coptic churches and their compatriots actually said was Christ's two natures were inseparable. In other words, Jesus was always fully human and always fully God. The Oriental Orthodox mistakenly believed the rest of the Chalcedon delegates insisted Jesus had two distinct natures that were separated from one another. In other words, Jesus was sometimes God and sometimes not God. Translation difficulties as well as political intrigue concerning the power of the patriarch in Constantinople and the pope in Rome prevented reconciliation of the perceived differences. This incorrect perception continued until 1973, when Roman Catholic Pope Paul VI and Alexandrian Pope Shenouda III met and issued a joint statement: "Jesus Christ is perfect God with respect to His divinity, perfect man with respect to His humanity. In Him, His divinity is united with His humanity in a real, perfect union without mingling, without commixtion, without confusion, without alteration, without division, without separation.” The Coptic Church recognizes seven sacraments, similar to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Baptism is considered the pre-eminent sacrament and is accomplished for both infants and adults by three immersions. Because Oriental Orthodox churches believe baptism is required for entry to heaven, sprinkling is permitted in emergencies, such as when an infant near death is in an incubator. Holy Communion uses leavened bread, as in the Eastern Orthodox churches, and is served to all believers along with wine during the Divine Liturgy, the name for the worship service. An Oriental Orthodox worship service looks very much like an Eastern Orthodox liturgy, and the church building contains icons to tell the story of faith. Unlike Eastern Orthodox structures, non-Chalcedonian churches are configured so the altar is always near the east wall. The rising sun is seen as a symbol of the light Christ brought to the world and will bring again. In 1993, the Coptic Church of Egypt created the Coptic Christian Diocese of the Southern United States, as the faith developed 31 churches in the region. While the diocese includes Oklahoma, I am not familiar with any Coptic Christian churches in the state. In addition to the Coptic Church, Oriental Orthodox includes the Armenian Orthodox Church, Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church, Eritrean Orthodox Church and the Malankara Orthodox Church of India. Andrew Tevington, author of "Our Faiths: A Peace Offering,” is a graduate of Tulsa's Phillips Theological Seminary and assistant pastor at the United Methodist Church of the Servant in Oklahoma City. His column is published twice a month in the Religion section. Send e-mail to him at email@example.com or write him at 3102 Classen Blvd., PMB 125, Oklahoma City, OK 73118. Please include your name and city.