The Apostolic/Early Church Fathers

“So then, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Rom. 10:17

As we believe that the Coptic Orthodox Church is the Holy and Sacred Body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we also believe that there is a direct and strong connection between our Coptic Church’s Fathers, our holy apostles, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Therefore, the faith, which was submitted by our Lord Jesus Christ to His holy apostles, was the same faith submitted to their holy successors who preserved it and submitted it unchanged to their children throughout all the generations of Coptic Christianity. Without the Apostolic Fathers and those holy Fathers who followed in their footsteps we would not have the blessings of “the authentic and unchanged faith” in which we have today.

The Apostolic Fathers are Christian theologians and writers who followed the apostles of our Lord immediately. They lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. They are believed to have personally known some of the twelve apostles or to have received their teachings from the apostles through the disciples’ lives. The teachings of the Apostolic Fathers are truly considered a direct reflection of the apostles preaching.

The term “Apostolic Fathers” was not known in the primitive church, it was expressed first by scholars in the seventh century and it refers to the churches Fathers who were direct disciples for the apostles, or saw them, or received teachings and instructions from the Apostles themselves.

Many of these other things that our Lord did and said did not make it into the New Testament writings and remained oral Tradition. The Fathers, in many parts of their writings, greatly incorporated a lot of that oral Tradition into their writings as means to clarify and interpret the Bible or to present a teaching about the Holy Trinity etc. This is why the writings of the Church Fathers are very important to us as Orthodox Christians.

Some of these documents, were considered by second and third century fathers to be sacred and were quoted as inspired text. Although these writings are very rare, they have a great importance. The early church took these writings very seriously as early witnesses of the faith.

The writers in this era included St. Clement the Roman, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp the Martyr, Bishop Papias of Hierapolic, Higyspoc, Hermas author of the Didache and the author of the Barnabas Letter. All or most of these works were originally written in Greek. Older English translations of these works can be found online in the Ante-Nicene Fathers series.

St. Clement, the Roman

The first of our Apostolic Fathers is St. Clement who was the third Bishop of Rome. He lived in the last fourth of the first century. He wrote his Epistle to the Church of Corinthians when he heard about the presence of envy and quarreling among the people there regarding the trial of some people denying the authority of their local bishops. He wrote encouraging them to work toward settlement with love and discipline.

St. Ignatius of Antioch

St. Ignatius had seven Epistles written in the days of Emperor Tarjan (98 AD-117 AD). These Epistles reflect the life and discipline in the Church at that time in addition to the dogma of the Church.

These Epistles are characterized by the spirit of deep piety towards the Lord Jesus Christ and the desire for death to be in Heaven with Him. These Epistles incorporated Christian unity and fighting of heresies

St. Polycarp, the Martyr

St. Polycarp was the Bishop of Azmer. He was born in 70 AD and was a disciple of St. John the Apostle. St. Polycarp wrote his Epistle to the Phillipians. The first twelve chapters of this Epistle fought the heresy of Markion. The last two chapters expressed the love of St. Polycarp to his friend St. Ignatius of Antioch. St. Polycarp was martyred on 22 February 156 AD.

St. Papias of Virigia (Herapolis)

St. Papias was the disciple for St. John the Apostle and a friend for St. Polycarp the Martyr as mentioned by St. Irinaos in his Book against heresies. St. Papias wrote five Books, which are explanations of the Lord’s sayings in which He depended on the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark and St. Matthew.

Letter of Barnabas

The author of this letter is unknown. It dates back to the end of the first century. It was written as a dialectical writing against the Jews. The perspective of the writer was “Jews are sinners as they obeyed the devil in Christian Crucifixion.” The style of the writer is similar to the Jewish style of writings in the late centuries as he presented a comparative study between the way of darkness and the way of light. A similar comparison is done in the Book of Didache which is called Life and Death.

Didache

The Didache or “the Teachings of the Twelve Disciples to the World” is a small book that concerns moral ethics, church’s rituals such as baptism, fasting, praying, Agpeya, Euchrist, and the apostles and prophets. This book was published recently in 1883 AD. The scholars suggest that this book dates back to 60 AD before the Holy Gospels.

The Shepherd of Hermas

Although the Book of Shepherd of Hermas is considered one of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, the church views it as a Apocryphal Vision as it consists of groups of visions that Hermas saw by two heavenly creatures. The first was an old woman that was a symbol of the church and the second was an angel who appeared to Hermas as a shepherd. Hermas himself was a slave sold in his early life to a rich woman in Rome called Roda. According to Montary’s Manuscript, Hermas was a brother of the Bishop “Pios”, the Bishop of Rome (140-150 AD). The book was written at the end of the first century and the beginning of the second century. The main goal of the book is preaching with repentence. He taught that the Christian who falls in sin following baptism must repent. Also this book presented a description about the life in the Roman Church during the first half of the second century.