LEICESTER, United Kingdom – King Charles III expressed his “greatest admiration for the Coptic community” during a visit to the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre in Hertfordshire, England, on Tuesday.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is a member of the Oriental Orthodox family, which broke with what are now the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches as early as the fifth century, when they rejected the definitions of the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Coptic Orthodox Christians make up approximately 15 percent of the population of Egypt, numbering around 15 million.

There are approximately 40,000 Coptic Orthodox Christians in the United Kingdom, and the church is headed by Archbishop Angaelos of London.

The British king was given a Christmas letter by a six-year-old girl at his visit to the Orthodox church on Tuesday.

Archbishop Angaelos gave him a fragment of stone from the Coptic Orthodox altar within the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, speaking of its “unparalleled significance” in Christian history.

A 15-minute service including prayers, Gospel readings and the Orthodox Creed. At the conclusion of the religious event, sisters Sarah and Laura Ayouba gave a cello and violin performance for the king.

King Charles III greeted on arrival by Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London and Papal Legate to the United Kingdom. (Credit: Coptic Orthodox Church UK.)
King Charles III greeted on arrival by Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London and Papal Legate to the United Kingdom, Dec. 5, 2023. (Credit: Coptic Orthodox Church UK.)

Charles was then led to the church hall, where he stopped to speak with individuals at four stalls showcasing different services held across the diocese. He then shook hands as he moved through the congregation of around 500 people.

“If I may say so, this has been a very special occasion and I want to wish you nothing but a very happy Christmas indeed,” Charles said.

Angaelos said it was “a true joy” to welcome the king to the Coptic cathedral and diocesan center during his year of coronation.

“The response which we received from our community to attend a midweek morning service was overwhelming, and the genuine love and enthusiasm expressed was heartening,” the archbishop said.

“Seeing His Majesty move among the people and engage with them with such warmth and sincerity speaks to his commitment to being the servant King. He touched and left a lasting impression on the hearts of so many individuals and families within our community,” he continued.

“As part of the visit, we were conscious to present some of the major ministries of the Church related to youth, homelessness, social welfare and advocacy in order to demonstrate the breadth of engagement that we have, and this was further represented in the number of our ecumenical, interreligious and official guests who joined us on the day. We were also delighted that His Majesty planted a tree with us, something that speaks to the importance of environmental stewardship as faith communities,” Angaelos added.

“We are very thankful to His Majesty for his visit, his time and genuine sincerity and warmth, and we pray a blessing upon him, the Nation and the Commonwealth and the world during this Advent period, which is a period of hope amidst many global challenges that are affecting so many at this time,” he said.

King Charles III plants a plum tree on the grounds of The Coptic Orthodox Church Centre, Dec. 5, 2023. (Credit: Coptic Orthodox Church UK.)

Charles is no stranger to the Coptic Orthodox Church, visiting its headquarters in London on December 17, 2013, when he was still a prince.

During that earlier visit, he expressed his “deepest concern and deepest sympathies and solidarity” with the Coptic people in England because they have relations in Egypt.

“All I can tell you is that we pray with all our heart for their safety and for their continuation in a country where Coptic Christians have played such a vital part for hundreds and hundreds of years,” Charles said in 2013.

“They often build bridges between different groups and religions, and if I may say so I have been so full of admiration and respect for the way in which the Coptic Christians have been so full of forbearance and longsuffering that is quite remarkable, and the lack of retaliation even more remarkable. And for that, I think we owe all of you a remarkable debt, not only gratitude, but respect for living out your Christian Faith in the way that you do,” the then-prince added.

Charles also spoke at a historic service at Westminster Abbey in 2018 to celebrate the contribution of Christians in the Middle East. Angaelos and the Coptic Orthodox Choir in the United Kingdom took part in this service.

His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark, met Charles at Clarence House on May 17, 2017, during his first pastoral visit to the United Kingdom.

In November 2021, Charles also met Tawadros during a visit to Egypt.