A look at Coptic Christians, history and beliefs

By The Associated Press | September 20, 2012 | 1:35 PM EDT

The Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church split from other Christians in 451 A.D. over a dispute about the nature of Christ. Unlike Roman Catholics, they do not believe in the infallibility of the Pope or in purgatory. They believe in the immaculate conception of Jesus, but not of the Virgin Mary and their priests can marry.

Copts celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar, meaning it falls on Jan. 7. The run-up to the holiday is marked by a 40-day period of fasting when red meat, poultry and dairy products are forbidden. Copts break the fast with feasting and celebrations after a Christmas Eve liturgy that ends near midnight.

Like Catholics, Copts believe in the Ten Commandments, practice sacraments such as baptism, confession and confirmation and the intercession of the saints.

Copts consider themselves the original Egyptians. The word "Copt" was the name the ancient Greeks gave to the people they encountered in Egypt.