Egypt played an important role in the early
development of Christian life. Many of the oldest surviving
texts of the New Testament have been preserved in its dry
sands, as have texts of apocryphal and Gnostic books.
For about 400 years Alexandria was the intellectual
center of Eastern Christianity. Its Bishop Athanasius played
a vigorous part in defining basic Christian belief. One of
the most remarkable innovations of early Christianity, the
monastic life, began in Egypt in the third and fourth centuries.
At one time a leader in Christian innovation,
then partially isolated by church politics and the Arab conquest,
the Christian Church in Egypt has preserved many early features
down to the present day.