The early Christian Church recognized the special significance of several cities as leaders of the worldwide "catholic" (universal) Church. The Church of Alexandria is one of these original patriarchates, but the succession to the role of patriarch in Alexandria is still disputed after the separation which followed the Council of Chalcedon.
The later development of the Pentarchy also granted secular recognition to these religious leaders. Because of this split, the leadership of this church is not part of this system.
Members of the church recognize its head as a successor of Mark the Evangelist, considered the first Bishop of Alexandria, who founded the Church in the 1st century, and therefore marked the beginning of Christianity in Africa.
The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is known as Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa on the Holy See of St. Mark the Apostle. The Successor of St. Mark the Evangelist, Holy Apostle and Martyr, on the Holy Apostolic Throne of the Great City of Alexandria.
His full title is:Pope and Lord Archbishop of the Great City of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Orthodox and Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle that is, in Egypt, Pentapolis, Libya, Nubia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and all Africa.
That is:Pope and Lord Archbishop of the Great and Holy Metropolitan Archdiocese of Alexandria (Rhakotis), being:
The Metropolitan of the Holy, Great and Ancient Metropolitan Archdiocese of Alexandria (Rhakotis), comprising:
The Great and Ancient Metropolis of Alexandria, which includes:
The Suffragan Holy Diocese of Canopus (Aboukir)
The Suffragan Holy Diocese of Menelaus
The Suffragan Holy Diocese of Schedia
The Metropolitan of the Metropolitan Province of Greater Cairo comprising:
The Holy Archdiocese of Cairo (Arcadia Ægypti), which includes:
The Suffragan Holy Diocese of East of the Railroad District in Cairo
The Suffragan Holy Diocese of Meit Ghamr District in Cairo
The Suffragan Holy Diocese of Dar El Salam (Irinipolis) in Cairo
The Suffragan Holy Diocese of Heliopolis in Cairo
The Suffragan Holy Diocese of Old Cairo (Babylon), Manial and Fum El Kahlig in Cairo
The Suffragan Holy Diocese of El Mataria, Ain Shams, Ezbet El Nakhl in the Holy Archdiocese of Cairo (Arcadia Ægypti)
The Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of North America, which includes:
The Suffragan Holy Diocese of Alexandria and all Virginia, United States
Elder and Chief Metropolitan Archbishop of all the Egyptian Provinces
Primate of all Egypt, Pentapolis, Libya, Nubia and the Sudan
Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Throne of St. Mark the Evangelist, the Holy Apostle and Martyr.
In being so, he is considered to be:Father of Fathers.
Shepherd of Shepherds.
Hierarch of all Hierarchs
Honorary titles attributed to the Hierarch of the Alexandrine Throne are:The Pillar and Defender of the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church and of the Orthodox Faith.
The Dean of the Great Catechetical School of Theology of Alexandria.
The Ecumenical (Universal) Judge (Arbitrator) of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic (Universal) Church.
The Thirteenth among the Holy Apostles.
“Pope and Lord Archbishop of the Great City of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa on the Holy Apostolic Holy See of St. Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle”.
The appellation of pope has been attributed to the Bishop of Alexandria since the episcopate of Heraclas, the thirteenth Bishop of Alexandria. All the clergy of Alexandria and Lower Egypt honored him with the appellation papas, which means father, as the senior and elder bishop among all bishops, within the Egyptian province, who are under his jurisdiction, three centuries before it was assumed by Pope John I Bishop of Rome (523–526), who ratified the Alexandrian computation of the date of Easter. Bestowing the title on Rome's pontiff did not strip it from Alexandria's, and the Roman Catholic Church recognizes this ecclesiastical fact.
Since Alexandria was the capital of the province, the preaching center and the place of martyrdom of Saint Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle, the title “Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa on the Holy Throne of Saint Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle". also known as “Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa” in short, was that of the Bishop of Alexandria.
The appellation of pope became recognized as a title, but this did not mean that it represented a title different or higher than the title of patriarch. Only the Patriarch of Alexandria, however, has the double title of Pope and Patriarch among the Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox thrones.
Pope (Latin: papa, Greek: παπάς, papas) Papa has been the specific designation for the Archbishop of Alexandria, Patriarch of Egypt, and the See of Saint Mark, whose ecclessiastic title is, Papa Abba, the Abba stands for the devotion of all monastics, from Pentapolis in the West to Constantinople in the East, to his guidance.
Historically, this office has held the title of Papa, Father in Coptic, since Papa Heracleus, 13th Alexandrine Patriarch (232–249 AD) was first to associate with the title three centuries before it was assumed by John I, the Bishop of Rome (523–526), who ratified the Alexandrian computation of the date of Easter. Bestowing the title on Rome's Pontiff did not strip it from Alexandria's, and the Roman Catholic Church recognizes this. In the Roman Catholic viewpoint, this title does not have the same meaning as that of the Bishop of Rome, who was the only Primate in the West to be given the title of Pope in the beginning of the 5th century. The Pope of Rome is considered by the Roman Catholic Church as the Supreme Pontiff, holding the office of the Roman See (being one of the successors of Saint Peter). On the other hand, both the Oriental Orthodox and Byzantine Orthodox Churches respond by saying that their respective heads are equal with Rome and also note that Rome has deviated too much already from their original understanding.
The Roman Catholic Church considers that the Pope of Rome ranks higher than the four other popes and patriarchs of the Major Apostolic Thrones (Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem). This viewpoint is not accepted by the Coptic Orthodox Church.
The title patriarch means the head or the leader of a tribe or a community. Ecclesiastically it means the head of the fathers (bishops) and their congregation of faithful. This title is historically known as “Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa on the Holy Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark the Evangelist,” that is “of Alexandria and of all Africa.” The title of “patriarch” was first used around the time of the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, convened in 431 AD, and ratified at Chalcedon in 451 AD.
The Bishop of Alexandria also has the title of archbishop. This is a natural jurisdictional title for the ecclesiastical dignity of the Bishop of Alexandria. Ruling as a metropolitan, the bishop of the metropolis (i.e. Alexandria), had jurisdiction over the Roman Provinces of Egypt (Lower Egypt I and II, Arcadia Ægypti, Upper Egypt I and II (aka Thebais Prima and Thebais Secunda), Pentapolis, Libya and Nubia, which were at that time, the extent of the “Egyptian Provinces” within the Roman Empire. As set by the Ecumenical First Council of Nicaea 325 AD, the jurisdiction of the Archiepiscopate of Alexandria covered the above-mentioned provinces.
But since the demise of the Latin (Roman) North African Archiepiscopate of Carthage (which covered all of North and West Africa, apart from Egypt, Pentapolis and Libya) in the 8th century, Alexandria became the sole apostolic throne in the entire continent of Africa. It is to be noted that actually, the historical evangelization of the Apostolic Throne of Alexandria in Africa, apart from Egypt, Pentapolis, Libya, Nubia and the Sudan, does extend to:
It constituted a major archdiocese of the Church of Alexandria, which was always governed by an Egyptian patriarchal vicar in the rank of archbishop, and named Aboune Salama by the Ethiopian Church. By 1929, the Alexandrine Throne allowed the Ethiopian Clergy to participate in the governing of their own Church, and the first native Ethiopian archbishop was enthroned in 1930 (thus becoming an autonomous church).
In 1959, an agreement was reached between the Ethiopian Holy Synod and the Alexandrine throne to have their own patriarch-catholicos in a transitional period. The Ethiopian archbishop ordained as primate of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church back in 1950, was elevated by the Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria Joseph II in Cairo and enthroned in Addis Ababa by the members of the Ethiopian Holy Synod and an Alexandrine delegation. The first prelate, Aboune Basilius I (1959–1971), patriarch-catholicos of Addis Ababa and all Ethiopia, was ordained and enthroned in 1959, by Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria.
Aboune Paulos I became the 5th patriarch of the Patriarchate of Addis Ababa and of all Ethiopia in 1992. This is after the patriarchates of Aboune Theophilus I (1971–1979) (deposed in a non-canonical way in 1976, sent to prison and murdered in prison in 1979), Aboune Thecla Hemanote I (1976–1988) (who was elected in a non-canonical manner by pressure of the then Communist government to replace his predecessor) and Abouna Mercurios I (1988–1991), (who resigned under pressure, due to the accusation of collaborating with the (Dereg) Menghistu Communist Regime, and who is now living in self-exile in Kenya).
Aboune Paulos I has requested from the Alexandrine throne complete independence to his patriarchate. The Patriarchate of Addis Ababa and all Ethiopia was granted its independence in 1994, by Shenouda III Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria, thus making the Patriarchate of Addis Ababa and all Ethiopia hierarchically and jurisdictionally independent “autocephalous patriarchate.”
Whose own prelate, Aboune Philipos I (1998–2002), Patriarch of Asmara and of all Eritrea, was ordained and enthroned in May 1998, by Pope Shenouda III Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria. This made the new Patriarchate of Asmara and of all Eritrea a hierarchically and jurisdictionally independent “autocephalous patriarchate.” The current prelate, Aboune Antonius I (2004– ), is the third Patriarch of Asmara and all Eritrea, who succeeded Yacob I (2003–2004), the second Patriarch of Asmara and all Eritrea. However, he was deposed non-canonically in January 2006, and replaced by Aboune Discoros I. This action is, however, not approved by the Alexandrine throne and is still under debate.
The Patriarchate of Addis Ababa and all Ethiopia and the Patriarchate of Asmara and all Eritrea are daughter Churches of the Holy Apostolic Patriarchate of Alexandria.
In addition to the above, the countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, the Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Botswana, Malawi, Angola, Namibia and South Africa are under the jurisdiction and the evangelization of the Throne of Alexandria.
The Dean of the Great Catechetical School of Theology of Alexandria: This is a customary title, which many patriarchs of Alexandria have held since the episcopacy of St. Justus (the 6th Bishop of Alexandria), and which was recently revived by Pope Shenouda III.
The Ecumenical Judge of the Holy Apostolic and Orthodox Church of God:
This was a title given to St. Alexander I (the 19th Archbishop of Alexandria), in honor of the canonical responsibilities bestowed upon the Primates of Alexandria thereafter, to determine the date of the Pascha, and to convey ecclesiastical letters of notification to all Hierarchies of the Universal Church, along with the Paschal encyclical. This was officially agreed upon and ratified at the Ecumenical First Council of Nicaea (325 AD).
The Thirteenth among the Holy Apostles:
This title was given to Athanasius I (the 20th Archbishop of Alexandria), in honor of his apostolic defiance against heresies, especially the Arian heresy. He was exiled five times before his final victory over them. He is known as "The Apostolic," meaning that he reached the level of the Holy Apostles.
The Pillar and Defender of the Holy Catholic Church and of the Orthodox Doctrine:
This title was given to St. Cyril I, the Great (the 24th Archbishop of Alexandria) in memory of his defense against the Nestorian heresy and his defense of the Title of “Theotokos," attributed to the Virgin Mary.
All these hierarchical and honorary titles were bestowed upon the bishop who occupies the Holy Apostolic Throne of Alexandria.
The head of the church of Alexandria was known just as Bishop of Alexandria since the time of St. Ananius, the first Bishop of Alexandria, who was ordained by St. Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle, where the latter preached and evangelized in the City of Alexandria. The title remained simply bishop until the Church grew within and all over the Egyptian Province, and many bishops were consecrated for the newly founded parishes all over the towns and cities.
The Bishop of Alexandria, being the successor of the first bishop, the one who was first consecrated by St. Mark, was honored by the other bishops as first among equals (Primus inter Pares) as a means of church hierarchical recognition and organization. This was in addition to the appropriate honorary dignity, which was due by virtue of being the senior bishop of the main metropolis of the Province of Alexandria, being also the capital and the main port of the province.
This honor was bestowed by making the senior bishop an archbishop, thus presiding in dignity of honor over all the Alexandrine and Egyptian bishops. So was the case among other provinces in the Roman Empire East and West (Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, Ephesus, Caesarea, Edessa, Seleucia and many others major metropolitanates), as the bishops of these major cities, and those who were presiding over the churches, which were first established within the region, became to be known as archbishops.
The word pope derives from Greek πάππας meaning "father". This title was first assumed by the Patriarchs of Alexandria, long before it was assumed by the Bishops of Rome. In fact, the first person known to carry the title of pope was the Archbishop of Alexandria, Pope Heracleus (232–249 AD), the 13th Alexandrine Archbishop.
The first record in history of the term "pope" is assigned to Pope Heraclas of Alexandria in a letter written by the bishop of Rome, Dionysius, to Philemon:
which translates into:
Papa has been the specific designation for the Archbishop of Alexandria, Patriarch of all Africa on the See of Saint Mark, whose ecclesiastic title is "Papa Abba", the Abba stands for the devotion of all monastics, from Pentapolis in the West to Constantinople in the East, to his guidance. Abba is the most powerful designation, that for all monks in the East to voluntarily follow his spiritual authority.
The Bishop of Carthage was also known as papas by the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries, most probably taken from Alexandria or from the common tradition of Pentapolis (under Alexandrine jurisdiction) as it was quite common to call the Senior Bishop of Alexandria and the Senior Bishop of Pentapolis (who was the second in importance and command after the Bishop of Alexandria and known as the Elder of Pentapolis) papas.
It is difficult to ascertain the identity of the first Bishop of Rome to carry the title Pope of Rome. Some sources suggest that it was Pope Marcellinus (died 304 AD), while other sources suggest that this did not happen until the 6th century, with Pope John I (523–526 AD) the first to assume this title. Bestowing the title on Rome's pontiff did not strip it from Alexandria's, and the Roman Catholic Church recognizes this.
From the 6th century, the imperial chancery of Constantinople normally reserved this designation for the Bishop of Rome. From the early 6th century, it began to be confined in the West to the Bishop of Rome, a practice that was firmly in place by the 11th century, when Pope Gregory VII declared it reserved for the Bishop of Rome.
Between the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431 AD) and the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), the archbishops of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires (i.e. the archbishops of Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, also known as the Archbishops of the Ancient Apostolic Thrones), were given the title of patriarch. These titles were ratified at the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), and henceforth were known historically as the Ancient Patriarchates of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church or otherwise as the Pentarchy.
The Bishop of Alexandria was first known as the Bishop of Alexandria. Later, due to the importance and dignity of Alexandria as a major Christian center and as an Ancient Apostolic Throne, and in addition to the fact that the Bishop of Alexandria is the successor of the first Bishop on the Throne of Alexandria, he was given the title of archbishop by the late 3rd century. He was already called by the Alexandrine clergy and by all the Egyptian bishops papas, since the middle of the 3rd century.
By the middle of the 5th century, the title of patriarch was bestowed upon all major Apostolic thrones of the Holy Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Church (ratified by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD). By this title, it meant that these patriarchates have geographical jurisdiction based upon either the extent (domain) of the natural borders of their provinces, or as set by Church Ecumenical Councils and/or Church Tradition.
Later, between the 5th and 7th century, the appellation of “papas” or “pope” became somehow a title along with the archiepiscopal and patriarchal titles of the Bishop of Alexandria. This, however, did not mean that the title of “pope” denoted a higher hierarchical or ecclesiastical dignity or rank than that of the title and rank of “patriarch” given to the Bishop of Alexandria.
Patriarchal delegates known as "Patriarchal Exarchs" are designated for areas outside the region of the canonical jurisdiction of the Bishop of Alexandria, or any other throne that has set jurisdictional boundaries.
In this way, the Apostolic Exarchates are not in contradiction with the Canon Laws of the Church, but are considered “Embassies of the Patriarchate of Alexandria”, rather than “Jurisdictional Dioceses" outside the defined canonical jurisdiction.9 metropolises, out of which 6 metropolises are in Egypt, 1 metropolis is elsewhere in the Near East and 2 metropolises are in Europe; served by 3 metropolitan archbishops, 4 metropolitan bishops and 1 metropolis in the United Kingdom; out of the 8 hierarchs, 1 metropolitan archbishop is in the Near East, 3 in metropolitan archbishops are in Egypt and 1 metropolitan archbishop is in The United Kingdom, while all 4 metropolitan bishops are in Egypt; one metropolis in France remains vacant.
63 dioceses with 46 diocesan bishops are in Egypt, 7 diocesan bishops are in Europe, 3 diocesan bishops are in North America, 2 diocesan bishops are in South America, 2 diocesan bishops are in Sudan and 2 diocesan bishops are in Australia.
2 Suffragan Dioceses, with 1 suffragan bishop in Europe and 1 suffragan bishop in North America.
1 auxiliary bishop for 1 diocese in Egypt.
6 assistant bishops in Egypt for 6 suffragan dioceses within an Archdiocese under the pope's jurisdiction.
6 patriarchal exarchates, with 2 patriarchal exarchs in North America, 2 patriarchal exarchs in Europe and 2 patriarchal exarchs in Africa.
11 bishop abbots for 10 patriarchal monasteries in Egypt and 1 patriarchal monastery in Australia.
3 general bishops, patriarchal emissary at large in Egypt and abroad
4 general bishops, administrators of patriarchal institutions in Egypt.
1 chorbishop without portfolio.
1 hegumen in the capacity of grand economos, patriarchal vicar for Alexandria.
1 hegumen as administrative patriarchal vicar for Cairo.
Until 1928 Patriarchal elections were carried out according to oral and written Church tradition. The patriarchal election of 1928 was the first in modern history to invoke written bylaws. The elections of 1928, 1942 and 1946 inspired controversy by pitting relatively young monks versus older, more experienced bishops. Supporters of each group argued that the other should be disqualified: the advocates of the younger monks claimed that the bishops were wedded to their dioceses for life and that their election to the patriarchate would lead to an unnatural divorce of bishop and diocese, while the bishops' partisans countered that a bishop might continue to provide diocesan pastoral care from the apostolic throne, while observing that the pastoral experience of the more seasoned bishops would be indispensable to the patriarchate of the entire church; they further noted that the patriarchs of every other apostolic church, such as those of the Greek, Russian and Catholic churches, were nearly always Bishops or Abbots prior to election.
This controversy ultimately led to the development of a new set of bylaws in 1957. The bylaws state that a candidate for election to the Apostolic Throne of Alexandria must be a man of at least 40 years of age and must be a monk with at least 15 years of monastic service (in that Coptic bishops are always drawn from the ranks of monks), but he may be of any ecclesiastical rank: monk, hieromonk (monk priest or monk archpriest), abbot, or bishop.
A potential candidate who meets the requirements of the bylaws must be endorsed by six bishops or twelve of the 24 members of the General Lay Council of the Church, a church governing body composed primarily of laypeople elected by the congregation to five year terms. A Nominations Committee is then formed by nine bishops appointed by the Holy Synod and nine laypersons elected by the General Community Council. The Nominations Committee, chaired by the locum tenens patriarch, narrows the field of candidates to a group of five or seven. Each diocese then contributes twelve electors to an Electoral College; their numbers are augmented by the members of The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the General Community Council, Coptic Orthodox political leaders and journalists and envoys of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The voting of the Electoral College results in a ranking of the remaining five or seven candidates, and the three highest-ranked candidates advance to the final stage of the selection process.
The name of each candidate is written on a slip of paper in a box placed on the altar of St. Mark Cathedral in Cairo during a Sunday eucharistic liturgy presided over by the Locum tenens of the throne, and attended by all members of the Holy Synod, General Congregation Council and the laity. A five-year-old child selected from the congregation then draws a slip, sight unseen, from the box; the name it bears determines the next Patriarch.
The last three Coptic Popes were selected in this manner: Cyril VI in 1959, Shenouda III in 1971, and Tawadros II in 2012.
The duties of the Coptic Orthodox pope, apart from his diocesan duties, are:To guide the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in accordance to the orthodox faith.
To guide the various dioceses under his jurisdiction and nominate candidates for episcopal advancement.
To consecrate bishops for various dioceses or bishoprics, to elevate bishops to the metropolitan dignity and to consecrate and enthrone Patriarchs for daughter autonomous or autocephalous churches of the Church of Alexandria.
Being first among equals among the bishops of the Church of Alexandria, he leads in all interorganizational matters among all dioceses.
Being the Chairman of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Court, he acts as the Supreme Judge in all matters of ecclesiastical discipline with Holy Synod approval.
To chair the Holy Synod of the Church of Alexandria as first among equals.
To promulgate missions to preach Christianity to various parts of the world.
To canonize saints, through the approval of the Holy Synod. A requirement of the Coptic Orthodox faith is that at least 50 years must pass from a saint's death to canonization.
Erection and consecration of new dioceses and churches, and erection of new or reviving old monasteries and maintaining their monastic communities. Under the papacy of Pope Shenouda III, many new Coptic Orthodox churches were established in North America, Europe, Australia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere.