The right of a bishop to ordain Christians of his diocese as deacons and priests is so generally recognized that the canons of the Coptic church (see CANONS, ECCLESIASTICAL) relate only to abuses: for instance, the ordination of Christians from another diocese or the acceptance of a gift for the ordination. The bishop’s right is somewhat restricted through the prescriptions of the canons regarding the ordination of persons as priests and deacons.
For ordination to the clergy, the minimum age is twenty-five for a deacon, thirty for a priest. Before ordination, the candidate is to be instructed (see CLERICAL INSTRUCTION) and examined. Since the Council of CHALCEDON (451), ordinations may be only for a definite church office or title, and therefore only at the same time as the installation. The carrying out of the ordination is also described in the canons.
Whether the prescriptions of the canons were followed to the letter can be tested from primary sources, texts about ordination in the correspondence of bishop ABRAHAM of Hermonthis in the period around 600. In the texts about the ordination of deacons and priests, the petition for the ordination of a particular person for a particular office is presented by a third party. In Coptic ostracon 36 the bishop is to ordain Isaac as priest at the Church of Saint Mary in Piohe “because the place needs him.” At the same time the petitioners (a priest, a scribe, and a reader of the same village) offer security that the ordinand will fulfill his office correctly.
The texts contain no statements as to whether the candidate satisfies the conditions contained in the canons, for example, in regard to the minimum age (Krause, 1956, Vol. 1, pp. 42ff.). After the bishop has granted the petition and ordained the candidate, the ordained man himself or other persons on his behalf pledge to the bishop that he will fulfill the duties arising out of his office: the observance or fulfillment of the commandments, the church canons, and professional knowledge; care for the altar or the church; obedience to the bishop and superiors; the learning by heart of a particular Gospel within an appointed time, with a corresponding examination by the bishop. Among the further obligations of the ordained man are the observance of the forty-day fast and of vigils at his sleeping place and on Communion days, the duty of residence, the reciting of prayers, and refraining from trade and the taking of interest.
The number of persons who pledge their security before the bishop for the ordained man’s observance of the obligations named varies between one and four, and is thus smaller than the number prescribed in the canons. Clergy are frequently punished for offenses against their official duties, according to the sources, by excommunication or expulsion from the clergy.
Two documents of appointment have survived from the fourteenth century (Bilabel and Grohmann, 1935). Both were drawn up by Philotheus, bishop of Panopolis and Lycopolis. In the older, dated 2 May 1361, he ordains John, son of Phoibammon, as deacon of the Church of Saint Theodorus of Lycopolis; in the second, dated 12 May 1363, he ordains Gabriel, the son of Misael, as deacon of the Church of Theodorus Stratelates. The documents are written in the Bohairic dialect with an Arabic translation.
From the year 1256 a certificate of character has survived in Arabic that concerns a priest and monk named John, who was probably to be named as titular of a church. A document of consecration to the episcopate, dated 16 November 1371, was found in 1964 under the body of a bishop in Qasr Ibrim and published in 1975. In the document, the patriarch of Alexandria, GABRIEL IV, makes it known that he has consecrated the former priest Timotheus as bishop of Faras and Nubia.
This document bears the names of four bishops as witnesses, two of whom, the bishops of Atrib and Hermopolis, were present at the ceremonial consecration in the “suspended” CHURCH OF AL-MU‘ALLAQAH in Old Cairo, and two (the bishops of Qift and Qus) were present at the enthronement. The enthronement took place on 15 February 1372 in the Church of Saint Victor, west of Qamulah. The document was drawn up both in Bohairic and in Arabic. The Arabic original text has often been circulated, for instance, by Abu al-Barakat (Coquin, 1977, p. 142, with references).
- Bilabel, F., and A. Grohmann. “Zwei Urkunden aus dem bischöflichen Archiv von Panopolis in Ägypten.” Heidelberg, 1935.
- Coquin, R.-G. “A propos des rouleaux coptes arabe de l’évêque Timothée.” Bibliotheca Orientalis 34 (1977):142-47.
- Krause, M. “Apa Abraham von Hermonthis. Ein oberägyptischer Bischof um 600,” 2 vols. Phil. diss., Berlin, 1956.
- Maspero, J. “Un diplome arabe-chrétien du XIIIe siècle.” Annales du Service des antiquités 11 (1911):177-85.
- Plumley, J. M. The Scrolls of Bishop Timotheos: Two Documents from Medieval Nubia. London, 1975.
- Steinwenter, A. “Die Ordinationsbitten koptischer Kleriker.” Aegyptus 11 (1930-1931):29-34.