COPTIC SEE OF JERUSALEM
From the beginning of the Christian era, Egypt and Egyptians have had a privileged status in Jerusalem. In the Acts of the Apostles, it is mentioned that Egyptians were among those who witnessed the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. It is also mentioned (Acts 6:9) that Alexandrians, with others, had their own synagogue in Jerusalem.
The ancestors of Saint Mark were Jews who went to Egypt during the reign of Ptolemy I. They were sent to live in Cyrene, which at that time belonged to Egypt. When the bedouins invaded Cyrene, the family of Mark left for Jerusalem.
After Pentecost, a nucleus of Egyptian Christians was formed in the Holy Land. They were later joined by others who traveled to Jerusalem and settled there. Egyptians went to Jerusalem after it had been destroyed by Titus in A.D. 70 and rebuilt by Hadrian. CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA took refuge there during the persecution of Septimius Severus, and ORIGEN also went there and was ordained priest by Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, and Theoctistus, bishop of Caesarea. He often preached at the church in Jerusalem, and he founded the school of theology in Caesarea.
In the reign of CONSTANTINE THE GREAT, the place of the holy cross and other holy places were rediscovered, and churches were built on the sites. ATHANASIUS I the Alexandrian visited the holy places in 343 and was well received by the bishop, Maximus, who convened a local council in 346, at which the vindication of Athanasius against the charges directed at him by the Arians was upheld. From then on, many Coptic monks began to visit the holy places. Almost half a century after the inauguration of the Church of the Resurrection, Coptic monks had an independent identity in Jerusalem, as was confirmed by Paula, who visited Jerusalem in 386. The pilgrim Atria, who was in Jerusalem at the same time, also commented on the presence of Egyptian monks. Around 384, four Coptic monks known as the Tall Brothers went to Jerusalem as a result of a dispute between them and their bishop, THEOPHILUS OF ALEXANDRIA. They were followed by nearly fifty monks from Wadi al-Natrun.
Many other Copts also went to Jerusalem, some on pilgrimage, some to visit, and some to live there. A small church was constructed near the Church of the Resurrection at the very spot where MARY THE EGYPTIAN is said to have repented in 382. The number of Copts visiting the city increased steadily. Copts are mentioned among the sects represented in the Church of the Resurrection in the letter of dispensation that the caliph ‘Umar ibn al’-Khattab gave to the patriarch Sophronius after he took over the leadership of the city.
Several Copts were appointed to high posts in Jerusalem and Palestine. Among these are Shaykh Abu al-Yumn Quzman ibn Mina, the scribe, who was appointed minister in Palestine in 975 by the Fatimid caliph al-‘Aziz, and Mansur al-Tilbani, who became governor of Jerusalem in 1092. When the Crusaders entered the city, they removed some clergy from the Eastern churches, among them Copts. They also confiscated the sacred relics and prevented the Copts from visiting the holy places. However, it seems that they were later reconciled with the Copts and allowed them to return to Jerusalem. John of Würzburg, a pilgrim who visited Jerusalem in 1165 and left a record (Runciman, Vol. 2, 1952, pp. 294, 480), and Theodoric, who was there in 1172, mention that the Copts were among the Christian sects in the city at the time (Meinardus, 1960, pp. 15-16).
The Coptic historian ABU AL-MAKARIM Sa‘dallah ibn Jirjis ibn Mas‘ud said that the Copts were not allowed to visit Jerusalem under the Crusaders until it was reconquered by Saladin in 1187. After him, his brother al-‘Adil reopened the Church of the Resurrection to Coptic pilgrims every year. In his campaign in Egypt, Saladin was accompanied by a large number of Copts, and after his victory he restored to them most of their properties, monasteries, and churches.
After the Ottoman conquest of Palestine, the status of the Copts was improved, so that Germanos, the Greek Orthodox patriarch in Jerusalem, writing to Ivan the Terrible in 1559, compared his own status and the condition of his sect unfavorably with that of the Armenians and Copts (Meinardus, 1960, p. 29).
The Copts in Jerusalem have preserved their sacred relics and their rights throughout the ages. They have bought property and built monasteries and churches in many towns in the region. In the second half of the twentieth century, the Coptic Orthodox patriarchate of the See of Jerusalem and the Near East and Sinai became active in rendering services and preaching in most countries of the Near East. It now has monasteries, schools, and orphanages in most cities of the area and in Sinai.
Coptic Archbishops in Jerusalem
Since early in the Christian era, Copts have maintained visible status in the Holy Land. They acquired property, built churches, and looked after their religious and administrative affairs in Jerusalem through the Coptic archbishop of Damietta (Dumyat), who went to Jerusalem each year before Christmas and remained until after Easter.
In 1236, Pope CYRIL III appointed Anba BASILIOS I archbishop of the newly created diocese of the See of Jerusalem and All the East. He was granted authority to look after Coptic interests, churches, and sacred possessions in Jerusalem, other parts of Palestine, Syria, and along the Euphrates.
Since that time, the see of Jerusalem has been divided twice: once after the death of Archbishop TIMOTHEOS I in 1925 and again after the death of Archbishop THEOPHILOS I in 1945. Until 1925, the diocese consisted of Jerusalem, the rest of Palestine, the Orient, the Egyptian governorates of the Suez Canal, the provinces of Daqahliyyah, Sharqiyyah, and most of Gharbiyyah, as well as the city of Damietta and Sinai. However, these extensive regions were reduced in the middle of the twentieth century to Jerusalem, Palestine, Sinai, and the Orient, now being called the Diocese of the See of Jerusalem, the Near East, and Sinai. The spiritual leader of the see has been a metropolitan who, according to Coptic Orthodox tradition, stands first among the archbishops and follows the pope of Alexandria in seniority.
There exists no detailed history of the archbishops of the see of Jerusalem. The following list of the archbishops since Basilios I is derived from manuscripts preserved in the patriarchal archives in Cairo, the library of the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo, and the patriarchate in Jerusalem (some gaps remain to be filled):
- Basilios I (1236-1260) was consecrated during the reign of Pope Cyril III.
- Butrus I (1271-1306) was consecrated during the reign of Patriarch JOHN VII. He took up residence in the Church of the Virgin Mary at Damascus and was joined there by the historian Ibn al-Makin Jirjis ibn al-‘Amid.
- Mikha’il I (1310-1324) was consecrated during the reign of JOHN VIII (1300-1320).
- Butrus II (1331-1362) was consecrated in the reign of PETER V (1340-1348). His name is cited in the Annunciation Codex in the Coptic Museum manuscript of the Gospels (no. 90), dated 1341.
- Zacharias I (1575-1600) was a contemporary of JOHN XIV (1570-1585) and GABRIEL VIII (1586-1601), in whose consecration he had the primary role.
- Yacobos the Hegumenos (1604-1628) was a contemporary of Mark V (1602-1618). In a document dated A.M. 12 Ba’unah 1320/A.D. 16 June 1604, it is stated that Mark appointed Yacobos pastor of all Coptic possessions in the Holy Land—the Church of the Resurrection and the Holy Places, the shrines, the sanctuaries, and monasteries outside the Church of the Resurrection.
- Christodoulos I (1631-1648) was a contemporary of MATTHEW III (1634-1649).
- Gabriel I (1680-1705) was a contemporary of JOHN XVI (1676-1718).
- Christodoulos II (1720-1725) was a contemporary of PETER VI (1718-1726).
- Athanasius I (1725-1766) was a contemporary of Patriarch Peter VI, who, according to the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS, appointed him to succeed Christodoulos, whom he transferred to Ethiopia.
- Yusab I (1770-1796) was a contemporary of JOHN XVIII (1769-1796).
- Christodoulos III (1797-1819) was a contemporary of MARK VIII (1796-1809) and PETER VII al-Jawli (1809-1852).
- Abraham I (1820-1854) was a contemporary of Peter VII. He participated with Anba Sarabamun, known as Abu Tarhah, bishop of Minufiyyah, in promoting Dawud al-Antuni (later CYRIL IV) to the patriarchate.
- BASILIOS II (1856-1899), called “the Great,” was consecrated by Patriarch CYRIL IV (1854-1861) and survived into the reigns of DEMETRIUS II (1862-1870) and CYRIL V (1874-1927).
- Timotheos I (1899-1925) was consecrated by Cyril V as bishop to aid Basilios II in 1896. He succeeded Basilios in 1899.
- BASILIOS III (1925-1935) was a contemporary of Cyril V and JOHN XIX (1928-1942).
- Theophilos I (1935-1945) was a contemporary of John XIX.
- YACOBOS II (1946-1956) was consecrated by Patriarch YUSAB II.
- Basilios IV (1959-) was consecrated in 1969 by CYRIL VI (1959-1971).
The Church of the Resurrection stands above the Holy Sepulcher. Some nearby properties are residences for the Coptic priests who conduct the religious rites. They also own icons and lamps that are used during services. The Copts’ right of residence at the church dates back to 384 when the Tall Brothers lived there.
Many authors and pilgrims have written about the Christian groups in the church. In 1697, Maundrell (1810) observed that Greek, Latin, Armenian, and Coptic priests labored there. Noting payments imposed by the Turks and high salaries, he wrote that the only sects who were able to preserve their places were the Latins, Armenians, and Copts. Both Elzearius Horn (1738) and Borsum (1823) observed that the Latins, Greeks, and Copts were the only sects whose priests resided inside the church.
The Copts possess the following reserved areas:
- A place that faces the Coptic church in the Church of the Resurrection. It has two doors and two stories, with two rooms on the first and three on the second. Coptic priests reside in these rooms.
- Columns 10 and 11 under the dome, which bear two Coptic icons. In front are two Coptic lamps.
- Three arches connecting columns 9, 10, and 11, on which hang Coptic icons and lamps.
- A two-storied structure west of the main gate of the Church of the Resurrection. The first story has one room and the upper level one room and a balcony with windows overlooking the two porches of the Church of the Resurrection and Golgotha as well as the Stone of Unction. The rooms themselves serve as residences for Coptic priests.
- A bell that is rung prior to the opening of the main door of the church. Only Latins, Greeks, Copts, and Armenians possess bells at the Church of the Resurrection.
Of the Christian sects represented in the Church of the Resurrection—Greek Orthodox, Latin, Armenian, Coptic Orthodox, and Syrian Orthodox—some have sole responsibility for certain relics in the church, whereas the Greeks, Latins, Armenians, and Copts share responsibility for others. According to Pélissié du Rausas (1902-1905, Vol. 2, pp. 148, 152, 154), this division was made to prevent disputes. The five groups jointly possess the passages, hallways, the lateral nave, the dome, the staircases leading to the chapel of the Invention of the Cross, the water cistern in the northwest corner of the church, and the passage that leads there. The two common possessions of the Latins, Greek Orthodox, Armenians, and Copts are the Stone of Unction and the Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher.
The specific rights and revenues of Copts in the church are as follows:
- They possess exclusive use and care of six candelabra inside the Holy Sepulcher and the Sanctuary of the Angel candelabra (four within the Holy Sepulcher, one in the Sanctuary of the Angel, and one above the Stone of Unction).
- The Copts have a right to official entrances to the church, as do the other communities represented there. Through these entrances pass formal processions, such occasions customarily occurring on Saturdays and Sundays of Lent and on feast days.
- The Copts have a permanent right to hold processions when holding services, especially on Good Friday, on Holy Saturday, at dawn on Easter Sunday, and on Whitsunday. Van Egmont said that he saw the Whitsunday procession, which involved Greeks and Armenians, followed by Copts and Syrians. On Good Friday, the Church of the Resurrection is opened in the name of the Copts.
- The Copts have the right to cense before all the holy relics in the church twice daily, including feast days.
- The Copts also have the right to celebrate the morning and evening prayers of the Holy Litany.
Within the Church of the Resurrection the Copts have a chapel named after the Virgin Mary, which is venerated as most sacred not only because it is situated behind the Holy Sepulcher but also because it is considered an integral part of the church’s structure. Contemporary with the Church of the Resurrection, the chambers of this chapel have housed Coptic monks since the second half of the fourth century.
When Emperor Constantine Monomachos completed the rebuilding of the Church of the Resurrection in 1048, the Coptic sanctuary behind the Holy Sepulcher was left intact. The Crusaders, while persecuting the clergy of Oriental churches, preserved this Coptic sanctuary. When Saladin entered Jerusalem in 1187, he rewarded the loyalty of the Copts by restoring the places that had been taken from them.
When fire spread from the Armenian chapel on 30 September 1808, it destroyed the dome of the Church of the Resurrection and damaged the columns and marble floor. Only the dome of the Sepulcher, the Latins’ church, the Cave of the Cross, and the museum of the holy relics survived intact. By good fortune, the church chapel suffered only superficial damage. It was redecorated in 1901.
Above the chapel’s altar is an icon of the Holy Virgin carrying Jesus; above it is an icon of the Resurrection. From the ceiling are suspended twenty-four silver lamps, some or all of which are lit at prayer times and during feasts. The archbishop of Jerusalem has a special throne, which is placed opposite the chapel, between columns 9 and 10 of the rotunda.
The Church of Saint Antony is the principal church in the Monastery of Anba Antuniyus, situated next to the Church of the Resurrection. The monastery was renovated and enlarged in 1875 and again in 1907. In 1912 it became the official headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of the See of Jerusalem, and it has been mentioned by a number of travelers, including Luke (1922, p. 45) and Hanauer (1926, p. 97).
The church is on the first floor of the monastery. It was built before the days of Anba Basilios II, archbishop from 1856 to 1899. It was renovated and decorated in 1913 by Anba Timotheos, then archbishop. This is recorded on a marble plate fixed to the door of the church. There is one sanctuary in the church, which is one of the few Coptic churches whose main entrance opens to the east. Over the years, atmospheric conditions had affected the ceiling and walls, and extensive renovations were carried out in 1960, including the installation of a marble altar, a new door, and a new pulpit and a bishop’s throne. All the icons were repainted, except for those on the iconostasis.
Mass and prayers are held in the church every Saturday and daily during pilgrimage and visiting seasons. Evening prayers are held every day, and mass is celebrated on feast days.
The Church of Queen Helena is on the ground floor of the Coptic Patriarchate in Jerusalem, close to the ninth station of the cross, where Christ fell for the third time. Opposite lies the Coptic monastery DAYR AL-SULTAN. The historical significance of the church lies in the water reservoir beneath it. This reservoir, called the Well of Queen Helena, can be reached from within the church. It is said that Queen Helena used water from the reservoir in the building of the Church of the Resurrection in the fourth century. Neophytos (1938) referred to its rediscovery by Copts in 1835.
The church, which has one sanctuary, was enlarged and completely renovated in the 1980s. The altar was replaced and a Coptic iconostasis inserted. A new chapel dedicated to Queen Helena was built. Mass is usually held every Tuesday and on feast days, but daily during the season of pilgrimage and visiting.
The Church of the Apparition of the Holy Virgin was built to commemorate the appearance of the Virgin in 1954 at that site. There is one sanctuary in the church and an icon above the altar depicting the Holy Virgin carrying the infant Jesus. There is also an image of the Holy Virgin on the ceiling of the church. Mass is celebrated every Monday morning.
The Church of Saint George is in the Coptic Orthodox Monastery of Saint George near the Hebron gate in Old Jerusalem. The exact date of its construction is unknown, though Tobler (1853-1854) mentioned that the monastery and the church were in the same place in 1720 and were visited by pilgrims and others. Ulrich Seetzen (1854-1869), who visited the Holy Land in 1806, mentioned the monastery and its church among the possessions of the Copts at the time.
In the Patriarchate in Jerusalem there are three official documents that refer to the monastery. The first is an inventory dated 1820; the second, from the same year, is an order by the Islamic court that includes a permit to repair a number of monasteries, including that of Saint George; and the third, dated 1821, records that the repaired parts of the monastery were examined and found to comply with the orders. Neophytos (1938) mentioned this monastery while writing about the houses bought by the Greek Catholic sect nearby. It was also mentioned by Robinson (1841), who said that it lay north of the pool of Hezekiah. Tobler (1853-1854) said that the monastery’s budget depended largely upon the donations of pilgrims and ranged between 3,000 and 5,000 piasters annually. He also described the Church of Saint George inside the monastery, saying that the accessories were simple and that it contained some of the remains of Saint George kept in a red reliquary. Lorenzen (1859), Petermann (1860), and Gatt (1877) mentioned the monastery and said that a number of Coptic monks lived there permanently.
Anba Basilios II renovated the monastery and the church. He also made a Byzantine iconostasis for the church. His successor, Anba Timotheos, carried out further renovation in 1901. In 1961 and 1962, Anba Basilios IV carried out a complete renovation of the church, including the installation of a new altar and new seats. There is one altar in the church. Mass is held every Thursday during the season of pilgrimage and on feast days. Two annual masses are held, the first on Saint George’s Day and the second on the Thursday before the end of Lent. Next to the Church of Saint George, on the grounds of the monastery, a Coptic college for women was established in 1953.
The Church of Michael the Archangel is one of two churches in Dayr al-Sultan in Jerusalem and is one of the oldest Coptic churches in the Holy Land. It was possibly built by Mansur al-Tilbani, who was pastor in Jerusalem and other places during the second half of the eleventh century.
This church was so famous that its name was given to the monastery in which it is now housed, as evidenced by many documents in the Coptic Patriarchate in Jerusalem in which the monastery is called the “Monastery of the Angel.”
The door of the church opens onto the yard of the Church of the Resurrection. It can also be reached from the Coptic Patriarchate. There is one altar in the church and an iconostasis of wood and ivory in the form of crosses in typical Coptic style. On the sanctuary door two lines in Arabic are inscribed. The first line reads, “Consecrated to the Archangel Michael in Holy Jerusalem,” and the second, “O Lord, restore the weary.”
The inscription tells us that the iconostasis was made in 1742. It has two side doors. On the right one is written, “He who enters through this door is redeemed, and who believes is saved.” On the left door is written, “The Lord Jesus sat by the tabernacle in the sanctuary.” On the iconostasis are icons of the twelve disciples, and in the middle is an icon of the Resurrection. Other icons in the church are of Anba Antuniyus, Anba Bula, Saint Theodorus (Tadrus), the Holy Virgin, the Crucifixion, Jesus, and the archangel Michael.
On the right of the sanctuary are three ancient chapels, each containing a Coptic icon. One of these, an icon of the archangel Michael, dates to 1479, and the others are probably of the same period.
The Church of the Four Beasts of the Revelation is the second Coptic church in Dayr al-Sultan in Jerusalem. Its name derives from the four creatures mentioned in the book of Revelation (4:2ff.). Churches have been built to commemorate these creatures, and their memory is celebrated by preachers on 8 Hatur every year.
The church is situated above that of Michael the Archangel at the monastery. It can be reached from the Coptic Patriarchate through the monastery. It can also be reached through the Church of Saint Michael by means of a staircase.
The church is very old and has one sanctuary. Its iconostasis is made of wood and ivory in the old Coptic style. Upon the iconostasis are two inscriptions. The first consists of two lines: the first line reads, “Your dwellings are beloved, Lord God of Hosts,” and the second, “Ye eternal gates open and let the Lord of Glory in.” The second inscription is also of two lines: the first, written in Coptic and Arabic, reads, “Hail to the altar of God the Father,” and the second, “Restore, O Lord, the weary in the Kingdom of Heaven.” On the iconostasis there are three very old icons and on the southern wall are icons of the archangel Michael, Jesus, the four creatures, and the Holy Virgin. On the eastern wall, behind the altar, there is an icon representing Abraham and Isaac.
The church is surrounded by an iron fence. It has a door that leads to the Sanctuary of the Vault of the Cross.
The Church of the Sepulcher of the Holy Virgin in Gethsemane is in the valley of Kedron, near the foot of the Mount of Olives, where the sepulcher of the Holy Virgin lies. A small church was built above the sepulcher in the middle of the fourth century in the days of Theodosius the Great (379-395). In the fifth century a larger church was built, the Church of the Holy Virgin Mary. It was damaged during the Persian invasion in 614 but was soon rebuilt. It was damaged again during the reign of the Fatimid sultan al-Hakim and was rebuilt in its present form by the Crusaders in 1130.
Amico (1953) and Nau (1679) both mentioned an altar in the church used by the Copts. The altar where the Copts pray today lies west of the well, which is itself west of the Sepulcher of the Holy Virgin. Prayers are held at this altar on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year and every day during fasting and feasts of the Virgin. Masses are also celebrated at the church, and these are attended by the Coptic clergy and the people in a formal procession from the Coptic Patriarchate to the church across the Via Dolorosa.
Pierre Loti (1896), writing about his visit to the Holy Land, says about the Sepulcher of the Holy Virgin, “We stood by the Sepulcher of the Holy Virgin, an old church from the fourth century over which all the sects have disputed for many centuries. It now belongs jointly to the Greeks and Armenians, but the Copts have a special place for prayer.”
According to Neophytos (1938) the Church of the Ascension “had a big dome upon which a large cross of bronze was fixed and covered with colored glass. At sunrise the rays of the sun reflected these colors on the city of Jerusalem. After the Arab conquest of Jerusalem in 640 the cross was removed. During the rule of the Crusaders this church was preserved, but it was demolished during Saladin’s conquest of the city. Only a small dome remained covering the place where Christ ascended to heaven. Saladin preserved this dome due to the Moslems’ respect for the spot. This could be the reason why they built a mihrab south of the dome.”
The Copts have a permanent stone altar in the church, where they pray on the eve of Ascension Day itself. On Ascension Eve, prayers start at 2:30 P.M. The Copts enter the church in procession and, after visiting the place of the Ascension, perform their prayers, which end at about 5:00 P.M. The procession then returns to the patriarchate. On Ascension Day, mass is held at 7:30 A.M. The procession visits the place of the Ascension and then prayers are offered. During mass, deacons make a procession under the dome bearing incense, and after prayers they visit the place of the Ascension and return to the patriarchate.
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