The ancient privileges of the See of Alexandria, as confirmed by the sixth canon of the Council of NICAEA (325), placed the provinces of Egypt, Libya, and the Pentapolis in Cyrenaica under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Alexandria, although these provinces had their own metropolitans.
Ancient and Medieval Times
The Metropolitan See of Ptolemaïs in the Pentapolis (Cyrenaica) was established by Saint MARK the Evangelist before he visited Alexandria for the first time. After consecrating ANIANUS (68-85) bishop of Alexandria, he returned to the Pentapolis “and remained there two years, preaching and appointing bishops and priests and deacons in all their districts,” according to Sawirus. The following were among the bishops of this see: Basilides, whose name was recorded by Eusebius as “bishop of the parishes in the Pentapolis,” to whom DIONYSIUS, patriarch of Alexandria (d. 264), addressed various epistles. Only one epistle has survived; it contains explanations given as answers to questions proposed by that bishop on various topics, later received as canons of the Council in Trullo.
Siderius, bishop of Palaebisca and Hydrax, was consecrated by one bishop (Philo), not three as was the custom. Saint Athanasius (326-373) condoned that irregularity in view of the Arian troubles. He was later translated to the metropolitan see of Ptolemaïs. Synesius (c. 370-414), though married (contrary to the canons of the church), was consecrated bishop of Ptolemaïs by Pope THEOPHILUS of Alexandria (Smith and Wace, 1974, pp. 756-80).
This see must have continued until the end of the fifteenth century, for Qiryaqus, metropolitan of the Pentapolis, was mentioned by Pope JOHN XIII (1484-1524). He was among those bishops who were unable to reach their sees at the beginning of the sixteenth century because of the Ottoman conquest of that region. Consequently the metropolitan was obliged to abandon his see and live in the desert of SCETIS (Kam’il Salih Nakhlah, 1954, Vol. 4, pp. 59-60). Thereafter, no mention is made of that see except for the inclusion of its name in the honorific titles of the patriarch of Alexandria.
As a first step in formally reestablishing the See of the Pentapolis nowadays, Pope SHENOUDA III added the name of Pentapolis to that of the metropolitan See of Beheirah, in the process of consecrating its present bishop.
The Metropolitan See of Ethiopia was established by Pope Athanasius, who consecrated FRUMENTIUS as bishop (c. 340). Frumentius was called ABUN (our father), and until 1950 the metropolitan or abun of Ethiopia was an Egyptian appointed by the patriarch of Alexandria. The last Egyptian abun of Ethiopia was consecrated in 1929 and died on 22 October 1950. Thereafter, Anba Basilius, the Ethiopian bishop of Shewa, was chosen the first Ethiopic abun of Ethiopia by Pope YUSAB II (1946-1956). On 2 September 1951, five Ethiopian bishops were consecrated by Abuna Basilius, in accordance with the patriarch’s approval.
In 1959, after long negotiations, the status of the Ethiopian church was finally recognized by the See of Alexandria as autonomous and autocephalous, and its head was consecrated by the patriarch of Alexandria as “Catholicus,” though in Ethiopia itself he bears the title Patriarch.
Pope CYRIL III IBN LAQLAQ (1235-1243) was the first Alexandrian patriarch to consecrate a Coptic metropolitan for Jerusalem, the Littoral, and Syria (see JERUSALEM, COPTIC SEE OF); this caused considerable friction between him and the patriarch of Antioch (Kam’il Salih Nakhlah, 1954; Vol. 1, pp. 59, 82-90). The patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch shortly afterward reached a compromise: the latter recognized the jurisdiction of the new metropolitan, and the former agreed to extend it no farther than Gaza.
It is decreed in the fifth canon of Cyril ibn Laqlaq “that the signature of the metropolitan of Gaza and that which ajoins it shall be required for conforming to the aforementioned belief of the Jacobite Church, and for [his] conformity to that which conforms to it, and that he rejects those whom the Councils reject, and that if he does not conform with this, he shall be excommunicated” (Burmester, 1946-1947, p. 108).
Despite this, the see has always been regarded as the metropolitan See of Jerusalem and the Near East. It is now recognized as a patriarchate, although it is superintended by a metropolitan.
The site now known as Old Cairo is mentioned by Strabo, the Greek geographer and historian (24 B.C.), and by Ptolemy (A.D. 121-151) under the name BABYLON. This city was a bishopric by the fifth century or before, since there is mention of a certain Cyrus, bishop of Babylon, among the Egyptian bishops who were present at the Council of Ephesus held in 449 (Munier, 1943, p. 19).
After the ARAB CONQUEST OF EGYPT there arose a new quarter called al-Fustat; the city became the capital of Egypt and the seat of government, and was eventually known as Misr. Hence, it was sometimes recognized as a metropolitan see. Already in 743 we read of a certain Theodorus the Metropolitan, bishop of Misr, who assisted in the election of Pope KHA’IL I (Munier, 1943, p. 25).
The See of Misr replaced the older See of Babylon, and its cathedral church was that of Saint Mercurius (CHURCH OF ABU SAYFAYN) until the reign of Pope CHRISTODOULUS (1047-1077), who transferred the seat of the patriarchate from Alexandria to Cairo and made this church a patriarchal one. On the death of Anba Yu’annis, bishop of Misr (1122), Pope GABRIEL II ibn Turayk (1131-1145) did not consecrate anyone after him for Misr. But, in 1240, in the patriarchate of Cyril III Ibn Laqlaq, Anba BULUS AL-BUSHI was consecrated bishop of the See of Misr (Burmester, 1950-1957, pp. 117-31).
Pope CYRIL IV (1854-1861) reestablished the metropolitan See of Misr by consecrating Anba Butrus as bishop and promoting him to the metropolitan rank. This was the last metropolitan of the See of Misr.
The date at which the See of Damietta (DUMYAT) was raised to metropolitan status is uncertain. In the twelfth century, there was Mikha’il, bishop of Damietta, who was a contemporary of Pope MICHAEL V and who refuted Murqus ibn Qanbar in the days of Pope MARK III (Burmester, 1936, pp. 101-128).
In the thirteenth century, there was Anba Christodoulus ibn al- Duhayri, metropolitan of Damietta, who wrote a Coptic grammar (Graf, 1947, p. 378). He was a contemporary of Pope Cyril ibn Laqlaq III, who spoke of the metropolitan See of Damietta in his canons, indicating “that the rank of the metropolitan of Damietta who is at present [occupying this see] shall remain according to the custom of those who preceded him in the aforementioned frontier city of Damietta and according to that which in contained in the biographies of the patriarchs for those like him [who are] in it” (Burmester, 1946-1947, p. 108).
In the fourteenth century, Gregory, metropolitan of Damietta, attended the consecration of the holy chrism in 1320 and in 1330 (Kam’il Salih Nakhlah, 1954, pp. 34, 52).
Gradually, however, this see lost its distinctive status to become part of a larger adjacent see for long periods. It was reinstated in the twentieth century, but was headed by a bishop, not a metropolitan.
According to A. J. Butler (1884, Vol. 2, p. 313), who quoted the seventeenth-century traveler J. M. Vansleb, there were only three metropolitan sees: Damietta, Jerusalem, and Ethiopia. According to Vatican Coptic manuscript 45 (seventeenth-century, though probably copied from a thirteenth-century one) the metropolitan sees were Damietta, Abyssinia (Ethiopia), and Jerusalem (Munier, 1943, p. 65).
In addition to the three sees just noted, one reads of Anba Butrus, metropolitan of Jirja and Upper Sa‘id, who was consecrated by Pope MARK VII (1745-1769). In a pastoral letter, Anba Butrus mentioned his metropolitan jurisdiction as the See of Jirja and Upper Said, and all the Christian people in the See of Akhmim, Jirja, Qift, Qus, Naqadah, Isna, Armant, and their environs.
Metropolitan Theophilus was consecrated (1808) by Pope MARK VIII (1796-1809) as a general metropolitan and acted as the pope’s assistant until his death six months later. Subsequently, Theophilus was elected to the patriarchate under the name of PETER VII, surnamed al-Jawli (1809-1852).
Metropolitan Cyril, who was consecrated a general metropolitan in April 1853 following the decease of Peter VII, was installed as patriarch under the name Cyril IV in June 1854.
Four more metropolitans were consecrated by Pope Cyril IV (1854-1861): Anba BASILIUS, metropolitan of Jerusalem, al- Sharqiyyah, al-Daqahliyyah, al-Gharbiyyah, and al-Qanal (Suez Canal); Anba Yu’annis, metropolitan of al-Minufiyyah; Anba Murqus, metropolitan of Beheira; and Anba Butrus, bishop and, later, metropolitan of Cairo.
Butler (1884, Vol. 2, pp. 312-13) mentioned four metropolitans or archbishops under the jurisdiction of the Coptic patriarch, those of Alexandria, Minufiyyah, Jerusalem, and Abyssinia.
The title metropolitan is now used in purely honorific sense for those with only diocesan, not provincial, powers.
Apart from Ethiopia, which became a patriarchate in 1951 (headed by a catholicus having his own metropolitans and bishops), and Jerusalem, which is a Coptic patriarchate superintended by a Coptic metropolitan, all the dioceses of Egypt and the Sudan are now called metropolitan sees, which, though sometimes headed by metropolitans, are more commonly superintended by bishops liable to promotion in due course.
At present there are eight metropolitan sees: Asyut; Jerusalem and the Middle East; Jirja; Nubia, Umm Durman, and ‘Atbarah; al- Khartum South and Uganda; al-Qalyubiyyah; Bani Suef and al- Bahnasa; and Giza and Atfih.
- Burmester, O. H. E. “The Sayings of Michael, Metropolitan of Damietta.” Orientalis Christiana Periodica 2 (1936):101-128.
- . “The Canons of Cyril II ibn Laqlaq.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 12 (1946-1947):81-136, and 14 (1950-1957):113-50.
- Butler, A. J. The Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt. Oxford, 1884. Kam’il Salih Nakhlah. Silsilat Tarikh al-Babawat Batarikat al-Kursi al-Iskandari. Dayr al-Suryan, 1954.
- Munier, H. Recueil des listes episcopales de l’église copte. Cairo, 1943.
- Neale, J. M. A History of the Holy Eastern Church: The Patriarchate of Alexandria, 2 vols. London, 1847.
- Samu’il al-Suryani. Al-Adyirah al-Misriyyah al-‘Amirah. Cairo, 1968.
EMILE MAHER ISHAQ