The head of the Coptic church. The word is a composite term originating from and words: pater (father) or patria (lineage, race, people, nation) and archos (leader or chief). In the Coptic church, the term signifies the head of the entire church organization with archbishops, bishops, and priests under his ecclesiastical authority. In the earliest times, the head of the church was the bishop of Alexandria, who came to be identified as pappas, or POPE, in the third century during the of Heraclas. Gradually both “patriarch” and “pope” were used interchangeably to describe the head of the Egyptian church.

The term then spread to other Eastern churches—Armenian, Jacobite, Nestorian. In the church, the term appears as “patriarch-catholicos.” In the Roman Catholic church, the patriarch is a rank above bishop but under the ecclesiastical authority of the Roman pope. Hence it has several patriarchs, each the head of a region of the general church.

In Ethiopia, from the time of FRUMENTIUS in the fourth century, the church was headed by a bishop or archbishop chosen from among the Coptic clergy until 1959, when Emperor HAILE SELASSIE pleaded for the elevation of a native to head his church as patriarch. An agreement was reached between the Ethiopian and Egyptian delegations under CYRIL VI. It was suggested in the deliberations of the conference that the Western method of multiple patriarchs under the pope of Alexandria might be applied. But the Egyptian delegation could not accept that system owing to the long-standing connotation of the term “patriarch” in Egyptian history, which has always signified the sole head of the church and the equivalent of the pope. Thus the Ethiopian prelate became the only patriarch or patriarch- branching from the Coptic patriarchate.


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