POPE IN THE COPTIC CHURCH

From the Latin papa and the Greek pappas, diminutive for “father”; the Coptic apa is from the Aramaic abba (hence the Arabic baba after the Arab conquest). In medieval Arabic literature, the term also appears as al-Bab. The title “pope” has been in use in the Egyptian church from the beginning of the third century (Neale, Vol. 1, p. 113) for the highest Eastern prelates and patriarchs, suggesting their spiritual paternity. In Rome its use began in the second half of the fourth century. From the sixth century, it was reserved in the West for the bishop of Rome. Today it designates an ordinary priest among the Greeks (pappas). Remnants of it have been preserved among the Slavs (pop, pip).

In Alexandria and among the Copts, “pope” designates the head of the Coptic church; the full title is “pope and patriarch of the great city of Alexandria and of all Egypt, the Pentapolis and Pelousia, Nubia, the Sudan, Jerusalem, Libya, Ethiopia and all Africa, and all countries of the preaching of Saint Mark, archbishop of Cairo and Fustat.” From ancient times the Coptic church has been organized as a quasi-monarchical institution. Therefore the Council of NICAEA (325) stated: “Let the ancient custom prevail that was in vogue in Egypt and Libya and the Pentapolis, to allow the bishop of Alexandria to have authority over all these parts, since this is also the treatment usually accorded to the bishop of Rome” (canon VI).

Traditionally the popes of Alexandria were chosen from among the monks of the Coptic monasteries by a council composed of the chiefs of the clergy and the ARCHONS (chiefs of the Coptic laity). The election was then confirmed by a synod of bishops, and their choice was ratified by the civil authority. Immediately after the death of a pontiff, news of his decease was circulated by from Alexandria to all bishops, abbots, and archons. It called for an assembly, first for the appointment of a senior archbishop to serve as patriarch after securing sanction from the temporal sovereign of the country.

Subsequently, the faithful prepared for the election by praying, fasting, and holding vigils. Habitually in olden times the problem was solved by the will and testament of the deceased pontiff, who recommended a specific person to follow him. In case of disagreement among the living, a protracted method of selection and elimination was pursued until a final decision was reached.

The nominee was required to fulfill certain conditions. He had to be a person of free birth, the son of a “crowned” mother, that is, of a woman in her first marriage (widows remarrying were never crowned at a second ceremony). He also had to be of sound body and mind, unmarried, over fifty years of age, never tarnished by bloodshed, a man of learning with a blameless life and pure doctrine, a dweller in the desert, but no bishop. This last limitation was enforced with unwavering rigor from the beginning until the reign of the seventy-fifth patriarch, CYRIL III, in 1235.

It is said that under Muhammadan rule in the eleventh century, a recommended that the Copts use the Nestorian custom of elimination from a hundred candidates until they arrived at a list of three names that were inscribed on three slips of paper. These were to be placed with a fourth, bearing the name of Jesus Christ, in an envelope on the altar. After the celebration of the liturgical offices, an innocent child was asked to draw the winning name. If it happened to be Jesus, all three candidates were rejected as unworthy, and the procedure was repeated until a name was found.

This method was first adopted by the Copts in the election of the sixty-fifth patriarch, Sanutius or SHENUTE II (1032-1046), and afterward was used only occasionally in doubtful cases until the election of the present pope, SHENOUDA III, in 1971. The only difference from the Nestorian system was that the Copts placed the names under rather than on the altar. Subsequently the acting archbishop proclaimed the selected name in church, and the congregation confirmed the selection by acclamation, shouting agios, agios (holy, holy).

At a later date, the rule insisting on a simple monastic recluse from the desert was waived, on the premise that such a candidate was not equipped with sufficient knowledge of the outside world to govern the church in times of great peril when secular diplomacy was inevitable. Occasionally in the past, laymen had been promoted for that high dignity. In 616, ANDRONICUS, a deacon of Alexandria, was elevated to the patriarchate as the thirty-seventh in the line of succession from Saint Mark.

Similarly, others who were celibate but not regular monks were selected, and most of them proved to be excellent choices. Most prominent among them were AGATHON (661-677), the and the second under Arab rule, and Ephraim or ABRAHAM (975-978), the sixty- second patriarch. More laymen were elected through the Middle Ages, but this practice has been avoided in the modern period.

With the reestablishment of the monastic rule, once a monk was selected, a deputation of bishops and archons went to his monastery and brought the candidate back from the desert in chains. The custom of chaining their choice must have started in remote antiquity, for pious monks were prone to refuse this preferment and often fled from the deputation, hiding from their pursuers. Perhaps the first example was the twelfth pope, DEMETRIUS I (189-231), who was no monk but an illiterate rustic in charge of a vineyard— and was married. His predecessor, Bishop JULIAN, the eleventh patriarch (180-189), had a vision while on his deathbed of a man bringing him a bunch of early grapes, and this man was marked by the angel of the Lord to succeed him.

The following morning, when Demetrius came to the patriarch with a bunch of grapes, Julian told his companions that Demetrius was his successor. Demetrius protested in vain, citing his illiteracy and married state, but Julian’s enchained him and took him for enthronement. He proved to be one of the ablest patriarchs. The same story has recurred in the Middle Ages and modern times of monks who tried to escape preferment to the pontificate as a sign of humility, perhaps also for fear of the dangers besetting that position in ages of persecution.

As a simple monk, the chosen candidate had to go through the necessary preferments in successive days from priest to high priest (qummus), but not bishop, before his final enthronement on a Sunday. In the case of a celibate layman, the candidate had first to take the monastic vow before going through the same procedure.

The ceremony of papal investiture was originally held in the Cathedral of in Alexandria, where the traditional seat of the papacy remained until it was moved to Cairo by Pope CHRISTODOULUS (1047-1077) in the eleventh century, so it would be within reach of the reigning Muhammadan authority. First, the pope resided at al-Mu‘allaqah Church in Old Cairo. Later he moved to the Church of the Virgin at HARIT AL-RUM. In the nineteenth century CYRIL IV (1854-1861) constructed Saint Mark’s Cathedral in the Azbakiyyah district, and built a new patriarchal residence and his school in the same area.

During the pontificate of CYRIL VI (1959-1971), the new and majestic Cathedral of Saint Mark, together with the patriarchal palace and the various theological institutions, were established at ANBA RUWAYS, which was originally a Coptic cemetery. (The authorities moved the cemetery outside the city to the Red Mountain region, al-Jabal al- Ahmar.)

The description of the ceremony of consecration of the pope has been preserved by Alfred J. Butler in his Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt (Vol. 2, pp. 309-311). On the eve of his enthronement, the candidate, in chains, kept vigil by the tomb of Saint Mark; after the body of the evangelist was stolen, the vigil was by the remains of the candidate’s predecessor. The following morning, after the matins service was sung, the solemn liturgical service was officiated by the senior bishop:

After the reading of the lessons, the chains are loosed; and when the passage from the Acts is finished, a procession is formed to the altar. First come the bearing uplifted crosses, burning tapers, and flabella; then a priest swinging a thurible, and behind him another priest bearing the silver or golden gospel; next the archdeacon; the senior bishop followed by the other prelates walking two by two; the patriarch elect, vested in dalmatic and amice, and moving with bowed head between two priests; and lastly all the other in due order. Thus they advance with music and chants to the haykal, where all salute the altar.

After the first gospel the senior bishop sits on the throne, and all the bishops on the bench of the tribune beside him, facing westward; but the patriarch stands below between the altar and the throne, and faces eastward, a priest holding him on either side; and all the and sit on the lower steps below the prelates. Then the senior bishop gives the decree or instrument of election to a deacon, who takes it to the ambo, and reads it aloud. All the bishops subscribe their consent; after which three priests and three deacons of Alexandria, and either the abbot of Dayr Anba Maqar, or the ruler of Alexandria or Babylon, i.e. Cairo, sign the document.

After this impressive function, the bishops move toward the altar while hymns are sung and the senior bishop conducts prayers with incense, then in silence lays his right hand on the patriarch’s head as the archdeacon reiterates the proclamation. The other bishops lay hands on the pope with their eyes lifted toward heaven. Then the senior bishop signs the patriarch with the cross, declares him “archbishop in the holy Church of God of the great city of Alexandria,” and vests him with the epitrachelion and chasuble.

Long prayers follow while the instrument of ordination is read by a deacon from the ambo. The bishop then proclaims the patriarch, and the congregation responds with the words agios, agios (holy, holy). The Gospel is placed on the patriarch’s head and, after he receives the pallium, the cape, the crown, and the staff, he is led to the throne, as the bishops standing below doff their miters.

Finally, the patriarch conducts the full liturgy, and afterward he is led in a similar, impressive procession to his cell or residence, where homage is rendered to him by the clergy and the laity.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Atiya, A. S. A History of Eastern Christianity. London, 1967. Burmester, O. H. E. The Egyptian or Coptic Church. Cairo, 1967. El-Masri, Iris H. The Story of the Coptic Church. Cairo, 1978.
  • Guettee, R.-F. The Papacy: Its Historic Relations with the Eastern Churches. New York, 1866.
  • Macaire, C. Histoire de l’église d’Alexandrie. Cairo, 1894. Maspero, J. Histoire des patriarches d’Alexandrie. Paris, 1923. Meinardus, O. F. A. Christian Egypt: Ancient and Modern, 2nd rev. 1977. Cairo, 1977.
  • Neale, J. M. A History of the Holy Eastern Church: General Introduction, 2 vols. London, 1850.
  • Riedel, W. Die Kirchenrechtsquellen des Patriarchats Alexandrien. Leipzig, 1900.
  • Roncaglia, M. P. Histoire de l’église copte, 7 vols. Beirut, 1966-1973; reprinted Beirut, 1985-.
  • Verghese, P. Koptisches —Die orthodoxen Kirchen Ägyptens und Äthiopiens. Stuttgart, 1973.

PETRO BILANIUK