Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church

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Bishop of Alexandria
Tawadros II of Alexandria.jpg
Coat of arms of the Bishop of Alexandria
Coat of arms
Tawadros II
selected 18 November 2012
StyleHis Holiness
Ecclesiastical provinceAlexandria, Egypt, Pentapolis, Libya, Nubia, Sudan and all Africa
First holderSaint Mark
RiteAlexandrian rite
Established42 AD
CathedralSaint Mark Cathedral in Alexandria
Saint Mark Cathedral in Cairo
Coptic Orthodox Church Network

The Coptic Orthodox pope (Coptic: Ⲡⲁⲡⲁ, romanized: Papa; Arabic: البابا, romanizedal-Bābā), also known as the Bishop of Alexandria, is the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, with ancient Christian roots in Egypt. The current holder of this position is Pope Tawadros II, who was selected as the 118th pope on November 18, 2012.

Following the traditions of the church, the pope is chairman and head of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria as a first among equals. The Holy Synod is the highest authority in the Church of Alexandria, which has between 12 and 18 million members worldwide, 10 to 14 million of whom are in Egypt. It formulates the rules and regulations regarding matters of the church's organization, faith, and order. The pope is also the chairman of the church's General Congregation Council.

Although historically associated with the city of Alexandria, the residence and Seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria has been located in Cairo since 1047. The pope is currently established in Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, inside a compound which includes the Patriarchal Palace, with an additional residence at the Monastery of Saint Pishoy.

After the death of Shenouda III on March 17, 2012 the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church voted on a successor. The names of the three candidates who received most votes were put in a glass chalice. One name was then picked by a blindfolded boy, believed to be guided by the hand of God. The man thus picked by 'Divine Choice' became the new Patriarch of Alexandria.

The liturgy of the Altar Ballot took place on November 4, 2012. The 60-year-old Bishop Tawadoros, Auxiliary Bishop of Beheira, assistant to Metropolitan Pachomios of Beheira, was chosen as the 118th Pope of Alexandria. He then chose the name of Theodoros II. He was formally enthroned on November 18, 2012.[1]


The early Christian Church recognized the special significance of several cities as leaders of the worldwide Church. The Church of Alexandria is one of these original patriarchates, but the succession to the role of patriarch in Alexandria is still disputed after the separation which followed the Council of Chalcedon.

The later development of the Pentarchy also granted secular recognition to these religious leaders. Because of this split, the leadership of this church is not part of this system.

Members of the church recognize its head as a successor of Mark the Evangelist, considered the first Bishop of Alexandria, who founded the Church in the 1st century, and therefore marked the beginning of Christianity in Africa.[2]

Official title[edit]

Papal styles of
Pope Theodoros II
Coptic cross.svg
Reference styleHis Most Blessed Beatitude and His Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious stylePope and Patriarch

The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is known as Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa on the Holy See of St. Mark the Apostle. The Successor of St. Mark the Evangelist, Holy Apostle and Martyr, on the Holy Apostolic Throne of the Great City of Alexandria.

His full title is:

  • Pope and Lord Archbishop of the Great City of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Orthodox and Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle that is, in Egypt, Pentapolis, Libya, Nubia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and all Africa.

That is:

In being so, he is considered to be:

  • Father of Fathers.
  • Shepherd of Shepherds.
  • Hierarch of all Hierarchs

Honorary titles attributed to the Hierarch of the Alexandrine Throne are:

  • The Pillar and Defender of the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church and of the Orthodox Faith.
  • The Dean of the Great Catechetical School of Theology of Alexandria.
  • The Ecumenical (Universal) Judge (Arbitrator) of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic (Universal) Church.
  • The Thirteenth among the Holy Apostles.

Episcopal title[edit]

Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa

Pope (Coptic: Ⲡⲁⲡⲁ, papa) has been the specific designation for the Archbishop of Alexandria. Since Alexandria was the preaching center and place of martyrdom of the Apostle Saint Mark the Evangelist, the Pope's official title is

Pope and Lord Archbishop of the Great City of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa on the Holy Throne of St. Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle

or in short, "Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa". The Pope's ecclesiastical title is "Papa Abba". "Abba" stands for the devotion of all monastics, from Pentapolis in the West to Constantinople in the East, to his guidance.

The appellation of pope has been attributed to the Bishop or Archbishop of Alexandria since the episcopate of Heraclas, thirteenth Bishop of Alexandria (reigned 232-248). All the clergy of Alexandria and Lower Egypt honored him with the appellation papas, which means father, as the senior and elder bishop among all bishops within the Egyptian province, who were under his jurisdiction. This was almost three centuries before the title was assumed[citation needed] by Pope John I, Bishop of Rome (523–526), who ratified the Alexandrian computation of the date of Easter. Assumption of the title by Rome's pontiff did not strip it from Alexandria's, and the Roman Catholic Church recognizes this ecclesiastical fact.{{Citation needed|date=May 2016}

The appellation of pope became recognized as a title, but this did not mean that it represented a title different or higher than the title of patriarch. Among the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox thrones, only the Patriarch of Alexandria has the double title of Pope and Patriarch.

In the Roman Catholic viewpoint, this title does not have the same meaning as that of the Bishop of Rome, who was the only Primate in the West to be given the title of Pope in the beginning of the 5th century. The Pope of Rome is considered by the Roman Catholic Church as the Supreme Pontiff, holding the office of the Roman See (being one of the successors of Saint Peter). On the other hand, both the Oriental Orthodox and Byzantine Orthodox Churches respond by saying that their respective heads are equal with Rome and also note that Rome has deviated too much already from their original understanding.[citation needed].

The Roman Catholic Church considers that the Pope of Rome ranks higher than the four other popes and patriarchs of the Major Apostolic Thrones (Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem). This viewpoint is not accepted by the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The title patriarch means the head or the leader of a tribe or a community. Ecclesiastically it means the head of the fathers (bishops) and their congregation of faithful. This title is historically known as “Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa on the Holy Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark the Evangelist,” that is “of Alexandria and of all Africa.” The title of “patriarch” was first used around the time of the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, convened in 431 AD, and ratified at Chalcedon in 451 AD.

The Bishop of Alexandria also has the title of archbishop. This is a natural jurisdictional title for the ecclesiastical dignity of the Bishop of Alexandria. Ruling as a metropolitan, the bishop of the metropolis (i.e. Alexandria), had jurisdiction over the Roman Provinces of Egypt (Lower Egypt I and II, Arcadia Ægypti, Upper Egypt I and II (aka Thebais Prima and Thebais Secunda), Pentapolis, Libya and Nubia, which were at that time, the extent of the “Egyptian Provinces” within the Roman Empire. As set by the Ecumenical First Council of Nicaea 325 AD, the jurisdiction of the Archiepiscopate of Alexandria covered the above-mentioned provinces.

But since the demise of the Latin (Roman) North African Archiepiscopate of Carthage (which covered all of North and West Africa, apart from Egypt, Pentapolis and Libya) in the 8th century, Alexandria became the sole apostolic throne in the entire continent of Africa. The historical evangelization of the Apostolic Throne of Alexandria in Africa, apart from Egypt, Pentapolis, Libya, Nubia and the Sudan, does extend to:


It constituted a major archdiocese of the Church of Alexandria, which was always governed by an Egyptian patriarchal vicar in the rank of archbishop, and named Aboune Salama by the Ethiopian Church. By 1929, the Alexandrine Throne allowed the Ethiopian Clergy to participate in the governing of their own Church, and the first native Ethiopian archbishop was enthroned in 1930 (thus becoming an autonomous church).

In 1959, an agreement was reached between the Ethiopian Holy Synod and the Alexandrine throne to have their own patriarch-catholicos in a transitional period. The Ethiopian archbishop ordained as primate of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church back in 1950, was elevated by the Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria Joseph II in Cairo and enthroned in Addis Ababa by the members of the Ethiopian Holy Synod and an Alexandrine delegation. The first prelate, Aboune Basilius I (1959–1971), patriarch-catholicos of Addis Ababa and all Ethiopia, was ordained and enthroned in 1959, by Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria.

Aboune Paulos I became the 5th patriarch of the Patriarchate of Addis Ababa and of all Ethiopia in 1992. This is after the patriarchates of Aboune Theophilus I (1971–1979) (deposed in a non-canonical way in 1976, sent to prison and murdered in prison in 1979)[citation needed], Aboune Thecla Hemanote I (1976–1988) (who was elected in a non-canonical manner by pressure of the then Communist government to replace his predecessor) and Abouna Mercurios I (1988–1991), (who resigned under pressure, due to the accusation of collaborating with the (Dereg) Menghistu Communist Regime, and who is now living in self-exile in Kenya).

Aboune Paulos I requested from the Alexandrine throne complete independence to his patriarchate. The Patriarchate of Addis Ababa and all Ethiopia was granted its independence in 1994, by Pope Shenouda III, thus making the Patriarchate of Addis Ababa and all Ethiopia a hierarchically and jurisdictionally independent "autocephalous patriarchate".


Whose own prelate, Aboune Philipos I (1998–2002), Patriarch of Asmara and of all Eritrea, was ordained and enthroned in May 1998, by Pope Shenouda III Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria. This made the new Patriarchate of Asmara and of all Eritrea a hierarchically and jurisdictionally independent “autocephalous patriarchate.” The current prelate, Aboune Antonius I (2004– ), is the third Patriarch of Asmara and all Eritrea, who succeeded Yacob I (2003–2004), the second Patriarch of Asmara and all Eritrea.[3] However, he was deposed non-canonically in January 2006, and replaced by Aboune Discoros I. This action is, however, not approved by the Alexandrine throne and is still under debate.[4]

The Patriarchate of Addis Ababa and all Ethiopia and the Patriarchate of Asmara and all Eritrea are daughter Churches of the Holy Apostolic Patriarchate of Alexandria.

In addition to the above, the countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, the Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Botswana, Malawi, Angola, Namibia and South Africa are under the jurisdiction and the evangelization of the Throne of Alexandria.

Honorary titles[edit]

The Dean of the Great Catechetical School of Theology of Alexandria: This is a customary title, which many patriarchs of Alexandria have held since the episcopacy of St. Justus (the 6th Bishop of Alexandria), and which was recently revived by Pope Shenouda III.

The Ecumenical Judge of the Holy Apostolic and Orthodox Church of God:

This was a title given to St. Alexander I (the 19th Archbishop of Alexandria), in honor of the canonical responsibilities bestowed upon the Primates of Alexandria thereafter, to determine the date of the Pascha, and to convey ecclesiastical letters of notification to all Hierarchies of the Universal Church, along with the Paschal encyclical. This was officially agreed upon and ratified at the Ecumenical First Council of Nicaea (325 AD).

The Thirteenth among the Holy Apostles:

This title was given to Athanasius I (the 20th Archbishop of Alexandria), in honor of his apostolic defiance against heresies, especially the Arian heresy. He was exiled five times before his final victory over them. He is known as "The Apostolic," meaning that he reached the level of the Holy Apostles.

The Pillar and Defender of the Holy Catholic Church and of the Orthodox Doctrine:

This title was given to St. Cyril I, the Great (the 24th Archbishop of Alexandria) in memory of his defense against the Nestorian heresy and his defense of the Title of “Theotokos," attributed to the Virgin Mary.

All these hierarchical and honorary titles were bestowed upon the bishop who occupies the Holy Apostolic Throne of Alexandria.

Historical evolution of the ecclesiastical title[edit]


The head of the church of Alexandria was known just as Bishop of Alexandria since the time of St. Ananius, the first Bishop of Alexandria, who was ordained by St. Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle, where the latter preached and evangelized in the City of Alexandria. The title remained simply bishop until the Church grew within and all over the Egyptian Province, and many bishops were consecrated for the newly founded parishes all over the towns and cities.

The Bishop of Alexandria, being the successor of the first bishop, the one who was first consecrated by St. Mark, was honored by the other bishops as first among equals (Primus inter Pares) as a means of church hierarchical recognition and organization. This was in addition to the appropriate honorary dignity, which was due by virtue of being the senior bishop of the main metropolis of the Province of Alexandria, being also the capital and the main port of the province.


This honor was bestowed by making the senior bishop an archbishop, thus presiding in dignity of honor over all the Alexandrine and Egyptian bishops. So was the case among other provinces in the Roman Empire East and West (Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, Ephesus, Caesarea, Edessa, Seleucia and many others major metropolitanates), as the bishops of these major cities, and those who were presiding over the churches, which were first established within the region, became known as archbishops.


The word pope derives from Greek πάππας meaning "father". This title was first assumed by the Patriarchs of Alexandria, long before it was assumed by the Bishops of Rome. In fact, the first person known to carry the title of pope was the Archbishop of Alexandria, Pope Heracleus (232–249 AD), the 13th Alexandrine Archbishop.

The first record in history of the term "pope" is assigned to Pope Heraclas of Alexandria in a letter written by the bishop of Rome, Dionysius, to Philemon:

τοῦτον ἐγὼ τὸν κανόνα καὶ τὸν τύπον παρὰ τοῦ μακαρίου πάπα ἡμῶν Ἡρακλᾶ παρέλαβον.


which translates into:

I received this rule and ordinance from our blessed pope, Heraclas.

Papa has been the specific designation for the Archbishop of Alexandria, Patriarch of all Africa on the See of Saint Mark, whose ecclesiastic title is "Papa Abba", the Abba stands for the devotion of all monastics, from Pentapolis in the West to Constantinople in the East, to his guidance. Abba is the most powerful designation, that for all monks in the East to voluntarily follow his spiritual authority.

The Bishop of Carthage was also known as papas by the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries, most probably taken from Alexandria or from the common tradition of Pentapolis (under Alexandrine jurisdiction) as it was quite common to call the Senior Bishop of Alexandria and the Senior Bishop of Pentapolis (who was the second in importance and command after the Bishop of Alexandria and known as the Elder of Pentapolis) papas.

It is difficult to ascertain the identity of the first Bishop of Rome to carry the title Pope of Rome. Some sources suggest that it was Pope Marcellinus (died 304 AD),[6] while other sources suggest that this did not happen until the 6th century, with Pope John I (523–526 AD) the first to assume this title. Bestowing the title on Rome's pontiff did not strip it from Alexandria's, and the Roman Catholic Church recognizes this.

From the 6th century, the imperial chancery of Constantinople normally reserved this designation for the Bishop of Rome. From the early 6th century, it began to be confined in the West to the Bishop of Rome, a practice that was firmly in place by the 11th century, when Pope Gregory VII declared it reserved for the Bishop of Rome.[6]


Between the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431 AD) and the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), the archbishops of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires (i.e. the archbishops of Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, also known as the Archbishops of the Ancient Apostolic Thrones), were given the title of patriarch. These titles were ratified at the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), and henceforth were known historically as the Ancient Patriarchates of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church or otherwise as the Pentarchy.

The Bishop of Alexandria was first known as the Bishop of Alexandria. Later, due to the importance and dignity of Alexandria as a major Christian center and as an Ancient Apostolic Throne, and in addition to the fact that the Bishop of Alexandria is the successor of the first Bishop on the Throne of Alexandria, he was given the title of archbishop by the late 3rd century. He was already called by the Alexandrine clergy and by all the Egyptian bishops papas, since the middle of the 3rd century.

By the middle of the 5th century, the title of patriarch was bestowed upon all major Apostolic thrones of the Holy Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Church (ratified by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD). By this title, it meant that these patriarchates have geographical jurisdiction based upon either the extent (domain) of the natural borders of their provinces, or as set by Church Ecumenical Councils and/or Church Tradition.

Later, between the 5th and 7th century, the appellation of “papas” or “pope” became somehow a title along with the archiepiscopal and patriarchal titles of the Bishop of Alexandria. This, however, did not mean that the title of “pope” denoted a higher hierarchical or ecclesiastical dignity or rank than that of the title and rank of “patriarch” given to the Bishop of Alexandria.

Polity in extending pastoral care[edit]

Patriarchal delegates known as "Patriarchal Exarchs" are designated for areas outside the region of the canonical jurisdiction of the Bishop of Alexandria, or any other throne that has set jurisdictional boundaries.

In this way, the Apostolic Exarchates are not in contradiction with the Canon Laws of the Church, but are considered “Embassies of the Patriarchate of Alexandria”, rather than “Jurisdictional Dioceses" outside the defined canonical jurisdiction.


Administrative divisions[edit]

Patriarchal elections[edit]

Until 1928, patriarchal elections were carried out according to oral and written Church tradition. The patriarchal election of 1928 was the first in modern history to invoke written bylaws. The elections of 1928, 1942 and 1946 inspired controversy by pitting relatively young monks versus older, more experienced bishops. Supporters of each group argued that the other should be disqualified: the advocates of the younger monks claimed that the bishops were wedded to their dioceses for life and that their election to the patriarchate would lead to an unnatural divorce of bishop and diocese, while the bishops' partisans countered that a bishop might continue to provide diocesan pastoral care from the apostolic throne, while observing that the pastoral experience of the more seasoned bishops would be indispensable to the patriarchate of the entire church; they further noted that the patriarchs of every other apostolic church, such as those of the Greek, Russian and Catholic churches, were nearly always bishops or abbots prior to election.

This controversy ultimately led to the development of a new set of bylaws in 1957. The bylaws state that a candidate for election to the Apostolic Throne of Alexandria must be a man of at least 40 years of age and must be a monk with at least 15 years of monastic service (in that Coptic bishops are always drawn from the ranks of monks), but he may be of any ecclesiastical rank: monk, hieromonk (monk priest or monk archpriest), abbot, or bishop.

A potential candidate who meets the requirements of the bylaws must be endorsed by six bishops or twelve of the 24 members of the General Lay Council of the Church, a church governing body composed primarily of laypeople elected by the congregation to five year terms. A Nominations Committee is then formed by nine bishops appointed by the Holy Synod and nine laypersons elected by the General Community Council. The Nominations Committee, chaired by the locum tenens patriarch, narrows the field of candidates to a group of five or seven. Each diocese then contributes twelve electors to an Electoral College; their numbers are augmented by the members of The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the General Community Council, Coptic Orthodox political leaders and journalists and envoys of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The voting of the Electoral College results in a ranking of the remaining five or seven candidates, and the three highest-ranked candidates advance to the final stage of the selection process.

The name of each candidate is written on a slip of paper in a box placed on the altar of St. Mark Cathedral in Cairo during a Sunday eucharistic liturgy presided over by the locum tenens of the throne, and attended by all members of the Holy Synod, General Congregation Council and the laity. A five-year-old child selected from the congregation then draws a slip, sight unseen, from the box; the name it bears determines the next Patriarch.

The last three Coptic Popes were selected in this manner: Cyril VI in 1959, Shenouda III in 1971, and Tawadros II in 2012.

Pontifical duties[edit]

The duties of the Coptic Orthodox pope, apart from his diocesan duties, are:

  • To guide the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in accordance to the orthodox faith.
  • To guide the various dioceses under his jurisdiction and nominate candidates for episcopal advancement.
  • To consecrate bishops for various dioceses or bishoprics, to elevate bishops to the metropolitan dignity and to consecrate and enthrone Patriarchs for daughter autonomous or autocephalous churches of the Church of Alexandria.
  • Being first among equals among the bishops of the Church of Alexandria, he leads in all interorganizational matters among all dioceses.
  • Being the Chairman of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Court, he acts as the Supreme Judge in all matters of ecclesiastical discipline with Holy Synod approval.
  • To chair the Holy Synod of the Church of Alexandria as first among equals.
  • To promulgate missions to preach Christianity to various parts of the world.
  • To canonize saints, through the approval of the Holy Synod. A requirement of the Coptic Orthodox faith is that at least 50 years must pass from a saint's death to canonization.
  • Erection and consecration of new dioceses and churches, and erection of new or reviving old monasteries and maintaining their monastic communities. Under the papacy of Pope Shenouda III, many new Coptic Orthodox churches were established in North America, Europe, Australia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II enthroned in Cairo". BBC News. 2012-11-18. Retrieved 2021-08-22.
  2. ^ Eusebius of Caesarea, the author of an Ecclesiastical History in the 4th century, states that St. Mark came to Egypt in the first or third year of the reign of Emperor Claudius, i.e. 41 or 43 AD. "Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity", Otto F.A. Meinardus, p. 28.
  3. ^ Eritrean Orthodox Church Diocese of North America
  4. ^ news&Events
  5. ^ Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica Book VII, chapter 7.7
  6. ^ a b Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article Pope


Further reading[edit]

Further reading on traditions and procedures for electing the patriarch may be found at:

  • Saad Michael Saad and Nardine Miranda Saad, “Electing Coptic Patriarchs: A Diversity of Traditions,” Bulletin of St. Shenouda the Archimandrite Coptic Society (Los Angeles), vol. 6, pp. 20–32, 2000: http://www.stshenouda.com/academicpgm/bl6_saadfinals.pdf.
  • Mounir Shoucri, “Patriarchal Election,” The Coptic Encyclopedia, Aziz Atiya, ed., (New York: Macmillan, 1991) pp. 1911–2. Now available at the Claremont Coptic Encyclopedia: http://cdm15831.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/cce/id/1561 .
  • Otto F.A. Meinardus, “Procedures of Election of Coptic Patriarchs,” in Christian Egypt: Faith and Life. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1970), pp. 90–141.
  • M. Guirguis and N. van Doorn-Harder, The Emergence of the Modern Coptic Papacy: The Egyptian Church and Its Leadership from the Ottoman Period to the Present, Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2011, pp. 111–127.
  • Saad Michael Saad, (in Arabic) “التقاليد القبطية في انتخاب بابا الإسكندرية,” Watani, 4 November 2001. http://www.stshenouda.com/AcademicPGM/electing-popes-Saad-Watani-arabic-4Nov2011s.pdf

External links[edit]