coptic churches

Do the coptic churches have their own pope? They may be the only church a little older than the Roman church.


I believe the Coptics are in full communion with the Pope. There is no such thing as the “Roman Church”. There is one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, called “Catholic”, of which the Copts are a part. They cannot be older than the original Church.

We need to distinguish between the Coptic Orthodox mother church and its Catholic counterpart, the Coptic Catholic Church. They are not the same Church. The Coptic Catholic Church dates from the 18th century, and actually the bishop who came into union with Rome at that time (Bp. Athanasius of Jerusalem) later returned to Orthodoxy, but there were others who later took up that line, through to today. The Coptic Catholics are about 165,000 in total, around the world.

By contrast, the Coptic Orthodox Church (one of the so-called “Oriental Orthodox” churches that did not accept the Christological definition of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD; the others are the Ethiopian, Syrian, Armenian, Eritrean, and Indian Orthodox churches) traces its roots back to the evangelization of Egypt by St. Mark the Apostle in the years shortly after the crucifixion. By tradition, St. Mark was martyred in Egypt in the year 68 AD. The Coptic Orthodox Church has something between 8-14 million members worldwide (their exact numbers are disputed within Egypt, where the Copts are a political issue in addition to a community; some of my friends from Egypt put their numbers at even higher than this, but the official government figure is 8 million; this is almost certainly very low). In Egypt, approximately 90% of all Christians are Coptic Orthodox. There are perhaps 1 million Coptic Orthodox people in the United States.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is in no way in communion with Rome. We have our own Pope (though we are in between Popes right now, as HH Pope Shenouda III passed away in March, after 40 years in that position), By Coptic reckoning of history, the papacy of Alexandria is technically older than that of Rome, as it was the thirteenth Bishop of Alexandria, Heraclas (232-248), who was first referred to as “Pope”, ironically by Dionysius, bishop of Rome, several centuries before Roman bishops would take up that title in reference to themselves. But we are not really hung up on such things. It’s just an interesting historical fact. :slight_smile:

I am happy to answer any further questions you have about the Coptic Orthodox Church or its people (I don’t really know much about the Coptic Catholic Church in particular, but there are at least two Coptic Catholics on this website, so they could answer those questions from the Catholic perspective).

For the sake of accuracy, there are several churches that are older than the Roman Church (which does exist, the same as the Greek, Russian, Serbian, Antiochian etc. churches exist)

Jerusalem is much older than the Roman church, as is the Greek, and Antiochian. All the Apostolic Churches were founded about the same time. The Orthodox churches in these places anyway, their ‘Catholic’ counterparts are much younger.


I am happy to answer any further questions you have about the Coptic Orthodox Church or its people (I don’t really know much about the Coptic Catholic Church in particular, but there are at least two Coptic Catholics on this website, so they could answer those questions from the Catholic perspective).

So the Egyptians were ministered to before the Romans? I guess they now recognize Benedict xvi then? Was peter their first pope?


St. Mark the Apostle is the evangelist of the land of Egypt, being considered the founder of the Church at Alexandria. Some traditions say that St. Peter was preaching in Babylon (Memphis, near Cairo now) at the same time that St. Mark was preaching in Alexandria, but St. Peter focused on the Jews specifically. Here is a link to a little book written by HH Pope Shenouda III on the life of St. Mark from the Coptic Orthodox perspective, if you are interested to learn more.

I don’t know what you mean by ‘recognize’ Benedict XVI. They know who he is (at least in the diaspora they do; in Egypt, it might not be the case everywhere), and that he is the Pope of the Romans, but the vast majority of Christian Egyptians are Coptic Orthodox, so they have their own Pope and their own Church which is quite separate and distinct from anything having to do with Rome. If I remember correctly, HH Pope Shenouda III was the first Coptic Orthodox Pope to meet with his Roman counterpart (in 1973) in over 1500 years. People I know who were around then tell me that HH Pope Shenouda III was surprised to find that Western Christians do not fast. :slight_smile: (I don’t know what Pope Paul VI told him about that.)

St. Peter has never been considered as a pope of the Church at Alexandria, as he never acted as the bishop of the Church at that location. Predictably, as Alexandria is called the See of St. Mark (just as Rome can be called the See of St. Peter), the Copts count St. Mark as their first Pope, reigning from his establishment of the Church at Alexandria c.43 AD until his martyrdom in the same city in 68 AD. Apparently, there is another tradition in reckoning church history that counts as first bishop the first man to be ordained in a particular city, so in that case the first Coptic Pope would be Ananias, who was ordained by St. Mark to carry on in his place, and reigned from St. Mark’s martyrdom to the year 82 AD. CAF user Cavaradossi and I discussed this once, but I cannot remember exactly where it came from. Perhaps if he shows up, he can clarify. Anyway, St. Mark is the first Pope of Alexandria, according to the Coptic Orthodox Church.

OK I wanted to know if the copts were in communion with us and HH Benedict or had their own pope as I have heard. I think that clears up my question pretty much.



Given that the OP has been answered, mind if i ask an aside question?

How do things fair for your Church now given the current climate in Egypt?

For my particular church in Albuquerque, New Mexico? Eh, I would assume it’s a lot like anywhere else in the Coptic diaspora. Everyone in the church (except me) still has relatives in Egypt, so there is some worry for family members and the wider communities that they left behind, and they seem to talk about Egyptian politics a lot nowadays over the post-liturgy agape meal, which was not really the case when I first began attending in August of last year. I wouldn’t say that things are dour or anything like that, but I think there is a sense that things are getting worse rather than better, and perhaps that they’ll get even worse as time goes on and the Islamist parties become entrenched. (There is a certain logic to this, mind you, beyond a simplistic dislike of Islam on the part of the Copts: If you consider that Mubarak, who could not qualify as an Islamist leader by any stretch of the imagination, ruled for some thirty years, then how much more tenacity can be expected of those who are ideologically motivated to reshape Egypt according to their deeply-held religious beliefs?)

Oh that’s understandable. I just remember when “Arab Spring” broke out, there seemed to be some sort of rapprochement between the Islamists and Coptic Christians.

Now that the “Big Bad Wolf” is gone, if i may borrow an Americanism, it seems that’s all been kicked to the side of the curb.

I have no doubt that what happens to your extended fellows in Egypt and the fate of the Christians in Syria given the troubles with the Assad Regime will undoubtedly shape regional relations between the West and the Middle East.

dzheremi, the Coptic Pope doesn’t have universal authority or any claim to infallability, right? My wife was asking me about him the other day (she’s EO too) and it took me a second to realize she thought that he did. I told her he didn’t, but I just realized that I don’t actually know that. I just assumed he didn’t because I thought I would’ve heard about that. Isn’t “Pope” just a title for y’all, not a type of office as it is in RCism?

Yeah, he doesn’t have either of those. Those are Roman ideas about the Roman Pope.

Isn’t “Pope” just a title for y’all, not a type of office as it is in RCism?

More or less. I mean, the Synod is above him (several deposed Popes will show that), but he also chairs it, so it’s a ‘first among equals’ sort of situation. He is considered the Primate of all of Egypt, which is of course something different than any other bishop in the Church, but we don’t believe it gives him special powers or makes him something other than a bishop (he is the Bishop of Alexandria, after all), albeit the senior bishop of the Church.

The ‘Arab Spring’ in general has not been good for the Christian minorities in the Middle East. It is no mistake that all of the Christian bodies in Syria have basically come out against any attempts by the international community to overthrow the Assad regime, because they know that it would mean a repeat of the situation in Egypt. I cringed this Monday during the final presidential debate here in the states when Syria came up, because I knew that both candidates would be willing to throw Middle Eastern Christians under the bus in the name of democracy.

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