Patriarch of Alexandria

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Painting of bearded man with red robe
Coptic icon of Saint Mark the Evangelist, the apostolic founder of the Church of Alexandria, and the first Primate of Alexandria

The Patriarch of Alexandria is the archbishop of Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt. Historically, this office has included the designation pope (etymologically "Father", like "Abbot"). The first bishop known to be called "Pope" was the thirteenth Patriarch of Alexandria, Papas Heraclas.[1]

The Alexandrian episcopate was revered as one of the three major Christian sees (along with Rome and Antioch) before Constantinople or Jerusalem were granted similar status (in 381 and 451, respectively). In the sixth century, these five archbishops were formally granted the title of patriarch and were subsequently known as the Pentarchy. Alexandria was elevated to de facto archiepiscopal status by the Alexandrine Council[citation needed][which?], and this status was ratified by Canon Six of the First Ecumenical Council, which stipulated that all the Egyptian episcopal provinces were subject to the metropolitan see of Alexandria (already the prevailing custom).[citation needed]

"Papa" has been the designation for the Archbishop of Alexandria and Patriarch of Africa in the See of Saint Mark.[contradictory][citation needed] This office has historically held the title of Pope—"Παπας" (papas), which means "Father" in Greek and Coptic—since Pope Heracleus, the 13th Alexandrine Bishop (227–240 AD), was the first to associate "Pope" with the title of the Bishop of Alexandria.

The word pope derives from the Greek πάππας, meaning "Father". In the early centuries of Christianity, this title was applied informally (especially in the east) to all bishops and other senior clergy. In the west it began to be used particularly for the Bishop of Rome (rather than for bishops in general) in the sixth century; in 1075, Pope Gregory VII issued a declaration widely interpreted as stating this by-then-established convention.[2][3][4][5][6] By the sixth century, this was also the normal practice in the imperial chancery of Constantinople.[2]

The earliest record of this title was regarding Pope Heraclas of Alexandria (227–240) in a letter written by his successor, Pope Dionysius of Alexandria, to Philemon (a Roman presbyter):

τοῦτον ἐγὼ τὸν κανόνα καὶ τὸν τύπον παρὰ τοῦ μακαρίου πάπα ἡμῶν Ἡρακλᾶ παρέλαβον.[7]

This is translated:

I received this rule and ordinance from our blessed father/pope, Heraclas.[8][9]

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest recorded use of "pope" in English is in an Old English translation (c. 950) of Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People:

Þa wæs in þa tid Uitalius papa þæs apostolican seðles aldorbiscop.[10]

In modern English:

At that time, Pope Vitalian was chief bishop of the apostolic see.

According to church tradition, the patriarchate was founded in AD 42 by Mark the Evangelist.[citation needed] All churches acknowledge the succession of church leaders until the time of the monophysite Second Council of Ephesus (the so-called "Robber Council") of 449 and the orthodox Council of Chalcedon in 451, which gave rise to the non-Chalcedonian (miaphysite-monophysite) Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the Chalcedonian Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria.[citation needed]

Claimants to the title

Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria

The Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa in the Holy See of St. Mark the Apostle leads the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, but has resided in Cairo since Christodoulos moved the residence in the mid-eleventh century. His full titles are Pope and Archbishop of the Great City of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa, the Holy Orthodox and Apostolic See of Saint Mark the Evangelist (Egypt, Libya, Nubia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and all Africa) and Successor of St. Mark the Evangelist, Holy Apostle and Martyr, on the Holy Apostolic Throne of the Great City of Alexandria.

Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria

The Greek Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa leads the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria. His full title is "His Divine Beatitude the Pope and Patriarch of the Great City of Alexandria, Libya, Pentapolis, Ethiopia, All Egypt and All Africa, Father of Fathers, Pastor of Pastors, Prelate of Prelates, the Thirteenth of the Apostles and Judge of the Universe".[11]

Eastern Catholic Churches

Coptic Catholic Church of Alexandria

The Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts, who leads the Coptic Catholic Church in communion with the Holy See, can also be granted the title of Cardinal Bishop by the Pope without compromising his patriarchal status.

Melkite Greek Catholic Church

The Patriarch of Antioch of the Greek-Melkites, who leads the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in communion with the Holy See, also has the titles of Titular Patriarch of Alexandria of the Greek-Melkites and Titular Patriarch of Jerusalem of the Greek-Melkites.

Latin Catholic Church

The Latin Patriarch of Alexandria was head of the Titular Patriarchal See of Alexandria of the Roman Catholic Church, established by Pope Innocent III. The title was last held by Luca Ermenegildo Pasetto until his death in 1954; it remained vacant until its abolition in 1964.

See also


  1. History of the Coptic Church By Iris Habib Elmasry
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Pope", Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Thomas H. Greer, Gavin Lewis, A Brief History of the Western World (Cengage Learning 2004 ISBN 9780534642365), p. 172
  4. Enrico Mazza, The Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite (Liturgical Press 2004 ISBN 9780814660782), p. 63
  5. John W. O'Malley, A History of the Popes (Government Institutes 2009 ISBN 9781580512275), p. xv
  6. Klaus Schatz, Papal Primacy (Liturgical Press 1996 ISBN 9780814655221), pp. 28–29
  7. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica Book VII, chapter 7.7
  8. "I received this rule and ordinance from our blessed father, Heraclas" (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History )translation by Arthur Cushman McGiffert)
  9. "This rule and form I have received from our father (παπα) the blessed Heraclas" (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History (translation by Christian Frederic Cursé)
  10. "pope, n.1". OED Online. September 2011. Oxford University Press. 21 November 2011
  11. The Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa