Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Coptic “Pope” Dies at Age 88

You may have seen this story floating around the Internets:

Shenouda, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church [in] Alexandria who led Egypt's minority Christians for 40 years during a time of increased tensions with the majority Muslim community, died yesterday in Cairo. He was 88. Shenouda, known in Cairo in Arabic as Baba Shenouda, led one of the world's oldest churches, which traced its founding to St. Mark in the 1st century. Shenouda suffered from the effects of cancer and died of a heart attack yesterday afternoon.

Coptic Christians trace their roots to the flight to Egypt by Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.

There was a time when there were several “popes” in the church, and the church in Alexandria, Egypt had one of them. The Coptic Church was formed as a result of the first significant schism of one of the earliest “Apostolic Sees” (Alexandria, in Egypt; the other two being Antioch and Rome, prior to the “development” of “the Pentarchy” as it was adopted in the fifth century). The historian Samuel Hugh Moffett records it this way (“A History of Christianity in Asia” Vol 1, 2nd ed Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, ©1998):

Constantinople in the last half of the fifth century was, in effect, ruled by Germans and Isaurians, not by the imperial aristocracy, and Alexandria felt culturally and politically as well as theologically superior to such barbarians. When Chalcedon (451 A.D.) humiliated and deposed the Egyptian patriarch Dioscurus and forced a Byzantine Chalcedonian patriarch, Proterius (452-457), onto the throne of the great Cyril [of Alexandria], Egypt exploded, resulting in the first permanent schism of the Christian church. The Egyptian Monophysites elected a rival partriarch, Timothy Aelurus, nicknamed Timothy the Cat. This rupture marks the establishment of the Egyptian church as a separate, independent entity commonly called the Coptic church, since “Coptic” is the ancient Greek word for “Egyptian.” In 457, the year that Hiba of Edessa died and was succeeded by a Monophysite, mobs of Egyptians took to the streets of Alexandria, cornered the orthodox patriarch Proterius in a church, killed him, and burned his bloody body in triumph (pg 190).

There was a lot of that sort of thing going on back then. 

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