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Three popes and a patriarch

30 April 2017

A unique occasion ignored by the media — how often do you see three popes and a patriarch gathered together at the same place?

Someone posted this picture last night on Facebook, with no caption, no comment. I expected to see some news item about it, perhaps with a better picture, but if there’s been one I haven’t seen it

Pope Theodoros II. Pope Francis I, Pope Tawhedros II, Patriarch Bartholomew

The three popes represent three different streams of Christianity that have been separated for hundreds of years, so seeing them all together in one place is quite something.

Here’s some historical background:

Some time in the first century St Mark arrived in Alexandria as a missionary for the then-new Christian faith. Alexandria had a large Jewish population then, and so he probably started among them. After his death Mark was succeeded as Bishop of Alexandria by Ananias (AD 61-82), Abilius (83-95), and so on. The historical record is sketchy, but the church grew among the Greeks and Romans and the native Egyptians. The Greeks had conquered Egypt under Alexander the Great, and ruled it for several hundred years (the Ptolemy dynasty), and they had in turn been conquered by the Romans.

By the end of the second century the Holy Scriptures and liturgical texts were being translated into at least three vernacular languages, and the church had grown so much that more bishops were needed. It was about then that the bishops of Alexandria began using the title “Pope”, since theirs was the senior bishopric.

Within the next hundred years or so, almost the entire Egyptian population was Christian. They had abandoned the religion of their ancestors (that of the Pharaohs) and become Christian. Many of the Greek and Roman population remained pagan, however. Over the next century (250-350) the monastic movement arose in the Egyptian deserts, and soon spread throughout the Christian world.

In AD 451, however, at the Council of Chalcedon, there was a split. There was a dispute over the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ. The council said one thing, and Pope Dioscurus of Alexandria said another. The council deposed Pope Dioscurus, and he was replaced by Proterius, who accepted the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon. The next Pope, Timothy, did not accept the decisions of the council, however, and for the next century the two parties, Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian, fought to have their candidate elected as Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria.

In about 550, a century after the Council of Chalcedon, there was a final split, and since then there have been two Popes and Patriarchs of Alexandria — a Chalcedonian one and a non-Chalcedonian one. The Chalcedonian one remained in communion with the other churches that had accepted the Council of Chalcedon — Rome, Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem being the main ones, and it is referred to as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. The non-Chalcedonian one is referred to as the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. So after Dioscurus, there are two separate lists of Popes and Patriarchs of Alexandria.

In the 7th century Egypt was conquered by the Muslim Arabs. They favoured the Coptic Pope, because the Greek one was in communion with the Patriarch of Constantiniople, which was then the capital of the Roman Empire, which had ruled Egypt until the Arabs conquered it (not quite, there was also a brief Persian interlude). But all Christians in Egypt, no matter which Pope they supported, became second-class citizens under Muslim Arab rule.

The Greek Orthodox Pope of Alexandria remained in communion with Rome (whose bishops had by now also assumed the title of Pope) until the 11th century, when there was a dispute between Rome and Constantinople, which led to a breach of communion between them. The breach was not healed, and eventually the churches of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem sided with Constantinople, and were no longer in communion with Rome.

So the appearance of three popes and a patriarch together is something the like of which has probably not been seen since AD 550, if at all.

Incidentally, the English version of the name of both popes of Alexandria is Theodore, and both are Theodore II.



12 Comments leave one →
  1. T.Boggiano permalink
    30 April 2017 10:44 pm

    I watched it live was very impressive except CTV did not provide an instantaneous translation in any language except for a very hesitant translator an hour later.

  2. 1 May 2017 12:49 am

    • 2 May 2017 6:54 am

      Yes, I saw you had tweeted about it, but I think blogging’s better!

      I suspect that Twitter is becoming less and less effective. I did tweet a link to this post, but no reaction at all, not a single one. No likes, no retweets, nothing. So I think a lot of the traffic must have come via Facebook.

      I don’t think this is going to lead to rapid reunion between Roman and Orthodox, Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian, nevertheless I do think it is historically significant enough to warrant a couple of paragraphs in a newspaper somewhere.

      Someone commented that it’s not a big deal — three bank managers and a regional manager meet at a banking convention — so what? But I don’t know of any meeting between bank managers whose banks haven’t been honouring each others cheques for 1500 years and 1000 years.

  3. Siobhan Boylan permalink
    1 May 2017 12:41 pm

    United in Diversity. Like the 3 Wise Men representing 3 Kingdoms to pay homage to Our Saviour, Our Lady and St. Joseph at his birth, we pray they be united again at Easter and every Easter for the Glory, praise and thanksgiving to God.

  4. Fr. Daniel Nassaney, O.M.I. permalink
    1 May 2017 4:13 pm

    Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory Lacham was also present though not in this picture.

  5. 2 May 2017 2:21 am

    (With respect) It looks like they are waiting to get their shoes shined !

    • 2 May 2017 6:52 am

      Well it seems that the secular media dropped the ball on this one. It seems that only amateur snapshots are available, which are not very well framed. But there is quite widespread interest is shown by the fact that this post has received the highest number of daily views of any post on this blog in the 11 years of its existence.

      The previous highest was about 700 views a day, but on the day I posted it, this one had nearly 2000 views, and yesterday 12094, and by 6:30 am today 2213 — already the 2nd highest in 11 years. So people are interested in it, but the secular media seem to have missed it entirely. As someone once pointed out, the media just don’t “get” religion.

    • John permalink
      2 May 2017 8:15 am

      That’s not respect,please would be wise not to say anything instead of opening and allowing your mind to disregard an important event like this,the faithful who profess the Orthodox and Roman Catholic faiths understand the importance of the same, it is an antidote to the divided church

  6. 11 June 2017 11:57 pm

    Very informative! Thanks for this piece of history!


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