Greek orthodox patriarchate of alexandria

Download 135 Kb.
Size135 Kb.
  1   2   3
Euthymios Th. Soulogiannis

Professor Director in Research of the Academy of Athens Archon of the Patriarchate of Alexandria

Translation byMana Biniari



Contribution to its history


The most ancient Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the second in order after that of the Ecumenical of Constantinople, is the Patriarchate of Alexandria with jurisdiction over all the Orthodox communities of the African Continent.

In a country like Egypt, which had never been foreign to Hellenism, especially since Alexander the Great's era and his successors, the Ptolemies, and which acquired the roots of the Greek spirit and religion, Christianity found solid support to expand and survived, especially under unfavorable historical conditions, Roman and Arab executions etc, through this Patriarchate.

The Pharaonic conception and religion and the Judaic diaspora, even their philosoph­ical character and spirituality, were effective and had an effect on the spreading and devel­opment of Christianity in Egypt. It should mainly be kept in mind the. fact that Philon the Jewish wanted to compromise the Greek with the Judaic religion.


The apostle of Christianity in Egypt, the founder of the Christian community, and of the church of Alexandria, was Mark the Evangelist, founder of the Patriarchate as well. He is, undoubtedly, the first bishop of the church of Alexandria. He lived and preached in Egypt. He wrote his gospel in Greek. He was exiled to Kyrenea of Libya and returned" to Alexandria around 62-63 AD. In 63 AD the pagans arrested and tortured him and final­ly threw him in to the sea.

The first centuries AD, which constitute the starting point of the history of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, passed in peace for the Christian world of Egypt. Since then, though the church of Alexandria suffered hardships and tortures on the one hand from Roman persecutions and on the other from religious heresies and discords, which, in a sense, shook the faith, the essence and the nature of everything.

It is noteworthy to refer here to the very first moment of the expansion of Christianity when a lot of Greeks started to convert to Christianity in Egypt, while the cul­tural circles of Alexandria began to create philosophical thought, Gnosticism and its school,

and philosophical tendencies which were cultivated mainly against Christian spirit.

About the end of the 2nd century AD and the beginning of the 3rd century the Catechism School was established by Pantainos from Sicily as a counter weight to the anti-Christian philosophical tendencies of the time, who worked as a missionary for the Christian faith. His collaborator was Clement of Alexandria followed by Origen, Heraklas, Dionysios, and St. Athanasios the Great, Didimos, Isidores the Pelousian and other pil­lars of the faith from all the Orthodox community. Simultaneously, dioceses were estab­lished and priests were ordained by Dimitrios (189-231 AD), the bishop of Alexandria, first in rank, who took the title of Patriarch while later, during the times of Herakla (231-247), the titles of Archbishop and Pope were added. It is the period of the Christian authority, which dominates the structure of the administration of the country (Lower Egypt, Upper Egypt and especially in Thivaida, Libya, Pentapolis, Apollonia, Kyrini-Kyrinaiki, Ptolemais and others).

The peak times of the Alexandrian church and mainly of the Catechism school, which had laid the foundations of the Orthodox faith with a spirit of research and with enlight­ened people, was actually overturned by the prejudicial period of persecution against the Christians and concurrently by heresies, schismatic actions and theological content, all of them weakening the church for a long time.

Persecutions began in 202 AD when Septimius Severus, Emperor of Rome, first con­ceived and executed the order forbidding attendance to Christianity. Emperor Dekios' per­secutions were the hardest. The bishop of Alexandria, Dionysios, was executed with all his clergy. Valerianos' persecutions followed in 258 AD. He also announced a new order against the Christians. Those of Dioklitianos' in 303AD, Galerios' in 304AD and Maximianos' in 311 AD raised the number of innocent victims, the Christians, who were sacrificed in thousands. Circumstances changed a little for the better during the period of Likinos-Likinianou, who permitted free choice of religion and worship. During this peri­od Christians are estimated about one million while their community gained power.

Unfortunately for this community of the first period, of Christianity, which was an important expression for the whole world, active oppositions started between the Greeks and the Egyptians, who had both been converted in the mean time. The Egyptian Christians are the Copts, who controlled Upper Egypt where the Greek language and civ­ilization were less widespread, in contrast with Lower Egypt.

Certainly, owing to this historical first period of Christianity, Egypt gained exception­al importance. Christianity was widespread in Arabia, Nubia and Ethiopia, a fact which exists in our days. So, the authority of the Patriarchate was spreading to all known Africa. In the 4th century 100 dioceses are referred to in ten provinces. Side by side with these religious-ecclesiastical institutions, some communities for the flock were established. After the Arab conquer in the 7th centuries a lot of churches were dissolved and destroyed.

The 2nd important fact in the history of Orthodox Christianity after the establishment of the Catechism School, in the church of Alexandria, was the foundation and conserva­tion of the monastic centers in the desert of Egypt. The first Christian hermits Paul of Thebes, Antonios and Pahomios, established c'enobite monasteries, hermitages and com­munities of monks of great importance, which inspired many hermits, who also disci­plined themselves on the fruitless earth of those areas, which were offered them for their ideology and faith. All this happened during the 3rd and 4th centuries and on, with an apparent opposition from the heresies. This started from Arius and Arianism. According

to Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria, Christ was a creature of the Creator, a heresy, which was condemned by the synod of Nice in 325AD.

The period, which followed, introduced St. Athanasios the Great on the stage of the spiritual struggles of the church, the ardent supporter of Orthodoxy (between the years 328-373AD). This pillar of the Church, tasted the bitterness of exile and persecution from the part of the heretics and from the Byzantine Emperor himself, before he reigned triumphantly as Patriarch of Alexandria. Of course there were times when the Saint was supported by Constantinople, but they were few. The pagan ideology of Neoplatonism through Plotinos and Julian the Apostate, started a new war against Egyptian Christianity.

Writing about monasticism and the monks of Egypt one should refer mainly to the life and works of the monks Antonios (251-356) and Pahomios (276-345), who are the founders of asceticism. The former in Lower and Central Egypt and near the Red Sea founded the monastery, which has kept his name until today, (80km south east of Cairo), Saint Paul's and some others. The latter founded monasteries in Upper Egypt. Antonios' students, among whom was Makarios, founded monasteries in Nitria. Ascetic communities were founded in the Nile Delta, in the Libyan Desert, in the Red Sea, in Oxyrincho, and in Thebes, up to Nubia. These belonged to the Copts from the beginning of their foundation until today.

The first half of the 5th century was covered by the presence of Cyril the Patriarch. He was the person who pursued paganism and Judaism in Egypt. Hypatia, the philosopher lived during his time and had a great following. The eparch (provincial governor) Orestes was on her side. Cyril, the famous Theophilos and the monks of Nitria were against her. The opposition was so caustic that the mob led Hypatia to Cesarios and he burnt her.

Several enlightened personalities in literature during the 4th and 5th centuries became known, like Didimos the blind, the Makarians, Evagrios Pontikos, Synesios of Ptolemais, Isidoros the Pelousan. In that particular period the new heresy of Nestorios, condemned by Cyril, appeared and remained in history as Nestorianism. The Ecumenical Synod of Efessos in 430AD sentenced Nestorios. The correspondence between Cyril and Nestorios of that period is well known. Nestorios believed in the unification of the double natures of Christ and not in the fundamental complete one.

The heresy, which shook not only the Alexandrian church but all of Orthodoxy, was Monophysitism, which without fail has divided Christianity since then. Its supporters accept Christ's human nature for He was born and died, while the two natures, the divine and the human, coexisted until His incarnation, always according to the heresy. The mat­ter was solved by the Fourth Ecumenical Synod of Chalkidon (451 AD). Its decision was rejected by the Monophysite Christians, the Copts, the Abyssinian Patriarchate and some other smaller churches of the Middle East, which are characterized as post-Chalkidonian since then.

The Patriarch Cyros (631-641) tried to unite the Monophysites with the rest of the body of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria but in vain, because the Arabs reigned in the meantime and those supporters of Monophysitism, who opposed Islam, established the Coptic Patriarchate of Egypt. Perhaps, most of the rest were islamised. Since then, reli­gious arguments got worse in Egypt. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria lost a large part of its flock and was confined to the monastic centers, which resisted either the new ideas or Islam, with a kind of faith that only anachorites have practiced. It is thanks to those few that Orthodoxy has been preserved, until today, under hardship from the Islamic and Turkish occupations and others, they kept the tradition of monasticism, and the Orthodox faith alive.

The Church of Alexandria was characterized by a flourish of monasticism until the 7th century AD. It suffered persecutions from the part of the heathen, which the flock stood but also flourished in spirituality and philosophical tendency in an Egypt, which was char­acterized as the "Sanctuary of Orthodoxy".


The situation of the church of Alexandria took a different form, chronologically, after the conquer of Egypt and north Africa by the Arabs as the Islamic way of life was expand­ing as that is the Mohammed's religion.

The motive of the new persecution was the Islamic religion, which expanded against the Christians. The pressures were unbearable with the Byzantium as defender, and the Copts as opponent, who since then reconciled with the Islamic occupation and the Islamic reality. An ancient civilization, like the Coptic, kept the religion firm, but lost a great percentage of its power from the Islamization.

The monophysites ordained their own clergy and bishops, but there were contentions and dogmatic disagreements among them. Justinian, the Byzantine emperor, managed to make up their quarrel but in vain. So, the monophysitic church was organized indepen­dently from the Orthodox church of Alexandria. Meanwhile the Orthodox people kept the holy monuments like: the church of St. Minas and that of St. Cyros and Ioannnis.

The Patriarch Ioannis the 3rd the Eleimon (610-619 AD) reconciled the orthodox and the monophysites even temporarily, but his successor, the Patriarch Cyros the 3rd (631-641) could not manage to do the same although he had seen the Arabian danger to be at the gate. The fall of Alexandria by the Arabs (640) adverted the internal division of the Christian world in Egypt. During the time of the Copt-Patriarch, Benjamin (he died in 662) the Coptic Church detached forever. The hate of the Copts against Byzantium was another factor of their submission to the Arabian and Islamic authority. They thought that the empire of Orthodox religion trespassed on the rights in Egypt.

In the 8th century AD appeared the personality of Patriarch, who was an important event for the church of Alexandria, Cosmas the 1st (727-768 AD) was his name and first he succeeded in the good relations with the Arabs although once he was one of their pris­oners. Then the Arabian persecutions which followed, was a new hit for the Christians in Egypt with the caliph Al Moutaouakil (847-851) whose name is connected with violence against the Christians. The 10th century AD is known from two events. The first is the peaceful co-existence of the Orthodox Christians and the Arabs, and the Orthodox Christian with the Copts. The second is the presence of Patriarch Ephtihios (933-940 AD) the famous Arabic-speaking person of the church. He was doctor with a rich author's work. He wrote Chronography in the Arabic language, the basis of the Arabic literature, according to Eug. Mihailides. But, unfortunately, Orthodoxy started to attenuate because of the accute relationships with the Copts.

The 11th century AD is also well known as the caliph Al Hakim's persecution age, espe­cially its first twenty years. A great part of the Christian flock was converted into Islam and the rest of it, was killed. Generally, the decline of the Patriarchate started and continued in the coming years of the Turkish domination. In 1020 AD Patriarch Theophilos the 1st and the caliph Al Hakim died simultaneously. It is the period of the last systematic persecutions against the Christians. The Muslim leaders had strengthened their power but the Arabic raids had not stopped teasing the Christians at all. In 1218 when the Christian Crusaders passed by Egypt and occupied areas with Orthodox population, who suffered in their hands very much.

From the beginning of the 13th century AD or better from the end of the 12th centu­ry AD was obvious that the church of Alexandria had been isolated by the Arabic occu­pation after the known persecutions. It fell behind from all the changes that the Patriarchate of Constantinople had accepted as far as the religious and ecclesiastical life was concerned. For instance it kept its peculiarities in manners and customs. During Mark's the 2nd patriarchate in Alexandria (1180-1209) a kind of assimilation began from the part of Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Patriarchs voluntarily turned their atten­tion to Constantinople, as Chrysostomos Papadopoulos supports. In 13th century we have the appearance of the Mamelouks dynasty (1250 Shagaret el Dor), which lasted until 1517, when the Turkish occupation started (Selim ebn Vayiazit). The Mameluks contin­ued the persecutions against the Christians. The Orthodoxy of Alexandria suffered and its head was the Patriarch Athanasios the 2nd (1276-1316) AD equal to the orthodox faith, which he defended and protected with all his efforts.

During 14th century the persecutions continued and they were in their peak during Mamelouk Salah el Din Ibn Nasser (1351-1360). The characteristic sign of the centuries of the persecutions was trie Patriarch's hardship who except very few, either were afraid or hid themselves or took refuge in Constantinople.



The presence of the Patriarch of Alexandria Philotheos (1435-1459) in the synod of Ferrara labeled 15th century. The monks of the patriarchal climate, it was obvious to, oppose against the efforts for the unification of the Churches. From this century the church of Alexandria came in to a new period. The fall of Constantinople and the Turkish occupation of the north coast of Africa and of the Middle East, in the power of the Ottoman Empire, changed the atmosphere. Joachim Pany (1487-1567) was elected as patriarch of Alexandria. He was an educated man, whose patriarchy was qualified as important and useful for the good relationships with the Orthodox people of Russia.

The important Patriarchs Sylvestros (1569-1590), Meletios Pigas (1590-1601), Cyril Loukaris (1601-1620), Gerasimos Spartaliotis (1620-1636) and Mitrophanes Kritopoulos (1636-1639) covered the second half of 16th century and the first part of 17th century. This group of five enlightened prelates let its stamp the climate of the orthodox commu­nity, because they were all educated and efficient in the administration. So their presence on the throne of the Patriarchate left beneficial effects on it. The 17th and 18th centuries were labeled by the presence of other enlightened prelates like Gerasimos Palladios (1688-1710), Samuel Kapasoulis (1710-1723), Mathew Psaltis (1746-1766), Parthenios the 2nd Pankostas (1788-1805). We should take for granted historically and give emphasis as well to the fact that all these centuries were stamped by the same important historical facts in their route: the Turkish occupation and the interference of the Ecumenical throne to the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Vatican, the Protestants and the other dogmas as well, which had their headquarters in the area, played their role in the historical evolution of the Patriarchate of Alexandria. The Syrian-Orthodox, who still keep the place of honor in our days, interfered with all the others as well in the domestic affairs of the Orthodox church of Alexandria. All together created problems to the Church of Alexandria. It was a reasonable effort that of the Patriarchate to survive and remain in such unfavorable cir­cumstances. It passed off the Arabic persecutions, but it had big economic problems, which led it in such difficulties that most of the times the Patriarchate was submitted to

the will of some powerful ones. The Church of Alexandria surely comes in to a new peri­od of its history with Joachim the "Pany". His patriarchy, as Chrysostome Papadopoulos writes, was useful and very important, although he was not highly educated, he knew very few things, which he had learnt in the convent of Mt. Sinai, he continued to educate him­self with personal reading and writing. As Gr. Mazarakis reports: "He was a man of wis­dom, prudence and one and all the virtues. People loved him and his eloquence made him sympathetic because he never ate bread if he had not first given rich charity to the poor".

Joachim took over as Patriarch in (1487-1567 AD) in a crucial period for Egypt because there was not any orthodox bishop that time. He was ordained in Antioch. First he was faced with the anger of Mamelouks although they had shown sympathy to him. The sultan Selim the 1st provided privileges to Joachim. He gave great attention to the important matter of Sinai. This matter of the monastery of Sinai and that of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem detain the Patriarchate even in our century. The imposition on the monastery revived economic problems, as well. It is true that the monastery was always recognized and it was given privileges by any conqueror. It is very important the information which we know, that from the 14th century, maybe earlier, the monastery came to the authority ;of the Patriarchate of Alexandria. The authority was transferred from the one Patriarchate to the other. As G. Mazarakis, A. Papadopoulos Kerameus and C. Amantos write, Joachim was faced with this problem, and abandoned the rights of Sinai for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. But he never stopped to protect the monastery, because he owed a lot where he had the monastic order. This matter with the monastery of Sinai did not exclude even its monks, who started to act for its independence. In the mean time the Archdiocese of Sinai was being established.

The relationships between Joachim and the Orthodox Russia are very interesting. He was communicating with Ivan the Horrible (1533-1584) and the second sent him a gen­erous economic help. Joachim died very old, and he was criticized as one of the most dis­tinguished superiors of the Church.

The church of Alexandria started its rising course although its economic situation was very bad. On the other hand the presence of the Joachim successors was very important. Silvestros from Crete was interested in matters foreign to the Alexandrian climate like of the Holy Mountain, Patmos monastery of Limonos in Lesbos, monastery of Soumela etc. Meletios Pigas had a great interest for the real problems of the Patriarchate before he became Patriarch. Meletios came from Crete and gained the reputation of great prelate and spiritual man. He really administrated a church full of difficulties, without an ortho­dox flock, without educated clergy, with very few churches in Egypt like those of Saint Savas in Alexandria, of St. Nicholas, of St. George, of St. Mark in Cairo, the churches of Rosetti and Diameti and the metokhi of Sinai in Cairo. Concurrently the Copts had got a lot of churches. Meletios was a remarkable author and collaborator of Maximos Margounios and Gabriel Seviros. He had agreed dogmatically with the first although he was anti-unionist.

Meletios is the first, who founded the Greek school-institute in the monastery of St. Savas in Alexandria. He gave help to the Russians, who were faced with the proselytism of the Unia from Jesuits, and had already started their propaganda in (Russia, Poland, Ukraine). Meletios' interest was attracted by other matters too like the relationships with the Protestants, with Latin Church and the financial aid for the church of Crete etc.

Cyril Loukaris is his successor, a Cretan one too. He was near Meletios since 1593, whom he helped and represented in many circumstances. That time the arguments with

the Latins had started because the second had started to win the Copts over. Loukaris wrote in his preaching against them. He also asked for economic support from various sources and made economic works for the good of the Patriarchate. He allied with the Protestants because he believed that in this way he could be against the Unites and the Pope. He was very tough with the last one. In 1620 he was elected Ecumenic Patriarch. There he found an excruciating death by the Turks.

A noticeable spiritual prelate, advisor and successor of Cyril, was Gerasimos Spartaliotis, a pillar of Orthodoxy, which suffered under the stormy dogmatic relations of the churches. He also provided the Russians with a lot of help.

There were interesting facts for the Greek presence in Egypt synthesizing the picture of the country during the modern times. In the time of Gerasimos Patriarchy we know that there was the "Brotherhood of the Orthodox jewelers". It is a matter of one of many organizations, the esnaphia (guilds), in which the Orthodox Christians of various jobs took place. A few Greeks and many Arab-speaking. These guilds were very widespread in the Ottoman Empire during the Turkish occupation. Their members constituted the flock of the church. Their vote in the election of the Patriarch was very important. Such guilds were: the cloth merchants, the grocers, the jewelers, the blacksmiths, the tailors, the builders, the painters, the wine and liquor-merchants, the bakers, the timber men, the tobacconists, the armourers, the watch makers, the tarbush tec.

Cyril's successors continued supporting of the Orthodoxy against the Papism, Protestantism. Mitrophanes Kritopoulos succeeded Gerasimos but the Patriarchate was in its worst historical period. This happened because the Patriarchs were very poor and they were searching the Patriarchates and the Churches asking for economic support. This poverty of the Patriarchate gave rise to the dispute with the monks from Sinai. By the way the metokhi of Sinai in Cairo was rich. So it is obvious to understand why there was the dispute. But the economic difficulties not only could not be solved but the gap of the dispute became greater. We are informed by a relative correspondence that it was a very small flock. In Cairo lived a thousand Greeks and Arab-speakers. For all that Patriarch Ioanikios (1645-1657) founded the school for the Greek language in Cairo, perhaps, in Old Cairo, in the monastery of St. George. He founded a hospital as well, churches in Tunisia, Tripoli of Libya. In the relations between the Patriarchate of Alexandria and Russia, and between the Ecumenical and Sultan and Tsar are the cause of various inter­ference in the domestic affairs of the Church of Alexandria. The terrible economic situa­tion of the first and the antagonism of the others for predominance became the motive. The lack of an administrative organization and the bad economic situation that had as a result the absence of the regular allocation of the matters could describe the next 18th cen­tury. The same situation continued with Gerasimos Palladas (1688-1710) but the peak of it was noticed with Samuel Kapasoulis (1710-1723) from Libya, asked support from Peter the Great of Russia and from Maria Stuart of England and in his great despair from Pope.

The result of this shortage was the simultaneous election, when it was necessary, of two Patriarchs, the first, who was elected by the flock and the other by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Classical example the case of Kapasouli and Cosma from Kladioupolis. The phenomenon continued the next century as well. Interference in the matter of the Patriarch's election annoyed the clergy and the flock although they themselves demand­ed the election to take place in Phanari during those hard times. An example is the case of Cosmas the third (1733-1746) as Chrysostome Papadopoulos writes. Cosmas is referred in the book of Athanasios Ipsilandis (After the Fall) and describes him "as the

poorest man, who was head over heels in debts, who hardly survived from the unbearable debt of the throne. His patriarchal income was enough to pay the interest of the capitals. The patriarchal houses, the workshops, donations to the throne were ready to be lost".

The Synod of Phanari elected Mathew Psaltis Patriarch of Alexandria, from Andros (1746-1766) who came from Libya. He supported the patriarchal school in Cairo like Cosmas the third. He helped the Orthodoxy with his interference in the Russian flock and the Ethiopian Church. He struggled for the economics, collecting money from Russia and Moldavia. It is the period, as Porphyrios Uspenski writes, when "the Orthodox people of Egypt (Cairo) are all very poor, those of Tamiathiou (Damieti) and Rahotiou (Rozetti) deserve charity and even the wealthy merchants now are very few and miserable". And he added, "The monastery of St. Savas in Alexandria is governed by some Orthodox sailors. The rents from the church of St. George, in Paleo (Old Cairo) Misiri, are just enough for the feeding of the poor people there. Because that monastery is hospital, poor-house and old people's house as well", Patriarch Cyprian (1766-1783) founded another "School of Greek Lessons" perhaps in the Greek quarter of Cairo, in Haret el Roum. The School con­tinued to exist during the patriarchy of Patriarch Gerasimos the 3rd Gimaris (1783-1788), he, himself was an educated man on the ecclesiastical things etc.

With the end of the 18th century a new period of history in the Church of Alexandria began but the continuous struggle for survival continued. It was the struggle of the Christian orthodox spirit to predominate over the danger of the persecutions. A struggle also for the faith of the flock, generally of the East, to be protected by the propagandists of Pope, by the Russian Church, which on the one hand helped the Patriarchate of Alexandria economically and on the other was looking for chances of interference. Finally it was a struggle for independence from the influence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In the meantime the Church of Alexandria had entered 19th century among big difficulties and obstacles but with an encouraged perspective in its course for the creation of institu­tions, like associations, and communities, since some thousands of Greeks were going to settle in the country of the Nile and in the rest of Africa.

Share with your friends:
  1   2   3

The database is protected by copyright © 2019
send message

    Main page