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The Patriarchate of Alexandria

Until the period following the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), the Christians in Egypt were united in a single Patriarchate. The controversy surrounding Chalcedon’s christological teaching, however, led to a split between the majority that rejected the Council [see the Coptic Orthodox Church], and the largely Greek minority that accepted it. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria is descended from the latter group. By the 7th century, it has been estimated that there were 17 or 18 million Copts in Egypt, and approximately 200,000 (mostly imperial officials, soldiers, merchants and other Greeks) who accepted Chalcedon. At this time both groups used the ancient Alexandrian liturgy, but in the Greek Patriarchate it was gradually replaced by the Byzantine liturgy, and the Alexandrian rite died out by the 12th century.

With the Arab conquest and the withdrawal of the Byzantine armies in 642, the Greeks in Egypt suffered sporadic persecution because of their links with the Byzantine Empire. This situation became worse with the Turkish conquest of Egypt in 1517. The Greek Patriarchs of Alexandria began to live off and on in Constantinople, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate often appointed them to office. Only in 1846, with the election of Patriarch Hierotheos I, did the Patriarchs reside consistently in Alexandria again. The involvement of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the administration of the Church of Alexandria ended with the death of Hierotheos I in 1858.

Patriarch Melitios II (1926-1935) compiled the bylaws of the Patriarchate and submitted them to the Egyptian government. Under these bylaws the Patriarchate remained independent and enjoyed government protection. Melitios was the first Patriarch to be recognized by royal decree, as Egypt was by then no longer part of the Ottoman Empire. Melitios also founded St. Athanasios seminary, systematized the ecclesiastical courts, and established the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate throughout Africa, introducing “All Africa” in place of “All Egypt” in his title.

In the early years of the 20th century, a significant immigration of Greeks and Orthodox Arabs into Egypt and other parts of Africa increased the membership of the Patriarchate. In 1907 the number of Greeks in Egypt was estimated to be 192,000, but by 1997 the number had dropped to some 1,650. Today the Patriarchate has jurisdiction over all the Orthodox faithful in Africa.

In the 1930s a spontaneous movement of indigenous Africans towards the Orthodox Church began in Uganda under the leadership of a former Anglican, Reuben Spartas. He was received into full communion with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria in 1946, and the Orthodox communities in East Africa that had been founded under his leadership were organized into the Archdiocese of Irinoupolis with headquarters in Nairobi in 1958. This group is now served by a growing native African clergy. In November 1994 the Patriarchate’s Holy Synod created a separate diocese for Uganda and elected the auxiliary bishop of Irinoupolis for Uganda, Theodore Nagiama, as its first Metropolitan. He was the first black bishop to be elected head of a diocese anywhere in the Orthodox Church.

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Tags: Africa Maronite Church Patriarchate of Alexandria