Coptic Popes and the Tradition

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Popes have been promoting the Holy Family tradition throughout church history.

His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, the 118th  Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of Saint Mark the Evangelist, took office on 18 November 2012. Pope Tawadros and the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism are working together on new efforts to promote the Holy Family tradition in and outside Egypt. On October 21, 2014, H.H. Pope Tawadros and Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahleb attended a large celebration in the Coptic Museum to highlight the importance of this tradition to Egypt. [LINK needed to article in Maadi Messenger – or place this article on website]

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria, headed the Coptic Orthodox Church from 14 November 1971 until his death on 17 March 2012.  He was the President of the Coptic Orthodox Holy Family Committee that prepared the map for the millennium celebrations in the year 2000. Following this the Ministry of Tourism  prepared the photo booklet “The Holy Family in Egypt “ that was translated in many different languages.  The preparation for the millennium celebrations resulted in the formation of the NEHRA, the National Egyptian Heritage Revival Association, in which both Christian and Muslim businessmen cooperate to restore locations on the route of the Holy Family.

His Holiness Pope Theophilus, the 23rd Pope of Alexandria, heading the church from 384-412 AD.  The Pope is believed to have had a vision of the Holy Virgin who told him about the locations the Holy Family visited. This vision has become the core of the tradition that the Holy Family went from location to location in Egypt, leaving their blessings for the communities that have lived here throughout the centuries and the pilgrims that visited these locations.  There is no evidence that Pope Theophilus has written the vision. There is also no reference to such a vision in following centuries until around the 10th century manuscripts with the text of the vision appear.

Interestingly the attribution is made to a pope who ruled the church in a time of conflict between Christians and the pagan establishment in Alexandria. Both parties had support among the Alexandrian population.

His Holiness Saint Mark, apostle. Both the Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox churches in Egypt lists him as their first Pope. Mark is believed to have arrived in Egypt in 49 AD where he stayed until his martyrdom in 68 AD.  We have no other contemporary sources for Mark outside the New Testament. The first reference to Mark as the first bishop of Alexandria comes from Bishop Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History (2.24.1).

In 828 AD, relics believed to be the body of Saint Mark were stolen by two Venetian merchants from Alexandria. In 1968 the Pope of Rome handed part of the relics to a Coptic Orthodox church delegation consisting of Pope Cyrill, many bishops and other church dignitaries. This part of the relics were buried in a chapel adjacent to Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo. Coptic iconographer Isaac Fanous made beautiful mosaics with both the Catholic and Orthodox dignitaries involved. Coptic Orthodox believers visit the tomb of St. Mark for prayers.