Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, talks with Pope Francis during a private audience in the pontiff's library at the Vatican May 10. (CNS photo)
Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and
Pope Francis fraternally addressed one another in an historic meeting, Friday,
at the Vatican. May 10, 2013 marked the fortieth anniversary of a meeting
between their predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III. This is the
first time since that meeting that the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch has visited
the Vatican. Blessed John Paul II also visited Pope Shenouda III in Egypt,
historic meeting, forty years ago, a Common Declaration was signed professing “one
faith in the One Triune God” and “the divinity of the Only-begotten Son of God
... perfect God with respect to his divinity, perfect man with respect to his
humanity”. This was significant because Alexandria and the Oriental East broke
communion with Rome and Constantinople in the fifth century over the Greek
language of two ‘physis’ in Christ. St. Cyril wrote of one
‘physis’, while Pope St. Leo wrote of two ‘natures’ (duabus naturis)in Christ.
‘Nature’ was translated into ‘physis’ at the A.D. 451 Council of
Chalcedon and the rest is history, as they say, until 1973.
Francis recalled how the meeting forty years ago “prepared the ground for a
broader dialogue between the Catholic Church and the entire family of Oriental
Orthodox Churches, a dialogue that continues to bear fruit to this day… They
acknowledged that divine life is given to us and nourished through the seven
sacraments and they recognized a mutual bond in their common devotion to the
Mother of God.”
Pope Tawadros II noted in
importance inter-religious dialogue has become in this “current historical
phase” and proposed “that the 10th of May of each year should be considered as
a celebration of brotherly love between the Catholic Church and the Coptic
Orthodox Church.” The Coptic Patriarch spoke of the great love he has for his
country and recounted a little of the rich history of the Church in Egypt:
Over a span of time of more than three years, the Holy
Family visited Egyptian villages and governorates moving from East to West and
from North to South, thus making the whole country blessed with the sign of the
Holy Cross. And Jesus Christ made its soil sacred by treading on it. Later on,
in the early years of Christianity, St. Mark the Evangelist spread the
Christian doctrine through Egypt and was martyred in Alexandria, the city of
Alexander the Great, also known as “the Mediterranean Spouse”.
My Coptic Church is a very ancient one, with a history that
spans over more than nineteen centuries. It was founded by St. Mark the
Evangelist in the 1st. century and in the course of time it has been irrigated
until now with the blood of numerous martyrs, thus becoming stronger and
Christian Monasticism originated in Egypt by the great St.
Anthony, the so-called Father of all monks, who established the practice of
monastic life. Later on, the practice of common life established by St.
Pachumius, who was born in Upper Egypt in the middle of the 3rd century, was
extended from Egypt to the rest of the world (e.g. France and Ireland).
Monasticism was instrumental in the formation of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
The Copts have grown in the world, as a solid religious
entity with a clear Christian character. Doubtless the contribution of the
Coptic Orthodox Church is great and many. The patriarchs and popes of
Alexandria (Sts. Mark, Alexander, Athanasius, and Cyril) played a leading role
in the Christian theology.
Tawadros II went on to speak of the long standing solidarity between Coptic and
Catholic Christians and again reiterated the importance of ecumenism in this
Both Churches, the Catholic and the Coptic, have always
worked together, in the Middle East and in the Western World, to make peace
prevail. The most important aim for both is the promotion of ecumenical
dialogue in order to get to the most pursued goal, unity. Therefore and for the
ﬁrst time ever, I insisted to participate personally in the Enthronement
Ceremony of the Patriarch of the Catholic Church in Egypt, Patriarch Ibrahim
Isaac… Working together to promote ecumenical dialogue and peace on earth will
be our mutual aim. May our Lord help and support Your Holiness in Your Holy
Pope Francis responded
to Pope Tawadros II with equal
desire for unity:
We are glad to be able to confirm today what our illustrious
predecessors solemnly declared, we are glad to recognize that we are united by
one Baptism, of which our common prayer is a special expression, and we long
for the day when, in fulfillment of the Lord’s desire, we will be able to
communicate from the one chalice.
Of course we are well aware that the path ahead may still
prove to be long, but we do not want to forget the considerable distance
already travelled, which has taken tangible form in radiant moments of
I am convinced that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit
our persevering prayer, our dialogue and the will to build communion day by
day in mutual love will allow us to take important further steps towards full
The institution of a “National Council of Christian Churches”,
which you strongly desired, represents an important sign of the will of all
believers in Christ to develop relations in daily life that are increasingly
fraternal and to put themselves at the service of the whole of Egyptian
society, of which they form an integral part.
the human suffering in Egypt, Pope Francis assured Pope Tawadros of his
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member
is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26). This is a law of the Christian
life, and in this sense we can say that there is also an ecumenism of
suffering: just as the blood of the martyrs was a seed of strength and
fertility for the Church, so too the sharing of daily sufferings can become an
effective instrument of unity. And this also applies, in a certain sense, to
the broader context of society and relations between Christians and
non-Christians: from shared suffering can blossom forth forgiveness and
reconciliation, with God’s help.
I invoke the protection of both Saint Peter and Saint Mark:
may they who during their lifetime worked together in practical ways for the
spread of the Gospel, intercede for us and accompany the journey of our
Tawadros II is on a five day visit of Italy where he also plans to visit the Coptic
Orthodox community in diaspora which has two diocese, one in Turin and another
About the Author
Christopher B. Warner
Christopher B. Warner, a former Marine Corps officer and veteran, is a graduate student of Orthodox theology at the Antiochian House of Studies. Christopher has a BA in Catholic theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. He has worshipped with the Eastern Christian community since 2001, and currently serves as a cantor for his parish of St. George in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Christopher and his wife, Katy, are both teachers at Trinity Academy.