THE COPTIC CHURCH
AND THE BYZANTINE RULE
FR. TADROS Y. MALATY
AN ALIEN ROYAL PATRIARCH
THE COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON AND LEO
The Fathers of the Council submitted to the delegates
of Rome their objective which is to get rid of the Pope of
Alexandria by sending him into exile to Gangra Island. Under
strong pressure, the bishops of the Council accepted a new
formula of faith so that Alexandria would not acquire a
theological position. Yet when the delegates attempted to
impose the papal authority upon the universal church, silence
turned into revolt, then canon (act) 28 was issued to which
the delegates of Rome rose in objection. Because of the de-
sire to impose the papal authority, Leo of Rome announced
in his repeatedly angry letters, his resistance to the Council
and attacked Anatolius of Constantinople because he thought
of Rome and Constantinople as equals.
THE FIRST MARTYR AFTER THE COUNCIL
A messenger (from Constantinople) arrived at
Alexandria announcing the exile of Pope Dioscorus and the
appointment of an Alexandrian priest named Proterius as the
patriarch of Alexandria with the approval of the Emperor
and threatening anyone who disobeys. This ( royal ) patriarch
who was appointed by the emperor came surrounded by
soldiers willing to punish those who might disobey the Im-
The ruler of Alexandria, who was an agent of
Constantinople, asked to hold individual meetings with the
bishops, thinking that he could influence them seperately.
The first bishop he met was St. Macarius of Edko who
wanted to stay with the Pope in exile, but the Pope forced
him to return, telling him that the crown of martyrdom was
waiting for him. Indeed, when the bishop refused to submit
to the ruler's orders a soldier killed him with a fatal stab, and
Macarius was the first martyr of the Coptic church, martyred
by Christian hands. This was an example how the Egyptian
bishops, priests, abbots, monks and many laymen suffered
oppression by the hands of their brethren the Chalcedonians.
THE SUCCESSORS OF ST. DIOSCORUS
In the year A.D 450 and in the absence of the ruler of
Alexandria, when the Copts heard that their pope had been
departed to the Lord while he was in exile, the people met
with the clergymen and had his disciple Timothy ordained
patriarch. He was a monk from the monastery of Qalamon
who had been ordained a priest in Alexandria by Pope Cyril
the Great. Timothy was an ascetic zealous man, known for
his theological knowledge. When Prof. Meyendorff wrote
about him, and about Severus of Antioch and Philoxenus of
Mabbogh he said that the non-Chalcedonians had at that time
strong theologians contrary to the Chalcedonians1. When the
ruler returned to Alexandria he considered their behavior as a
rebellion against Byzantium (Constantinople). Therefore he
took the side of Proterius the alien, keenly persecuting the
Egyptians. In spite of severe violence he only won to his side
four bishops who followed the alien Patriarch. When Pope
Timothy left Alexandria on a pastoral trip, Count Dionysius
arrived at Alexandria to commit atrocities against the Egyp-
tian church causing it to be wounded by Christian hands.
Prof. Meyendorff says: [Emperors tried to solve the dispute
by force . For us, today, there is no doubt about the fact that
the military repression of monophysitism in Egypt, and in
other places, the imposition of a Chalcedonian hierarchy in
Byzantine (politics), the frequent exile of the real popular
leaders of the Church of Egypt, all played a decisive role in
giving the schism the character of a national resistance to
Byzantine ecclesiastical and political control of Egypt, Syria
Upon the return of the Pope, the Count closed the gates
of the city to prevent him from entering it. The people
assembled and nothing could control their feelings. They had
a clash with the army and fought a battle in which there were
many casualties. A crowd of people entered the church and
killed Proterius the alien and burned his corpse in the street.
Pope Timothy and his brother were exiled to Gangra, from where the Pope was careful to send letters of faith to his people. He explained in these letters the faith of the church cautioning the people from the Eutychian thought, giving reference to the writings of St. Dioscorus. The people of Gangra island loved him and called him "the miracleperformer" and "the charitable3."
The ruler then appointed "Salophaciolus" as patriarch,
the people boycotted him for seven years. In the year A.D
474, Marcian the emperor died and was succeeded by
Basiliscus. His physician who was from Alexandria inter-
ceded to the emperor to set the pope free. The pope then left
his exile and went to Constantinople to thank the emperor.
There he was welcomed by both the Church and state. He
requested from the emperor the return of the exiled bishops.
He called for a council that was attended by 500 bishops. In
the council he confirmed the anathema against the Eutychian
heresy and the rejection of the Tome of Leo. Reconciliation
among the churches of Jerusalem, Constantinople, Antioch
and Alexandria was established and lasted for a number of
years. He also returned the relics of St. Dioscorus to
The alien patriarch calmly left his see and the pope
lovingly gathered the bishops who yielded to the alien after
they had proclaimed their rejection of Leo's Tome and of the
Council of Chalcedon and acknowledged the Orthodox faith.
UNSTABLE RELATIONS BETWEEN THE SEE OF
ALEXANDRIA AND THE SEE OF
The relations between the popes of Alexandria and the Patriarchs of Constantinople were changing according to the political situations and the attitudes of both the emperor and the patriarchs of Constantinople.
As an example, when Zeno took the throne of
Constantinople by force he send Pope Peter III (the 27th
pope) to exile. The pope disappeared in one of the districts
for five years and the people boycotted the alien patriarch
Gregory who was appointed by the ruler. After a period of
time the Copts decided to face the emperor, so they chose a
delegation headed by John Talaia. This delegation went to
see Zeno and claimed the people's right to choose their
pastor. Zeno hesitated because he thought that John had
hopes to accession to take the See of St. Mark. John made an oath that he would not accept the See even if he was elected by all the people. Zeno assured them that he would respond to their request.
In the year A.D 482 Gregory died and John forgot his
oath. He was able to undertake this position through his
connections with the ruler. He sent two messages to the
bishops of Rome and Constantinople. According to God's
disposal, John's delegate went to see Apollos, a man of
authority in the court, but he was absent. John's message
arrived too late into the hands of Acacias of Constantinople
who considered that lateness as an act of disdain, preferring
the bishop of Rome over him. He advised Zeno to return to
the Egyptians Peter III their legal pope. The bishop of Rome
sent a message to each of Acacias and Zeno announcing his
pleasure at the accession of John Talaia to the See of Alex-
andria, but Zeno replied that this person was not worthy of
that high honor because he had broken his oath4. Indeed
Pope Peter III returned to his See and exchanged
fourteen messages with Patriarch Acacias who announced
that he had renounced the acknowledgment of the Council of
Chalcedon and requested reciprocal fellowship between
Alexandria and Constantinople. Those messages are still
preserved. They resulted in a delegation from Alexandria
applying to attend a council in Constantinople, and the
appearance of Zeno's proclamation called "Henoticon."
On the 28th of July A.D 482, Zeno issued the
"Henoticon," presenting a description of the religious
situation in the East. It was a realistic report stating the
condition of the church following the Council of Chalcedon.
It said: [For it happened that throughout the previous
decades (years), time has witnessed generations pass away,
some deprived of the baptismal renovation, others without
participation in the divine communion to the point of
departure, and tens of thousands of death have been
recklessly inflicted to the extent that not only the earth, but
the atmosphere has been polluted. Who would not pray that
such things may be substituted for better ones?5].
Emperor Zeno, who began his royal rule by canceling
the resolution of Emperor Basiliscus and sending the non-
Chalcedonian bishops to exile, came to understand how the
church in the East suffered bitterly from the persecution of
the royal court. We do not forget that Zeno, later became
amicable to the church of Alexandria, in particular to the
monks of this church especially after his daughter Hilaria
(Hillary) disguised in a monk's uniform and led an ascetic
life. Nobody knew anything about her until she had healed
her only sister from sickness. The Emperor then, gave
generously to the monasteries in Egypt.
In that proclamation Zeno ignored the Council of Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo. In the meantime he took the positive side to confirm the unity of the nature of our Lord Jesus Christ without reference to any particular text. The "Henoticon" contained:
1. The Nicene Creed is the only creed approved by the 150 Fathers of Constantinople and by the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus; aiming to taking the church back to preChalcedonian theology6.
2. Both Nestorius and Eutyches are anathematized and
the twelve articles (anathemas) by St. Cyril were accepted.
3. He positively confirmed : [We confess that the Only
Son of God, God Himself, who really became incarnate as
our Lord Jesus Christ; He who is consubstantial with us as to
the manhood; He who came down and became incarnate by
the Holy Spirit and of Mary the Virgin "Theotokos;" He is
one Son and not two. For we affirm the Only Son of God
both the miracles-Worker and the suffering which He
endured voluntarily in the flesh. We do not at all accept
those who make a separation, or introduce in confusion or
fantasy. Since the true and sinless incarnation did not
introduce any addition to the Son, the Trinity continued to
be Trinity even when God the Word, one of the Trinity,
4. After the "Henoticon" had called for the reform of the
church, an anathema was imposed on [all who have held or
now hold or at any time, whether in Chalcedon or in any
other synod, whatsoever, any different belief], and in
particular Nestorius and Eutyches and their followers.
The Pope of Alexandria signed that proclamation
explaining to the clergymen and the people in Alexandria the
theological concept it bears. Some people had requested that
the Henoticon should be clear with regards to the anathema
against the Tome of Leo and the resolutions of the Council
of Chalcedon and assuring the one nature of Jesus Christ.
In fact the Henoticon did not return to the persecuted
non- Chalcedonians their rights. It only allowed them the
freedom of practicing their spiritual and ecclesiastical
activities without being obliged to accept the resolutions of
the Council of Chalcedon. Therefore they welcomed it, not
for the theology it bears, but because it gave them the
freedom to work regardless of the clear tendency it bears towards the thought of those who believed in one nature.
This Henoticon gave an opportunity for the four main Sees
of the East to unite. The See of the west in Rome didn't occupy
itself with that matter. The delegates of Rome expressed their
line of thought in the meeting of the Council of Chalcedon held
on the 22nd of October A.D 451, saying that the East should
accept Rome's point of view or else withdraw, leaving Rome on
her own. The Fathers of the Council didn't stand passively, but
expressed their discontent.
On the 28th of July 484, Filex III of Rome called a synod of
27 bishops and excommunicated Pope Peter of Alexandria and
Patriarch Acacias, yet they didn't give the matter any attention.
In spite of the death of Acacias in 489, Pope Peter III in
490 and Zeno in 491, Emperor Anastasius I (A.D 491-518) held
to the Henoticon. The Patriarchs of Constantinople had to sign it
when they were being ordained. This continued until the death
of the emperor in 518. In that period St. Severus of Antioch
(512-518) appeared as one of the most famous theologians on
the subject of the one nature of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Church of Alexandria lived in peace together with the other Sees in the East, and had a loving relationship with Emperor Anastasius. This lasted until the enthronement of Justinian when the troubles newly began..
1. Christ in the Eastern thought.
2. See: Christology according to the Non-Chalcedon, p. 2,3.
3. Mar Sawirus Yacoub Toma: Hist. of the Syrian Antioch Church, vol. 2, p. 218.
4. Archmandrite V. Guettee Hist. de L'Eglise, 1806, t.5, p. 44-5.
5. C.V. Samuel: Council of Chalcedon Re-examined, Madras 1977, p.108-9.
6. Atiya: Hist. of Eastern Christianity, p. 72.7. V.C. Samuel, p.109.