The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was scheduled to attend a peace conference in Cairo today with Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University.
The Pope was due to meet Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, soon after, making a partial reunion between three leaders who trace their roots to apostolic times.
While Pope Francis is the successor of St Peter, the Orthodox ecumenical patriarchate traces its lineage to St Andrew, and the Coptic Orthodox Church has St Mark as its patron. The Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches are not in full communion with each other, although they have been working closely together and have been engaged in theological dialogue aimed at unity.
The Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople is called the Ecumenical Patriarch and is considered “first among equals” for the Eastern Orthodox churches, even though his primacy does not entail direct or ultimate jurisdiction over them.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of six Oriental Orthodox churches that trace their roots to apostolic times, but distanced themselves from the Eastern and Western Church after the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Like the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Oriental Orthodox accept seven sacraments and allow the ordination of married men but choose their bishops only from among celibate priests. They are in communion with one another but not with the Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox churches that split with Rome in the 11th century.
Egypt’s indigenous Christian community traces its faith all the way back to Jesus who, according to the Gospel of St Matthew, sought refuge in Egypt from the wrath of Herod the Great.
Coptic Orthodox tradition holds that around the year 42, St Mark arrived to evangelise in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, before being martyred.
By the 3rd century, Christianity was the country’s dominant religion. By the time Islam arrived, Egyptian Christianity had already provided the Church with some of the world’s great saints and had introduced new forms of monastic life.
ISIS targets ancient monastery
ISIS has claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a police checkpoint outside St Catherine’s Monastery, in the Sinai peninsula, Egypt.
The attack killed one police officer and wounded four others. After an exchange of gunfire the militants fled the scene. However, they were tracked by Bedouin tribesmen. Police later killed one of the attackers, according to reports.
The ISIS-affiliated Amaq news agency said that militants allied to ISIS had carried out the attack.
The monastery, which dates back to the 6th century, is located in a remote desert region in the south of the Sinai peninsula. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site and home to what many say is the world’s oldest library.
The attack came just over a week after suicide bombers targeted two churches in the Nile Delta city of Tanta and the coastal city of Alexandria, killing 45 people on Palm Sunday.
The attacks led Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to declare a three-month state of emergency.
The US issued a travel warning last week, advising its nationals in Egypt to stay away from places of worship for two weeks.
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