The Coptic Patriarchate of Jerusalem is in the Dier Mar Antonis convent, located northeast of the Holy Sepulchre and Chapel of St. Helena (see sites no. 242, 251). The site includes – the residence and seat of the Archbishop, a reception hall, the main church (St. Anthony) and two small churches (St. Helena and The Virgin), clergy housing quarters, pilgrim housing and a school for the local community. In the past, there was an additional chapel in the convent, named after St. James, as well as a small museum but are currently not active (rebuilding). The Coptic Patriarchate of Jerusalem was officially founded in 1236, during the reign of Egyptian Pope Syril the third. The pope appointed the Archbishop Basil to serve as the first Patriarch of Jerusalem (served between 1236-1260) and under his authority were the Copts in the areas of Israel, Sinai, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. The complex and patriarchal headquarters were established in 1875, expanded in 1907 and again in 1912. The Patriarchal representation of Jerusalem maintains close ties with the Mother Church in Egypt, and is supported by it. The Coptic community in Jerusalem is small and modest and most community members live in the Old City buildings and properties owned by the Patriarchate.
Coptic tradition believes that during the days of Christ, there was an ancient Egyptian Christian Community. The evidence is mentioned in the New Testament – “Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen..” (Acts 6, 9).
Traditionally, the Coptic language was used in prayer and scripture, but due to the ‘Arabization’ of Egypt, as from 1140, prayers and sermons began to be held only in Arabic. The communities outside of Egypt often used the local languages, in addition to Coptic Arabic. The Coptic Church can only ordain men and if they wish to be married, they must do so before the ordination (this practice also exists in other Eastern Orthodox churches).
In the 11th century, the head Patriarchate moved its location from Alexandria 5 to Cairo, where it remained to this day. According to estimations, there are approximately 15 million Orthodox Copts in the world. Most of them live in Egypt (8-10 million), while the rest are scattered. Outside of Egypt there a number of Coptic centers, among them – Israel (around 2,000 individuals), Africa (5 million) North America (1 million), as well as groups in Australia and Europe.
It can be said that the Coptic Church is the national church of Egypt, yet they are still a minority who suffers from hostility and pro-Muslim policies initiated by the government and the authorities. There is significant religious national sensitivity among the Copts in Egypt. Since the 70’s, as well as through the 2000’s, there have been a large number of violent incidents in Egypt, in which hundreds of Coptic Christians were attacked and murdered by radical Muslims.
The Copts note that they arrived in Jerusalem, following Helena, mother of Constantine (in year 326) and took part in the erection of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Since then, they have built churches and community institutions for the Coptic community and pilgrims. Up until the 9th century, there was no official Coptic community in the country. During the era of the Patriarche from Alexandria, the Father Jacob (between the years 810-830), Coptic churches began to be built in Jerusalem and the pilgrimage from Egypt grew (now entirely ceased due to the ban – see below). The Coptic community in Jerusalem has become increasingly sparse. During the British Mandate were only about a hundred people and now the count is similar. There is a small community in Nazareth, as well as in Jaffa and Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jericho
Since 1967, there has been an ongoing conflict between the Copts and the Ethiopians about the ownership of the “Deir Al-Sultan” Monastery and the two attached chapels. Israeli policy is usually careful to maintain the status quo for Christian holy sites, but has kept the the policy for this conflict and affected its relationship with Egypt and Ethiopia. The matter was passed to the courts and the government and has even been brought up in the peace agreement with Egypt (26.3.1979), but remained unresolved. Under these circumstances, the Coptic Patriarch of Egypt, Father Shenodah (served until March, 2012), boycotted Israel and banned Coptic pilgrimages to Jerusalem. The goal was to pressure those concerned and to restore the sites to the hands of the Copts. However, the sites are currently occupied by the Ethiopians and the conflict still stands.
5 Alexandria serves as an important focus for all related to the study of Christianity. Around the year 190,
the scholar Pantaneus established the Catechetical School of Alexandria. It was one of the most
important institution for teaching and religious studies. It was home to great scholars such as
Athenagoras, Clement, Didymus, and Origen (Origen is considered the father of Christian theology). The
Academy also engaged in science, mathematics and humanities. The Catechetical Academy of
Alexandria was re-established in 1893. The new academy has campuses in Cairo, New Jersey and Los
Tradition has it that the Coptic Church was founded by Mark the Evangelist, therefore the Head of the Church in Egypt bears the title "Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of Saint Mark's throne”. The name ‘Coptic’, actually comes from the Arabic version of the Greek word ‘Agiptos’, which means Egypt. Between the third and tenth century AD, the majority of the population in Egypt was Coptic. In the tenth century, there began a gradual decline and as of today, they are less than 10% of the population in Egypt. Today’s Coptic invests great efforts to preserve their cultural-liturgical and lingual uniqueness. They avoid intermarriage with Muslims in order to bequeath their authentic heritage to future generations.
The Coptic Church keeps its own calendar, counting the years from year 285 AD. This date marks the beginning of Emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians in Egypt. It is also the memorial day for the holy Coptic martyrs. According to the Coptic calendar, 2016 is the year 1732. The calendar begins on September 11 and the names of the months are mostly ancient Egyptian names, such as Tūt, Bābah, Hātūr and Masrá.
There is a liturgical and functional connection between the Patriarchate and the Monastery of St. Anthony, as well as other sites belonging to Copts in Jerusalem (see sites no. 376,282,375,377,379, 374). The Copts, despite being a minority in Jerusalem, are among the different communities who hold their own private chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, as well as the rights to hold official prayers and ceremonies in two additional sites – the Tomb of the Virgin Mary in Gethsemane and the Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives. In addition, they also claim to be the original owners of Deir Al-Sultan and two adjacent chapels (see site no. 253). This subject is currently disputed because the site is usually used by the Ethiopian Monastery.
Relevant Routes and Dates:
The Copts hold ceremonial processions at the Holy Sepulcher five times a year:
Palm Sunday - in accordance with the Orthodox calendar, the Copts join the procession of Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Syrians who march around the aedicule of the Holy Sepulcher.
The Friday before Easter - between the hours of 17: 00-19: 00 pm, they conduct processions and prayer at the Holy Sepulcher.
The Saturday of Light – The Coptic priests receive the sacred fire through the southern entrance of the aedicule and the entrance to the Angel Chapel. From there, they pass the fire to the nearby Monastery of St. Anthony.
Easter – At 4:00am, the Copts conduct processions and prayer at the Holy Sepulcher, while other groups conduct ceremonies at the same time.
Shavuot, ‘Pentecost’ – This day marks the Holy Spirit’s descendent to Christ’s messengers. This day is 50 days after Easter, in accordance with the Orthodox calendar.
The Copts hold an alter and prayer rights at the Church of Mary’s Tomb in Gethsemane (see site no. 424), which is where they conduct a regular Mass on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the year. The Copts also have an alter and prayer rights at the Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, where they conduct a ceremony and celebratory processions on the eve of the Feast of the Ascension. The procession leaves the Patriarchate at 14:30 and prayer is held at the church at 17:00. The day after, on the holiday a ceremony and Coptic Mass is held at 7:30 in the morning.
The Copts celebrate Christmas on January 7. This date is celebrated as a national holiday in Egypt since 2002.
The Coptic calendar begins in year 284 AD. This was the year that Diocletian was appointed emperor of Rome. He was responsible for the persecution and murder of many Christians during his reign. These events were a dramatic turning point in the Christian experience and since then, the Copts have determined that the date of Diocletian’s rise to power will serve as the date that begins the Era of the Martyrs in the Church of Alexandria.
St. Helena Chapel – Open every day between the hours 09:00-16:00.
Cistern of Helena is opened every day until 16:00.
Entrance to the cistern of Helena requires a 5NIS fee.
St. Anthony Church – Open only during prayer times and holiday.