Someone posted this picture last night on Facebook, with no caption, no comment. I expected to see some news item about it, perhaps with a better picture, but if there’s been one I haven’t seen it
The three popes represent three different streams of Christianity that have been separated for hundreds of years, so seeing them all together in one place is quite something.
Here’s some historical background:
Some time in the first century St Mark arrived in Alexandria as a missionary for the then-new Christian faith. Alexandria had a large Jewish population then, and so he probably started among them. After his death Mark was succeeded as Bishop of Alexandria by Ananias (AD 61-82), Abilius (83-95), and so on. The historical record is sketchy, but the church grew among the Greeks and Romans and the native Egyptians. The Greeks had conquered Egypt under Alexander the Great, and ruled it for several hundred years (the Ptolemy dynasty), and they had in turn been conquered by the Romans.
By the end of the second century the Holy Scriptures and liturgical texts were being translated into at least three vernacular languages, and the church had grown so much that more bishops were needed. It was about then that the bishops of Alexandria began using the title “Pope”, since theirs was the senior bishopric.
Within the next hundred years or so, almost the entire Egyptian population was Christian. They had abandoned the religion of their ancestors (that of the Pharaohs) and become Christian. Many of the Greek and Roman population remained pagan, however. Over the next century (250-350) the monastic movement arose in the Egyptian deserts, and soon spread throughout the Christian world.
In AD 451, however, at the Council of Chalcedon, there was a split. There was a dispute over the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ. The council said one thing, and Pope Dioscurus of Alexandria said another. The council deposed Pope Dioscurus, and he was replaced by Proterius, who accepted the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon. The next Pope, Timothy, did not accept the decisions of the council, however, and for the next century the two parties, Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian, fought to have their candidate elected as Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria.
In about 550, a century after the Council of Chalcedon, there was a final split, and since then there have been two Popes and Patriarchs of Alexandria — a Chalcedonian one and a non-Chalcedonian one. The Chalcedonian one remained in communion with the other churches that had accepted the Council of Chalcedon — Rome, Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem being the main ones, and it is referred to as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. The non-Chalcedonian one is referred to as the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. So after Dioscurus, there are two separate lists of Popes and Patriarchs of Alexandria.
In the 7th century Egypt was conquered by the Muslim Arabs. They favoured the Coptic Pope, because the Greek one was in communion with the Patriarch of Constantiniople, which was then the capital of the Roman Empire, which had ruled Egypt until the Arabs conquered it (not quite, there was also a brief Persian interlude). But all Christians in Egypt, no matter which Pope they supported, became second-class citizens under Muslim Arab rule.
The Greek Orthodox Pope of Alexandria remained in communion with Rome (whose bishops had by now also assumed the title of Pope) until the 11th century, when there was a dispute between Rome and Constantinople, which led to a breach of communion between them. The breach was not healed, and eventually the churches of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem sided with Constantinople, and were no longer in communion with Rome.
So the appearance of three popes and a patriarch together is something the like of which has probably not been seen since AD 550, if at all.
Incidentally, the English version of the name of both popes of Alexandria is Theodore, and both are Theodore II.