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Protocol Between The Coptic Orthodox Church And The Eritrian Orthodox Church

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INTRODUCTION

The two Churches are linked by very intimate relations since the early Centuries of Christianity, as both are sons of St. Mark the Apostle. Such link was realized when St. Athanasius, the Apostolic, the 20th Pope of Alexandria, consecrated Fromentious in the year
329 A.D to be the first bishop of Eritrea and Ethiopia, on the request of the two Christian kings Abraha and Atsbeha. He was given the name of Abba Salama and started his bishopric when he arrived first in Eritrea in the Year 330A.D., and is venerated as a Saint.

Through the consecration of Abba Salama, the church of Alexandria established the bishop’s seat for the church of Eritrea and Ethiopia, which then became part of the See of Saint Mark, the Apostle.

The Church of Alexandria used to consecrate and send a bishop to continue the pastoral responsibilities of Abba Salama.

On the 24 May 1991, Eritrea became an independent country. The Eritrian church expanded and now has about 1,700,000 members (One million and seven hundred thousands), 1500 churches, 22 monasteries and 15,000 priests.

On July 1993, H.E. Isaias Afeworki visited H.H. Pope Shenouda 111. in his office in Cairo and conveyed the wish of Eritrea, president, temporary Holy Synod of the church and the people to have an independent church for an independent country. H.H. Pope Shenouda III asked to receive an Eritrian church delegation in Cairo, representing the temporary Holy Synod, to discuss the ‘Matter and the future steps, carrying an official letter. This delegation met H.H. Pope Shenouda III on 19 July 1993, and offered the official letter expressing this request.

H.H. Pope Shenouda III wrote a letter dated July 21, 1993 to H.G. Bishop Philipos, the head of the EOC and Synod expressing his acceptance to form an Eritrean Synod of bishops and subsequently to ordain a new Patriarch for the EOC, recognizing it thereby as an independent church.

On August 2, 1993, the Eritrean temporary Synod in Asmara decided to follow the advice of H.H. Pope Shenouda III expressed in his letter, and sent a letter forwarded by H.G. Bishop Philipos with a copy of the Synod signed resolutions.

On Jan 11, 1994, H.H. Pope Shenouda III received a letter from the Eritrean church informing him that five monk abbots were elected to become diocesan bishops for Eritrea.

The election was under the supervision of the vice-minister of interior affairs of Eritrea. The names of the elected abbots were stated in that letter.

The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church in a special meeting on September 28, 1993, approved all the arrangements with the EOC .

A Coptic delegation visited Asmara carrying a letter from H.H. Pope Shenouda III dated May 24,1994 to "discuss all the preparations for the ordination of the new five bishops, the place, the date, the dioceses and the enthronement of the new patriarch of the Orthodox church of Eritrea: when and where to be ordained, and all other matters."

The delegation met the Temporary Holy Synod and discussed everything and then met with the President.

The delegation came back from Asmara with an official letter dated May 26, 1994 carrying the names of the new bishop, their dioceses, the ordination to be in St.Mark cathedral in Cairo, the ordination of the patriarch also to be in Cairo. Through negotiations, it was agreed that after the ordination of the patriarch, H.H. Pope Shenouda will come to Asmara to enthrone him.

The ordination of the new five Eritrian Orthodox Bishops took place in St. Mark Cathedral in Cairo on the feast of Pentecost, 1994 by H.H. Pope Shenouda III and the Coptic Holy synod in a great celebration attended by thousands of Coptic people and visitors.

Abouna Philipos attended and participated in their ordination, and an Eritrean delegation, clergy and lay people were present. The five bishops were enthroned afterwards in their dioceses in Eritrea by the Eritrian Orthodox Church.

On April 15, 1998, H.H. Pope Shenouda III sent H. E. Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette to Asmara according to the request of the EOC to attend the chosing of the Patriarch. Abouna Philippos was chosen unanimously as the only candidate by the Eritrian bishops.

On the feast of St. Mark, May 8, 1998 Abouna Philipos was ordained as the first patriarch of EOC by H.H. Pope Shenouda III, along with the Coptic and Eritrean Metropolitans and bishops in a huge festival in the Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo, attended by thousands of clergy and lay people from both COC. and EOC.

H.H. Pope Shenouda III together with H.H. Patriarch Philipos I and a Coptic Delegation will be going, God wills, to Asmara in order to enthrone the first Patriarch of Eritrea on his seat in a joyful and huge festival in Asmara Cathedral, to be attended by President Afeworki, Government Dignitaries, visitors and the Eritrian people.

This protocol was prepared and approved by the two Holy Synods of COC & EOC.

Article 1:
The Church of Alexandria recognizes the autocephally (independence) of the EOC

Article 2:
His Holiness, the Pope of Alexandria, being the successor of St. Mark the Apostle, has the first position of honor, in accordance with the Church traditions and the resolutions of the canonical ecumenical councils confessed by the two Churches and also due to the historical links between the two Churches, in a manner that does not belittle the independent status of the EOC.

Article 3:
The two Churches belong to the SEE of SAINT MARK and confess one Orthodox Doctrine.

Article 4:
In order to manifest and affirm the spiritual relations between the two Churches, H.H. the Pope of Alexandria and H.H. the Patriarch of Eritrea should be mentioned in all the liturgical prayers The name of the Pope of Alexandria to be mentioned first.

Article 5:
Each Church has her own Holy Synod to care for her affairs. The resolutions of the two Synods should be exchanged regularly.

Article 6:
To assure the unity in the Apostolic Orthodox faith and Tradition, a general Holy Synod of both churches should convene together every three years, and whenever the need arises.

Article 7:
Each Church has the liberty to chose its own Patriarch. But in order to manifest the tight relations between the two Churches; the other Church will send a delegation of ten members of the church: two diocesan Bishops, two abbots of monasteries, and six other persons representing other categories of church members in order to attend the election process as guests.

Article 8:
In any future consecration and enthronement of a Patriarch for either one of the two Churches, a delegation should be sent from the other Church to invite her to participate. The type of participation is to be negotiated at that time.

Article 9:
Both Churches should invite each other to participate or observe in all major occasions.

Article 10:
In meetings of theological dialogues with other confessions, on matters of faith, which are not on the level of the Oriental Orthodox Family, the two Churches will from a common delegation

Article 11:
Both Churches are committed not to depose and replace a Patriarch or a Bishop of her own in his life time, unless his deposition is decided by the Holy Synod of his Church, through a canonical procedure.

Article 12:
A permanent joint committee is to be formed out of the members of the two Synods from the cooperation of the two Churches in different areas such as:

(a) Exchange of visits of-. Patriarchs, Metropolitans, Bishops, Abbots Priests, Monks, Deacons, Professors, Students. and should be encouraged.
(b) Cooperation in Theological education.
(c) Christian Education: Sunday schools, Youth and family programs.
(d) Social services and development projects
(e) Pastoral Care: Both Churches should be given the chance to extend their pastoral care to their people at each other’s country.

Article 13:
The text of this protocol, being approved by both Holy Synods and signed by the Patriarchs of the two Churches, has come into effect and should be publicized and circulated to all the dioceses and parishes of both Churches

Article 14:
Any addition or amendments of this protocol should be discussed and approved in the joint meeting of the two Holy Synods.

Article 15:
This protocol has been prepared in the Tigrigna, Arabic and English languages. If misunderstandings arise in matters of interpretation, the English version shall prevail.

The above protocol of fifteen articles, together with the introduction, a total of six pages (in the English version), pursuant to article thirteen of this protocol, it is hereby signed by the heads of both Churches in May 1998.

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