Patriarch and clergy

The Coptic Church has a long history of concentrating power in the hands of the patriarch of Alexandria. No other bishop or city in Egypt challenged the influence of Alexandria in the early centuries. His see has been located variously in Alexandria, Cairo and Wadi Natrun. The patriarch is elected by the Holy Synod (bishops, heads of monasteries, patriarchal council of clergy), representatives of priests and deacons, and lay people. In 1971, 622 voters chose three final candidates whose names were then written on pieces of paper. The selection of Shenouda III was made by a blindfolded young boy choosing one of the papers.

Bishops must be celibate and so are usually drawn from the monasteries. However, a widower of a single marriage can be consecrated bishop. The types of bishop are metropolitan, diocesan, monastic bishop or abbot, and general bishop (in charge of certain tasks, e.g., youth affairs, rather than a territory). A recent survey lists 78 bishops including 11 from areas other than Egypt, Africa, and the Near East. Priests must be legitimate, child of a first marriage (mother's side), baptised, married only once, have never shed blood, be in good health, and have some knowledge of Coptic as well as Arabic. The parish priest cannot marry after ordination and remains in the same parish throughout his career. Readers, subdeacons and deacons assist the priest in the liturgy. Readers and subdeacons are boys from 9 to 10 years of age. Deacons could formerly be as young as 14, but the trend now is for deacons to be 21 or older and already married.

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