Tawadros II, What is in a Name?

Within a few days Bishop Tawadros will be enthroned as the new Coptic Pope, Tawadros II. For Coptic Popes, like Catholic Popes, and indeed monarchs in general, the name they take is sometimes a hint about their influences ,  leanings, and even hopes. The reader who thinks that the choice of “Tawadros” is purely coincidental should read no further, for this post explores the times of the only other Coptic Pope with the same name in the 2000 year history of the Church.

Tawadros I (731-743) was the forty-fifth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark.  A gentle man of few and well-considered words, he dedicated his life to service of the community and clergy. He succeeded his mentor, Alexander II, after a a short interregnum.  Alexander II ruled the Church for over 25 years (705-730), an unusually long time for that period.  He was a powerful Patriarch who involved himself in many of the political struggles of his day. His selection process involved new innovations and was approved by the Umayyad imperial powers in Damascus.  His reign started with the Umayyads, the last purely Arab series of Caliphs, at the height of their power and influence, and with the Muslim armies poised to invade both Europe and Byzantium.  His tenure was marked by stormy relations with the Caliphs, and even periods of banishment and arrest.  The Egypt he lived in was still largely Christian; but the wave of conversions to Islam was gathering strength. Along with conversions,  a number of revolts against the imperial powers, known as the Coptic Bashmuric revolts, marked the last stage of  active Coptic resistance to the new Muslim overlords. By the end of  Alexander’s tenure the Umayyads were a spent force and the center of Islam was shifting to Baghdad.

Tawadros I reign marked the furthermost incursions of Islam into Europe, with Charles Martel stopping the Moors at the Pyrenees,  and the Umayyads faltering at the walls of Byzantium.  From that point forward, Islam was to become a less Arab enterprise, and Islamic civilization was to take on the manners and values of many of the conquered nations, Persian, Moorish, Central Asian and Turkic.

Yet Tawadros I reign was a brief period of peace squeezed between the rise of Islam (and end of the Dark Ages) and the beginning of the Medieval age. Charlemagne and Haroon El Rashid were a century away, the Crusades three centuries hence, and the Ottomans more than seven centuries as well.  Tawadros I was also the only Coptic Pope to affect a return of Chalcedonian Christians to the Coptic Church.

As always, where some see accidents of history, the faithful credit the hand of God.

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