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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 September, 2004, 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK
Patriarch Petros: Architect of revival
By Mike Workman
BBC News

One of the most senior bishops of the worldwide Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, Petros VII, has died after a helicopter crash off the coast of Greece.

The Patriarch was born in Cyprus in 1949.

Patriarch Petros of Alexandria
Petros died on a visit to a holy Orthodox site in Greece

His links to the church in Alexandria go back to 1970, when he was first ordained a deacon.

He was elected Patriarch in 1997.

Patriarch Petros was the head of a church which traces its origins back to St Mark, the author of one of the four Christian gospels which tell of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Persecution

In the early days of the church, the Bishops of Alexandria were second in influence and power only to Rome, but the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century and subsequent attempts to more closely define the teachings of the Church led to division and schism.

The Greek-speaking ruling classes continued to recognise the Orthodox Patriarch, although most Egyptian Christians were to give their allegiance to the rival Coptic Patriarch.

After the Arab conquest, the Orthodox community with its links to the old rulers suffered centuries of persecution.

By the time it ended, their numbers were tiny, and it was not until the mid-19th Century that their fortunes began to revive.

In recent decades the Orthodox Patriarchate in Alexandria has been at the forefront of the Orthodox Church's modest missionary efforts in sub-Saharan Africa.

Petros was an energetic architect of this revival, working in west, south and east Africa.

Under his leadership and that of his immediate predecessors, the number of Orthodox Christians who owe their allegiance to Alexandria has risen once again to levels not seen since Roman imperial times.


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The BBC's Richard Galpin
"The flight literally disappeared off radar screens"



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