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Diocese of Arsinoe in Arcadia

The Holy Diocese of Arsinoe is a titular diocese in Egypt under the jurisdiction of the Church of Alexandria. The diocesan area is currently served by the Archdiocese of Ptolemais. Its current hierarch is His Grace Vasilios (Varvelis) of Arsinoe.


Arsinoe is an ancient city of Middle Egypt. It became inhabited during the old dynasties when its oasis, the Lake Moeris, had fresh water coming from the Nile (even today, the city is known as Faiyum in Arabic or Phiom in Coptic, meaning “lake”). Because of this, the region became associated with the cult of the Egyptian god Sobek, the crocodile, and was called Shedet, or Crocodilopolis. The Egyptians managed to pet a crocodile, adorn it with gold and bring it to the Temple of Sobek where they would worship it. After its death, a new one would be brought and so on. During the 3rd century BC Pharaoh Ptolemy II (284–246 BC) made his sister the Queen Arsinoe II goddess and dedicated Crocodilopolis to her. After Queen Cleopatra VII's death, Egypt became a Roman province.

Christianity reached the region at an early stage. Its first known bishop was Nepos near the Persecution of Emperor Decius (249–251). He became known for his very popular book (now lost), called Refutation of the Allegorists, in which he advocated for Millennialism, a heresy that considered that Christ's terrible second coming would take place literally 1,000 years after his Ressurrection instead of allegorically. Saint Dionysius, Patriarch of Alexandria (248–264) harshly criticized Nepos' book for his heresy, and the patriarch himself had to visit every village near Alexandria refuting his book given its popularity at the time.

After Emperor Diocletian's Great Persecution (303–305), the heretical Meletius of Lycopolis ordained himself many of his followers as bishops, and among them was Melas in Arsinoe. Meletius' heresy consisted on his opposition to Saint Peter I's (300–311) readmission of lapsed Christians (who offered sacrifices to the idols when threatened by the Persecution) after some years of repentance. Meletius sided with Arius, but later had his excommunication lifted by Saint Alexander (313–328). Of course, this Melas can't be listed as bishop.

The Diocese of Arsinoe became suffragan to the Archdiocese of Oxyrhynchus. In 362, during the times of Saint Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria (328–373), a council was presided in Alexandria in order to excommunicate those who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Andreas of Arsinoe is among the bishops who attended the council, and may have been the author of the letter regarding the council to the Church of Antioch. Nothing else is known about him.

Calosyrios was the Bishop of Arsinoe during Saint Cyril's Patriarchate (412–444). In 444, Saint Cyril wrote him a letter to be read in all the monasteries of his diocese refuting anthropomorphism. The anthropomorphist heresy held that God had a human form, this because of a wrong interpretation on the Book of Genesis. The heresy came from Syria to the Egyptian monasteries, and probably Arsinoe had been infected with it. During the Robber Council of Ephesus in 449, Calosyrios was one of the bishops who supported the lift of Eutyches' excommunication. Later, the holy Empress Pulcheria (450–453) nullified the council and excommunicated Monophysitism again.

Around 610, a certain heretical and monoenergist bishop named Theodore, who believed Christ had only one energy instead of two, mentioned Sergios as Bishop of Arsinoe. Saint Maximus the Confessor also lists him in his writings. During Cyrus' Patriarchate (631–643), Victor is listed as Bishop of Arsinoe, probably succeeding Sergios. Cyrus was later excommunicated for trying to unite with the Miaphysites, who believed that Christ had only one nature instead of two, and for his heresy of monotheletism, that held that Christ had only one will instead of two. Anyways, the heresy may have had success in Arsinoe, since its next bishop, Menas adhered to it and declared the heretical Agathon (661–680) as his patriarch.

The year of 639 marked the beginning of the Islamic conquest of Egypt. During the caliphate's rule, the Arab-Egyptian population (predominantly Myaphisites) were favored over the Greco-Egyptian (predominantly Orthodox), who had to pay higher and higher taxes to the conquerors. Eventually, almost all the Orthodox had took refuge in Asia, while the dioceses were taken by the Myaphisites. Even though, a certain Orthodox bishop is listed in the see of Arsinoe near the year of 740. Bishop Abrahamios was the last recorded Orthodox hierarch of Arsinoe, during the times of Patriarch Cosmas I (727–768). He was the first Orthodox patriarch allowed by the caliph to return to Alexandria after the Islamic invasion. After this, the seat of Arsinoe was subsequently held by Myaphisite bishops.

In 1976, the titular title of Bishop of Arsinoe was again granted to Hegumen Stephanos Papacharalambos. At that time, the city of Faiyum, now capital of the homonymous governorate, was under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Nubia. After 2004, it was put under the Archdiocese of Ptolemais. In 2016, the title was given again to Bishop Vasilios of Botswana after his retirement from active service.

Ruling bishops

Ancient bishops
  • Nepos (fl. 250)
  • Andreas (fl. 362)
  • Calosyrios (fl. 440)
  • Sergios (fl. 610)
  • Victor (fl. 640)
  • Menas (fl. 670)
  • Abrahamios (fl. 740)

(supressed in the 8th century following the Islamic conquest of Egypt)

Modern bishops