The Next Coptic Pope – Diocesan Bishops

I thank Mark Ramzy in the USA for raising the case FOR diocesan bishops becoming pope in a Facebook discussion. To clarify some of the things in my previous posts on the topic, I thought it worthwhile to post his comments here with my response. Feel free to share your opinion – it is wonderful that we are able to debate such issues with frankness and love, and can it can only lead to a better Church in the future as together we seek the truth in love. To find the canons mentioned below and many more documents that are relevant, go the canon 15 website.

Mark’s comment:


I like the article Abouna, with the exception of the paragraph about diocesan bishops. It strongly implies that any diocesan bishop who is up for patriarch is somehow automatically coveting the position. I don’t think that automatically follows and, if it does, whatever the reasoning is would apply to anyone up for patriarch, not just that select sample.

I think the only way the argument holds true is if (i) diocesan bishops cannot become patriarch and (ii) each diocesan bishop up for the position actually believes (i). (Also holds true if (i) is wrong but the diocesan bishops think it’s true).


And my response:


Hi Mark. If you read the actual canon there is leeway for exceptions in certain circumstances. Of course, we would always want the best person for the role and historically we have had even laymen chosen to be pope with excellent results. If there were a standout diocesan bishop of superior spiritual qualities and no viable alternatives, I would certainly support his elevation to the papacy – that’s the kind of exception envisioned in the canon. But that certainly was not the case in our current situation. Perhaps, say, if HG Bishop Moussa was a diocesan bishop, there would have been a good case for his being a candidate (note he immediately declined when he was nominated).

If you read the letters of St Basil, you will find that even in the fifth century, politics had entered the Church and he struggled greatly to overcome this objectionable environment of ambition and self-seeking. I think the wisdom of the canon is to create an environment where this is not possible. WHy target diocesan bishops in particular? Actually, the canon covers bishops, priests and even deacons. The premise is “don’t strive to leave a smaller service for a bigger service”. We should strive to faithfully fulfil the mission given to us by God rather than being discontented with it and seeking to do something “bigger”. This is something we teach to our servants every day and seek to follow as priests as well. Service is not about being a hero, it is about humble loving sacrifice. And the same applies to a bishop just as aptly, if not moreso.

I hope that clarifies it a little? What do you think?

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2 Replies to “The Next Coptic Pope – Diocesan Bishops”

  1. We can’t really tell what these bishops thought or felt or their reasons for going ahead with this. But the fact that they knew so many people were dead against them for remaining on the nominees list yet they didn’t withdraw gives room for people to draw conclusions about them being in it for personal reasons (even if they are not). In my opinion this goes for anyone on the list who had serious complaints against them yet they let themselves stay on the list. I mean if the people don’t want you, then the people don’t want you!

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  2. Here is the continuation of Fr. Antonion’ and my discussion:


    I have read Apostolic Canon 14, Nicean Canon 15, and a plethera of other documentation with respect to the subject (and engaged in many discussions regarding it).

    I agree, in certain circumstances, a diocesan bishop can become patriarch. Those circumstances, however, are up to the Holy Synod to decide. The election bylaws that were passed were on the books since 1971, they were no shock to anyone. The Holy Synod just adopted what it had adopted 41 years ago.

    If the idea is to petition the Holy Synod to make it extremely exceptional for a diocesan bishop to become patriarch, I do not disagree with that. However, that is different from implying that someone who accepts a duly made nomination for patriarch is somehow covetous of that position simply because he is a diocesan bishop. That is speculation at best. In fact, I could make an argument that a diocesan bishop going to patriarch is much less than a monk going to patriarch, does that mean that the monk is that much more covetous of the position?

    It is just a very negative approach to the issue that I would hope is avoided at all costs.


    Of course we cannot know what is truly in the heart of any person, but if you check Coptic history you will find that there have been people who made no secret of their ambition and campaigned openly to achieve it. I understand Pope Yusab II did that. Then there are others who harbour such ambitions but hide them. They are more dangerous. It is an indisputable fact of history that there have been bishops covetous of the position of patriarch in the past. To be sure, there have also been monks and even laymen who have coveted the papacy, but they do not command the level of influence and respect that a bishop does, and are perhaps easier to say “no” to. To me it makes sense that the safeguards against covetous bishops should be stronger than those against those of lower clerical standing.

    You could describe this approach as negative, but I would suggest that it is realistic and a way of preventing a far greater evil in the Church. In the end, those charged with deciding the candidates must get to know them and make a judgment call as to whether their motives are pure, hopefully guided by the Holy Spirit. But if Pope Shenouda’s principle has any validity, then no diocesan bishop ought to accept a nomination lightly, much less put themselves forward whether openly or by stealth.

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