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?

The Next Coptic Pope III

Yesterday His Eminence Metropolitan Pachomius announced the final short list of candidates for the election to be held on November 24 to choose the 118th Pope of the See of Alexandria, the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The list of five candidates is:

 

  • HG Bishop Raphael (General Bishop)
    – responsible for central Cairo but also serves with HG Bishop Moussa in the Bishopric of Youth.
  • HG Bishop Tawadros (General Bishop)
    – assistant to HE Metropolitan Pachomius in the diocese of Beheira, north-western Egypt.
  • Fr Raphael Ava Mina
    – a disciple of the late Pope Kyrollos VI and Abba Mina Ava Mina, the late head of the Monastery of St Mina.
  • Fr Pachomius Elsouriany
    – has served in Rome, Italy as a parish priest under HG Bishop Barnabas.
  • Fr Seraphim Elsouriany
    – has served in Hawaii, USA as a parish priest under HG Bishop Serapion.

 

No doubt more biographical details will soon be released about each of the candidates. I have gleaned from various sources that the Electoral Committee comprised of nine bishops and nine lay members of the Community Council (Maglis el Milli) spent nine days deliberating in the desert monastery of St Bishoy in order to trim the original list of 17 nominees down to just five. They considered all the objections that had been submitted to them for consideration and gradually whittled down the list through a series of secret ballots. All this was supported by a general fast with many prayers and liturgies carried out by the whole body of Copts all over the world, praying for God to guide the process and those conducting it to make the best decision for the Church.

I think the fasting worked. There are a number of positive things about this shortlist that are worth noting. Firstly, it is reassuring to see that our monasteries are still capable of producing monks of a high spiritual calibre in this day and age where life has become so complicated and true ascetism so difficult. Secondly, it is encouraging for the younger generations in the Church to see that some of the candidates, especially HG Bishop Raphael, have a firm background in serving the youth, which means they should have a comprehensive knowledge of the needs of the youth and how best to meet them. The young have been a very high priority since the papacy of Pope Shenouda III who was himself a Sunday School servant in his younger days and whose experience with the young greatly influenced his direction as pope. Also encouraging is the fact that a number of the candidates have served in the west and should hopefully therefore possess a sound understanding of the unique challenges and needs of western Copts, a category that currently comprises roughly 10-15% of Copts in the world, and will only grow in the years to come. Continue reading “The Next Coptic Pope III”

Afraid to be Free

 

Most people take it for granted that each of us is free to choose in life. But some philosophers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, claim that most people do not really want to be free. Choices have real consequences, and freedom brings with it responsibility. People do not want to be held responsible for the consequences of their actions. What if I make the wrong decision? What if the consequences are bad? I don’t want to be held to blame! I don’t want to feel guilty. And so people seek ways to shift the responsibility on to someone or something else, whether they know they are doing this or not.

One famous way of doing this is “the devil made me do it”. But a more subtle way of shifting responsibility is to lay it upon God, or upon His representatives on earth. Sartre points out that when a person adopts a faith, they surrender some of their freedom. They surrender the freedom to decide for themselves what is right and wrong, for by subscribing to their faith’s moral code, that decision is taken out of their hands. Of course, each person is still free to choose whether to obey their faith’s moral code or not – they are still quite free and quite responsible in that sense, but they are no longer responsible for the content of the moral code itself.

Now I do not see this as a bad thing in itself. We humans are, after all, quite fallible, and we have a disturbing tendency to try to cheat to make life comfortable for ourselves. If there is a genuinely objective right and wrong in the world (as most people would agree there is), then we are much more likely to find it when God tells us what it is than when are left to work it out for ourselves. Continue reading “Afraid to be Free”

Submission in Marriage

Is it sexist, outdated and even harmful to suggest that wives should submit to their husbands?

There has been some heated debate recently over the question of submission in marriage. It has been stirred up by the conservative Sydney Archdiocese of the Anglican Church introducing optional marriage vows for the bride that include the concept of submitting to her husband. This of course is something that has existed int he Coptic Orthodox rite since time immemorial. It is no novel invention, but derives from the words of St Paul:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22 NKJV)

Liberal Anglicans are outraged. They see this as huge step backwards for their Church, plunging it back into a discredited, patriarchal misogyny. St Paul wrote in the context of first century Greco-Roman society, where the inferiority of women was simply taken for granted. He and those to whom he wrote simply could not imagine a world where things were different, so he was simply giving advice on how to live as a Christian within that existing social structure. Compare slavery, the liberals say. St Paul encourages slaves to be obedient and submissive to their masters as to the Lord. But enlightened Christians in a more developed society in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries refused to accept slavery as an institution and changed the whole structure of their society, eliminating slavery altogether, rather than just telling slaves to accept their lot and be submissive. By analogy, they say, our even more enlightened society in the twentieth and twenty first centuries is now changing the very power structure of marriage and introducing the fullness of the equality before God that St Paul mentioned elsewhere:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NKJV)

But both the liberal interpretation of St Paul and the objections to submission in marriage are based on a crucial misunderstanding of the Gospel of Christ, reflected in St Paul. Once clarified, submission falls into its proper place and becomes something beautiful. To identify this misconception, we shall go right back to the beginning of the problem… Continue reading “Submission in Marriage”

Speaking in Tongues (Glossolalia)

Speaking in Tongues. A Biblical gift or … something else?

Did you know that the fastest growth among the Christian denominations in Australia today is happening in the Pentecostal and Charismatic Protestant Churches?

One of the defining characteristics of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity is the phenomenon of speaking in strange languages. It is believed that this is a miraculous gift from the Holy Spirit, that it continues a practice of the Apostles themselves, and that it is even a sign of God’s favour. People who speak in tongues consider it to be an experience of connecting with God, a superior form of prayer in fact. Some will even go so far as to say that Christians who do not speak in tongues are seriously deficient as Christians

All of these beliefs are highly suspect. But don’t take my word for it; read the evidence and make up your own mind. You will find some detailed research here which I will try to summarise briefly below.

Firstly, if speaking in tongues were truly a gift of the Holy Spirit, one would expect it to be unique to those who believe in the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit. But in reality, speaking in tongues or glossolalia was not only practiced by pagan cults well before Christianity began, but continues to practiced by non-Christians today, including Hindu fakirs and gurus in India and even, worryingly, by voodoo practitioners in Haiti. There is no doubt that pagans began speaking in tongues long before Christianity began, and there is compelling evidence that the practice was smuggled into Christian life by pagan converts to Christianity.

But didn’t the disciples speak in tongues? Here we must make an important distinction, one you will have already noticed if you have been reading your Bible carefully. Continue reading “Speaking in Tongues (Glossolalia)”

The Next Coptic Pope (continued)

The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church faces some difficult decisions as it guides the Church through this transitional period.

The list of seventeen candidates for the upcoming papal election has been released. These will be whittled down to about seven candidates, which a large college of voters will then vote on to produce the final three candidates whose names will go into the box on the altar. The candidates at present are:

Metropolitan Bishoy of Damietta

Anba Youannes

Anba Rophael

Anba Bevnotious of Samalout

Anba Boutros

Anba Tawadros of El-Bahaira

Anba Kirollos of Milan

Abouna Rafael Avva Mina

Abouna Maximos El-Antony

Abouna Shenouda Avva Bishoy Continue reading “The Next Coptic Pope (continued)”

The Next Coptic Pope

HH Pope Shenouda III had strong views on the qualifications for the service of bishops and priests. They stood us in good stead for the past forty years. Let us pray they are continued into the future...

If you are like me – not so good in the Arabic language – you are probably finding it hard to get any information about how things are progressing in Egypt in the lead up to the papal elections. A huge thanks to HG Bishop Angaelos in the UK for posting a comprehensive and authoritative summary of what is happening, and what is going to happen over the coming months. You can find it here.

On the other hand, it is always interesting to see how non-Copts view us. Here and here are two such sites, but they come with a warning: Coptic readers might not like everything they read on these sites, and I certainly cannot vouch for their accuracy. The view from a distance can provide an interesting perspective, but it also often ends up being somewhat incorrect.

We continue to pray for our Lord to guide all those involved in the process, that His will may be done and not that of any human being. I will take this opportunity to express just one personal observation I feel very strongly about.

The role of a clergyman is critical in our Coptic culture. Bishops and priests have the opportunity to do both great good, but also to do great harm. In the years that I have lived in the Coptic Church, there has always been a closely followed principle that has stood the Church in good stead: those who covet ordination are excluded from consideration.

There are excellent reasons for this. A person who sees ordination as some kind of “promotion” or honour is thinking of himself, and in true Christian service, there is simply no room for that. Once the ‘ego’ gets involved, the Holy Spirit steps back, and all you have left is merely human service, with all its faults and failings and weaknesses. No one benefits from that, neither servant nor the served. You only have to look around to other Christian Churches where clergymen “volunteer” for “promotion” to see the kinds of disasters that eventually follow. Continue reading “The Next Coptic Pope”

Facing the World…

Fr Zakaria Botros in his controversial satellite TV role. His engagement with Muslims has stirred great unrest. How do Copts engage with the western societies into which they have been transplanted?

As the Coptic Church has spread into the Diaspora of Western nations it has experienced an ever growing interaction with non-Copts. The sheer breadth of this interaction is rarely appreciated by Copts I think. To list just a few situations:

  • Employees and clients in Coptic organisations like Child Care Centres, Vacation Care Centres, Coptic Schools, Aged Care Facilities and the Theological Colleges.
  • Interested visitors to Coptic monasteries.
  • Marriages of Copts to non-Copts, or rather to converts to Coptic Orthodoxy.
  • Dialogues with other Churches and religions through organisations like the World Council of Churches and its branches and Interfaith events.
  • Participation in Government sponsored initiatives as well as those organised by civil society to deal with various pressing social issues.
  • Coptic sporting teams participating in local competitions.
  • Copts who run for political office.
  • Missionary and outreach services.
  • Services for the homeless and those in prison.
  • Apologetics dialogues with non-believers.
  • Kimi radio program and the Coptic satellite TV channels.
  • Visitors to Coptic websites of all kinds.
  • FOCUS – university campus societies.
  • Copts who volunteer to teach religion in public schools.
  • Interest from the media following the many massacres of Copts in Egypt and regarding the future of Christians in the Egypt of the Arab Spring.

All of these of course are in addition to the many thousands of commonplace interactions that take place daily in schools, tertiary institutions, workplaces and over the back fence with the neighbours.

In majority Muslim Egypt, there has often been strife, but relatively little actual theological debate or dialogue between the two Abrahamic faiths. One of the rare records of such debates Continue reading “Facing the World…”

Population Pressures (Part 2)

In the last post I discussed the problems that might arise due to the world’s ever growing population and looked at some of the discussion about what might be done about it. In this post I am going to explore the growth in population of different religious groups.

In recent times, there has been some heated discussion about Muslims having large families and taking over western countries through sheer numbers. But do the figures bear this out? A little exploration of the Australian Bureau of Statistics website shows some interesting facts. Below are a few trends projected for the growth of religious groups, firstly in the Australian population, and then in the world population. Please keep in mind that while statistics are fun, they can also lie quite easily, so one should take the predictions for the future below with some caution.

If there are any statisticians out there who have a better way of analysing the figures and making more sound predictions, I would love to hear from you! If you email me (“Contact Me” at the top of the page) I would be happy to share my spreadsheets with all the Bureau statistics and you can play around with them to your heart’s content. But please, do share your results.

My Results:

For 1996-2006, Hinduism (120%) and Buddhism (110%) have grown faster than Islam (69%) or Christianity (0.8%).

The percentage of children in Australia who are 0-14 years old has changed from 1996 to 2006 as follows:

Buddhist: 1% to 1.8%

Hindu: 0.4% to 0.7%

Islam: 1.7% to 2.6%

Christian: 65.3% to 58.2%

Growth is very hard to predict, and I am not a professional statistician. First I tried multiplying each population by the same growth factor that occurred from 1996-2006, but this produced some obviously ridiculous results by the year 2016. So I then tried just assuming that each population grows or declines by the same number of people every ten years. Obviously, this method too has its limitations, but using it, the big winners are going to be “No religion” and “Religious Affiliation not Stated” which together will grow by 2106 to be 49.5%of the population, compared to only 29.9% in 2006. In the same period, others will change thus:

Buddhist: 2.1% to 6.4%

Hindu: 0.7% to 2.3%

Islam: 1.7% to 4.2%

Christian: 63.9% to 33.6%

At current rates of decline, Churches of Christ would disappear by 2036; Uniting Church by 2066, Presbyterians by 2086 and sadly, the Salvation Army by2076. Of course, this is all unlikely as other factors will certainly come into play. Continue reading “Population Pressures (Part 2)”

Population Pressures (Part 1)

Apologies for the lack of posting recently – I was locked out by some technical glitch which now appears to have resolved itself!

Radio National’s Encounter program (30 October 2011) recently covered a very interesting yet little discussed topic. In the Bible, God commands Adam and Eve, and later Noah and his family, to go forth and multiply and to fill the earth. With our planet’s population having ticked over seven billion this year, and expected to reach nine billion by 2050, is it time to stop multiplying? Haven’t we now filled the earth?

Interestingly, there are arguments on both sides. On the one side is the fear that the earth cannot sustain too many more people. Its resources are limited after all. We have already experienced water shortages that were undreamed of when I was a child, and it is no longer unusual to hear that there is a famine somewhere in the world on any given day. Surely it is a straightforward matter of mathematics: limited resources cannot sustain an unlimited population. If we want to preserve our quality of life, we must take steps to limit the quantity of people alive.

Some have advocated a solution to overpopulation that sees wealthy countries helping developing countries to speed up their economic development. The poor, it is argued, have many children because they know some of them will die in childhood, and they want enough children to survive into adulthood to help on the farm and to look after them in their old age. But if they become financially secure and enjoy a raised standard of living, then they will have fewer children.

But does this solve the problem of the effects of overpopulation? A peasant family in India with 10 children may actually consume fewer resources than a high tech urban family in the USA with only two children! The amount of food the American family throws away each year might well feed the whole Indian family for a year! Perhaps sheer numbers are not the only problem: lifestyle may be an equally important factor.

A capitalistic society relies on growth for its prosperity. Today, a country’s success is unquestioningly measured by the annual growth of its GDP – Gross Domestic Product (although some have challenged this and produced measures of “national happiness” as alternatives). GDP growth means that you need a growing population to provide more consumers to buy more goods to create more jobs to put more money into people’s pockets. But I have often wondered, isn’t this something very like what a cancer does? Healthy body cells and organs grow to a certain limit and then just replace damaged or dead cells, maintaining a healthy, sustainable equilibrium of cell numbers. The whole problem with cancer cells is that they just don’t know when to stop multiplying. Eventually, they consume so much of the body’s resources that the rest of the body starves, and inevitably, dies. Our economic system is built upon exactly this unlimited growth principle!

Here it is important to point out something that the Christian living in the West needs to think about. Continue reading “Population Pressures (Part 1)”