It was a truly historic moment, and one that brought hope for many reasons. The tension built as millions of Copts around the world sat glued to their screens and prayed and chanted Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy) with those in the cathedral. I hoped fervently that it was only going to be 41 Kyrie eleisons and not 400! Anba Pachomius enjoined everyone to raise their hearts in supplication and submission, and a silent united supplication from millions around the world rose up to entreat God to choose a shepherd after His own heart for His Coptic flock. And then, a little boy named Bishoy dipped his hand into the bowl and pulled out a transparent orb. Time seemed to stretch out forever as Anba Pachomius fumbled with the seal and then unfolded the piece of paper that held the name of the poor man who is to lead the Coptic Orthodox Church into the future. After a quick peek himself, he held it up for all to see, and we had our new Pope…
Allow me to share a few impressions at this historic moment in time. Firstly, we must appreciate how wonderfully HE Metropolitan Pachomius has carried out his duties as locum tenens since the departure of Pope Shenouda. He had to care for a bereaved Church and soothe their sorrow (whilst no doubt dealing with his own). He had to tread a careful path in a tumultuous post-revolutionary Egypt, forging good relations with the new authorities while at the same time standing up for the rights of Christians suffering persecution and crying out for a father to defend them. He had to deal with a number of major unresolved issues within the Church, any of which could easily have led to huge splits in sections of the Church. He had to run the papal elections according to an outdated yet necessary set of bylaws, negotiating the conflicting opinions about diocesan bishops and (possibly) ambitious candidates, contrary to the venerable humble spirituality of our Coptic tradition.
All this he carried out with serenity, humility, integrity and profound wisdom. I had a personal experience of this during my recent trip to Egypt concerning one of those sensitive matters, Continue reading “Our Poor New Pope…”
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.
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?
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”
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:
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”
A day we have all been dreading has finally come upon us. After a long battle with illness, HH Pope Shenouda III has left this world. Shall we ever see another like him?
Many years ago, a relatively young Nazir Gayed left behind a promising career both within and outside of the Church and found a cave in the Egyptian desert in which, as a monk, he could pursue his chief passion: his love for God. But he was dragged away unwilling from his little heaven on earth, and thrown into the responsibilities of first the Bishopric of Education, and then the papacy. This he accepted, if unwillingly, putting his own desires second after the needs of others. Given a free choice, there is little doubt he would have chosen to live out his life in that cave, and the Church would have been blessed with one of those little known hermits who support us all with the purity of their prayers. But no, he acquiesced to the call and devoted his days instead to solving the problems of others. I wonder how many people really understand the magnitude of that sacrifice? And yet he never complained, never grumbled, never showed in the slightest way that he was unhappy with the path that God had chosen for him. And now, at last, after 88 years on this earth, after seven decades of faithful, self-sacrificial service, God has given him his heart’s desire. This time, he has left the world to pursue his chief passion, his love for God, and no one can drag him back.
At times like these, people are wont to list all the achievements of the person who has passed away. That will no doubt make for a very substantial inventory in this case. But for me, these are not the things that matter. This list will probably include the number of churches that were established during his reign and the number of schools and theological colleges, the number of honorary degrees he received, and so on. But for me, this is not the Church, and so this is not the measure of the man or his service. The real Church is not made of buildings and institutions. Continue reading “His Heart’s Desire”
The last post on facing the world stirred some interest, so I thought I might share an excerpt from the draft of the book I mentioned at the end of that post…
When St Mark left Egypt to continue his missionary travels, he appointed Anianus to care for the young church in his absence, and when St Mark was martyred in Alexandria in 68AD, Anianus assumed the leadership of the church. He is thus considered the second of the 117 Popes of Alexandria, although the title “pope” did not come into usage until the time of Pope Heraclas in the third century. Interestingly, it is likely that this title, ‘Papa’, which is simply a term of endearment akin to the modern ‘Daddy’, was used in Alexandria some years before it was applied to the bishop of Rome. For many years after that, there was always one bishop and twelve presbyters or priests in Alexandria. When a bishop died, the twelve priests would elect his successor from among their number, and whenever a priest died or was elevated to the bishopric, another suitable man was ordained to take his place.
What did the coming of Christianity mean for the inhabitants of Alexandria? It is almost certain that the significance of the conversion of Alexandrians to Christianity had the same significance for them that it had for people throughout the Roman world, indeed, the pagan world: Christianity turned the world upside down. This phenomenon is most lucidly described by Orthodox scholar David Bentley Hart, and it helps to explain why the pagan society was so violently determined to exterminate this new religion.
As Xmas approaches, I present a really interesting guest blog from a member of Aletheia Coptic Apologetics Group. So few people today realise the incredible debt we owe to Christianity. Going on the words below, society today would be unimaginable had not that very special Baby been born two thousand years ago. Enjoy…
As often happens when one walks the streets of the Sydney CBD, I was once approached by a homeless woman who asked me for some money. In the conversation that followed, she commented on how irritated she was at the way city-goers would routinely snub her off and ignore her completely; “I mean,” she said, “I’m as human as everyone else.” I agreed with her of course. Who would deny as obvious a fact as that? Even those people who snubbed her and provoked the comment no doubt understood that although this woman was homeless, and lay considerably lower on whatever scale of social respectability we use to categorise ourselves nowadays, she was still as human as the richest person in Sydney. Her status as a member of the human race meant that she had a sort of inalienable value; she deserved exactly the same sort of basic respect and dignity as the richest and most successful members of our society, purely because she was a human being.
This might sound like a fact so obvious that it doesn’t really need to be said. All of us know perfectly well that a person’s social station does not reflect their value; we all understand that wealth and poverty, health and sickness don’t necessarily reflect any particular virtue or flaw in a person’s character, and that even if they did, we would be no less obliged to help any of our fellow human beings in need. How could we think otherwise? Isn’t that what it means to be human? In “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies”, the Orthodox theologian and philosopher David Bentley Hart argues that if it weren’t for Christianity and its revolutionary re-imagining of what it means to be a human being, none of us might think that way at all. In the book’s introduction he says
“At a particular moment in history, I believe, something happened to Western humanity that changed it at the deepest levels of consciousness and at the highest levels of culture.”
Living as we do, at the end of 2000 years of Christian history, in a culture that has been irrevocably shaped by the Christian view of the world, it is hard for us to appreciate just how revolutionary Christianity was when it first stepped onto the stage of history. Continue reading “Christianity Changed the World”
A 32 year old Protestant Iranian pastor with a young family is on trial in Iran for apostasy from the Muslim faith. He stands at grave risk of being executed, although he has been told that he would be a free man if only he would ‘repent’, renounce his Christian faith and return to Islam. Interestingly, a Muslim blogger, Hesham Hassaballa, has responded in the most powerful way possible: by proving from the very words of the Quran that such treatment is against the teachings of Islam. A sample:
The evidence is overwhelming: Islam firmly upholds freedom of choice in matters of faith. Indeed, some Muslims do not, but their sins do not speak for the entire faith. Rather, their sins are an affront to the principles of Islam.
The Iranian authorities must let Pastor Nadarkhani free. The choice of faith that he makes is his alone, and he will face the Lord in the end for his choice.
Even if the head Shaikh of Al Azhar University converted to Catholicism, it would not diminish the truth of Islam’s message one iota. The Qur’an is quite confident in the truth it speaks, and so should it be with its adherents.
When will Muslim fundamentalists in Egypt and all over the world understand that if they want to be true to their own religion, they need to accept freedom of religion?
I think we will be waiting for a long time. This kind of fanaticism is nothing new for the Copt. An interesting historical article about important Coptic historical figure, Girgis El Gohary by Dioscorus Boles highlights some of the horrible circumstances Copts endured as recently as the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Surely we, as a human race, have moved on from such barbarism?
Over the past nine months fanatic elements within the Egyptian Muslim community have stirred up civil unrest all over Egypt. Copts have been attacked, houses and shops looted, and churches burnt down. While it is true that a general degree of anarchy has prevailed in the country since the revolution, one expects that as the new order comes to fruition, such anarchy will quickly be brought under control. THis is to be expected when so drastic a revolution happens in any nation. But acts of violence along religious lines will divide the country and turn it into another Lebanon. As thousands of Egyptian Copts protested the lack of protection from the ruling Army since the revolution, the army opened fire killing dozens of civilians and injuring hundreds. The Army has blamed “unknown culprits” for the violence. Yet surely, there is no doubt as to who did the killing?
If Egypt is ever to become a modern country it has to embrace modern standards of integrity and accountability. Provocateurs are being blamed for inciting the violence, yet we have often seen armies in other countries counter such violence without killing anyone. Why can’t the Egyptian army do the same? Are they not well enough trained? It is simply not good enough to say “they started it”. You are the ones with the training and the weapons!
After this terrible incident any decent army command would very quickly find out who gave the orders to fire on civilians and make a public example of them so that the rest of the soldiers understand that this absolutely unacceptable. The Army showed admirable constraint and what seemed to be great wisdom in refusing to use violence against protesters during the January revolution. Why has that restraint disappeared now? Why does it disappear only against Christians?