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”

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”

Egypt on the Brink

Hussein Tantawi 

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?

If the army does not want to be seen as being selective in who it protects, Continue reading “Egypt on the Brink”

More Things …


Three interesting new resources I have come across recently, and thought I might share with you today:

In 1991 a huge project came to fruition with the publication of the eight volume Coptic Encyclopedia. Containing nearly three thousand entries by a variety of authors, both members of the Coptic community and foreign scholars in Coptology, it is perhaps the most comprehensive reference on all things Coptic ever produced. The hard cover eight volume set is not only very expensive, but has also been out of print for some years and hard to get a hold of. So it was with great pleasure that I came across this wonderful project at Claremont Graduate University in California. An excerpt from the announcement of this project: 

The Coptic Encyclopedia, published by Macmillan in 1991, is an eight-volume work. Its 2,800 entries, written by 215 scholars, took 13 years to compile. But as a paper-bound document it was only available to a limited readership and nearly impossible to amend. The digitized version, renamed the Claremont Coptic Encyclopedia, can be constantly updated and is available to anyone with an Internet connection.

Apparently, Phase 1, which began in 2010, is to digitise and make available all 2,800 articles in the original 1991 edition. You can access the articles far completed here.  Last I checked, they were somewhere in the “O” section, working alphabetically from “A”. Phase 2 will be to add multimedia accompaniments to appropriate articles, especially pictures and perhaps audio. Phase 3, and most exciting of all, is to provide continuous updating of existing articles and add new ones to reflect ongoing research and developments in the field of Coptology, and to track the unfolding history of the Coptic Church in the twenty first century. Three cheers for CGU!

How often have you turned up at Church on a feast day or during a fast and wondered why everyone was doing things differently? Continue reading “More Things …”

Of All Nations

NCO origins AAM June 2011










One of the nicest things about living in Australia is that you don’t really have to go out and visit the world – the world comes to you. Being a multicultural society, Australians are born or trace their heritage to nearly every country in the world. Our society is enriched by a multitude of languages, accents, and forms of dress, not to mention the delicious cuisines and tastes of scores of cultures. 

Through marriage and through the blossoming Outreach Service to the neighbours at our parish, we now count as members of our Christian family people from a rich variety of backgrounds. The map shown illustrates the various countries from which members of our parish have come, and they are listed at the end of this post.

The Apostles’ Fast is all about celebrating the incredible work of the Holy Spirit in spreading the Good News of Christ to all the nations. Whereas the Old Testament chosen people tended to be isolated and keep to themselves, the New Testament Christian is commanded to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

That is not to say that this is an easy command to carry out. One of our experiences over the years has been a certain tension between our history and our destiny. On the one hand, there is fourteen centuries of being a relatively insulated faith community that was beaten into submission by hostile Muslim suppression, so much so that we lost the desire or the skill to evangelise others. When we came to Australia, much of this mindset came with us, and we found ourselves being suspicious of ‘outsiders’, mistrusting their motivations and their morals. On the other hand, younger generations of Copts have been imbued with the Australian ethic of respect for others as equals regardless of their race or colour, and a desire to connect and interact with the Australian society of which we are a part. Continue reading “Of All Nations”

Close Encounters of the Theological Kind.

 File:Fomalhaut with Disk Ring and extrasolar planet b.jpg

Sitting at home in bed with a nasty respiratory infection is not my ideal way of spending a Sunday morning. My groggy head makes it hard to focus, and I find my thoughts turning to the heavens above…

 A milestone was recently passed: the 555th extrasolar planet was confirmed. An extra solar planet is a planet orbiting a star other than our own sun. When I was growing up, there was a debate going on as to whether such planets even existed. Then in 1992 a few thousand years of wondering came to an end when the first extrasolar planet was discovered, whizzing around a pulsar. Since then, the discoveries have come thick and fast, with new methods for detecting the slippery little creatures being developed all the time. A few of the planets have even posed for a photo, like this one orbiting Fomalhaut (see picture), a star just 25 light years away in the constellation of the Southern Fish (Fomalhaut is Arabic for ‘mouth of the whale’). The Kepler space observatory is expected to take the figure into the thousands.

 How exciting! Imagine what it might be like to travel to one of these planets orbiting around an alien sun. What exotic landscapes would we see? What new science might we learn there? For all human existence, we have been limited to one little, tiny corner of the universe. Until a few decades ago, we had no direct physical access to anything except what we could find here on earth. And then, as we began to send robots to the moon, the planets, the asteroids and comets of our own solar system, we were constantly surprised by what we discovered. Our furthest explorers, the Viking probes launched in the 1980s, are only now approaching the edge of our solar system, and again, making unexpected discoveries. What might we discover in an alien solar system? 

Could there be life?

 The scientific answer to that question is an interesting one. Most scientists who think about it believe the chances are pretty good that life exists somewhere else in the universe, but that our chances of ever coming across it are pretty dismal. Much of this thinking can be traced back to the famous Drake equation that calculates the probability of life and compares it to the number of planets that might be capable of harbouring life. There is ample speculation out there on the scientific and social questions that are raised by the possibility of alien life, so I won’t go into them here. But there is another set of questions that is a little harder to find being discussed.

 The theological questions are no less interesting. I recall hearing HG Bishop Moussa commenting on this topic at a conference once: “If we find life on other planets, we’ll just tuck our Bibles under our arms and go and preach to the aliens” he said. A nice repost for an impromptu response, but perhaps there is more to the matter? Continue reading “Close Encounters of the Theological Kind.”

Attachment Styles


In the January/February edition of Scientific American Mind there was an interesting article about ‘Attachment Styles’. Apparently getting married and living under the same roof means that things like your heart rate, breathing rate and hormone levels all come to be regulated by your partner. The two ‘form one physiological unit’. That’s what the Church has been saying for centuries: “And the two shall become one flesh”.

The premise of the article is that we all fall into one of three attachment styles; patterns of behaviour in our relationship with our spouse. The compatibility of these styles is a big determinant of how successful and happy a marriage is. Here is an excerpt defining the three styles:

SECURE Attachment Style
I find it relatively easy to get close to others and am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t often worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me

AVOIDANT Attachment Style
I am somewhat uncomfortable being close to others: I find it difficult to trust them completely and difficult to allow myself to depend on them. I am nervous when anyone gets too close, and often romantic partners want me to be more intimate than I feel comfortable being. Continue reading “Attachment Styles”

IVF and Cloning Part 1


 One of the major issues challenging our ethics in the 21st century is the issue of human cloning. There are compelling parallels to the rise of nuclear energy 60 years ago. Whilst nuclear energy has given us a relatively clean source of incredible amounts of energy, and is even used in medicine to save lives, it also brought with it the ability to destroy the world as we know it. Would we have been better off if the power within the atom had never been unleashed?

Cloning today provides a stunningly similar set of ethical questions. Most people are happy with the idea of cloning plants or even animals if it will provide some benefit to humanity, but when it comes to considering cloning a human being, we run into a minefield of questions, for most of which we have yet to find satisfactory answers.

Nor is it a hypothetical question any more. At this very moment, Continue reading “IVF and Cloning Part 1”

O, for an honest politician!

Australia's first female Prime Minister.

Angela brings up the topic of Australia’s new Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard.

She is right in saying that priests tend to stay out of politics, and so it should be, but I am going to offer a few non-political observations on the political landscape. I have always thought that faith ought to be applicable to every sphere of our lives, without exception. Politics is one area where perhaps we need to apply our faith the most, for it is the sphere where the major decisions that determine the external nature of our lives are made. Living in a democracy, we get to choose who makes those decisions, and thus have a responsibility to make the best choices we can.

Firstly, it is the first time Australia has ever had a woman Prime Minister. Someone actually pointed out to me that we now have a women-only government, starting from the Queen, the Governor General, Prime Minister, Governor of NSW, Premier of NSW and even the Lord Mayoress of Sydney – all of whom are women! In today’s world, the ideal of equal opportunity has, rightly I think, largely emilinated older ideals of the fragility of women. We should get the best person to do the job, regardless of race, colour, creed or gender. There are many who feel at the moment that Julia Gillard is the best person for the job, so let’s see what she can do.

There is no doubt poor old Kevin Rudd, until recently, Prime Minister of Australia, has been dealt with rather harshly. Continue reading “O, for an honest politician!”