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NEWS FROM THE MOTHER CHURCH

Pope Shenouda’s Health

On 19 October Pope Shenouda travelled to the U.S.A. to undergo spinal surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, U.S.A. This was to treat a serious back problem from which His Holiness has been suffering for many years. The Egyptian newspapers were full of speculation about the Pope’s health and the entire Coptic community waited anxiously for the outcome of the operation. This was performed on 22 October by Ian Kalfas, Professor of Neurosurgery supported by a distinguished team of medical specialists. The next day His Holiness was walking remarkably well and telephoned Egypt to extend greetings to President Mubarak for the Feast of Bayram. The President himself returned the Pope’s call and throughout showed great solicitude for his health. Each day showed a steady progression and brought a steady stream of hierarchs and Egyptian notables to greet the Pope. The Pope’s return to Cairo on 11 November was greeted by vast crowds of the faithful, ecumenical representatives and high-ranking officers of state, who all expressed amazement and delight to find the Pope so well, both in body and in spirit.

First new Metropolitans for twelve years

On 19 March 2006, in Aswan, H.H. Pope Shenouda III H.H. Pope Shenouda ordained Bishops Wissa of El-Baliensa & Sohag and Hedra of Aswan, Kom Embo & Edfu as the first new metropolitans since 1994. On 14 November H.H. Pope Shenouda ordained Bishop Arsanious of Minya as Metropolitan at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. They bring the number of Metropolitans in the Coptic Church to ten as opposed to bishops, who number eighty-three. The Coptic Orthodox Church does not use the title of Archbishop and Metropolitan is a title ad personam conferred at the discretion of the Pope. Unlike Catholic and Anglican Metropolitans, Coptic metropolitans have no jurisdiction over other bishops.

Pope Shenouda rejects Civil Divorce ruling

Pope Shenouda has vigorously rejected a controversial ruling by Egypt’s Administrative Judicial Court obliging the church to let Coptic Christians remarry after obtaining a civil divorce. “Granting divorces falls within the jurisdiction of the court, but it has no authority to carry out marriages,” Pope Shenouda III declared. “Only the church has that authority.” The Coptic Church rarely grants divorces and allow divorcees to remarry only under strict conditions. The church, insisted the Pope, was “implementing the teachings of the Holy Bible with regard to the issue of marriage and the Bible does not approve divorce except in the case of adultery or change of religion.” He admonished any priests who may be tempted to obey the order, “Be assured. No power on earth can force on the church anything against the teachings of the gospels or the Church. The Church will never wed divorcees … regardless of the court rulings.”

St Mary Appears at the Archangel’s church in Assuit

At the end of March it was reported that the Virgin St. Mary was seen by thousands of Muslims and Christians in Assuit, Upper Egypt. She appeared in full form in a luminous bright light holding the cross while waving her hand to the multitudes as eyewitnesses reported. St Mary first appeared on March 29th, at around 1.30 p.m. in the form of a luminous bright light all over Archangel Michael’s church, which is located at the Al Namees Street. Mass was being prayed by the two priests, Abouna Boulos and Abouna Tadros. One of the pictures hung on the wall inside the altar which shows St Mary with a dove above her and surrounded by disciples, started to shine. The light spread from the dove first, then started to flow down and spread on the heads of the disciples. Next, the light spreads to the adjacent picture of Christ presiding at the Last Supper. Then the light spreads to other pictures in the altar. The timing of this occurrence coincided with the mass prayer for the descending of  the Holy Spirit (I think just prior to saying “we worship Thy holy body…”) What all congregation witnessed in the mass, is the moment when the priest after the confession prayer, raised the diskos with the holy body in it. A glorious shining light covers the whole tray. Abuna Tadros, the other priest serving in the mass, is quoted as saying that he could not see the diskos; only a burst of light.

The following week, on 5 April, worshipers crowded the church in the crypt and waited after the conclusion of the mass, hoping to see the light. At the same time, another mass served by Metropolitan Mikhael of Assuit had also ended also in the upper level of church. The Metropolitan was called to bless people downstairs and persuade them to leave since no more light had appeared at that time. While the Bishop was doing this, the light appeared again in the altar. Outside the church the light covered the whole tower with bright flying objects described as having the size of large ducks rather than doves.

Religious leaders condemn religiously-sanctioned abuses

The World Summit of Religious Leaders, the largest interfaith gathering to convene in Russia since the time of the Cold War, met in St. Petersburg 15-17 July. Among more than two hundred religious leaders from all over the world, were H.H. Pope Shenouda and Metropolitan Bishoy, General Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church. It concluded by passing a resolution condemning “terrorism and extremism in any form, as well as attempts to justify them by religion … We deplore the activities of pseudo-religious groups and movements destroying freedom and health of people as well as the ethical climate in societies.”

Speaking at the conference, Metropolitan Bishoy expressed the belief that recent clashes between Muslims and Christians in Egypt have been provoked by satellite channels, “Today foreign satellite channels are causing division between our religions. Some people speak against Islam, some people against Christianity. It’s a new type of war, a satellite war of religions” He observed that the incitement to mass demonstration which followed the publication of cartoons in Denmark was similar to that which is being broadcast in these satellite channels. If this continues, he feared, it will lead to a catastrophe “in the whole Middle East, not only in Egypt.”

Deception masquerading as Reforms

Max Michel Hanna was a graduate of the Clerical College of the Coptic Orthodox Church in 1973. In 1976, whilst serving as a reader in St. Mina’s Church in Shubra he came into conflict with his priest for false teachings about the Holy Spirit and was dismissed. Unable to accept the authority of the church, he began to organise house meetings which exploited dissent by others who had either fallen under canonical discipline or who rejected the teachings of the Orthodox Church. Although professing to be offering a more pure and ‘reformed’ version of Orthodoxy, his inspiration was instead hatred fed by resentment and malice.

In 1992 he established an association which he put under the patronage of Saint Athanasius in an endeavour to establish some spurious degree of legitimacy. There were always other dissenters who needed him, just as he needed them, so his little schism grew. Although he had married and fathered two daughters, he began to realise that being an excommunicated reader lacked the dignity necessary to lead his own church. In July 2005 he blossomed forth as Maximus Hanna or Maximus I, Archbishop of the St. Athanasius Orthodox Eparchy of Egypt and the Middle East, his ‘ordination’ having been supplied by a miscellaneous collection of episcopi who worked as a loose confederation known as the ‘Holy Synod for the American Diaspora of true Orthodox Christians.’ None of the ordaining bishops belonged to a canonical Orthodox Church and their claim to apostolic succession appears to derive entirely from Byzantine rather than Oriental Orthodox sources, most recently from a schismatic group of Greek ‘Old Calendarists’, who descend from bishops who separated from the Church of Greece in the 1920s over the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar. Normally ‘Old Calendarists’ espouse Orthodoxy of the most rigorist and extreme conservatism, but Max Michel’s consecrator was trained as a Counsellor and Therapist in behavioural psychology and is involved with Jungian Psychology and Zen Meditation, not subjects generally regarded as compatible with authentic Orthodox theology and tradition !

Whilst Max Michel is a former Copt his following cannot be described as a ‘split’ or a ‘schism’ from the Coptic Orthodox Church as it is composed of similar malcontents whose only common ground seems to be opposition to the Coptic hierarchy. Acting from opportunism rather than principle he offers his own programme of “liturgical, social, and cultural” reforms, saying that his priority is to bridge the gap (between Christians and Muslims) and to “re-establish the status of Copts as citizens, not a religious community.” Although he claims to promote Patristic Theology his defence of divorce, espousal of a married episcopate and other liberal ‘reforms’ represent an abandonment of Orthodox tradition. By adopting traditional Coptic vestments and clerical dress he is misleadingly presenting himself as an authoritative voice of the Coptic Church, whereas in reality he represents only himself.

President Hosni Mubarak has said that he would not intervene in the affairs of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, “I do not intervene in religious affairs,” he said in an interview with the state-owned daily Al-Messa, “Copts are able to solve their own problems without any intervention.”

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