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Observations on the Egypt crisis by Abba Seraphim

burning church

Events in Egypt over the past few days have both shocked and saddened, and as reports of continuing incidents and civil disturbance increase we pray fervently that peace and security may return to that land.

Revolutions are destabilising events and come in many shapes and sizes. The Egyptian revolution of 1952 was a military coup by the Free Officer Movement, which established the military regime which was to hold power for the next 59 years. It lacked democratic legitimacy and was both corrupt and venal. The 2011 Revolution, however, was a popular uprising more in keeping with the spirit of the 1919 Egyptian revolution in its embracing all sections of Egyptian society in a patriotic movement to restore freedom and justice. It is worth noting that initially the Muslim Brotherhood declined to support this uprising, but once it saw the rapid success of this momentum for change, it offered its support.

Democratic legitimacy

Much has been made of the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, but it is important to recognise that democracy is more than periodic recourse to the ballot box. Having achieved a narrow victory over his main rival on a turnout of just over half of the electorate, the new president might have endeavoured to use his position as a means of unifying and reconciling a fractured society. In his inauguration oath he swore to “respect the constitution and law, to take care of the people’s interests, a complete care.” Later, in an emotional speech in Tahrir Square he announced, “I came to you as I believe that you are the source of authority and legitimacy which is above all. There is no place for someone, an institution or for an authority to be above this. The people are the source of all authority, judge and decide, convene and insulate … There is no authority that is above this.”

Although he resigned as Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party as he had promised during his election campaign, which gave him the opportunity to serve as president of all Egyptians, his concerns and sympathies proved to be narrow and sectarian. Sadly, it soon became clear that the electorate had actually installed the Muslim Brotherhood in office and that the real power lay with its Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie, whilst Mohamed Morsi was merely the holder of the presidential portfolio.

During the first year of his presidency the democratic aspirations of the revolution were steadily undermined, culminating in his assumption of unlimited legislative powers without judicial oversight or review of his acts. After the Supreme Constitutional Court’s dismissal of the People’s Assembly for electoral irregularities, only the consultative Shura Council remained of a bi-cameral legislature, yet new legislation was still enacted, including the propagation of a new Egyptian Constitution. Having repeatedly clashed with the judiciary, attempts were made to intimidate the judges and to remove many of them through enforced retirement.

It was as a result of the steadily-growing domination of the Muslim Brotherhood in all areas of the state and society and the encouragement of their narrow vision and divisive social policies, that the popular uprising against Morsi ensued. It expressed the fears of the great majority of Egyptians that their aspirations for a free and just society, inclusive of all, was in danger of being lost for ever. It should be recalled that the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party rose to power through democratic election, after which they consolidated their grasp on the state and cynically discarded the democratic process.

The role of the church

Since the Egyptian revolution of 2011 the religious leaders in Egypt, both Christian and Muslim, have consistently called for justice and reconciliation and both the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar (Mohamed Ahmed El-Tayeb) and the Coptic Orthodox Church (under the late Pope Shenouda III; Metropolitan Bakhomios as locum tenens and Pope Tawadros II) have worked together to encourage national unity. Following the removal of President Morsi, Pope Tawadros appeared alongside the Sheikh of El-Azhar at the inauguration of the new interim president. Having eschewed political involvement since the beginning of his papacy, he made it clear that he was there to support “honourable people whose sole aim is the interest of Egypt and Egyptians, excluding no one, marginalising no one and excepting no one.”

Western governments

Western governments have been quick to condemn the violence and loss of life and have called for dialogue. William Hague condemned “the use of force in clearing protests” and called on the security forces “to act with restraint.” As supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are also armed and have been responsible for murdering soldiers in Sinai and armed attacks on police stations, restraint is required from all sides. Invitations to dialogue by Al-Azhar have been completely rebuffed by the Brotherhood, as have invitations by the interim President to reconciliation meetings.

Western media bias

It is disconcerting to note the clear bias of much of the Western media in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood. The use of emotive words, such as ‘coup’, ‘massacre’ and ‘legitimacy’, with the failure to report widespread violent attacks on churches, police stations, government offices and neutral cultural institutions, such as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, lacks the impartiality one might expect from independence sources, such as CNN and the BBC; as does identifying all snipers as belonging to the army, when live news broadcasts clearly showed armed rebels firing guns. Despite its denial of bias, the Qatar-backed channel Al Jazeera depicts the Muslim Brotherhood in a sympathetic light and, according to one of the 22 staff  who recently resigned in protest, “the management in Doha provokes sedition among the Egyptian people and has an agenda against Egypt and other Arab countries.” The Irish media, the Irish Times and the Sun in particular, recently relayed reports from the children of Hussein Halawa, the Imam at Dublin’s largest and most controversial mosque in Clonskeagh, who just happened to be inside the Al-Fateh mosque when it was cleared by the security forces. Headlines such as “Irish family held in Egypt jail hell. Holiday nightmare as relatives fear they’re tortured” hardly suggest impartiality.

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Attacks on Christians go largely unreported

During President Morsi’s term of office, attacks on Christians became more frequent. Since his removal they have increased alarmingly with over fifty churches attacked, damaged or destroyed in the three days following the Brotherhood’s call for a “Day of Rage.” Vicious denunciations of Christians – now opprobriously labelled “crusaders” – and unrestrained assaults on their property and churches show the true nature of those who support the Muslim Brotherhood. There have been instances of soldiers and Christians lynched by the mob, who then proceeded to desecrate their corpses in the most disgusting manner, in much the same way as Private Lee Rigby was treated by his murderers on the streets of Woolwich.  In many instances local Muslim communities have joined Christians in protecting their places of worship, clearly demonstrating that this is not a battle between Christians and Muslims but is a struggle against terrorism and fanaticism. In a recent interview with His Grace Bishop Angaelos on Al-Jazeera, after it was noted that “some Christians have blamed Brotherhood supporter for the attacks”, he was asked if he had any evidence about “who is attacking your churches”. His observations that these attacks, which appeared to be orchestrated and synchronised, and coming on the tail of “certain events”, with the rhetoric, incitement and reported attacks on individual Christians, suggested “some sort of connection”, showed more balance and perception than his interviewer.

In an official statement, the Coptic Church said that whilst it holds in deep appreciation the honourable, friendly States who understood “the nature of the events in Egypt”; it strongly denounced the falsities and errors propagated in the western media. “We invite the media to objectively read the realities on the ground, and to refrain from offering an international or political shield to the bloodthirsty, terrorist groups and all who belong to them. These groups are attempting to spread ruin in our land. We call upon the local and international media to offer the real image of what happens in Egypt faithfully and truthfully.”

The statement went on to say that it strongly stood by the Egyptian police, armed forces, and all the institutions of the Egyptian people in the face of the armed violence and black terrorism from inside and outside Egypt. It denounced the “assaults against the State and the peaceful churches, and the terrorisation of Egyptians—Muslims and Copts—that goes against all religious, ethical and human values. We absolutely reject any attempts to drag Egypt into sectarian strife.”

“If the hands of evil come to Egypt to kill, burn, and ruin; the hand of the Lord is there to guard, strengthen, and rebuild. We put our faith in Divine support, and are confident that it will help Egypt along this critical period, and take her to a better tomorrow and to the bright future of peace, justice, and democracy which this noble Nile people deserve.”

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Abba Seraphim attends Holy Synod meetings in Cairo

Abba Seraphim flew into Cairo at 1.00 a.m. on Saturday morning, 15 June, to attend the pre-Pentecost celebrations in Cairo as well as various meetings of the Holy Synod. He was met at the airport by Shenouda Mamdouh and driven to St. Mark’s Centre in Nasr City. After a brief sleep he breakfasted with His Grace Abba Athanasius of the French Coptic Orthodox Church. He was later joined by Father Arsanios Anba Boula and Mrs. Mary Ezzat, who accompanied him throughout his stay. Later that morning they travelled to the Patriarchate in Abbesseya, where they transacted various business before returning back to Nasr City. In the evening Abba Seraphim attended the Raising of Incense at St. Mark’s Cathedral during which His Holiness Pope Tawadros II named three General bishops as diocesans and blessed eight monks who were to be consecrated to the episcopate:

  • Abba Athanasius, who has previously served as General Bishop and, since the death of Metropolitan Marcos of Toulon & All France, as locum tenens of the Metropolis of Toulon, was named as Bishop of Marseilles and Primate of the French Coptic Orthodox Church
  • Abba Damian, who has previously served as General Bishop, was named as  Bishop of Höxter, Brenkhausen and affiliate jurisdiction, as well as continuing as Abbot of the Monastery of St. Mary & St. Maurice in Höxter, Germany.
  • Abba Salib (Pistavros), who has previously served as General Bishop for Meit Ghamir in Cairo, was named as Diocesan Bishop of the Diocese of Meit Ghamir & affiliate jurisdictions.
  • Father Arsanios El Baramoussy, who has served for the Coptic community in Amsterdam for many years, was named as Arsany, Bishop of the Holy Diocese of the Netherlands & affiliate jurisdictions.
  • Father Pavlos Anba Bishoy, who has served the Coptic community in Athens for many years, was named as General Bishop of the Holy Suffragan See of Greece and Cyprus.
  • Father Louka El Baramoussy, who has been serving the Coptic community in Geneva, was named as General Bishop of the Holy Suffragan See of Southern France & Geneva.
  • Father Oulogious El-Shenoudy was named as Bishop & Abbot of the Monastery of St. Shenouda the Archmandrite in Sohag, Upper Egypt.
  • Father Michael El-Antony was named, Bishop & Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Anthony the Great in Kroeffelbach, Germany.
  • Father Abanoub, was consecrated as a General Bishop and named as Assistant Bishop for the Patriarchal Suffragan See of El-Mokattam in the Holy Archdiocese of Cairo, assistant to the Pope.
  • Father Makary, was consecrated as a General Bishop and named as Assistant Bishop for the Patriarchal Suffragan See of Shoubra in the Holy Archdiocese of Cairo, assistant to the Pope.
  • Father Youssab, was consecrated as a General Bishop and named as Assistant Bishop in the Holy Archdiocese of Cairo, assistant to the Pope.

The next morning, 16 June His Holiness Pope Tawadros, assisted by the Metropolitans and bishops of the Holy Synod, consecrated the eight monks to the sacred order of the episcopate, during a Liturgy which lasted some five hours. That evening Abba Seraphim attended the first of the Synodal sub-committees, the Faith & Education Committee, which met at the Patriarchate.

On 17 June Abba Seraphim and his party visited St. George’s Convent in Old Cairo, where they were received by Mother Kyria and later visited the stained-glass workshop under Mother Parthenia. In the evening they called to visit their old friend, the deaconess, Miss Effa, who is now 93 but was very lively and pleased to see them.

On 18 June they drove some two hours from Cairo on the Alexandsria road to receive the blessing of the Monastery of Saint Thomas the Hermit of Shenshif, originally established as a 350 acre monastic farm in 1996, from 2001 it was settled by monks from St. Thomas Monastery in Sohag. Under the guidance of Fr. Abraam El Samuelly and Bishop Abraam of Fayoum it became a walled enclosure and in 2006 the church and cells were built. It was opened and blessed by Pope Shenouda III on 9 January 2010 and now has 22 monks and 17 novices, with 100 cells. Following this they travelled on to the Anafora Retreat Centre, where they had lunch and chatted with the fathers. Returning to Cairo, they visited friends in the evening.

On 19 June Abba Seraphim attended the Ecumenical Relations Synodal sub-committee at the Patriarchate before attending the Raising of Evening Incense and the Pope’s Wednesday evening lecture at St. Mark’s Cathedral.

On 20 June the Holy Synod met in plenary session at the Coptic Cultural Centre attached to the Patriarchate. Previously meetings had been held in the Chapel of the Papal Residence, but not only had Pope Tawadros found a new venue, but the excellent facilities provided, including electron voting, shows the significance he attributes to the role of the Holy Synod. Abba Seraphim returned to London that evening.

Abba Seraphim attends the Holy Synod

Abba Seraphim will be in Cairo from 14-20 June attending the annual plenary session of the Holy Synod. In previous years this was always held on the Eve of Pentecost, but His Holiness Pope Tawadros has moved it forward to enable bishops to celebrate the Pentecost Feast in their own churches. The Synodal sub-committees will be held 24-26 June and the plenary session will meet on 27 June. 

Pope Tawadros II enthroned in Cairo

Abba Seraphim flew into Cairo just after midnight on 17 November. Providentially he was on the same flight as Their Graces Bishop Missael and Angaelos, so upon arrival at Cairo airport his passage through the usual formalities was expedited. From his base at the Sonesta Hotel, Bishop Angaelos was the member of the Holy Synod charged with organising the greeting of ecumenical guests and their transport to the hotel, all undertaken with seamless efficiency. Abba Seraphim was met by his hosts Mamdouh Abdou and Soheir, known affectionately by Abba Seraphim as ‘Om Shenouda’. Their son, Shenouda Mamdouh, the Egyptian Secretary to the British Orthodox Church was actually still in London on business.

After resting overnight, later that morning, Abba Seraphim met with Father Abraham Thomas, secretary of the Department of Ecumenical Relations of the Indian Orthodox Church as well as a number of other church leaders and ecumenical guests staying in Cairo. In the late afternoon he attended the arrival of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II at the Papal Residence in Anba Rueiss, where he prayed the Thanksgiving Prayer and offered incense in the Chapel of the Residence before receiving the greetings of the bishops and staff. In the evening Abba Seraphim attended a private dinner hosted by His Holiness the Catholicos of the East, Mar Basilius MarThoma Paulose II, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Giza.

Early on Sunday morning, 18 November, the Holy Synod gathered at the Papal Residence for the formal enthronement ceremonies. To the sound of drums and trumpets, the procession, led by chanting deacons, the bishops and metropolitans -  fully vested in their Eucharistic robes – led their new Pope into the Cathedral of St. Mark. Attended on one side by the magnificent figure of Metropolitan Pachomius, the locum tenens, and on the other by Bishop Sarabamoun, Abbot of the Monastery of St. Bishoy, the Pope was met at the shut west door of the Cathedral. Here the Archdeacon surrendered the great key to the Pope, who unlocked the doors so that the procession could pass into the packed cathedral. The Liturgy was already in progress, as the consecration of bishops and enthronement of Patriarchs takes place after the Pauline Epistle. Pope Tawadros, dressed only in a plain black cassock, sat alone on a dais in the midst of the khorus as the prayers were led by Metropolitan Pachomios with the participation of all the bishops. The new papal vestments were blessed by all the members of the Holy Synod as well as the Ethiopian and Armenian bishops present.  As the Pope received his crown from the hands of Metropolitan Pachomius, and was installed on the Throne of St. Mark, the congregation broke into spontaneous and prolonged applause.

As each bishop greeted the new Pope on his throne during the chanting of Axios, H.H. Mor Ignatius Zakka Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch, and the accompanying Syriac Orthodox bishops, chanted hymns and prayers of blessing and the Pope descended from his throne to embrace his frail brother Patriarch, who is now confined to a wheelchair  The Liturgy continued in its normal order, the whole service lasting about six hours. It was followed by a celebratory banquet in the crypt of the cathedral.

Enthronement Liturgy of H.H. Pope Tawadros II

Source: Saint George and Saint Shenouda


Upcoming events

  • 28 September 2014
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