The Synod of the British Orthodox Church has submitted a recommendation to the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, that in the reception of those who have previously been members of churches accepting the Council of Chalcedon (including the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches) it should be by confession of faith and prayer, without any requirement for the reception of Baptism or Chrismation.
This recommendation is made on the basis that:
(1) The Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate has always received Chalcedonians by confession of faith and prayer on the clear and authoritative instruction of our holy Fathers including St Timothy, the 26th Pope of Alexandria, St Philoxenus of Mabbugh and St Severus. Even during periods of violent persecution our Orthodox Church has not deviated from this procedure.
(2) This has been consistently used as the only method of receiving Chalcedonians from the 5th century to the 19th century. Our own Coptic Orthodox Tradition shows that even Nestorians were received in such a manner.
(3) It is only in the most recent times that Catholics have been required to be baptised on their reception which is an innovation and contrary to the teaching of our holy Fathers.
(4) The development of various doctrines in the Catholic Church in later centuries is no justification for requiring the baptism of Catholics, since even Nestorians were not required to be baptised.
(5) His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of blessed memory signed an agreement with Pope Paul VI of Rome which spoke of the sacrament of baptism being present in both communities, and Bishop Gregorious, the Coptic president of the Theological Commission with the Catholics also insisted that there be mutual respect and regard for the baptism of Catholics.
(6) The Armenian, Syrian and Indian Orthodox all continue our ancient and authoritative Tradition of receiving Catholics without baptism.
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.
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 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.
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.”
Abba Seraphim was among the ten European Bishops of the Alexandrian Patriarchate who are met with His Holiness Pope Tawadros at a conference at St. Antonios Monastery in Obersiebenbrun near Vienna. between 27-30 May. He was accompanied by Father Simon Smyth and Tasoni Sheila Smyth, representing the clergy and laity of the British Orthodox Church.
On 27 May Pope Tawadros and the Bishops in Europe attended a Reception given by Pro Oriente to mark the 10th anniversary of the legal registration of the Coptic Church in Austria, which hosted by His Eminence Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna at his residence in Vienna. During the proceedings Pope Tawadros graciously accepted the title of ‘Protector of Pro Oriente’
On Sunday, 10 March, at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, assisted by members of the Holy Synod, elevated seven priests to the episcopate. The chief priority in this first batch of new bishops was the provision of bishops for areas of Coptic population and the re-oganisation of dioceses in Egypt. Father Epiphanius el-Makary was consecrated Bishop-Abbot of the ancient Monastery of St. Makarios in Wadi el-Natr’un, under the name of Bishop Epiphanios. For a number of years this monastery, under its spiritual guide, Father Matthew the Poor, had pursued a rather distinctive form of monasticism, but this appointment of a new Bishop-Abbot marks the final stage of the process of reintegrating it into the Coptic mainstream. Fr Makar el-Baramousy was consecrated as Bishop of 10 Ramadan city (population 450,000+) and its vicinity in Sharqiya Governorate, east of the Delta, under the name Bishop Makar. Father Saleeb el-Samueli was consecrated as Bishop Samuel, Bishop of Tamouh, El-Badrashein, El Hawamdiah (all south of Giza) & affiliate jurisdictions and Father Yulius Ava-Mina was consecrated as a general bishop in Cairo.
When Metropolitan Domadios of Giza (the ancient Memphis), died in September 2011 he had ruled the diocese for some forty-eight years, during which the population had expanded enormously. Although for the latter part of his ministry, Metropolitan Domadios was confined to a wheel chair as the result of a stroke, his diocese not only expanded with a huge church building programme but it was also an outstanding example of both spiritual and charitable activities. It was now decided to divide this huge diocese into four smaller smaller dioceses. Fr Yu’annis el-Suriani became Bishop Yuhanna, Bishop of North Giza; Father Zosima el-Antony was consecrated as Bishop Zosima of Etfeeh (Aphroditopolis) & El-Saff. Father Zakaria el-Suriani, was consecrated Bishop of 6 October City and Uossim, and chose to take the name of Bishop Domadios in honour of the late Metropolitan.
Bishop Theodosius, who had been consecrated in 2009 as a General Bishop to assist Metropolitan Domadios, was now appointed as Bishop of Central Giza. Two other long-standing General Bishops were also now appointed as diocesan bishops: Bishop Boutros, head of Aghapy TV, who was originally ordained a chorepiscopos in 1979 and a General Bishop in 1985, serving as an Auxiliary in the diocese of Ismailia 1985-1998, was enthroned as Bishop of Shebin al-Qanater (an area of northern metropolitan Cairo, comprising 36 villages in the Governorate of Qalyubia); and Bishop Daniel, who was consecrated as a General Bishop in 1991 and served as Assistant to the diocese of Gherge 1991-93, and looked after the south Cairo suburbs of Mahdi & Kotsika since 1963, has now become diocesan bishop of the same area.
An important appointment for the lands of the diaspora was the provision of a Bishop for Canada. Bishop Mina, who had been ordained as a General Bishop in 2009, with responsibility for Old Cairo since 2010, was been appointed as Bishop of Mississauga, Vancouver and Western Canada.
At a press conference at St. Bishoy’s Monastery in Wadi El N’atrun on 13 October, His Eminence Metropolitan Bakhomious, the patriarchal locum tenens, and the members of the Candidates’ Selection Committee (which has been in retreat at the Monastery since 4 October), announced the names of the five candidates, whose names will go forward for election on 24 November. They include two General Bishops, Anba Tawadros, who has served as Assistant to Metropolitan Bakhomious in Damanhur and Anba Raphael, General Bishop for Central Cairo and assistant Bishop for Youth. Both bishops were consecrated to the episcopate by Pope Shenouda on 15 June 1997. The other three candidates are all priest-monks: Abouna Raphael Ava Mina, Abouna Bakhomious El-Souriani and Abouna Seraphim El-Souriani.
The absence of any diocesan bishops in this list will remove the wide concerns in the church that the election of diocesan bishops is uncanonical and against the fundamental traditions of the Coptic Church.
Commenting on this news, Abba Seraphim stated that he was impressed with the calm and dignified way in which the process of electing our next Pope has moved forward. It is widely recognised that much of the credit for this is due to the efficient administration of the patriarchal locum tenens. Against this ethos and with the prayerful and reflective response of the people entrusted with the awesome task of voting, one felt great confidence that the Holy Spirit would make His will for the Church known. Only a spiritual leader selected in this way would possess the authority necessary to assume the heavy burdens of the papacy. Our prayers should also be for the candidates, that Gods will strengthen them in their faith and give them courage.
There will be a further three days of fasting on 19, 20 & 21 November, preceding the election.