Part 2: News from the Mother Church

The Papal Election

The Papal election is governed by bylaws approved by the Egyptian Parliament in 1957. It is generally accepted this not entirely satisfactory, as at the time they were adopted there was virtually no Coptic diaspora, nor had the Eritrean Church been granted autocephaly. Pope Shenouda resisted making changes as he feared it might appear that he was favouring one potential successor over another. However, in the light of Egypt’s current political instability, it was felt that the greatest priority was to proceed to the election of a new Pope without too much delay. Nevertheless Metropolitan Pachomius has spoken strongly about the need for the bylaws to be amended by the new pope within the first year of assuming office and even of making it a requirement that nominees sign an agreement to that effect.


On 30 May the names of candidates who had been nominated were received. Four nominees declined the post, among who were Metropolitan Pachomius, the locum tenens and General Bishop Moussa of the Bishopric for Youth. Even though Abba Pachomius, aged 77, had been strongly nominated for the post by more than 50 members of the Holy Synod, he thanked all those who put their trust in him and explained that he preferred to keep his current post as locum tenens, serving the Church until she peacefully passes this difficult phase, and he hands over the papal throne to the new patriarch. Had Abba Pachomius accepted nomination, he would also have had to relinquish the post of acting patriarch which would then have gone to the next member of the Holy Synod in seniority. Abba Moussa, the Bishop of Youth, aged 74, who is a very popular and well-known bishop, is believed to have received some 30 nominations from fellow bishops, but declined on grounds of health even though he was put under pressure by Coptic clergy and especially youth to accept nomination.

The candidates put forward include three diocesan bishops,

Four General bishops:

and ten monks

The Nominations Committee is chaired by His Grace Bishop Morcos of Shubra al-Kheima and comprises eighteen members, nine of them bishops and nine of them legal experts. The respected Coptic newspaper Watani, carried an interview with Judges Edward Ghaleb and Munssif Soliman, two of its members, who stated that the principles according to which the patriarch would be elected are objective and impartial, removed from any personal whim or preference. It is expected that these principles will include the candidate’s general knowledge, theological scholarship, ability to preach and educate, spiritual experience, pastoral experience, life before and during taking orders, and other standards along the same lines. Candidates will be interviewed about their visions on how to hold a reasonable, balanced relationship between the Church and State; on their plans for the future of the Church, and how to lead the congregation along the teachings of the Holy Bible. Candidates will also be asked about how they would manage the service for the Coptic congregation in the diaspora, and if they have any propositions for changes in the by-laws of choosing the patriarch. The current by-laws were drawn in 1957, and await the new patriarch to launch changes to bring them in line with modern times. The interview will also be used to confront the candidates with any complaints submitted against them, or contests against their running for the post.

These candidates will be vetted and a short list of between five and seven listed for voting. The electorate should vote for three of the seven finalists, whose names are go into the altar lot which is conducted during the Divine Liturgy to pick the new pope. A blindfolded child will chose from the lots cast with the names of the three shortlisted papal candidates, It is said that Metropolitan Pachomios is in favour of adding a fourth blank paper, as a possible answer that God does not approve of any of the three nominees.

Voters in the diaspora

With dioceses in Egypt, which are entitled to return twelve electors each, it has been relatively simple to compile a register of electors for each diocese, but the diaspora has been a problem as the bylaws made no provision for them despite the fact that the Coptic Church has 28 dioceses outside Egypt, plus ten monasteries all over the world, in addition to a large scattered congregation that is not administratively gathered into dioceses and is not under the care of any bishops. There are 550 Coptic churches spread over 60 countries, many of them do not belong to any dioceses but were under the direct care of the Pope. ”It is this congregation especially that needs provision through which to determine an electorate body to represent it,” Anba Morcos explained to Watani. “We have already received the voter lists from several dioceses and monasteries abroad,” he said. “From Africa, we received the registration forms of 16 voters; 31 from Jerusalem and the Near East; 47 from Italy, 60 voters from the UK, 26 from two dioceses in the US, 13 from Brazil and 13 from Sydney, Australia. But this is not the full list; we are still in the process of receiving other voter lists from outside Egypt.”

When the final lists were announced, it showed that the number of eligible voters is 2945. Among these are 93 Egyptian bishops and archbishops (the three non-Egyptian bishops: Metropolitan Seraphim of the British Orthodox Church, Bishop Athanasius of l’Eglise Copte Orthodoxe de France and Bishop Macarius of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in the diaspora, are not eligible to vote under the 1957 Bylaws which require all electors to be Egyptian citizens). The voter list includes 81 bishop deputies; 879 notaries from among the clergy; 34 monastery abbots; 35 monastery secretaries, and 52 monks. The laity include four ministers, two governors, six former MPs, 21 journalists, 27 members of the Coptic Orthodox Maglis Melli, and 139 women. The Ethiopian Church, will be represented by five members of its clergy, and the Eritrean Church by ten. They cannot participate in the voting, however, but will only attend as observers, and will participate in the enthronement ceremony. In a decision of the Holy Synod, the government sponsored Synod of the Eritrean Church in Asmara has not been recognised as having any legitimate authority and the only representatives will be those canonically depending on Bishop Macarios. As required by the 1957, the voter lists will be hung on glass boards at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo, for voters to check and submit any contestation within the space of two weeks.

The debate over diocesan bishops

The 1957 Constitution makes provision for diocesan bishops to be candidates for election to the Papal throne although there is a long tradition in the Coptic Church against the election of diocesan bishops. Indeed the Coptic Church is the only remaining church to have upheld Canon XV of the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325) which forbade the translation of bishops from one episcopal see to another. According to Orthodox ecclesiology Popes and Patriarchs are first and foremost bishops of their sees, and derive their primacy by virtue of their see’s apostolic or historic origins. Even the Roman Catholic Church did not elect a diocesan bishop to the papacy until 882 when Marinus, Bishop of Cervetri, became the first to be translated from another see to become Pope.

In the Coptic Church this break with tradition first happened in the twentieth century, when three times in succession with the election of Youannes XIX (1928-1942, Macarios III (1944-45) and Yusab II (1946-1956). The unhappy events of their pontificates and the internecine strife which ensued, led to the election of Father Mina el-Baramousy as Pope Kyrillos VI (1959-1971) and the General Bishop for Education Shenouda as Pope Shenouda III. Although there was some debate at the time about the precise role of General Bishops, they did not come within the terms of the Nicene prohibition. Other than these three exceptions, even today bishops are still not translated from the see in which they were originally set; and retain their position for life, even when canonically suspended from the exercise of their duties for misdemeanours or mental and physical infirmity.

The Clergy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California & Hawaii meeting under His Grace Bishop Serapion on 3 & 8 May, issued a formal statement regarding the “Non-Canonical Action of Choosing the Patriarch from among the Diocesan Bishops” , followed by a very thorough and learned paper, “Choosing the Patriarch. Lessons from the History of our Glorious Church”. This was supported by a similar statement on 30 May by the Synod of the British Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Seraphim and on 1 July from the Clerical Assembly of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States under His Grace Bishop Youssef. The diocese of Alexandria has also issued a statement:

“As the Bishops of other dioceses are chosen from amongst the monastic fathers – who are not greedy for authority, nor do they vie for any position – the people of Alexandria ask and demand that their Bishop, who is the Pope and Patriarch, be from amongst the monastic fathers whose ranks do not exceed that of a Hegoumen. This is on the principle of equality, and out of respect to the ecclesial traditions, which were established over the ages, from the fourth century A.D., when the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea was convened in the year A.D. 325. It has not occurred in our Coptic Church – throughout the ages – to install a Bishop over any diocese from amongst the Fathers the Bishops.”

A number of other clergy and laity have expressed their views for and against the election of a diocesan bishop, some more temperately than others, forgetting that it is adherence to a principle not opposition to any particular candidate, which is the issue here.

It has been argued that at this difficult time the church needs experience, but Bishop Serapion quotes a statement made in 1942 by five Metropolitans who were opposed to the election of a diocesan bishop,

“What was the advantage that those metropolitans had over the monks? When that question was asked, the answer was “experience, knowledge and training.” This answer was quite saddening, something that hurt the soul and scared the spirit, for what was the source of this experience, knowledge and training? If it was a worldly source, it was not a true experience; it was fake knowledge and useless training. For as the Apostle said, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Corinthians I: 20). Our Lord chose His disciples from simple people, for He said that everyone was to be taught by God. As for the source of their experience, knowledge and training, it was the Holy Spirit. Let the Spirit work in others as it worked in them, unless they deny the work of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord promised that He will be with us all the days and until the end of the days.”

Church concerns over drafting of new Constitution

Soon after assuming office, Metropolitan Pachomius, the locum tenens, called for a constitution which declares Egypt a civil, democratic, State in which citizens are not discriminated against because of religion or gender, and in which all Egyptians are on equal footing. As an Egyptian national institution the Coptic Orthodox Church desired a constitution that would be expressive of all the various sectors of the community and should be consistent with human rights, heavenly religions, and the international treaties Egypt is signatory to.

Non-Muslims, he said, should be allowed to have family laws based upon the principles of their religions.

The Christian communities in Egypt have spoken with a common voice to express their concerns over the role of the Constituent Assembly in the drafting of the new Egyptian Constitution

Following an extraordinary session of the Maglis Melli (Community) Council of the Coptic Orthodox Church held on 1 April it was decided to withdraw the Church representatives from the Constituent Assembly entrusted with drafting the new Constitution. The Council convened at the request of the Locum tenens, Metropolitan Pachomius, to decide on Coptic participation in the constituent assembly which has been harshly criticised for being dominated by a majority of Islamist MPs.

“In response to the strong sentiment prevailing on the Egyptian street in general and the Coptic in specific, the Council announces the non-participation of anyone representing it in the Constituent Assembly. In collaboration with the national forces and al-Azhar, the Melli Council has decided to withdraw Coptic representatives from membership of the constituent assembly, which should never be dominated by a specific current but should rather represent all Egyptians.” The constitution, the statement insisted, should be drafted through national dialogue and consensus, not through the parliamentary majority.

Shortly after this the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt addressed a memorandum to the Military Council calling upon its head, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, to reconsider the member selection of the Constituent Assembly. It alleged that the Islamist-majority parliament was attempting to assume power and demanded that all sectors of the Egyptian community should be adequately represented in the Constituent Assembly, and described the current committee which utterly overlooked the Church and Christians, as ‘deceiving’.

Simultaneously, the Evangelical Church and its Melli Council issued a statement calling upon the authorities to take corrective measures to ensure that the Constituent Assembly represents all Egyptians and sets the basis for a civil State based on citizenship, freedom, justice and equality. The statement stressed that the constitution is the contract that guarantees social peace to all sectors of the community, and thus no political stream should monopolise its drafting and no political stream should be left out, regardless of majority or minority.

Church ban on pilgrimages to Israel upheld

Pope Shenouda’s was strongly opposed to the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, which led him to ban pilgrimages by Copts to the Holy Land while Jerusalem was still under Israeli ‘occupation’; declaring “Copts will only enter Jerusalem hand-in-hand with their Muslim brothers.” Following his death, a number of Copts took advantage of cut-price travel offers to visit Jerusalem during Holy Week.

As a result, Metropolitan Pachomius was obliged to announce that all the decisions taken by the late Pope Shenouda III are still in effect. The Holy Synod, the Maglis Melli (Community) Council, and the Coptic Endowments Authority, unanimously agreed to maintain all these decisions without any alterations, of which the ban pilgrimage to the Holy Land was included

Suspended Bishops

Anba Pachomius has taken a decision to look into the cases of the bishops suspended by the Holy Synod under Pope Shenouda III. Among them is Anba Amonius of Luxor, Anba Takla of Dishna, Anba Matthias of Mahalla, and Anba Daniel of Sydney. Anba Morcos, head of the committee assigned with voter registration for the forthcoming papal elections said that the suspended bishops have the right to vote for the new pope since they are Egyptian and are still members of the Holy Synod. Only non-Egyptian bishops do not have that right, he said.


President Mursi greets Metropolitans Bishoy (left) and Pachomios (centre)

Egypt’s new President

On 24 June it was announced that Mohammed Mursi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party was declared to have won the Egyptian Presidential elections. Among those who went to offer him congratulations on 26 June, was a delegation of the Coptic Orthodox Church led by Metropolitan Pachomious, who told him that his election was “a comfort to all Egyptians”. The President assured the delegation that he would not allow anyone to “condescend” to the Copts in their own country and that he would maintain close contacts with both the Church and the Coptic community. The presidential spokesman, Dr. Yasser Ali, had already announced that two vice presidents would be appointed, one a woman and the other a Christian Copt. The new President took the oath of office on 30 June.

Events in Dahshur

Shortly after this, a serious incident broke out which put church-state relations under renewed strain. It began with the mosdt trivial of incidents. On 26 July, a shirt owned by Ahmed Sultan, a Muslim man, was accidentally burnt in a Coptic-owned laundry. Sultan started a fight with the Coptic laundry owner, Sameh Samy Youssef, which rapidly escalated as the friends and supporters of each party joined in. The Copt fled to the safety of his five-storey home, but some 3,000 Muslims surrounded the building, shouting and threatening violence. Molotov cocktails were hurled indiscriminately, seriously injuring 19-year-old Muaz Hasaballah, a Muslim who was among the crowd. He suffered 75 per cent burns and subsequently died. Once Hasaballah died, the security authorities, who had been attempting to calm the situation, feared matters would get out of hand and ordered the Copts to leave the town. All 110 Coptic families hurriedly left.

At Hasaballah’s funeral on 1 August some 5,000 attended, after which there followed unfettered looting and burning of all the Coptic homes in Dahshur. Muslims from neighbouring villages joined in the mayhem, looting Coptic-owned jewellery shops and attempting to break into Mari Girgis church and set it on fire, until the security forces dispersed the crowds with tear gas. The situation was highly confused as another account issued by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) stated “A mob tried to attack the local Mari Girgis Church, but a group of Muslims prevented them and protected the church until a police force came and dispersed the crowd. The mob later burned a Christian man’s house and police failed to intervene.” Attempts by local politicians to calm the situation proved fruitless, whilst the governor of Giza, Ali Abdel-Rahman, complacently stated that Dahshur was “stable and fully-secured”, even though the looting and burning continued uninterrupted for more than three full days. In a statement by the Giza church authorities, Bishop Tawadros of Damanhur said that the incident could not be explained away as simply a Coptic-Muslim conflict, but was “a flagrant attack by Muslims against the Copts”. Bishop Markos of Shubral-Kheima, the spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church, demanded that the government should form an impartial fact-finding committee to investigate the matter and work to bring about justice. Metropolitan Pachomius expressed pain and sorrow at the death of Hasaballah and the mass attack against Dahshur’s Copts, their homes and property, and the threats against their church, all of which worked to force them to leave town. His statement criticised the indulgence with which similar attacks were previously tackled, and demanded a firm official commitment to uphold the law. It also demanded that the Copts should be allowed to go back home and be compensated for their losses.

Throughout this time there was no word from the Interior Ministry about any culprits having been apprehended, merely an unconvincing assurance that there had been no ‘forced eviction’ of Copts and that after the discredited ‘conciliation’ procedure had been followed they would be free to return to their homes. The fact that they had neither homes nor businesses to which they could return made any assurances doubly empty.

Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa described the clashes in Dahshur, Giza as “painful” during his Friday sermon at the Fadel mosque in 6 October City, Greater Cairo. He urged the Coptis who left their homes following the outbreak of the clashesto return back to their town “under the protection of Muslims.” The media should not use the term “displacement”, as Copts were not forced to leave their homes; rather, he said, it was a wise personal choice by Christians to leave temporarily in order to prevent more bloodshed. He also warned about the gravity of the situation, which went beyond a “traditional fight.”

Copts and their supporters held a vigil in front of the Presidential Palace, followed by a protest march from Cairo’s Tahrir Square in Cairo to the High Court, where defence team for the Copts submitted a demand, including twenty-two names cited by eyewitnesses to have led the attacks, to the public prosecutor.

President Mohammed Mursi ordered the Governor of Giza to form a commission immediately to determine the losses and decide on the adequate compensation for the victims. He demanded that the governor should see to it that a climate of security should be established in Dahshur, so that the Copts should feel sufficiently safe to return home. This coincided with the President’s appointment of his 35-member Cabinet, which included a single Coptic Christian, Nadia Eskandar Zukhari, one of only two women, as minister in charge of scientific research. Morsi promise to name vice presidents, which he had earlier hinted might include a woman and a Coptic Christian, has yet to transpire.

Noting that this was actually a reduction rather than an increase on Coptic ministers, Metropolitan Pachomius said it was an “unfair” representation of Christians that ignores their rights as citizens, especially after increasing the number of portfolios to 35.” In the outgoing government, Copts held two posts in a 30-member Cabinet. It was a rate that was kept in most previous governments, with Coptic ministers holding small portfolios or ones dealing with non-strategic issues. Her is quoted as describing the scientific research post as only “half a ministry,” and declaring “We reject the new Cabinet.”

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