Part 2: News from the Mother Church


Five candidates for Papacy named

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 had been in retreat at the Monastery since 4 October), announced the names of the five candidates, whose names would go forward for election on 24 November. They included 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 were 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 removed the wide concerns in the church that the election of diocesan bishops would be 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, the faithful had 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.

Election Date brought forward

In an unexpected move, the date for electing the new Pope & Patriarch of Alexandria was brought forward by almost a month, so that the elections previously set for 24 November actually took place on 29 October, preceded by three days of prayer and fasting. Of some 2412 eligible voters, 2177 voted, a turn-out of some 90%. Members of the Holy Synod who were eligible to vote but chose not to, were Metropolitan Mikhail of Assuit, Bishop Serapion of Los Angeles, Bishop Paphnutius of Samalout and Bishop Boula of Africa. There were three other bishops, who, as they were not Egyptian citizens, were not eligible to vote: Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury, Bishop Athanasius of France and Bishop Elia of Khartoum. 

Among those voting were five Archbishops  delegated by the EthiopianOrthodoxTewehedoChurch, which included Archbishop Antonios, who normally resides in London. Under the terms of the Protocol with the Eritrean Orthodox Church there are two official observers who are His Grace Bishop Makarios (New Jersey) and Father Teklemariam of Frankfurt, who is the episcopal administrator of the European diocese, who are both loyal to the imprisoned Patriarch, Abune Antonios. The Coptic Orthodox Church declined to accept any representatives from the government controlled Synod in Asmara.

Polling was held between 9.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. Cairo time and the results were announced the same evening.  The three who emerged as the front runners were Bishop Raphael (1980 votes), Bishop Tawadros (1623 votes) and Father Raphael Ava Mina (1530 votes). These would be the three names which would be placed on the altar at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Abbeseya and from which the next Pope & Patriarch would be chosen by the Sacred Lot on Sunday, 4 November.

Abba Seraphim’s thoughts on the Papal election

“In Thee have our fathers hoped: they hoped and Thou didst deliver them.

Unto Thee they cried, and were saved; in Thee they hoped, and were not brought to shame.

–      Psalm XXII: 4 (XXI Septuagint) 

These words of the Psalmist come in a psalm that the church has always understood to refer to our Lord’s passion  and indeed its opening words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” are those that our Lord called out as he hung on the cross  (Matthew XXVII: 46 & Mark XV: 34). They recall to mind the fact that throughout history the Lord had delivered/saved those who turned to Him for help and had never let them down. King David knew this well both in his personal relationship and in the long and difficult dealings of the children of Israel with God. In Psalm XVIII he describes the Lord as his rock, his fortress, his deliverer “in whom I take refuge”.

In its long history the Coptic Church has suffered much for its tenacity in holding fast the faith “once delivered to the saints” and the rich harvest of martyrs whom we commemorate daily is a reminder that we stand in succession to generations of faithful Christians. Sadly, in recent times that suffering has increased and so we continue to add new martyrs to the old.

When our beloved Pope Shenouda died in March this year, it must have seen to many that we were like helpless orphans, bereft of a loving shepherd who had sustained and supported his flock for forty long years. Racked with illness, the sorrow in his face – so painfully visible – was not only his own suffering but the care and burden of the churches he had so faithfully and courageously carried all those years. In these past two years, events in Egypt have spiralled out of control so rapidly and an uncertain future is harder to face without a shepherd. Indeed, our Lord reminded Peter of the prophecy, “Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered”.

Yet we have not been leaderless, indeed we received the great blessing which has come to us from the invaluable ministry exercised by the locum tenens, Metropolitan Bakhomious and the spirit of unity he engendered from the moment of assuming office. I was present in the Holy Synod when he movingly quoted from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (IV: 1-6) and emphasised the necessity of living according to these verses, in love, peace and unity, as we desire to know the will of God and to discover where the Lord is leading His church. He also reminded those present that we could not disappoint the people, who faithfully look towards us for guidance and leadership.

During his eight month tenure as acting Pope, Metropolitan Bakhomious has energetically protected the church and its people. Statements condemning the eviction of Copts from their homes and villages and calling for government intervention to protect their rights, have been swift and clear; whilst attempts to implicate the Coptic Church in defaming Islam were vigorously rejected as “a crime that contradicts with genuine Egyptian ethics and Christian values.” The constructive dialogue which Pope Shenouda had with Islamic religious leaders and other Christian communities, especially in making clear representations about Egypt’s draft Constitution, has been active and productive; whilst the suggestion that church funds should be placed under state supervision was firmly rejected with a declaration that any attempt to do so would be a clear sign of persecution. Metropolitan Bakhomious also condemned the newly appointed cabinet as “unfair” because Copts were clearly under-represented. This demand for fairness in civil matters was edifying demonstrated with the papal elections, where the process of consultation has gone far beyond the formally constituted church administration. The locum tenens has encouraged any church member to write to him with their concerns and views because he wanted to know the “pulse of the Egyptian street” and how the faithful saw matters. Far from being a drifting church, lacking direction, the acting Pope has offered clear and determined leadership. 

From the outset there was an issue with the 1957 Statutes or By-laws governing the nomination and election of a Coptic Patriarch, which was framed at a time when there was virtually no Coptic diaspora. These had been approved by President Nasser on 3 November 1957 only ten days before the death of Pope Yusab II and had been drawn up by the committee of bishops who governed the Church following Pope Yusab’s removal from office. Although it allowed for the eligibility of metropolitans and diocesan bishops, an experiment only introduced during the twentieth century with disastrous results, it was these Statutes by which both Pope Kyrillos VI and Pope Shenouda were elected. In the light of the political turbulence in Egypt and the absence of a parliament, it was feared that the process of electing a new Pope might be unduly delayed if the church sought to introduce new statutes. Yet with skill and sensitivity the Electoral Committee has managed to work with the deficiencies of the 1957 statutes, whilst requiring all candidates to sign an undertaking to produce a new draft within a year of being elected. 

During the interregnum the leadership has been manifested in a clearly collegiate manner. A variety of bishops and lay members have acted as official spokesmen and regular announcements have kept everyone informed of the progress made. The Psalmist says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm CXXXIII: 1) This has been the great blessing for us, as we have observed the Holy Synod, the Lay Council (Maglis Milli) and the Electoral Committee working harmoniously throughout; bringing us to the point where we will soon have a new Pope and Patriarch and undertaken so efficiently that it is even happening a month ahead of schedule ! 

However, there are still some dissenting voices who sneer at the use of the Altar Lot and suggest it is extraordinary to leave such an important selection to chance. In secular matters I would agree with them, but this process is quite exceptional. The biblically-based Altar Lot is neither chance nor luck, but the final stage of an informed, reflective and prayerful process in which the whole church is engaged. All sense of competitiveness and factionalism have been shunned, as well as promotional or divisive debates, the only publicity being to allow the people to better know the candidates and understand their vision. How different to the current debates being used to determine the outcome of the coming American Presidential election ! By contrast, with us, at each significant stage, the whole community has been called to prayer and fasting and the candidates, rather than campaigning, have been in retreat awaiting the will of God. 

The use of the Altar Lot is a visible manifestation of the church’s ultimate faith that God will continue to protect and guide His church and by putting their trust in Him they will not be brought to shame. For almost two thousand years the Christians of Egypt have kept faith with God and despite the many vicissitudes, He has brought them through.

In our Coptic tradition a monk who is to be raised to the episcopate is led into church by two bishops holding each hand. This is not just to offer brotherly support, but to prevent the bishop-elect from running away for fear of the responsibilities that await him. We can be certain that none of the three remaining candidates desires to be successful (indeed one of them tried to withdraw at the last minute) but that, in faithful obedience to God’s will, they will accept the choice. Like the Apostle St. Paul, who begged the Lord to relieve him of a ‘thorn in the flesh’ which tormented him, God assured him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians XII: 9) Our duty is to give our new Pope prayerful support as he faces an awesome responsibility and to strengthen him with our love and devotion. Having been chosen by the hand of God Himself, rather than owing his position to factions or ambition, he will have a spiritual authority quite unlike any other. 

May God appoint for us a faithful shepherd who will lead his people in righteousness and justice. Amen.

Bishop Tawadros chosen by the Sacred Lot to be Pope

At 9.40 GMT on 4 November, Metropolitan Bakhomious, the locum tenens, presided over the Altar Lot, unwrapping the glass ball handed to him by the blindfolded altar boy, Bishoi Mossaed (himself chosen by lot from among twelve other altar servers), and announcing the name of the 118th Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria. The Divine choice had fallen on the General Bishop serving in his own diocese, Bishop Tawadros, it being coincidentally the new Pope’s sixtieth birthday. Bishop Tawadros had been consecrated at the hands of the late Pope Shenouda on 15 June 1997, at which Abba Seraphim had been privileged to assist as a co-consecrator.

Abba Seraphim was himself travelling to Babingley when he received a message from his Egyptian secretary, Shenouda Mamdouh, which meant that in the Liturgy that morning he not only announced the joyful result of the Papal election but was able to pray for Pope Tawadros for the first time. He will travel to Cairo for the enthronement ceremony on 18 November.

The new Pope was staying at his monastery of St. Bishoy in the Wadi El N’atrun when the Lot was drawn and on being told the news, replied, “I thank the Lord for His grace; I am undeserving.” He then joined the monks at the monastery in prayers and doxologies before the shrine of Saint Bishoy. A stream of visitors, led by Metropolitan Bakhomios, soon appeared at the monastery to offer their congratulations.

Ecumenical Gathering 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 Mar Thoma Paulose II, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Giza. Giza: On the eve of 18th November, Catholicos Baselius Marthoma Paulose II Primate of the Indian Malankara Orthodox Church hosted a dinner reception to the delegates of the Oriental Orthodox Churches who are in Egypt to take part in the Coptic Papal Consecration. Among the guests were Archbishop George Saliba, the secretary of the synod of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Nareg Alemezian, Ecumenical Officer of the Armenian Orthodox Catholicosate of Cilicia, Archbishop Nathanael, locum tenens of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and several other dignitaries of various Oriental Orthodox Churches attended the dinner which was held at the Four Seasons Hotel at Giza.

Papal Enthronement

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 Bachomius, 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 Bachomios 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.

Biography of Pope Tawadros II

Pope Theodoros was born Waǧīh Ṣubḥī Bāqī Sulaymān  on 4 November 1952 in the city of  Mansoura in Egypt.  As his father was an engineer the family moved from Mansoura tgo Sohag and later to Damanhur. He studied at the University of Alexandria, where he received a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy in 1975. In 1983 he was awarded a World Health Organisation fellowship from the British International Health Institute. After a few years of managing a state-owned pharmaceutical factory, he entered the Monastery of Saint Bishoy in Wadi Natrun in August 1986. He became a monk on 31 July 1988 and was ordained a priest on 23 December 1989  On 15 June 1997 he was consecrated as a general bishop by Pope Shenouda III in the name Theodoros (Tawadros). He was assigned to serve in the Eparchy of Behira in the north western Delta as Auxiliary to Metropolitan Bachomios, based in Damanhur. The picture above was taken at that time.

New General Secretary of the Holy Synod elected

At a meeting of the Holy Synod in Cairo on 22 November, the Holy Synod elected a new General Secretary to replace the outgoing secretary, His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy. Their choice fell on Bishop Raphael, who had been one of the three candidates whose names had been submitted for the Sacred Lot and who has served as General Bishop for Central Cairo. He will be supported by three assistant secretaries, Bishop Thomas of El Qussiya, Bishop Youssef of Florida & the South of USA and Bishop Apollo of South Sinai, the last being nominated by His Holiness Pope Tawadros.

Abba Seraphim, who returned to London after the papal enthronement, had sent his apologies for not attending the Synod, but stated that he believed the bishops had reflected the wider opinion of the Coptic community and that the choice had fallen on able and talented men.

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