The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is set to elect a New Pope in the very near future. As a Christian Egyptian person, I have duel sense of both great hope and yet also trepidation for this new Holy Father and for our Church.
Our previous Pope, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of blessed memory, may his memory be eternal, was not just a Pope and spiritual leader for our people within the Church, but a political voice and leader as well over the past forty years. He set in place many policies still presently being compliedwith. He consecrated a wealth of bishops who are leading and will continue to lead our Church for at least the next 20 years.
I have decided to write this letter to the incoming Pope and express my hopes and prayers for him, with the heartfelt desire that our Holy Father to-be will discern carefully and prayerfully the gravity and importance of being “Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy See of Saint Mark,” before actually accepting to have his name put up for nomination.
1. In What Way Will You Our New Pope Continue the Legacy of Your Predecessor, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of Blessed Memory, May His Memory be Eternal, in Fostering Unity Among the Separated Apostolic Churches, and in Promoting Continued Ecumenical Dialogue With and Among all Christians?
The churches of the world were in the beginning One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church until the tragedy and split that finally crystallized with the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. We would be wise to remember that in the time of Saint Paul, the blessed Apostle laments the sectarianism already present in the Church at Corinth, (1 Cor. 1:10-18). In the wise judgement of His Holiness and Pope of Rome at the time of the Council of Chalcedon, Leo the Great, may his memory be eternal, and in keeping with the current joint statement (see link at bottom of page) of Pope Shenouda III, and Pope Paul VI, both of blessed memory, this division between the Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian Churches seems to revolve aroundthe precise definition of the Greek word for “nature.” It does not seem to be a substantial difference in doctrine.
I call for a serious, sincere, and concerted effort on the part of all parties involved for continued and even increased dialogue in order to expedite the lengthy and difficult process of discovering the true nature of our differences. I also call for all to work together with open minds and hearts, brought together in the love of our one God and Father, the grace of our one Lord Jesus Christ, and the unity of the one Holy Spirit of God to resolve these differences. Our Bishops must not lord over the flock, but lead as examples of Christ our God in this their work, and be humble enough to make themselves of no reputation (Phil. 2:5-11) so that when the Chief Shepherd appears, they might receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. (1 Peter 5:1-4). And we thepeople must pray for you, remembering that Our Lord and Master did not only command us to have and keep unity, but as our Faithful High Priest, (Hebrews2:17; 3:1) He prayed for it to His Father. (Holy Gospel According to Saint John 17:6-23). The unity we pray and long for is a gift and grace we receive from our God.
2. Political Involvement
For the past 40 years and up to and including this present moment, our church leaders, ie. the Pope together with the Bishops, Priests, and clergy in communion with him, have been the only political representation for the Coptic people. In recent years, with the increase in persecution of the Coptic Christian Community within Egypt, there is a generally despairing sense from some people that the Church did not do enough to protect the rights and safety of its members. Some Coptic Christian activists have voiced their opinion that our leaders should be following the mandate set by Saint Peter the Apostle in his letter to “Shepherd the flock of God whichis among you,…” (1 Peter 5:1-2). Our leaders ought not to practice politics at the expenseof the people of God. I would like to have further discussion on this issue, the reasons behind it, and the consequences that inevitably arise from it.
Even more importantly, if I may be be so bold to raise these issues with you the future Holy Father, I would like to know what your thoughts and political stance will prove to be on some of the most serious human rights issues that directly affect the lives of the Coptic People living in Egypt.
1. What is your stance on Sharia law?
2. What is the Church’s stance on the “Dhimmi” status of Christians under Sharia law?
3. What is the Church’s stance on "Al-Hoddod", like for example the cutting off of one’s hands for theft, or the whipping of Coptic Christians for adultery?
4. What is the Church’s stance on making Pilgrimage to Jerusalem?
5. What is the Church’s stance on the rights of equal citizenship for Coptic Christians in Egypt?
6. Is there any hope of or current possibility for a genuine and beneficial co-operation between our clergy and the emerging young Coptic politicians that would allow for these young politicians to effectively represent our community in the future?
3. Caring For the Poor
The early apostoles siants paid special attention to this very crucial matter and assigned the 7 deacons disciples to only handle that job in serving the poor (acts 6:1-6:4)
The coptic People living abroad seem to have the pleasure, grace, and great joy of more blessed visits from our Bishops than those living within Egypt. In every church in Canada and the USA, there are visits from one of our Bishops at least twice per year.With all of this travelling, most of the Coptic people living within Egypt never have the honor of greeting or being greeted by the Bishop of their own diocese at any time throughout their lives. It is known that Coptic people living abroad in the more “free west” if you will live a much more relaxed life than their brothers and sisters living within Egypt. It is a life much more free from persecution. Our brothers and sisters living within Egypt need the close care, encouragement and love of their Shepherds. Let us remember the example of our great Saint and Bishop Athanasius, who was loved so dearly by his people, because of his great love for them and Pope Peter the last martyr who sacrifised himself for protecting his people.Let us be on our guard, for the lost and poor of today may may take us as enemies tomorrow. Let us also remember the history and our brothers and sisters the poor people in our past who could not afford to pay the Jizya…
4. Reviving the Church’s Tradition
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is an ancient Church, founded in AD 42 according to tradition by Saint Mark the Evangelist and claims jurisdiction over the entire African continent. It is one of the original four Apostolic Sees together with Rome, Antioch, and Jerusalem, and of course one of the Pentarchy once Constantinople was later added. Up until the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 AD, also known as the First Council of Constantinople, the Patriarch of Alexandria was the first in spirtuality, and next to the Bishop of Rome "the capital of the roman empire" as Second among equals due to Geographic reasons. Many great saints have come from her, like Saint Athanasius mentioned above, and Saint Cyril the Great,Saint Origen ,and Saint Celement of Alexandria.
Regrettably, the teachings of our of our Great Saintly Fathers are not available to ordinary Coptic people. They are available in other languages in the west to Christian people living abroad, but not in Arabic to our people living within Egypt. We must strive to rectify thissituation! I praise our Holy Father "Matta Al Miskeen" of blessed memory, may his memory be eternal, for his great work in trying to revive and translate some of our Coptic heritage.
5. As Our Holy Father, What Will Your Policy Be With Regard to Meeting Personally With Your People and Looking Into Their Concerns and or Problems? I am Asking With Special Reference to the Administrative Aspect of the Church.
6-Lastly, as future Pope, I wish to raise a practical concern.
The personal driver of your predecessor Pope Shenouda III of Blessed Memory would routinely exceed the speed limits within the Cathedral grounds by as much as 60km/hour. The reasons offered for this infraction of the law seemed in some sense reasonable. It was said that this action was taken to protect the life of the Holy Father from any type of sniper or terrorist attack. I cannot help but think that it would have been much easier to attack the Holy Father within the Cathedral walls while he the wednesday sermon or during celebrating the Divine Liturgy. Exceeding the speed limit in such a fashion endangers the lives of the crowds gathered outside who have come hoping to catch a glimpse of their beloved Pope and Spiritual Father. Once you are elected to be our Shepherd, please consider the safety of your sheep, and choose assistants who will take care to do the same.