H.H. Pope Sheounda III: Changing the By-Laws for the Election of the Patriarch (1)--1953

Nazir Gayed (Pope Shenouda III of Blessed Memory)
 
In the opening of the last issue2, we called for the imperative change of the by-laws for the election of the Patriarch, in accordance to Church canons. We note with gratitude that two suggestions for us were published by the newspapers, and were presented to the Denominational Council by two of its members – Mr. Isaac Abdel Sayed and Mr. Riyad Makarious – demanding “the modification of the by-laws for the election of the Patriarch, on the basis of honouring the Church canons and Her traditions.”
The Nominee for the Patriarchate:

It is compulsory to revise the first article of the current by-laws in order to explicitly state that the nomination Metropolitans or Bishops for the Patriarchal Throne is not permissible. We are ready to present the Denominational Council with canonical evidence to support this point; witnesses from history; and the wisdom behind why the Coptic Church, over Her past history, did not choose a Metropolitan for the Patriarchal Throne, except in this twentieth century.

If the Fathers – the Metropolitans and Bishops – decided in the council, which they convened last year, to allow the election of one of their own to the Patriarchal Throne, we state openly that this decision of theirs is canonically invalid. Moreover, the Church canons state that Bishops who decide on matters that are in opposition to their spirit or letter are to be deposed.
 
In addition to the aforementioned, we say that Church canons do not restrict the appointment of a layman to the Patriarchal post, and simultaneously forbid the election of Metropolitans to it. The history of the Coptic Church is rich with examples of a seminarian professor, a deacon, a government employee, a merchant, and an affluent individual being chosen for the Patriarchal post. However, we do not find one such example of a Metropolitan who was elevated as Patriarch over the Throne of St. Mark… Whoever consults the Rite of Ordination for the Patriarchs will clearly notice the possibility of a layman being elected for the Patriarchal Throne, and the impossibility of choosing a Metropolitan.
 
Guaranteeing the Orthodoxy of the Voters

We must ask a critical question: Can the Holy Synod and the Denominational Council guarantee the Orthodoxy of the voters?! Can they guarantee that Protestants or Catholics will not infiltrate the ranks of the voters, given that they too have Christian Egyptian names??

If this cannot be guaranteed, then it is necessary to pool the sources in order to record Church membership. This can be accomplished through the aid of the records that exist in the different dioceses, and copies such records ought to be kept in the Patriarchate. The Coptic Orthodox (faithful) who are listed in the Church records will be the sole eligible voters for all ecclesial organizations. Those whose Orthodoxy is held in question may be investigated by a designated committee that is authorized to cross off the name.
 
An added benefit to this Church membership census is to facilitate the outreach effort, thus clearing the scope of work for the Priest and Bishop. God willing, we shall revisit this issue.
 
Who are the Voters?
The current by-laws are under Act 27 for the year of 1942. In Article Nine of these by- laws, an intriguing statement by the canonist reads, “The requirement for voters in categories seven through ten is to have completed the minimum age of forty years”!!!
 
Who are the voters that are affected by this article? They are:
 
Seventh: Lawyers, Physicians, Engineers, School Teachers, and others who are deemed by Egyptian law to have completed higher education.
 
Eighth: Every individual who files federal taxes, no less than 100 pounds annually…
 
Ninth: Heads and delegates of various Coptic Orthodox associations for the poor or education, if they have academic institutes, or hospitals, or hospices, or shelters, which have been regularly operating for at least ten years.
 
Tenth: Owners of Coptic newspapers, and Coptic editors of daily newspapers, if it has been verified that they belong to the management of their respective papers, or have been in editorial on a regular basis for a minimum of ten years. What does this all mean?
 
1. This means that items 1-3 allow Bishops, Abbotts and Hegoumens, Canonists, and 12 Priests from Cairo to vote. Item 4 allows former and incumbent ministers to vote. Item 5 allows former and incumbent members of the General Denominational Councils to vote, in addition to the members of the current Denominational Sub-Councils. Item 6 gives this right to prominent employees. And item 8 allows the affluent to vote, given that they meet the age requirement.
 
As for the people and their elect elite, they are not allowed, unless they are of age!!
 
2. This also means that the educated youth who have a clear understanding of Church affairs as they really are… The enlightened youth from amongst the physicians, lawyers, engineers, teachers, etc… They are not allowed to choose their Patriarch, unless they grey.
 
These intellectual youth ought to be allowed to participate in the election of the Patriarch. They who were allowed by the nation to contribute to flourishing of society, and not just the Coptic community… The canonists ought to keep in mind that the nation is now ruled by a group of youth who succeeded in many of the affairs in which many elders failed.
 
We have moved forward with the proposals brought forth by the two respectable members, in keeping with the statement “According to the Canons of the Church,” which was put forth in the proposals of the respective individuals. It is our desire to comment also that the Church canons, with respect to the Patriarch, state clearly that he ought to be “chosen by all the people.” At the very least, the enlightened youth should be allowed to vote. Therefore, we demand that the age requirement be nullified. It is sufficient that the voter be of a mature age…
 
We stated this first… And we are waiting.
 
The Demon of Impetuousness
The one who studies the current by-laws for the election of the Patriarch will notice an intriguing tendency to hasten the enthronement over the Patriarchal Throne, as if the Throne will fly away without any trace!! Why this dangerous impetuousness?!
 
We have said it before, and will say it a second time, and a third, and will continue to say it for as long as we live:
 
To have a vacant throne is better than to have an unworthy person enthroned.
 
Having a flock with no shepherd is better than bringing a wolf and installing him as a shepherd.
 
It is our opinion that during its vacancy, the Patriarchal Throne should be under the supervision of a locum tenens or a committee of three of our fathers the Bishops. After this, we may search for one who is worthy of being a Patriarch; a holy person who meets the requirements of the Church Canons. If he is found, so be it. If not, we wait. If the Acting Patriarch is abusive, we can change him. But if the abuse comes from the new Patriarch, he will place us before a hellacious problem… Amend this article of the by-law, please, for God’s sake and His Church.
 
1Magalat Madaares Al-Ahad (Sunday School Magazine) September 1953: 7.
2Magalat Madaares Al-Ahad (Sunday School Magazine) August 1953: 6.