H.H. Pope Shenouda III: The Coptic Committee Loses The Confidence Of The Nation--1954

Background

The government commissioned a committee of prominent Copts, referred to in this article as the “Coptic Committee”, to draft the bylaws for the Papal election. This article was written in April 1954 in response to the bylaws proposed by the committee, criticizing its basic premises.

At the bottom of selected pages, Nazir Gayed (H.H. Pope Shenouda III) inserted an eloquent phrase or statement, summarizing his arguments.

In page 2, he asks: “Was the Papal candidate faithful over a few things in order to rule over many things?”

In page 3, he writes: “The canons, the Tradition, and our experience bar the metropolitan from becoming Patriarch.”

In page 5, he writes: “Before the new version of the Papal election bylaws are ratified, it has to be presented to the Coptic nation so that the Copts can be assured of its legitimacy. 

 

The ARTICLE

April 1954

Baramhat 1670

                                                                  

THE COPTIC COMMITTEE LOSES THE CONFIDENCE OF THE NATION

Is this Ignorance or Negligence?

The Coptic Committee has been meeting for months to discuss, contemplate, decide and legislate. Finally, on March 13 and 14, the newspapers published the bylaws, which were proposed by the committee, and submitted to the President. We were stunned by most of the bylaws proposed by the committee, and we cannot hep but ask: “Is this ignorance or is it negligence”?  

We can say with confidence that the legislations proposed by the “Coptic committee”—or the committee that puts us to shame because of its name—is nothing but the personal opinions of the committee members, foreign to the canons of the Church, and in opposition of the consensus of the Coptic congregation.

We will start by criticizing some aspects of the legislation:

 

THE COMMITTEE OPPOSES THE CONGREGATION

The Committee intentionally and knowingly breaks the canons

1)     The committee admits in its report that “…the only reference related to the selection of the Patriarch is the canons of the Church. In summary, the Patriarch has to be celibate, known for his piety and devotion, and famous for his virtues and knowledge.”

2)     In addition, the committee admits “…it is established in the history of the Church for the past 1000 years, that the Patriarch is chosen from among the monks. It is important to respect this tradition and continue to observe it. In addition, it is firmly rooted in tradition that the Patriarch is chosen from among monks who have not been ordained bishops, because the relation between the bishop and his diocese does not permit him to abandon his diocese.”

Despite all this, the committee—may the Lord forgive them—approved the candidacy of Metropolitans and Bishops and, as such, openly abandoned the canons of the Church, her Tradition and her history, which the committee referred to. It also totally neglected the consensus of the Coptic congregation, which is demonstrated through the letters issued by different Coptic organizations, and the numerous articles published in the newspapers.

 

The frail pretences mentioned by the committee

After the previous introduction, the committee claims:

“…it is not in the best interest of the Church to limit the choice of the Patriarch to one category, and to prevent the other (monks and bishops). The modern age requires that the Patriarch, in addition to his piety, knowledge and devotion, be of a strong character that enables him to fulfill the serious responsibilities of this great religious position.”

We are surprised by this unsubstantiated claim made by the committee. How did the members of the committee dare to say this?Does choosing the Patriarch from among metropolitans guarantee his ability to fulfil the serious responsibilities of this position?

For 1900 years, the Church never chose the Patriarch from among metropolitans, and yet the Church featured many Patriarchs whose strong characters ensured their eternal memory.

Is it possible for any person to approve of this claim, when no one dared to make it in the brightest ages of the Church?

In the age of the great saint Anba Sarapamon (Abo Tarha), the Metropolitan of Menofia, and in the age of the great saint Anba Abraam, the bishop of Fayoum, no one dared to promote the idea of choosing the Patriarch from among the metropolitans, despite the presence of these great saints. They did not claim that it is necessary to have a person with strong character, who is able to fulfill the serious responsibility of the office. Yet we easily dare to say this in the 20th century.

“Be astonished, O heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, O Earth.”
We thank God that the Coptic nation is still wise, and cannot be fooled by such reasoning. In fact, the Coptic nation wants to ask those committee members: “Who gave you the authority to change the Church canons and the Tradition to suit your personal understanding of matters?” 

 

The “Coptic” committee members offer another frail excuse by claiming: “…the Church has not kept this Tradition (of choosing the Patriarch from among monks) in the past few decades, but deviated from it and allowed the choice of metropolitans.”

Are we supposed to even consider this argument?

So the Church continues for 1900 years on a certain Tradition, supported by canons and sacred teachings, and threatens any transgressor with excommunication and punishments. And when the Tradition is broken in 1928, they argue that this transgression is the norm, although it only took place 26 years ago?

26 dark years full of corruption.

These 26 years have convinced everyone who participated in breaking the canons and the Tradition of the Church that they have sinned, and that we have to go back to our ancient Tradition.

In addition, the committee claims in report that their position is a “…reconciliation of two opinions, and a step towards returning to the established and venerable Tradition of the Church.”

It is by no means a reconciliation of the two opinions, but rather a clear support of one opinion over the other. As for their assertion that this is a step towards returning to the old Tradition, I can only say that they are either their conciences' reproved them, or they are intentionally promoting a pathetic fallacy.

 

The age of the candidate for Patriarchy

The committee suggests that the minimum age for a candidate to Patriarchy should be 45 years. We totally reject this suggestion, especially as our minds have been expanded in this age. The biological age is not anymore the only measure of ability; rather, it is the spiritual age and the wisdom of the candidate. In support of our opinion, we can cite David the Prophet “I understand more than the ancients, for I have kept your precepts” (Psalm 119:100), and refer to Elihu, who represented God in the book of Job: “Great men are not always wise, nor do the aged always understand justice” (Job 32:9).

Age is not a measure of worthiness for the Patriarchate, and if it were applied to St. Athanasius he would have never become the Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. In addition, from among the metropolitans whom the committee has allowed to be nominated, there are some who are younger than 45 years of age, and some are even younger than 40 years of age. Some of them were chosen for the episcopy at an age below 30 years, which is the same episcopal rank that the Patriarch is ordained to.

We suggest that this age condition should be repealed. We are supported in this matter by the canons of the Church, which prioritize wisdom in the candidate over his age, and by the Bible as mentioned in the epistle of St. Paul to Timothy the Bishop: “Let no one despise your youth” (1 Tim 4:12). At that age, the episcopal rank was the highest rank in the Church, and it still is.

 

The Voters

The section about those eligible to vote in the election in the report submitted by the committee is a conspicuous farce. They want the number of voters to shrink to 200 or a little more, to include: “…the members of the Holy Synod, the deputies of the dioceses, the members of the general council of laity (el-maglis el-milli el-‘am), two members of the each local council of laity (maglis melli far’i), the current Coptic ministers and previous Coptic ministers, the members of Parliament, the current deputy ministers and the previous deputy ministers, the attorneys and those equivalent to attorneys in rank, and a hundred prominent Copts which the committee of voters selects”.

But as for the rest of the congregation, they are not regarded as concerned parties.

The youth, who have a solid grasp on the supposed canonical conditions of the Church, and who rebelled against the present corruption in the Church are not regarded as concerned parties.

The professors in the Theological School and its decorated alumni are not regarded as concerned parties.

The general clergy, also, are not regarded as concerned parties.

So who are the concerned parties then?

It would be the politicians, including the ministers and their deputies, and the members of Parliament. The majority of these individuals have demonstrated their religious ignorance, and proved that they have no idea about matters of the Church.

The concerned parties would also be the members of the council of laity, who have violated the biblical commandments regarding divorce, and given themselves the authority to carry out priestly duties in this matter. They are the same individuals whose leaders have issued a report recommending that Coptic judges should take over decisions in cases of divorce, which should be reviewed in the lower governmental judicial courts.

 

What is their argument? And what are our refutations?

They claim, “…among the shortcomings of the democratic process is the fact that it contradicts the established sacred traditions from ancient times. Traditionally the lay leaders, together with the metropolitans would meet and nominate a suitable person for this serious rank.”

·       The use of the expression “sacred traditions” causes us to be wholly surprised. How dare they defend the traditions, when in the same report they have broken the traditions by allowing the candidacy of metropolitans for the Patriarchate?!? How dare they defend the traditions when in the same report they propose that divorce cases should be reviewed in courts, breaking all the traditions of the Church?

Dear honourable committee members: do not talk about sacred traditions. Leave this for others. 

·        For the sake of honesty, we must say that the whole Coptic congregation participated in the selection of its shepherd in past times. If a single person objected to the ordination, the ordination was postponed until the objection was thoroughly examined.

·       We also want to inquire of you, members of the committee, about who you consider “leaders of laity” (archons). It has never referred to political leaders including government ministers, their deputies, and the members of parliament. It has also never described high-ranking government officials. Rather, the leaders of laity, the archons, are the Copts who are knowledgeable regarding the Church, and who participate in the liturgies. They are the Copts who understand the dogma, Tradition and rites of the Church, and can lead the congregation in these aspects under the supervision of the clergy. They are definitely not those individuals referred to by the honourable committee members.

 

We call upon the Coptic people:

…the people who this committee despised, and whose opinion about the prohibition against the nomination of metropolitans to the Patriarchate has been neglected…

…the people who this committee despised, and denied its right to vote and select their own Patriarch.

We call upon the people to make their voice heard by the responsible avenues, expressing that the members of the “Coptic” committee do not represent anyone but themselves, as they have totally neglected their opinion.

As for the rest of the errors recorded in the committee’s report, and especially the ones related to divorce, we will revisit them again.

We ask the Copts to pay attention to the report submitted by this committee, which has given us an idea about the manner in which the politicians wish to handle the affairs of the Church.

When you select leaders, select those who understand the religion and the canons of the Church, and not the high-ranking officials.