A Letter by Fr. Bishoy Kamel (1971)

To the Orphan Coptic Congregation of Alexandria

Our beloved Father (Pope) Kyrillos VI, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, has departed to paradise, leaving the members of the congregation of Alexandria as orphans, praying to God that He may send them a bishop who would become their father.  

Although the departure of the Pope has shaken the whole nation, each diocese still has a father (bishop), except for the diocese of Alexandria, which demands to have a fatherly bishop.

These deep-seated feelings of being orphans was deepened because the Copts of Alexandria have lived for a long time without a father, namely from 1928 to 1959 (approximately 30 years), the period in which the following metropolitans assumed the Papacy: Anba Youaness the Metropolitan of Behera, Anba Macarius the Metropolitan of Assiut and Anba Yousab the Metropolitan of Gerga.

For although Anba Yousab was appointed Patriarch, he remained the bishop of Gerga and therefore his diocese remained vacant till his departure, because the bishop is espoused to his diocese until death. He could never become the bishop of Alexandria because any bishop cannot be ordained twice to the rank of bishop.

Likewise, Anba Macarius was appointed Patriarch of the See of St. Mark and remained till the day of his departure the bishop of Assiut. It was never possible for him to become the bishop of Alexandria because he is espoused to Assiut till his death. The same is applicable to Anba Youaness his predecessor.

How a Patriarch is ordained?

The bishop of Alexandria is ordained from among the monks, in the same manner in which Anba Kyrillos VI was ordained, and thus he becomes the Patriarch or the first-among-equals among the bishops.

When Pope Kyrillos VI was ordained, it was the first time in 30 years that the believers of Alexandria felt they had a father and a bishop. We will never forget the profound love of Pope Kyrillos VI and his longing to his children in Alexandria and we are all witness to his desire to spend as much time as possible among us in Alexandria. Even in the day before his departure, he was making plans to visit his diocese, Alexandria.

But now, if one of the metropolitans or general bishops assumes the Patriarchate, he will assume the title “Patriarch of the See of St. Mark” in addition to Metropolitan / Bishop of the diocese he was originally ordained for and espoused to till his death, but he can never be the bishop of Alexandria. The people of Alexandria would then be entitled to ask for a true father, for a canonical bishop to be ordained for their diocese.

Can a Bishop be ordained twice?

If a metropolitan or a general bishop is selected for Papacy, will he be ordained a second time to become the bishop of Alexandria? Of course not, because a bishop cannot be ordained twice to the same rank. It will not be a proper ordination but rather a promotion and it will result in misery for the orphaned congregation of Alexandria, who will suffer from having non-canonical bishop—an illegitimate father—ordained for them.

Let me ask: What is the significance or meaning of the ordaining a bishop or metropolitan for a second time to the Patriarchate, if we firmly believe that ordination cannot be repeated to the same rank? Are we kidding God or are we kidding ourselves?

We remember quite well that Anba Youaness, Anba Macarius and Anba Yousab were very able bishops in the dioceses for which they were ordained, and led true saintly lives. However, once they assumed the Patriarchate they were burdened with continuous problems. Neither prayer nor tears could help relieve their misery. During his Patriarchate, Anba Macarius of Assiut was always crying and in a state of contrition, saying repeatedly: “I wish I had broken my leg before I entered the Patriarchate”.

Although Anba Kyrillos VI was simple monk with average education, he was supported with the unrivalled heavenly power of the Holy Spirit.

The people—the church—of Alexandria are not concerned with the qualification of the monk chosen for Papacy, or his appearance, but we are definitely very adamant about having a true legitimate Father ordain. For this very reason, the canons of the church very clearly specify the electoral body for the Papacy: the Metropolitans, the priests of Egypt, and the people of Alexandria.

Historical lessons

1) In the 8th century, a Syrian Bishop named Isaac, bishop of Haran, assumed the Patriarchate of the Syrian Church with the support of the Sultan Abdullah Ibn Gafaar. When all his fellow metropolitans objected to this uncanonical consecration, he killed two of them. When Bishop Isaac informed the Sultan that he needs the approval of the Coptic Patriarch, the Sultan ordered his governor in Egypt to get the approval of the Coptic Patriarch, and if the Patriarch refuses to corporate, to extradite the Bishop to the Sultan in Syria. 

Our beloved Pope, Anba Khael (46th Patriarch of Alexandria, ordained in 744 A.D.), summoned the Holy Synod and issued the following synod decree: “Neither sword, nor fire, nor being offered to the lions, nor exile or captivity will deter me or cause me anxiety. I will not commit transgression nor will I ever subject myself to my own anathema that I started my Papacy with, namely, that a bishop shall never become Patriarch.”   

In this manner, our beloved Pope has prepared himself for death and went to meet the Sultan and witness for the truth. In the same night before his departure to Syria, the announcement of the death of Bishop Isaac reached Egypt (refer to “History of the Patriarchs”). Please pay attention to the great faith of the holy Patriarchs and its true profound nature, and their willingness to observe the canons and witness for the truth, even if they are martyred for the sake of it.

2) St. Gregory the Theologian was prevented from entering the diocese he was ordained for by the Arians, and was therefore appointed to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Yet Pope Timothy of Alexandria objected to this appointment, and the second ecumenical council in Constantinople at 381 A.D. ratified the Pope’s objection. St. Gregory agreed therefore to leave Constantinople.

The saints of the Church and its Fathers have anathemized the ordination of the bishop twice to the same rank, and have anathemized the promotion of a bishop to the Patriarchate, and therefore satisfied God with their works. God, in return, blessed their lives and blessed the Church abundantly because of them.

The newspapers nowadays are propagating the idea that the general bishops were being prepared for the Patriarchate. This is a strange teaching, alien to the concepts of our Orthodox Church, which firmly believes that the rank of Bishop is a rank of priesthood, instituted for caring for the congregation. The Church rejects the idea that it (the rank of Bishop) is a managerial position, which may include promotion, transfer or combining two dioceses under the same bishop, but affirms the Bishop is ordained only once.

3) We feel indebted to the memory of our father, Pope Kyrillos VI, who insisted on one condition when he signed the agreement with the Ethiopian Church concerning ordaining their own patriarch (Catholics): that he must be chosen from among the monks. This means that we imposed a condition on the other churches that we are opposing now. This will lead eventually to a rift in the Coptic-Ethiopian relations that Pope Kyrillos VI laboured consistently to build.

The congregation of Alexandria …..  

……are entreating God to never allow them to be orphans again after they have tasted the sweetness of having a true father.

The spiritual weapon that our father Anba Kyrillos has left with us is continuous prayers.

The congregation of Alexandria is pleading to our fathers the Metropolitans and our fathers the bishops, who are commissioned to protect the Orthodox faith and the upright belief, and sincerely asks the honourable members of the committee of Papal nominations, who love Christ, not to deprive them of the blessing of having a true father.

We are not challenging the integrity of anyone, but we always hope that our personal opinions are based on the teachings of the Church, which should be our only reference.

As for us, the people of Alexandria, we are responsible in the eyes of God to pray so that God may lead the Church to the perfect union through the obedience of the commandment, through self-denial and by everyone being satisfied for his talents. We pray that God may grant us a holy bishop to shepherd His flock in righteousness and purity. Amen.

Sons of the Bishopric of Alexandria