Prayers have been plentiful in the Coptic Orthodox Church these past few weeks. The pleas of the faithful, complete with fasting, sought wisdom and providence in the selection of a new pope. When the lot fell on Bishop Tawadros, there was much contentment.
So for now, let the prayers be simple. Give Tawadros space to prepare himself spiritually before his consecration. Humble him and speak to him, that you might give him the weakness of Christ with the strength of conviction. Allow him to take his office a servant of Copts and Egyptians alike.
Give him time, God. Spare him the immediate crisis posed to test his mettle. Help him to organize his office, his staff, and administrative responsibilities. Surround him with trustworthy people – those who will pray with him and challenge his thinking. May he win the confidence of the family of bishops.
Give him discernment, God. Wisely, he asserts he must not be a political player. Yet the demands of Egypt may challenge his preference. Help him to feed his flock spiritually, that they may apply principles practically. Protect him from the temptation to act when he must wait on you. As he carries the weight of leadership, may he know when to speak and when to stay silent. Work through the whole body, God, not only through its chief shepherd and administrator. May he know he is not the head.
God, bless Egypt through him, and bless him through Egypt. May the nation recognize him as a wise representative of an institution, and treat him accordingly. May he be worthy of them, and may his prayers be effectual for them. In particular may he bless the president; honor and work good through them both.
Give him good health and a sound mind, God. Grant Egypt the same.
When the candidates for the Coptic papacy were reduced to five, Bishop Tawadros, along with all the others, gave an interview on Coptic television. The full video, along with English subtitles, can be found here.
I culled the interview for useful nuggets about the pope-to-be’s background and views about church and ministry, and arranged them for an article with Arab West Report. The full text can be found here, excerpts follow below.
Tawadros was born in 1952 in the city of Mansoura. At age five his father, a landscape engineer, moved the family to Sohag for work where they remained for three years before settling in Damanhour. Here, he studied in a Coptic school run by the sister of then-Pope Cyril VI.
Tawadros’ family was very religious; many of his uncles and cousins were or became priests. His mother was originally from the area of St. Dimyana Monastery near Mansoura, and each summer would take her family there to visit. He has two sisters.
‘All our life was related to the church,’ said Tawadros.
Later on in the interview he addressed certain issues. Here is an example.
‘As Egyptians we live with our brothers the Muslims, and it is a priority to keep this unified life,’ he said.
He spoke positively about how Pope Shenouda was called a ‘safety valve’, and then answered this question in light of necessary history.
‘Look at our beautiful diversity: a Pharaohnic obelisk, a Christian steeple, and a Muslim minaret. This is the diversity that Egypt brings to the whole world,’ stated Tawadros.
‘Do our youth know these treasures? We have many common roots, and the media should focus on them.’
It had been stated in the media that Bishop Tawadros was commended as keeping good relations between Muslims and Christians, and with Islamists in particular. Labib questions the last point.
‘You cannot say that he has had good or bad relations with Islamists, as he has no relations at all, he stated.
‘He just has no clashes with anyone. I have no documented information otherwise.’
From the conclusion:
The picture provided of Bishop Tawadros is at best incomplete, but does offer a slice into his personality and upbringing. He is a faithful son of the church. He is quiet, thoughtful, and concerned about its long term internal spiritual growth. He offered few insights into issues of state or relations with Muslims, except for the necessity of mutual esteem and preservation of unity. He grounded this relationship in the diversity of Egyptian history, which in light of current politics can be understood as a nod to its identity.
Further research, of course, is necessary. Certainly Bishop, and soon-to-be Pope Tawadros will offer more than enough insight into his papacy in the days and years to come.
Mid-Sunday morning, after three days of fasting, the Coptic Orthodox Church selected Bishop Tawadros of the Diocese of Baheira to be its 118th patriarch, succeeding Pope Shenouda III, who passed away in March of 2012. Tawadros’ name was drawn from a wax-sealed glass ball by a blindfolded child, supervised by the acting patriarch Bishop Pachomious.
Immediately after holding the paper with Tawadros’ name aloft for all to see, Pachomious then removed the other names from the remaining two balls to prevent allegations of fraud. Muhammad Hassanain Heykal, a prominent journalist, had disputed the selection of Pope Shenouda in 1971, alleging all three ballots bore the same name. Such a claim was not likely, but it resulted in doubts.
Bishop Tawadros was born in 1952 and is a graduate of Alexandria University with a degree in pharmaceutical sciences. In 1997 he was appointed as an auxiliary bishop to serve with Bishop Pachomious, now the acting patriarch. The lot was cast in his favor on his birthday, November 4, 2012.
The above excerpt is from the article I wrote for Arab West Report, reporting on Bishop Tawadros, the selection process, and issues moving forward. Please click here for the full article. Additionally, please click here for analysis from the AWR editor-in-chief Cornelis Hulsman, and here for a first-hand account from the cathedral from the managing director Hany Labib.
As for a brief description of the new pope-to-be, here is another excerpt:
Bishop Tawadros is also appreciated as one who reached out to the youth of his diocese, and kept good relations between local Muslims and Christians. He is also said to have decent relationships with Islamists.
And from the conclusion:
‘Civil society organizations can enter into confrontation with the state, but the church cannot,’ stated Sidhom. ‘Things are stable now, but it will be the time of crisis and sectarian strife that will be the real test.’
But today, and until then, Egypt’s Copts rejoice in a new leader, having asked God to grant them a ‘good shepherd’. Tawadros will need to prove himself, but he receives his position following a selection process esteemed not only clean, but spiritual – in distinction to national politics.
‘The lot lifts the election above politics as if it were for parliament.’ stated Labib. ‘The last choice is for God; this makes Christians very comfortable.’
It is a day of celebration for the Coptic Orthodox Church. May God give wisdom to their new shepherd.
While Americans prepare to elect their next president on Tuesday, Egyptian Christians are leaving this Sunday’s choice for their highest leader up to a higher power: God.
On November 4, one of three final candidates will succeed Pope Shenouda III, the beloved “pope of the Bible” who died in March, as the 118th patriarch of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church. But in contrast to the “group consensus” method used to select Roman Catholic popes, the casting of lots will determine whether Bishop Raphael of Cairo, Bishop Tawadros of Beheira, or Father Raphael Ava Mina, a monk from the Monastery of St. Mina near Alexandria, becomes the next spiritual leader of Egypyt’s 8 million Orthodox Christians.
This excerpt is from my article describing the papal selection process for Christianity Today. Please click here for the article in full.
It is an exciting day for Coptic Christians; may God honor their faith and grant them wise leadership. Two other angles to note:
First, all observers declared the election process prior to the lot was very organized, clear, and transparent. A limited pool of around 2,400 electors brought the number of candidates from five to three, of whom the lot will fall on one.
Some remarked the church wanted to present a picture of democracy and order that has so far escaped the Egyptian transition. Yes, for both parliament and president, democracy has been present and the lines to vote have been orderly. Yet the church has bent over backwards to ensure its election majors on the key missing ingredient in Egypt: transparency.
Second, if indeed there is transparency in selecting one of these three names, it presents an unmistakable spiritual picture of leadership to Egypt. One liberally-minded Muslim friend questions the reality of the lot, saying there is no way any large institution can leave their top leadership position to chance. He believes Bishop Raphael will be chosen; tomorrow we will see.
I am not sure how to interpret this spiritual picture, if indeed the blindfolded child has three separate names from which to draw. Yet given the wrangling, ambition, and conspiracy that has surrounded the Egyptian presidential contest – with unmistakable religious overtones – the church is saying: We trust in God.
As always, statements must be modified. The church is not saying it is a model for the Egyptian state. On the contrary, if anything, it is a rebuke by contrast. As a church we can be clearly spiritual in our leadership selection, but we are all Christians. The state, as a mixed polity, should be clearly secular.
If this is the lesson offered by the church, it is received. But it is not received with full transparency. The final choice is for God, and the election from five to three was by an accredited election. But the movement of candidates from seventeen to five was not particularly transparent. Twelve candidates were removed by a committee, and among these were the most controversial and polarizing figures.
Of the five that remained, three were of a similar disposition, while two were monks who were largely unknown. Please read the article to learn a little more of this disposition, but if the election from five and the lot from three will result in a similar pope no matter the candidate, where is the transparency?
By and large, Copts are very happy with their choices, so there is no need to complain. Furthermore, the church is not a democracy and should not be held to the standards of modern revolutionary conventional wisdom.
But on what basis were other candidates removed? Perhaps, simply, spiritual wisdom? This is not the same as transparency, on which democracy rests. Democracy can be transparent yet produce an unwise choice. But spin this differently, and the question is necessary: Is an appeal to spiritual wisdom simply a justification for paternalistic arrogance?
Now extend this question to Egypt, as President Mubarak did: Is Egypt ready for democracy?
Countless non-Islamists might look at the results and wonder, for they dare not articulate contrary to holy democratic principle, ‘No’. Democracy demands faith in the people, who can be rather fickle and easily manipulated.
Meanwhile, countless Islamists recognize ‘faith in the people’ as idolatry. They demand the coming constitution state clearly that sovereignty belongs – not to the people as currently written – but to God.
In the above, three models are presented: the reception of a system from God, the full sovereignty of people, and the paternalism that allows choice along a spectrum. Where does wisdom lie?
As I stated, I am not sure how to interpret the lessons from the papal selection process to the Egyptian society at large. I sense, however, the observations are poignant. I only wish for their proper translation.