Honor and Humility in the Anglican Communion


From Bishop Mouneer in his diocesan newsletter, on the recent visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby:

In the Middle East, Africa, and much of the non-Western world, extending honour is among the chief virtues. Our Anglican Communion is blessed to have a leader who embodies not only this cultural value, but also its Biblical roots.

“Without doubt, the lesser person is blessed by the greater,” writes the author of Hebrews. “Honour one another above yourselves,” writes Paul in Romans. On April 20, our diocese of Egypt was blessed by the visit of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He came to offer condolences over the martyrdom of 21 Christians killed by ISIS in Libya. But in humility, as a man of the West visiting the East, he proved the reality of these verses in his life and leadership.

In attendance were Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos and Coptic Catholic Bishop Antonius Aziz, themselves men of humble service there to honour his visit. Aware the representatives of these churches could not share in an Anglican Eucharist, the archbishop desired to demonstrate his appreciation for their churches in a land whose children produced such a testimony of faith.

Archbishop Welby left the communion table, knelt before the two bishops, and asked them to pray a blessing for him. Immediately moved in spirit, they knelt as well, and asked the same of him. He then returned and offered body and blood to God’s holy church. Both privately expressed how they were touched by his gesture.

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,” said Jesus to his disciples. “Those who honour me,” said God in I Samuel, “I will honour.” Following communion, Archbishop Welby joined me in demonstrating this call and promise of God.

For the past seven years, Rev. Drew Schmotzer has worked tirelessly not only as my personal assistant, but also in assuming vacant pastoral positions in Maadi, Menouf, and at All Saints Cathedral. He is now leaving the diocese to return to the United States. Archbishop Welby’s visit was Rev. Drew’s last day in Egypt. During the service, we were able to honour Rev. Drew’s humble service to the Diocese of Egypt. I presented him with the shield of the diocese in gratitude for his ministry.

“God is not unjust,” it is written in Hebrews, “he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people.” The virtue of honour is one the Eastern Church can share with the Western. Our Anglican Communion is blessed to have so many from all cultures who, in humility, exhibit it already.

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Debating Religious Freedom in the Constitution: European Concerns and Egyptian Realities

L: Amr Moussa, head of Egypt's constitutional committee; R: Catherine Ashton, EU representative for foreign affairs
L: Amr Moussa, head of Egypt’s constitutional committee; R: Catherine Ashton, EU representative for foreign affairs

From my recent article at Arab West Report, focusing on the critique of Dr. Wolfram Reiss, professor of historical and comparative studies of religions at the University of Vienna, and the response of Bishop Antonios of the Coptic Catholic Church:

Reiss believes that the post-Mursī constitution of 2014 removed the worst features of the 2012 charter, in particular the role given to the Azhar in review of legislation in Article 3, and the definition of sharī‘ah along traditional lines of jurisprudence in Article 219.

Yet despite the amendment and removal of certain articles, Reiss finds that the constitution of 2014 does not provide a sufficiently new basis for any of the urgent questions which have long prompted interreligious debate. The question of the building and repair of churches is postponed, religious freedom is guaranteed only for already recognized groups, the question of apostasy is not addressed, and the mention of political representation for Christians is very vague.

“I do not see any progress concerning religious freedom and the status of the Christians in Egypt,” he wrote in an email to Cornelis Hulsman. “So I see the ‘new’ constitution as a preservation of the status quo only. I would be grateful if you (or H.G. Anba Antonius) could convince me that I am wrong.”

The article elaborates his concerns and adds Hulsman’s description of background context. Reiss had read the full transcript of an earlier interview with Bishop Antonios, and responds:

As for the articles specifically discussed concerning religious freedom, Bishop Antonios both agreed and disagreed with the comments of Reiss. “Anything in the world might not be done correctly and could go wrong,” he said. “There has to be a public will for the constitution to be applied.”

This was his comment specifically about Article 53 on discrimination, but it concerns also the issues of apostasy and the rights of non-monotheistic religious adherents. The constitution states that freedom of belief is ‘absolute’, improving and strengthening the language of earlier versions. Of course this means one has the right to change religions. Concerning Baha’is in particular, Article 6 on citizenship states that obtaining official papers proving his personal data is a right, so how can the religion field be recorded incorrectly? But, he understood, the reality for both could be different.

Reality also dictated the acceptance of Articles 2 and 3, as well as 235 on church building. His personal opinion is with Reiss, that it would be better if the language of the constitution did not differentiate by religion. This even included Article 244 on Copts in parliament. Bishop Antonios is against quotas of any kind.

On this article he agreed with Reiss that the language was vague, but that this provided flexibility. It may be preferable to have a certain system to promote Copts in parliament given current realities about the lack of familiarity with democracy, but the law on this matter can change year by year as the reality changes. Ongoing political dialogue, as well as the will of the public, will determine implementation.

Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report.

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Bishop Antonious: A Full Transcript on Constitutional Proceedings

Bishop Antonios

Bishop Antonious Aziz of the Coptic Catholic Church served as his church’s representative on the Committee of Fifty which rewrote Egypt’s constitution. He agreed to an interview with Arab West Report on December 10, 2013, shortly after the final text was approved by the committee and just over one month before ratification by the Egyptian people in a referendum on January 14-15. In the interview he provided clear and frank insight into the inner workings of the committee.

Arab West Report has provided a full transcript of the interview, available here. To summarize, Bishop Antonious described the process of his selection by the president and church, and the subcommittees on which he served. Each member assigned himself a place in one or more of five groupings: Basic Components of the State, Rights and Freedoms, System of Governance, Listening, and Drafting.

The bishop worked in the first and last of these subcommittees, making him uniquely qualified to comment on the passage of the key religious articles, from start to finish.

The listening committee received proposals from hundreds of citizens, forwarding these to members of the appropriate group. The group would interact with these alongside their own proposals, taking internal votes to forward their consensus text to the drafting committee. The drafting committee would then amend both wording and content as they saw fit, sending the article back to the subcommittee to produce a consolidated text. This text would then be debated by the full Committee of Fifty, which after agreement would enter a final, non-binding review by the Committee of Ten. These ten were constitutional experts who provided the Committee of Fifty the initial amended copy of the 2012 constitution, from which to work. Finally, every article required a 75 percent vote of approval to merit placement in the constitution, and the majority of articles passed without difficulty.

Getting to the place of passage, however, often entailed much difficulty. This was nowhere more evident than the religious identity articles which lead the constitutional text. Because of the difficulty, these were postponed until the end.

Bishop Antonious described the interaction between the church, Azhar, and Salafi Nour Party representatives. In Article 1, should Egypt be part of the Muslim nation (ummah)? Should Article 2, making sharī’ah the primary source of legislation, remain in the constitution? Should it be further interpreted, as done in Article 219 of the 2012 constitution?

Should Article 3, giving rights in personal status and religious organization to Christians and Jews, be extended to non-Muslims in general? Should Article 7 maintain language from 2012 giving the Azhar a role in the process of legislation? In all these articles and more, Bishop Antonious provided insight into the manner of discussion which eventually produced agreement. He also describes the personal interaction and attitudes experienced along the way.

Not everything in the final text met with Bishop Antonious’ agreement, and he is frank about some of these areas. But even so, the end result is a constitution with which he is deeply satisfied. Please click here to read the full transcript of the interview at Arab West Report.

Photo credit: ACN


Tawadros Celebrates New Coptic Catholic Pope


From MCN (behind paywall):

Pope Tawadros II noted the word patriarch has three meanings; the first is fatherhood, as the patriarch is a father who carries the feelings of fatherhood which stem from the work of the Holy Spirit towards each one, adding humans need this feeling of fatherhood every day.

“The second meaning is love, which is the main need of humans,” Pope Tawadros II continued. He acknowledged the world is currently hungry for the true love God planted in their lives to present to everyone.

The third meaning, Pope Tawadros II remarked, is service, adding the priority for the patriarch is to be a servant but that service means humans should serve everyone.

The Coptic patriarch added that washing the feet is one of the traditions established in the monasteries to express humility. He said their service comes from a heart of love and fatherhood to meet the needs of everyone, including marginalized people, tired people, the old and young. Service, he stressed, is the work of the patriarch.

These are good words. The new Coptic Catholic Pope is named Ibrahim Isaac. He replaces Antonious Naguib, who retired for health reasons, but is currently in the Vatican enclave due to his status as a cardinal.

The article is not clear about all that took place during the ceremony, but Pope Tawadros’ words could have been even more powerful if accompanied by the symbol he mentioned.

Imagine if he had stooped to wash the feet of the new Coptic Catholic Pope.

The Coptic Orthodox Church represents the overwhelming majority of Egyptian Christians. Interdenominational relations have ebbed and flowed over the years with Catholic and Protestants, but Pope Tawadros appears intent on fostering unity. As mentioned previously, he has helped facilitate the Egyptian Council of Churches. Each denomination will have equal weight and rotational leadership. It is a humble concession on the part of the Orthodox.

Pope Ibrahim Isaac also spoke of the connection between leadership and service, according to MCN:

During his speech at the inauguration, Pope Isaac remarked that the Holy Bible teaches us authority is there to serve, taking after Christ and his teachings.

It is a common practice in the Coptic Orthodox Church for the leadership to wash the feet of the people, in a special ceremony once (perhaps more?) a year. Perhaps the Coptic Catholics do similarly, I don’t know.

But on this occasion, if only Pope Tawadros had washed the feet of his counterpart – equal in ecclesiastic authority but so much less influential in Egypt. This is no criticism, only imagination. But to demonstrate this teaching on such an occasion would have been noteworthy. In Christianity, the greater serves the less.

Even just in writing that sentence the protest issues: Shouldn’t Christianity make all people equal?

Yes, and it does. But the world does not. Therefore, those who are invested with authority and privilege of position must do all they can to demonstrate their humility. They must overturn the way of the world, however rife with hypocrisy the statement may be, if they are not careful. Washing the feet can easily become the new pride. It is proved otherwise away from the cameras, in demonstrated service away from the eyes of the world.

If only to continue imagining, might also the Grand Sheikh of the Azhar wash the feet of Pope Tawadros? Here, we are crossing religions which maintain their own traditions. It is not a proper comparison.

But the Sheikh of the Azhar has consented to a similar humble concession. He has helped facilitate the Family House, in which he and the heads of all Christian denominations meet regularly to maintain good relations and solve sectarian conflicts.

Muslims represent the overwhelming majority of Egyptians, yet the Grand Sheikh is outnumbered.

In the world, everyone knows where power lies. This reality will not change because of humble participation in councils, nor in symbolic gestures like foot washing. People in power also have it in their interest to appear humble, which actually increases their effectiveness.

But to lift up the lesser, to honor, and to give more power even at your own expense – this is of God. “He must become greater, I must become less,” said John the Baptist of Jesus. Jesus, meanwhile, said of those who follow him, “They will do greater works than these.”

Egypt’s spiritual leadership, Muslim and Orthodox, appear to heed this pattern. God only knows, but may he similarly equip Pope Ibrahim Isaac, and make him a shepherd to his people.