Categories
Current Events Religion

Happy Orthodox Easter, from the Egyptian President

EGYPT-POLITICS-RELIGION-COPTIC-SISI
President Sisi visits Pope Tawadros in advance of Easter 2014, via AFP.

Happy belated Easter, to Protestant and Catholic Christians who celebrated last week.

But having enjoyed either “Pascha” or “Paas” (or both), please do not be remiss in remembering your Orthodox brothers and sisters today.

After all, even the president of Egypt extends his greetings — and more.

I call on all of us to remember the teachings of Jesus Christ that lead humanity to the ways of love and peace,” he said, as reported by Ahram Online.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is a Muslim.

Muslims join Christians in acknowledging the virgin birth of Jesus, but not his resurrection. Most believe he never died, delivered from the cross and taken to heaven.

Many of Salafi orientation go as far as saying that Muslims should not even give Easter greetings, lest they encourage a theological error.

Christmas is a national holiday in Egypt, but not Easter.

Even so Christians are administratively equal. They are given vacation time, and recently have even been legally encouraged in pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as Muslims are to Mecca. 

Of course, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is also a politician, and politicians can say many things to curry favor.

But one, give credit not only for what could have been tepid acknowledgement, but instead is near fervent preaching.

He calls Muslims also in the teachings of Jesus.

And two, give credit to Egypt that if he is only currying favor, he judges the 90 percent of Muslims as at least non-offended by Easter greetings to the 10 percent minority.

Therefore, follow his example, and greet also the Orthodox minority in your own nations. And when the time comes, greet too the Muslims.

Encourage them both, like Sisi, toward greater love and peace.

And Ekhristos Anesti, for those who believe.

Tawadros Tayyib Easter
The Grand Imam and a delegation from al-Azhar greets Pope Tawadros for Easter 2018, via the Coptic Orthodox Spokesman.
Categories
Religion

Pope Tawadros’ Weekly Sermon, in English

Mideast Egypt Islamic State
Pope Tawadros II. Photo Amr Nabil

Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church was known as the ‘teacher of generations.’ I had the privilege of attending the beloved 87-year-old deliver one of his Wednesday weekly sermons back in 2010.

Five years later, in post-revolutionary Egypt, I watched his successor Pope Tawadros continue the tradition. He preached on Esther, and for unrelated reasons, a mini-protest broke out.

Now in 2018, for the first time I have noticed the weekly sermon translated into English, provided by the Coptic Media Center.

I am not certain if this will become a new tradition, but if so it will be fitting. The Coptic Orthodox Church is international, with many English-speaking congregations in the US and Canada (and the UK).

For those interested in the spirituality of the Coptic pope, here is an excerpt from his text. Pope Tawadros spoke on Mark 10:46-52, the story of blind Bartimaeus.

It is entitled: What Do You Want Me to Do for You?

Lessons we can learn from the story of the blind man for our spiritual journey:

1. Be persistent in prayer: don’t stop asking God for help, with patience & confident faith. Continuous crying out (praying) demonstrates a strong need for help.

2. Jesus hears your prayer from amongst the crowds: your short & simple prayers are heard by Christ and He responds to them.

3. The #1 goal of Satan is to prevent you from reaching Christ: just as the people tried to prevent/discourage the blind man from reaching Christ, Satan does with us when we are praying. FOCUS on the goal: to reach Christ, & do not listen to thoughts of doubt – your own or others’.

a. Remember the miracle of the demon-possessed man who was also blind and mute? (Matthew 12:22) It reveals that sin denies a person 3 things: thinking about Christ, talking to Christ, and seeing Christ.

4. Throw away anything that stands between you and God: be ready to QUICKLY detach from things, habits, etc. God reveals to you to let go of.

5. The importance of your will: “What do you want Me to do for you?” shows that God not only respects your will, but that your CONSENT IS NECESSARY to allow God to work in your situation.

6. You are a partner with God: God will give you the ability to do what is needed to do, but you must participate with your faith, your repentance, your prayers, your persistence, and your will.

7. Be definitive in your prayer request to Christ: Imagine if the blind man’s response to Christ had been, “I want some money,” or “I don’t know what I want,” that would have been a wasted opportunity. Go to Christ prepared, knowing what it is you want Him to do for you.

8. Follow Jesus after He heals you: after Jesus heals/helps you, will you follow Him?

Click here for the full sermon on the Coptic Spokesman’s Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Current Events

Does One Huge New Church in Egypt Make Up for Troubles with 24 Small Ones?

Sisi New Coptic Cathedral
(via Ahram Online)

This article was first published at Christianity Today on January 10, 2018.

Celebrating Christmas with Egyptian Christians for the fourth consecutive year, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi presented the largest gift under the tree: A new cathedral.

Sisi was the first president in Egypt’s history to even attend a Christmas mass. During last year’s celebration, he promised to build Egypt’s largest church and largest mosque in a yet-to-be-developed new administrative capital.

Three weeks earlier, 27 people had been killed in a suicide bombing in a chapel adjacent the old cathedral and papal residence, St. Mark’s in Cairo.

“Evil, destruction, and killing will never defeat goodness, peace, and love,” Sisi said at this month’s cathedral inauguration. “We are one, and you are our families. No one can ever divide us.”

Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II called the new church, named The Nativity of Christ, a “divine arrangement.”

But also…

 

One week prior to the Helwan incident, a church in Atfih, 60 miles south of Cairo, was ransacked—not by terrorists, but by dozens of local Muslims offended by the rumor that a bell would be installed in the unlicensed village church.

In a recent report by EIPR, Egypt witnessed 20 similar sectarian incidents at churches over a 13-month period. Ibrahim said the total is now up to 24.

EIPR’s reporting timeframe began with the issuance of Egypt’s new church building law, meant to eliminate such problems…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

 

 

Categories
Current Events

Egypt Says Muslims Who Die Defending Churches are Martyrs. One Just Did.

Helwan Church Attack
(via Ahram Online)

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 29, 2017.

In the latest terrorism to strike Egypt, nine people died in Friday morning attacks around St. Mina Church in the southern Cairo suburb of Helwan.

Two Coptic Christians were shot and killed in their nearby storefront. Six others died as they exited morning worship.

The remaining victim was a Muslim police officer guarding the church.

Local reports suggest there were two gunmen. One was apprehended by security forces, foiling his efforts to enter the church. State television showed a second attacker killed, wearing a suicide belt. ISIS claimed responsibility.

The church guard, meanwhile, was hailed as a martyr.

One week earlier, Egypt’s Minister of Islamic Endowments declared the guarding of churches to be “a legitimate and national duty.” Those who die defending Christian houses of worship are to be considered martyrs.

“In our war against terrorism,” said Mokhtar Gomaa, “there’s no difference between Muslims and Christians.” Last month, 300 people were killed in a terrorist attack on a mosque in the Sinai, where Christians have fled violence.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi praised the police effort against the “vicious” attack, and urged heightened security. Two weeks ago, Egypt assigned more than 230,000 police to guard churches in advance of the Christmas holidays.

Even so, last week hundreds of local villagers ransacked an unlicensed church in Atfih, 60 miles south of Cairo. They were offended at rumors the nondescript building would install a bell.

Meanwhile, the Coptic Orthodox Church will hold its primary Christmas celebration in the largest church in Egypt, on land donated by the state in its still-under-construction new administrative capital city. (Orthodox Christians commemorate Christmas on January 7.)

Muslims should join Christians in solidarity, said Ahmed al-Tayyib, grand imam of al-Azhar…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Current Events Religion

The Coptic Church in Japan

Pope Tawadros II leads mass prayers for Egyptians beheaded in Libya, at Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo
(via Reuters/The Japan Times)

There may be three million Christians in Japan, one percent of the population. They now have a Coptic Orthodox Church among their options.

Egypt’s Pope Tawadros arrived on August 26 to consecrate Japan’s first Coptic Orthodox congregation, the Church of St. Mary and St. Mark.

Tawadros hailed the cooperation between Japan and Egypt, especially the new initiative to establish Japanese schools to better the education system. He praised the Japanese people for their renaissance following nuclear disaster, and their ongoing commitment to peace.

The church, he said, preaches love in every place. The church is a mother, who searches for her children wherever they are.

And the church does not stay still. As St. Mark traveled the ancient world to come to Egypt, so the church today comes to Japan.

The church was first built one year ago in Kyoto, on July 16. Around 100 people attended in the opening, including many nationalities of Eastern Orthodox rite. There are around 20 member families, though the church welcomes all and seeks to serve Japanese society. Language lessons in Arabic and Japanese are one expression of this desire.

The first mass, however, was held in 2004 by Bishop Daniel of the Sydney Diocese of Australia, to which the Japanese church belongs. St. Mary and St. Mark Church has also joined the Japanese Confederation of Christian Churches.

Nestorian Christianity was the first to reach Japan, perhaps as early as the 5th century. St. Francis Xavier is credited as the first modern missionary, in 1549. His efforts faced severe persecution, chronicled in the book Silence, by Shusaku Endo, and now made into a feature film starring Liam Neeson.

Protestants and Orthodox came in the 19th century. Interestingly, eight Japanese prime ministers have been Christians.

“God loves the world and everyone in it,” said Tawadros. “The church knows no geography.”

Coptic Japan
(via the Coptic Media Center)

UPDATED:

Perhaps the best evidence is the Japanese character of the church. In addition to a Japanese language mass, two of the three deacons consecrated by Pope Tawadros were Japanese.

Japan Coptic Deacons
(via Coptic Media Center)

Even so, they were identified by their Coptic/Christian names: Tawadros, Makarios, and Athanasius.

“We hope that God will bless them and they will become great servants of this church,” said Tawadros, interviewed in Japan by CTV.

“The church has a spiritual role to present salvation and encourage repentance, but it must also have a role in society according to the local needs,” he continued.

“This is the idea of St. Mark himself.”

Pope Tawadros was received in Japan by the Egyptian ambassador, toured the Tokyo Museum, and met the mayor of Tokyo.

His visit also attracted the attention of the Japanese media, with this clip presented by NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting organization.

 

The Coptic Media Center provided translation:

Title: People: Egyptian Christian Church- First visit to Japan for the Pope of the Coptic church

Picture: Pope Francis & H.H. Pope Tawadros II

Reporter: The person here standing next to Pope Francis is the Coptic Orthodox pope, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II. The first Coptic Orthodox church was established in Japan and H.H. came to Japan for the first time. Yesterday, he conducted a holy liturgy.
What kind of holy liturgy was it, I wonder?

Beyond the doors, you can hear a unique sound of prayers. Last year in October, a Coptic church was established in Japan. H.H. Pope Tawadros II conducted a holy liturgy there. At the holy liturgy, there were 100 church members gathered from around Japan.

Mr. Michel Youssef (church member): This is the first Coptic church in Japan and we are very happy that H.H. Pope Tawadros from Egypt had come today.

Reporter: The Coptic holy liturgy style had been continuing from ancient times. Icons of saints are on the wall and that had been brought from Egypt. The ladies cover their heads with scarves and (the Copts) respect and follow the traditions. But on the other hand, Japanese is used in the holy liturgy, and the clergy use PC tablets in their holy liturgy and it shows that they are keeping up with the modern technology.

The Coptic Orthodox church was founded around the 1st century, it is said that 10% of the Egyptian population are Coptic Christians. The Copts (Coptic community) have spread overseas to other countries such as Japan and Canada. One of the background reason for this is the presence of a group of Muslims (in Egypt) that considers Copts like enemies.

Rosemary: I think when they hear hate speeches like “kill people from other religions” that turns into persecution (against Copts).

Reporter: Continuously churches have been attacked because I.S. terrorists’ main aim is to attack churches. Regarding this issue, H.H. Pope Tawadros II commented on this:

H.H. Pope Tawadros II (Japanese subtitle): Terrorism divides the Egyptian people but Egypt is a strong country. (Addressing to Japanese people): let’s meet in Egypt.

Tomorrow night we will broadcast a Coptic studies researcher from Göttingen university (Mr. So Miyagawa) who will talk about how the Coptic clergy gives out information for Copts around the world. Please look forward to it tomorrow night.

I will update this post further if the follow-up video becomes available.

 

Categories
Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Pope

Flag Cross Quran

God,

The pope is here. Of course, Egypt already has a pope. But this one is different.

To most Egyptian Christians he is not. In the ancient world Rome and Alexandria were equals. But since then the Tiber has far eclipsed the Nile.

God, to you your church is one. Give humility to one and all, a spirit of brotherhood between servants of servants.

For joining them also is the heir of Constantinople. As the visible symbols of Christianity convene, fix their eyes on you the invisible. Give them wisdom for leading their flock. Give them encouragement for the small portion here.

Middle East Christians are under pressure, God. Evil men target them for death. Seductive dreams target them for immigration. Guide each one individually in the path you desire. But guide them together toward local flourishing.

For the sake of your name, God. For the sake of their peoples.

For with the three symbols is a powerful fourth. The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar unites most of the world’s Muslims. He is the host, and their partner in peace.

May it be so, God. Certain forces wish to pit one religion against the other.

Some say it comes from texts. Some say it comes from power. Some say it comes from the devil.

Regardless, they say it should not be.

Strengthen their voice and witness, God. Unite them in purpose and friendship. May those who follow them follow their example. And with them, all peoples and nations beside.

For it is the state, God, with power to implement. Guide all who bear your sword, to wield it rightly.

And through men like these four, but only in accordance with your spirit and truth, may they hear from you.

The pope is here, God. May your peace come with him. May things thereafter be different.

Amen.

 

Categories
Current Events

ISIS Church Bombings Kill Dozens at Palm Sunday Services in Egypt

Tanta Bombing
Photo: Nariman El-Mofty, AP

This article was first published at Christianity Today on April 9, 2017.

Attacks at two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt’s Nile Delta killed more than 40 people and injured more than 100 others during Palm Sunday services—including the one where Pope Tawadros II was worshiping.

ISIS claimed responsibility. In February, the Egypt chapter of the Islamist extremists had released a threatening video calling Coptic Christians “our priority and our preferred prey.” Soon after, about 100 Christian families fled their homes in the Sinai Peninsula amid a string of murders.

Reuters reports more details on the bombing in Tanta at Mar Girgis (St. George) Church, which killed at least 27 and injured more than 70. CNN reports more details on the Alexandria bombing at St. Mark’s Cathedral, which killed at least 16 and injured more than 40. [Before ending its live updates, state media outlet Ahram Online put the final toll from Egypt’s health ministry at 29 dead in Tanta and 18 dead in Alexandria.]

Nader Wanis, director of the Arkan Cultural Center in Alexandria, was worshiping at the Anglican Pro-Cathedral only two streets from St. Mark’s when the bomb went off. “It was only a few minutes before serving communion and it shook our whole church,” he told CT. “We were scared, but insisted to continue.”

Please click here to continue reading at Christianity Today.

Categories
Current Events

World Religious Leaders Laud the Anglican Global South Conference in Egypt

global-south-azhar-welcome
Credit: Michael Adel, Bridges Cultural Center

Pope Francis, patriarch of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar, the leading religious institution in the Sunni Muslim world, welcomed delegates at the October 3 opening of the sixth Anglican Global South Conference, esteeming the importance of their gathering.

Pope Francis expressed his “deepest appreciation” for his invitation to this “momentous event”, in remarks read by the Apostolic Nuncio in Egypt, Archbishop Bruno Musaro. Musaro assured delegates of Francis’ prayers as they discuss themes of “high significance” for both the Anglican Communion and the entire Christian community.

“Nothing is lost when we effectively enter into dialogue,” Musaro quoted from Francis’ encouragement to all people of goodwill, “Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer.”

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb’s remarks quoted from the Quran in his welcome to the Anglican delegates, noting how God created different peoples in the world so that they would know each other and build society.

Tayeb’s message was delivered by Sheikh Saeed Amer, chairman of the fatwa committee in Al Azhar. He esteemed the importance of the conference, hoping it would contribute to building increasingly positive Egyptian participation in the Global South.

Pope Tawadros II, patriarch of the Coptic Orthdox Church also extended his welcome to the delegates of the Anglican Global South. Through Metropolitan Bishoy he expressed his delight in the Christological agreement signed between the Anglican and Oriental Orthodox Churches in 2014, as well as the 2015 agreement on the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father.

“[We] back you in your defense of the commandments of the Holy Scriptures,” said Tawadros to the Global South delegates, through Bishoy, while noting serious disagreements that exist between the Coptic Orthodox and the Anglican Church as a whole.

“Yet we carry on our dialogue with the Anglican Communion in order to encourage the Anglican conservatives to continue abiding to the true and genuine Biblical principles.”

Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis, bishop of Egypt and chairman of the Global South steering committee, welcomed the ecumenical and interfaith dignitaries, and thanked them for their participation in the conference opening session.

Categories
Religion

The Pope, in Maadi

Pope Tawadros at St. Mark's Church in Maadi, Cairo
Pope Tawadros at St. Mark’s Church in Maadi, Cairo

Friends in Philadelphia will soon have the privilege of a papal visit. But will Pope Francis preach in your particular church?

His equal in the faith visited us in Maadi.

A Catholic might not consider it so. A Protestant might insist we are all equal. But for Orthodox Christians, Pope Tawadros is patriarch of one of the five ancient sees of the church, in which Rome and Alexandria are equals.

“To advance in the church,” he said, “is not done in the ways of the world. It is to lower yourself beneath the feet of others.”

By holding to equality with Rome, or in serving as a patriarch at all, does the head of the Coptic Orthodox violate his own teaching? His sermon on Wednesday was on the topic of humility. His visit on Wednesday—perhaps—is evidence of it.

Pope Tawadros’ predecessor Pope Shenouda was beloved of the people. Charismatic and witty, his Wednesday sermon at the papal cathedral characterized this bond. To a full house that treated him like a superstar, he took questions from the audience and left them laughing, rebuked, and inspired.

Pope Tawadros is respected as an organized administrator and heady thinker. He is young in his position, but does not seem to have the same level of charisma nor to have won the same level of enthusiasm. Few could.

He initially tried to follow in Shenouda’s footsteps, but when I attended a few weeks ago the hall was only half-full. Furthermore, he replaced the question-and-answer period with the traditional evening prayer. He does have a call-in show on Coptic satellite television, but I have heard Copts complain that this medium is out of reach to many simple believers. Rich and poor alike, all loved Pope Shenouda.

The Coptic Cathedral is now under repair, and Pope Tawadros suspended the Wednesday service. Before this, however, it was interrupted by petitioners seeking resolution for their divorce cases. Speculation wonders if the two are connected, or if the pope feels weighed down by the burden of comparison.

There is no answer that can weigh the motivations of his heart. But the visit to Maadi reflects a new evolution of the Wednesday tradition. Rather than sitting centrally in the cathedral, he will visit his flock.

A full church for the papal visit“To be humble does not mean you are less than others or to deny your gifts, talents, or abilities,” Tawadros said. “It is liberation from the power of the self.”

In order to stay humble Tawadros recommended a checklist of characteristics the Christian should continually review. Never elevate your opinion of yourself, but lower it. Be thankful, and search for the good in all things. Remember the final judgment, and constantly repeat, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Tawadros’ advice centered on the creation of a humble spirit, but two other attributes are necessary, he said. The Christian should also cultivate an open mind and a wide heart. Together these three make it possible to live well and navigate the challenges of life.

After the sermon St. Mark’s Church demonstrated fidelity to Tawadros’ predilection for organized administration, in the form of crowd control. Young people from the scouts program lined the aisles and hallways, channeling all in attendance into a single line to meet the pope. There, he further demonstrated humility as near an hour transpired for each one to receive from his hand a commemorative picture of the occasion.

Commemorative photo taken in front of St. Mark's Church
Commemorative photo taken in front of St. Mark’s Church

Meanwhile, I chafed. My seat was in the very back row of the balcony. The best seats were already taken, so I judged the next best viewpoint would be to scan the whole assembly. Had I considered it, I might have believed myself humble for choosing so lowly a place.

I have had the opportunity to meet Pope Tawadros, briefly. But at the end of a long evening I just wanted to get home. I was quite happy to skip the line and again, had I considered it, I might have believed myself humble for my patience in waiting to leave and allowing others to go ahead.

But patience wears thin. I could see below that the pope was receiving the crowd. What I could not see was the organization. The scouts in the balcony were not letting us go anywhere, and I didn’t know why. Just let us exit, I thought, and as others get in line below, I’ll slip out a side door.

A few fought their way past the scouts, and the balcony crowd started getting restless. We were told many times to sit and wait, but no one was explaining anything.

That might be a mark of deficient organization, as communication is a must. But my entire perspective changed once allowed down the balcony steps. Very efficiently, at each turn in the path stood the scouts. Smoothly and quickly we were ushered to Pope Tawadros.

As it turns out there was no opportunity to leave by another path. I took the picture from the pope, then a mug from the bishop. Just like that, and I was outside. Five minutes later I was home.

It could be said the entire evening was public relations. Rather than continuing in the pattern set by his popular predecessor, Tawadros sets his own terms. He will visit the churches in carefully controlled settings. He will deliver a sermon and distribute memorabilia. Copts love their religious leaders. He will create a desire in each church to receive a future visit.

Invitation distributed to selected parishioners of St. Mark's Church, following an open sign-up
Invitation distributed to selected parishioners of St. Mark’s Church, following an open sign-up

If it is public relations, is it only PR? And is it wrong? Tawadros blessed the Copts of St. Mark. He both encouraged and demonstrated a humble spirit. He has the open mind to create a new pattern for Wednesday sermons, and the wide heart to check directly in on local congregations.

He has a hard job. If he lacks the charisma that is comfortable with the spotlight, he knows he cannot remove himself from it. Instead he will subject himself even to the scouts of the church.

Only God knows his heart, but God has so far chosen to elevate him to leadership of an ancient see. Many scoundrels have held similar posts in the past, so there is no guarantee. Let both Catholic and Protestant nod heads in sad memory of flawed saints and rank sinners.

Let them both also hold out hope and prayer for Pope Tawadros, to live and lead worthy of his calling.

“I must decrease, he must increase,” Tawadros quoted John the Baptist, speaking of Jesus. Standing long in the apostolic line of Alexandria, may the 118th successor of St. Mark do the same.

Categories
Current Events Religion

Where the Church Ends and the Citizen Begins

(from Coptic Media Center)
(from Coptic Media Center)

This article was first published at Egypt Source.

Accusations against the Coptic Orthodox Church are many. It is in bed with the regime. It desires a political role. It monopolizes the Coptic voice, keeping the faithful within its walls. It is not difficult to find evidence that can fit the accusations. But as the church talks to its own people, not only is it aware of these perceptions, it is actively working to dispel them.

“The church is a pure spiritual institution,” Pope Tawadros said to the gathered crowd of 700 youth, emphasizing also a societal role. “It is the national church of Egypt, it is ancient. But we must not be closed upon ourselves.” Tawadros was speaking at a conference entitled “Building Consciousness,” organized by the Coptic Media Center (CMC), the media arm of the church. Hosted in Cairo, it followed two gatherings in Upper Egypt, with an upcoming meeting in Alexandria and the Delta. Participants are handpicked as active and influential leaders able to carry the message back to their churches.

Building Consciousness, according to CMC head and church spokesman Fr. Boules Halim, is a multi-year campaign designed to create educated, enlightened Orthodox Christians, able to think for themselves and engage with society. “They should vote and join political parties,” he said. “They should build their society and not be secluded. Connection to [the] church should not encompass their whole life.”

For many Copts this would be a radical departure. During the long era of now-ousted President Hosni Mubarak and the late Pope Shenouda, Egyptian citizens, including Copts, were depoliticized. As the state withdrew from social service provision, the church stepped in to fill the gap for its flock. Spiritual programs also multiplied, but as devotion increased so did the sense of the church as an alternate society, a place safe for Copts away from the trials of the world.

The state presented itself as a bastion of stability and semi-secularism against an Islamist threat. The church received the mantle of Coptic political leadership. The relationship had its ups and downs as it negotiated issues of sectarian violence, family status laws, and Coptic criticism from the diaspora.

The thrust now is to prepare Coptic citizens for leadership, but Building Consciousness is not a new emphasis of the church, according to Halim. It is the renewed application of Christian teaching to replace a reality that was forced upon them. “Society refused us,” he said, citing, for example, discrimination in state youth centers and sport programs. Speaking on the relationship between Mubarak and Shenouda, he said, “This is how the state wanted it, it was the nature of that stage.”

Egypt is now in a new stage, having passed through revolutionary tumult. While a large majority of Copts have strongly endorsed the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Halim is cautious, though encouraged. “Until now we still don’t have a convincing picture of citizenship, but there is hope,” he said. “The early signals say to us, ‘Come and participate,’ and the government is creating a conducive climate.”

Both Tawadros and Halim emphasized that the church will play a national role to encourage electoral participation. Attempting to allay concerns that this initiative opens up the church to similar criticisms made of Egypt’s short-lived Brotherhood government, they say it calls on all citizens to vote for the most qualified candidates and not on the basis of religion. It will use church networks to urge Copts to the polls, but will not endorse candidates, nor filter Coptic politicians through the political parties. This may happen at the local level, Halim conceded, but it is refused. There is no central electoral strategy in the church.

Besides politics, the Coptic citizen should be active also in the development of the country. But this area reveals potential contradictions in the message. The church has an organizing role, said Halim. He envisions a future in which every diocese has both a Coptic hospital and a Coptic school, open to all, without discrimination. As registered private schools, they will follow the national curriculum. The few schools currently operating have only a handful of Muslim students, as Copts have flocked to enroll. But once there is sufficient number, Halim hopes the student body will be distributed equally according to religion.

“If we can have a role in education, it will contribute greatly to better consciousness and open minds,” he said. “When enlightenment reaches the other it is more powerful. It produces coexistence, knowledge, love, and common cause.” During his presentation Tawadros advocated similarly. “We must serve society within the possibilities available,” he said, “completing the government in the provision of services.”

Such plans have provided fodder for Islamist critics accusing the church of proselytizing. While nothing in the conference suggested this aim, it is clear the church preaches a certain conception of society. One of the pillars of Building Consciousness is emphasis on the dual nature of Coptic and Egyptian identity. This, while at peace with Muslims, may be at odds with an Islamist agenda.

Viewed through the lens of the last four years of struggle and polarization, the issues are also quite political. The church insists it is not involved in the micro issues of elections and policies. But its vision is to shape society in the acceptance of macro issues of citizenship and national identity.

Here, the church wants Coptic citizens up to the task, even as it leads the effort. But in their eyes there is little contradiction, as the church with its members is the body of Christ. If it desires Coptic citizens to play an active role in society, it falls upon church leadership to teach them to do so. Where does the church stop, and the Christian begin?

According to Halim, the church as an institution desires strongly to leave these matters aside and return strictly to a spiritual, shepherding role. But too much is at stake in this transitional period. “If one calls for the church to have no role whatsoever, this will be when full citizenship becomes a reality,” he said. “But as long as citizenship is lacking, the country needs us.”

Pope Tawadros Building Consciousness

Categories
Current Events

The Family House at the Ministry of Youth

Pope Tawadros presenting Minister of Youth Khalid Abdel Aziz with a commemorative gift, quoting Isaiah 19:25 in Coptic, Arabic, and English.
Pope Tawadros presenting Minister of Youth Khalid Abdel Aziz with a commemorative gift, quoting Isaiah 19:25 in Coptic, Arabic, and English.

In a sign of cooperation between the government and Egypt’s religious institutions, the Ministry of Youth and Sports hosted Pope Tawadros of the Coptic Orthodox Church, representing the Egyptian Family House.

The Family House is a partnership institution between the Azhar and Egypt’s Christian denominations. It is tasked to promote and preserve national unity, at both the governmental and grassroots levels.

On July 27 Minister of Youth Khalid Abdel Aziz welcomed Tawadros in an event organized by the youth committee of the Family House. The title of the conference was The Role of Youth in Building Egypt’s Future.

Central to Tawadros’ message was that education is the key to change in society.

Participating also in panel discussion were Gamal al-Shaer, head of the Radio and Television Institute, Gamal Shaqara, professor of modern history and the head of the Middle East Research Center, Musad Aweis, head of the youth committee of the Egyptian Family House, and Aida Nassif, professor of philosophy at Cairo University and Aweis’ assistant leader in the youth committee.

They discussed the economy, confronting terrorism with culture and thought, as well as social and spiritual development.

Minister Abdel Aziz referred to Tawadros’ statement from August 2013 that a nation without churches is better than churches without a nation. This put an end, he said, to the sectarian problem Egypt was suffering at the time.

Dozens of churches throughout Egypt were burned following the removal of President Morsi and the dispersal of pro-Morsi protest sites. Some were trying to sow the seeds of division, the minister said, but to their surprise the opposite was proven.

Tawadros was asked how the church overcame the divisions of 2013. He said the one who knows love, understands life. So the one who knows the love of Egypt understands Egypt, and the church has been a national institution since the first century, which always puts the interests of the nation as first priority.

He praised the 14 centuries of relationship between Muslims and Christians in Egypt, saying it could not be described on paper but is tasted in everyday life.

Muslims and Christians together are responsible for the protection of the nation, Tawadros emphasized. The fingers of a hand differ in shape and size, but they work together for the good of the person. This is a lesson, he said, in accepting differences and pluralism.

The event at the ministry was part of stage two of a Family House program to prepare youth leaders from the different governorates who can spread the ideas of national unity, building bridges of communication and dialogue between the sons of the nation.

Five regional meetings to be held in Alexandria, North Sinai, Luxor, Fayoum, and Cairo will contribute to this effort.

Tawadros Youth Lecture Hall

Information and pictures courtesy of the Facebook page of the Coptic Orthodox Church Spokesman.

Categories
Religion

The Pope, Preaching Esther

Pope Tawadros EstherFive-and-a-half years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Pope Shenouda preach. The now-deceased 87-year-old had presided over the Coptic Orthodox Church for 39 years, along the way establishing a new tradition of holding a weekly meeting with the people every Wednesday.

Last week in my first visit since, I witnessed his successor Pope Tawadros continue the tradition.

It was a fine sermon. Pope Tawadros preached on the character of Mordecai in the Old Testament book of Esther.

To briefly summarize, the book describes a period when the Jews were captive in Persia and a wicked minister planned their extermination. But prior to the scheme, following the announcement of an empire-wide beauty contest Mordecai helped the Jewish orphan Esther win the favor of the king, who then married her and made her queen.

In the end, Mordecai challenges Esther to violate palace protocol and inform the king of the minister’s intrigue. God, who interestingly is not named in the entire book, rules sovereign over events as the plot twists and the minister instead is put to death, hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai.

Pope Tawadros had been preaching a series entitled ‘Names in the Shadows,’ featuring minor characters from the Bible who are celebrated less often.

Mordecai was a hero, he said, in three areas.

First, in owning responsibility to raise the orphan girl Esther. In an age when many who are fathers do not live up to their title, Mordecai assumed fatherhood outside the requirements of blood. In both church and society we must honor the responsibility God gives us, said the pope.

Second, Mordecai was a hero in contentment. Despite promoting his adopted daughter to the position of queen, he never sought personal advantage or advancement. Furthermore, after exposing an earlier plot against the king’s life he did not run after reward. He was satisfied in his position, and used his connections only when required to save the life of his people – not serve his own interests.

Third, Mordecai was a hero in faith, the pope said. Despite living in a foreign land he did not give up his prayers or rituals. Even when others bowed down to the wicked minister, he risked censure by refusing a posture due only to God. Trusting fully in God’s sovereignty, he held to his principles confident nothing happens apart from God’s will.

To close, Pope Tawadros encouraged the congregation with a picture from the book of Revelation, where the martyrs were honored as those who were faithful unto death. Whether God gives you high position or ordinary standing, he said, great works can emerge from acting with responsibility and faithfulness to God’s principles.

The book is named after Esther, but Pope Tawadros called Mordecai the hero of the story. The saying goes that behind every great man is a great woman, but here, he said, we see this truth in reverse.

As mentioned, it was a fine sermon. But the evening was different than what I experienced five-and-a-half years earlier.

First, there was a mini-protest. One man had to be removed from the audience over something I didn’t understand. Another woman, across the aisle, stood up and shouted something I couldn’t make out. All was calmed without incident, but a week earlier the pope canceled his sermon altogether when activists agitating for wider divorce and remarriage rights disturbed proceedings.

Second, there were vesper prayers. Pope Shenouda opened his weekly meeting taking questions from the audience, on all manner of topics, both mundane and theological. Pope Tawadros has a similar practice, but on television where people can call in or share questions electronically. Replacing the audience participation was one of the ritual daily prayers of the church, with the audience, perhaps, passively involved.

Third, the cathedral was half-empty. With Pope Shenouda the hall was packed, replete with the faithful even scaling the scaffolding. Here, all was subdued. When Pope Shenouda entered, the crowd rocked with the chant of ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ With Pope Tawadros everyone stood, but I had to ask about this missing custom. It was there, I was told, but intoned in quiet Coptic.

In both personal relations and public address, Pope Shenouda was revered for his wit. In Pope Tawadros’ sermon no one laughed. At the close everyone filed out, in orderly fashion.

To leave the comparison at this sentiment is not just. My attendance with Pope Shenouda came after his long service; Pope Tawadros is still young in office. He is also a different person. Pope Shenouda was acclaimed for his charisma; Pope Tawadros is respected for his administration.

One Copt sitting next to me agreed, and helped lead me in the descriptions above. But perhaps unconsciously influenced by the sermon on Mordecai and Esther, this person said that Pope Tawadros was the man for this time, chosen by God for these unique circumstances.

Pope Shenouda coincided with the regime of Mubarak, with its stable but contested relations with Copts. Pope Tawadros coincides with revolutionary instability and whatever is emerging in the nature of the state.

Each is responsible to God for his conduct in office. But each, Copts believe, was put there by God in his sovereignty and wisdom, to guide the church through challenging times.

Will Pope Tawadros, one day, be as deeply loved?

Mordecai counseled Esther, ‘Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?’

And Esther responded, ‘I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’

As indicated in his own sermon, nothing less is demanded of the pope. Whether he is loved or not, what is required is faithfulness. God may yet have great things for him; perhaps he is walking in them already.

May he honor his responsibilities, content in his position, according to God’s principles. May his good word preached be true in practice.

Categories
Current Events

When Sectarian Conflict Finds a Local Solution, Copts Lose

EIPR's Ishak Ibrahim; Arabic translation of press conference title: Whose Customs?
EIPR’s Ishak Ibrahim; Arabic translation of press conference title: Whose Customs?

This article was first published at Egypt Source:

What is the value of a presidential visit to the papal cathedral for a seventy-year-old Copt driven from his village? What good are warm relations between Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Pope Tawadros if relations remain tense between Youssef Tawfiq and his Muslim neighbors?

A new report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) says this problem runs far deeper than Sisi and Tawfiq. Over the past four years, twenty-three other Copts have been forcibly displaced from their homes out of forty-five cases examined by EIPR where community justice—rather than legal procedure—has mediated sectarian clashes.

In Jordan, far from the village of Kafr Darwish in Beni Suef, 70 miles south of Cairo, Tawfiq’s son Ayman was alleged to have shared insulting pictures of Muhammad on his Facebook page. Upon hearing the rumor, which Ayman denies, a mob gathered and set fire to his family’s homes and fields. An overwhelmed mayor and village officials, with police present, conducted what is known as a ‘customary reconciliation session’ (CRS). Meant to subdue tensions and restore order, village elders debated a just solution.

Ayman’s father, mother, and sixteen other relatives were ordered to leave town.

“Customary reconciliation sessions are said to stop sectarian tension, but our analysis shows that they only serve to ignore it,” said Amr Abdel Rahman, head of the civil liberties unit at EIPR. Report author Ishak Ibrahim was even more explicit. “If people reject the ruling it can result in more sectarian conflict, but it helps the aggressors escape the consequences of their actions,” he said.

As EIPR details in its forty-five cases, rarely are individuals from the mob arrested. When they are, many times the reconciliation agreement stipulates the relinquishing of judicial procedure. All of this is contrary to the law. Article 63 of the Egyptian constitution forbids the forced displacement of any citizen. Article 95 insists all judicial rulings must be personal, not collective. While Article 185 of the penal code allows a victim to waive prosecution in certain circumstances, these do not include looting, arson, or intimidation.

The EIPR report shows two primary controversies: The first is the free practice of religious ritual, including the building, expansion, and renovation of churches. At 31 percent, it is only slightly more frequent than clashes involving romantic relationships between a Muslim and a Christian, at 29 percent. Land and property disputes constitute 16 percent and expressing opinions on religious matters make up 8 percent, as in the case of Ayman.

At times sectarianism is at the heart of the problem; at times normal community problems escalate along sectarian lines. But among the most controversial aspects of CRS is the presence of police.

“Traditional sessions do not conflict with the law at all, they have to do with the prevention of bloody conflict,” former security director for Minya Sayyid Nour el-Din, told OnTV, defending police practice. “The security presence is to protect the sessions, not to come up with their solution.” But in some cases EIPR studied, the police participated in issuing decisions. In others they randomly arrested people on both sides to exert pressure to accept the CRS process.

EIPR does not condemn CRS entirely, as in non-sectarian cases it has the potential to reach a consensual opinion and avoid lengthy legal processes. For Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani which helped break the story in Kafr Darwish, reaching a fair outcome in sectarian conflict is rare. “Usually it is humiliating, as it forces the will of the stronger party upon the weaker,” he said. “When security officials let this be done under their eyes and blessing, it is a very grave mistake.”

At stake is the sovereignty of the state, he said. But perhaps it is getting better? The report said there were twenty-one cases under transitional military governance after the fall of Mubarak, at a rate of one per month. President Morsi’s year in office witnessed fifteen, at a rate of 1.25 per month. Under Mansour and Sisi, only nine cases were reported over eighteen months through the end of 2014, when the reporting concludes.

Then again, Ibrahim said there have been six cases in the first half of 2015. The problem is not going away.

After a media outcry, the governor of Beni Suef intervened and security returned Youssef Tawfiq and his family to their homes in Kafr Darwish. Sidhom believes President Sisi acted quietly behind the scenes. “I don’t consider this a happy ending as the law is still not enforced,” he said, noting that to his knowledge, none of the mob are in prison nor have any in the police force been disciplined. “You cannot live under the mercy of the president rather than the rule of the law.”

As with much else in today’s Egypt, the issue falls to Sisi. He has done much to try to change a culture—visiting the cathedral and calling for the reform of religious discourse. But will he follow through to change a reality? Will he be able?

Egyptians have respect for the strong leader. They have less respect for those who ‘talk.’ If Sisi sets the right tone—backed by holding accountable those responsible for undermining state sovereignty—others will walk in step with him and help transform the culture over the long run.

But not if he is weak. The president has shown a strong hand in asserting control over the Egyptian state—despite international criticism over violations of human rights. Similarly, if Sisi is intent on a new relationship with Egypt’s religious minority (as implied by his rhetoric and meetings with Pope Tawadros), he will have to face possible domestic and institutional criticism to assert it further by arresting aggressors and disciplining enablers.

“We put responsibility on the government,” said Ibrahim. “It is the one tasked to protect citizens and their rights.”

Categories
Current Events

The Archbishop of Canterbury in Cairo: Offering Condolence, Bearing Witness

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

Archbishop of Canterbury Rev. Justin Welby visited the Anglican All Saints Cathedral in Cairo and opened his sermon with a surprising comparison. Earlier he visited Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Ahmad al-Tayyeb, and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.

“It has been an interesting and useful day,” the archbishop told the packed cathedral of his high profile itinerary, “but worshipping with you is the most important part.

“Here we meet with Jesus Christ and become his witnesses.”

Welby’s visit was to offer condolences for Egypt’s most recent witnesses, the twenty Coptic Christians and one Ghanaian martyred in Libya in February. The word ‘martyr’ is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘witness.’

Symbolically, Welby delivered to Pope Tawadros twenty-one letters written by grieving British families. One is believed to have been related to David Haines, the aid worker captured in Syria and beheaded last year.

“Why have the martyrs of Libya spoken so powerfully to the world?” Welby asked. “The way these brothers lived and died communicated that their testimony is trustworthy.”

The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, archbishop of the Anglican diocese of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa, hosted Welby and welcomed him warmly.

But an unfortunate symbolism coincided his visit with the release of another video from the Islamic State in Libya, this time of Ethiopian Christians. Two groups totaling twenty-eight people were martyred, one beheaded and the other shot in the head.

Welby paid tribute to them, along with others killed for their faith in Kenya and Nigeria.

He noted the certainty of their resurrection, but stated, “We must grieve for them, support their families, and seek to change the circumstances that lead to their deaths.”

Welby’s sermon did not go into specifics, but he has earlier defended military strikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, while urging local governments to exercise their mandated use of force to restore order.

And concerning the flood of refugees to the region, “Europe as a whole must stand up and do what is right,” he told the BBC, and share the burden of accepting them.

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, over 125,000 Syrians have fled to Egypt. Refuge Egypt, a social service arm of the Anglican Church in Egypt, extends food and medical care to those the UNHCR designates as of particular concern.

Welby praised the Christians of the Middle East for their trustworthy witness. But in order to be communicated, it must be acted out.

“If the church hears the world’s cries for help, but turns its back,” he said, “they will not believe in the love of Christ.”

Visiting with President Sisi, the archbishop heard him emphasize that Egyptian Christians are not a minority, but enjoy their full rights as all other Egyptian citizens.

Visiting with Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyib, he heard that love and mercy are the two elements that must characterize both international and human relations, and that the true picture of Islam and Christianity must be presented to the world.

“When a community is full of light,” Welby said in his sermon, “people will see through it and perceive God, and know they are loved by Christ.”

During communion, he sought to demonstrate this. Aware the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic bishops present could not share in full fellowship, Welby went to them and knelt down, asking for a blessing. In response, the two reciprocated and each prayed for the other in turn.

So many are having hard times in this region, Welby said, he wanted to come and offer condolences. Finishing his sermon, hepromised the audience that he was praying for them in the Middle East, but closed with a request of his own, for the West.

“Please pray for us, that in our comfort we do not forget to be faithful witnesses.”

This article was first published at the Anglican Diocese of Egypt website.

Categories
Current Events

Photos: Easter Greetings at the Coptic Cathedral

The following pictures show a lot of handshakes, but the message should not be lost in the repetition. Government officials, most of them Muslim, congratulate Copts for their holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.

Similar pictures could be seen on Christmas, but Easter is a far bigger deal. In Egypt, Christmas is an official holiday, and there is no Muslim religious objection to the birth of the Messiah. Muslims agree with Christians that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and though they object to the interpretation of incarnation, there are few reasons not to celebrate a common prophet.

Easter is different. In Islam, Jesus die not die on the cross so therefore he cannot have been raised again. There are real theological barriers, and less if any common ground. Some conservative Muslims are vocal about the inadmissibility of congratulating Christians on their holidays, but especially Easter.

The Muslim governmental and religious officials of the current Egyptian regime do not agree. Certainly they would not share the spiritual meaning of Easter, but they are keen to demonstrate congratulations to Copts in recognition of the importance of their holiday.

In these contested times in the Middle East, a handshake communicates much.

(More reflection to follow after the pictures)

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab
Shiekh Mohamed Abu Hashim, representing the Azhar
Shiekh Mohamed Abu Hashim, representing the Azhar
Sheikh Mohamed Gamia, representing the Egyptian Family House
Sheikh Mohamed Gamia, representing the Egyptian Family House
Amr Moussa, head of the constitutional committee and longstanding diplomat
Amr Moussa, head of the constitutional committee and former head of the Arab League
Nabil al-Arabi, head of the Arab League
Nabil al-Arabi, head of the Arab League
Labor Minister Nahed al-Ashari
Labor Minister Nahed al-Ashari
Planning Minister Ashraf al-Arabi
Planning Minister Ashraf al-Arabi
Culture Minister Abd al-Wahid al-Nabawi
Culture Minister Abd al-Wahid al-Nabawi

Easter greetings were also extended in the governorates.

Bishop Thomas of Qusia received Asyut governor Yassir al-Desouki
Bishop Thomas of Qusia received Asyut governor Yassir al-Desouki
Bishop Kyrillos of Nag Hamadi received Sohag governor Gen. Abd al-Hamid al-Hegan
Bishop Kyrillos of Nag Hamadi received Sohag governor Gen. Abd al-Hamid al-Hegan
Bishop Bisada of Akhmim received Sohag governor Ayman Abd al-Munam
Bishop Bisada of Akhmim received Sohag governor Ayman Abd al-Munam
Bishop Maqar of Sharqia received Sharqia governor Rida Abd al-Salam
Bishop Maqar of Sharqia received Sharqia governor Rida Abd al-Salam
A military designation visited the St. Mina Monastery outside Alexandria
A military designation visited the St. Mina Monastery outside Alexandria

Just as at Christmas great importance was given to the visit of President Sisi to the papal mass, the first ever honor bestowed by an Egyptian president, perhaps meaning should also be taken from his absence at Easter services.

Religious relations remain tricky in Egypt, and the president may not have wanted to alienate conservative Muslims with such a symbolic endorsement. But his government was not shy to risk it.

America is a secular state; Egypt is less so. When President Obama frequents a Muslim Iftar, it is an honorable recognition of the place of Islam within a nation that constitutionally guarantees the non-establishment of a religion and the freedom of all.

In Egypt it is a bit different, for Islam is the state religion and its law is the source of legislation. While the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Islam retains a priority of place in interpretation.

The gesture in Cairo, then, is weightier than that offered in Washington. It is greater still in the more conservative governorates. It is not just that Copts have freedom, it is that as a government we honor even their Islam-challenging Easter holiday.

Of course the reality is not yet complete, and a cynic is excused if he accuses the government of insincerity. It is the practical demonstration of executive enforcement of law that speaks far louder than a handshake, and in this many parts of Egypt are still lacking.

But a handshake still speaks, and it speaks in relationship. Far more handshakes are needed, but let the message resonate.

Egypt honors the Copts at Easter.

(All photos courtesy of the Coptic Orthodox Church)

Categories
Current Events

Photos: The Orthodox Church and the Tragedy in Libya

As Egypt mourns the victims killed by the so-called Islamic State branch in Libya, the Coptic Orthodox cathedral has been a center of attention. Every day the official spokesman has issued press releases and pictures updating the situation; all photos that follow are credited to the Coptic Media Center.

On Friday, February 13, following the announcement by the Islamic State that they were holding 21 Coptic Christians, the cathedral permitted their families to hold a small protest.
On Friday, February 13, following the announcement by the Islamic State that they were holding 21 Coptic Christians, the cathedral permitted their families to hold a small protest.
On February 14, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab met with the families, promising best efforts and to take care of them while in Cairo.
On February 14, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab met with the families, promising best efforts and to take care of them while in Cairo.
On February 16, after the Islamic State released its video of beheading its victims, President Sisi visited Pope Tawadros to express his condolences.
On February 16, after the Islamic State released its video of beheading its victims, President Sisi visited Pope Tawadros to express his condolences.
He was followed by Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab.
He was followed by Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab.
Also offering condolences was a delegation from the military, including the Minister of Defense, Sedki Sobhi.
Also offering condolences was a delegation from the military, including the Minister of Defense, Sedki Sobhi.
Also paying condolences were the ministers of social solidarity, health, and youth.
Also paying condolences were the ministers of social solidarity, health, and youth.
Following these was a delegation from the Azhar, including the Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb.
Following these was a delegation from the Azhar, including the Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb.
Later that evening Pope Tawadros received the condolences of the US ambassador, R. Stephen Beecroft.
Later that evening Pope Tawadros received the condolences of the US ambassador, R. Stephen Beecroft.
Also offering condolences was a delegation from the Protestant Churches of Egypt, headed by Safwat al-Baiady.
Also offering condolences was a delegation from the Protestant Churches of Egypt, headed by Safwat al-Baiady.
Many other churches also paid condolences, including Coptic Catholic Bishop Yohenna Qulta.
Many other churches also paid condolences, including Coptic Catholic Bishop Yohenna Qulta.
Also visiting the pope was prominent Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris.
Also visiting the pope was prominent Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab and Minister of the Interior Mohamed Ibrahim and the governor of Minya visited Bishop Paphnotius of Samalout to console the families and promise the state would build a new church in the name of the martyrs.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab and Minister of the Interior Mohamed Ibrahim and the governor of Minya visited Bishop Paphnotius of Samalout to console the families and promise the state would build a new church in the name of the martyrs.

The link given above is to the Facebook page of the official spokesman of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which contains pictures of many other visits.

Christians in Egypt have taken great comfort in the expressions of sympathy from state and Muslim citizens alike. It is a difficult time for the church, but the tragedy is serving to unite the nation.

‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’

Categories
Current Events

Bishop Mouneer on the Beheading of Egyptian Copts in Libya

Copts Killed in LibyaDear Friends,

It is with great sadness I write you today about the heinous murder of 21 Egyptian Christians at the hand of the so-called Islamic State branch in Libya. These men from the Upper Egyptian city of Samalout are no different from thousands of other Muslim and Christian Egyptians in Libya, seeking employment to support their families back home.

Except that these 21 were specifically chosen for their Christian faith. The video of their beheading expressed the Islamic State’s intention to increasingly target the Copts of Egypt.

This morning the Egyptian government launched airstrikes on Islamic State positions. It has declared a week of mourning, banned further travel to Libya, and will work to facilitate the return of all Egyptian citizens. The foreign minister has been dispatched to the United Nations to discuss the necessary international response.

The Anglican Church in Egypt and the world expresses its deep condolences to the families of these men, and also to his Holiness Pope Tawadros II, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Please join me in praying for peace in Libya, Egypt, and the entire Middle East. Please pray the international community will act in wisdom, correctly and efficiently, and support Egypt in its war on terror. Please pray the churches of Egypt will comfort their sons and daughters, encouraging them to resist fear and hatred. And please pray for the perpetrators of this terrible crime, that God would be merciful to them and change their hearts.

Jesus tells us in John 16:33, “In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

Such cheer may seem impossible, but it is God’s promise. Please pray for us, that we may live lives worthy of his name, and hold to the testimony exhibited by the brave Egyptians in Libya.

The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis
Archbishop of Episcopal / Anglican Diocese of Egypt
with North Africa and the Horn of Africa
Primate of the Episcopal / Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East

Categories
Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Visions of Religion

Flag Cross Quran

God,

If you are the light, the good, and the pure, then it stands to reason that the closer one approaches you the more imperfections are visible. Furthermore, the accumulated wisdom in the approach to you – religion – is prone to the same exposure. Great virtue lies along your path, great vice looms a step awry.

And therefore man is a poor judge. Sometimes the deed seems obvious. Gunmen fire randomly into a newspaper office, or kill policemen guarding a church. Sometimes the act is contested. Religious leaders comment on politics, or political leaders comment on religion. And sometimes the symbol seems worthy. A president visits holiday mass, or a policeman is killed guarding a newspaper.

But in each one, God, man can find both honor or fault. Some difference stems from the choice of religion, some from the different visions of each. The path is important, God, as is the heart. Judge mercifully, but justly. May man imitate you as closely as possible.

For those who kill in your name, offended by the offense given to the revered, instill in them your own humility. For those who kill in your name, seeking retribution and reversal denied them in this world, instill in them a faith in your ordering of affairs.

For a pope who comments on politics, give him wisdom to discern reality, to speak judiciously, and to lead as a servant. For a president who comments on religion, give him wisdom to seek knowledge, to judge his limits, and to lead as a visionary.

For the symbol of state to recognize Christmas, bless intentions of unity amid accusations of politics. For the symbol of sacrifice in defense of another’s religious or irreligious voice, bless the faithfulness of duty amid uncertainties of criticism.

Should human freedom permit religious mocking? Should religious freedom permit divergence in the community?

Should Christianity stand with the powers-that-be, or simply pray for them? Does Islam need a renewal of religious discourse, or a better imitation of its origins?

God for so many the answers are obvious; for others these answers are obviously different. We are poor judges, especially in religion. Show us the light, the good, and the pure. Help us hold to conviction where our vision is true, but in our certainty show us our darkness, our bad, and our impurity.

Bless Egypt in these questions, God, as a nation may she draw closer to you. Reveal her imperfections. Give her the best wisdom in religion. Guide her on the right path. Keep her foot from slipping.

Amen.

Categories
Current Events

Translation: President Sisi at Christmas Eve Mass

Egyptian President Sisi talks next to Coptic Pope Tawadros II as he attends Christmas Eve Mass at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo

Last night on Christmas Eve according to the Coptic Orthodox calendar, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi became the first ever Egyptian head-of-state to attend the holiday mass.

His appearance lasted for about ten minutes, during which he gave a short speech. The video selection and translation is provided kindly by Paul Attallah.

It was necessary to come and congratulate you for the feast
I hope that I did not interrupt your prayers

Egypt for years taught the civilization to the whole world
and taught the civilization to the whole world
I want to tell you that the world is now waiting from Egypt
in these circumstances…

The people: We love you
Sisi: We love you too!

I thank you because frankly the Holy Pope will be upset!

It’s important that the whole world watch us: the Egyptians.
You noticed that I am not using another word than Egyptians
It could not be something different
We are the Egyptians
Nobody says: what (type of) Egyptian are you?
Listen
We are saying things
We are writing to the world a meaning
and we are opening a window of real hope and light to the people

I am saying that Egypt taught to the world all over the years civilization and humanity
Today we are present to confirm that we are able another time
to teach the humanity
and to teach the civilization once again.
Starting from here
For this reason, we cannot say but: we the Egyptians
We must be only Egyptians
Yes Egyptians

The people: One hand

Yes one hand
I want just to tell you
that with God’s will
we will build Egypt together
we will contain one another
We will love each other
We will love each other in a good way
we will love each other really
so the people can watch

I want to tell again
Happy New Year
and for all Egyptians
and for all Egyptians: greetings for the feast
Holy Pope: Greetings for the feast
Thanks and I will not take from you more time
Greetings

It is certainly a historic occasion. Merry Christmas to all Egyptians.

Categories
Current Events

Misrepresenting the Coptic Church and Politics

EGYPT-POLITICS-RELIGION-COPTIC-SISI

The debate is valid: What is the proper role of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the nation’s politics?

It is also an unavoidable debate. Once Pope Tawadros appeared with the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar to back the popularly-backed military overthrow of President Morsi, he reasserted the church into the political scene.

The decision of the pope can be criticized, but in a recent article for the Carnegie Middle East Center, Georges Fahmi goes much too far. He writes:

With the election of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president in June 2014, the Church has attempted to reestablish itself as the monolithic voice of Egypt’s Coptic community. But that role, too, carries risks. Rather than trying to unify Egypt’s Christians under its leadership, the Church should withdraw from the political sphere and allow Copts to defend their interests themselves by joining political parties and movements. The Church should focus on being an institution of civil society that defends universal ideals such as human rights and social justice, and on supporting developmental projects for both Muslims and Christians.

In the essay which follows, Fahmi does an admirable job of summarizing the recent history of the Coptic Church in politics. Within a limited political sphere, President Mubarak allowed Pope Shenouda to represent the Coptic community outside the realm of law. After the revolution Pope Tawadros spoke against a political role for the church, but increasingly found himself drawn in during the Morsi administration. Famhi helps the reader track with an often neglected sub-theme in the Egyptian transition.

But in his summary critique, he makes statements that do not completely gel with my understanding of the situation.

  • Though the church does invest much charity in Christian focused projects, it also benefits local Muslims. Surely it could do more, of course.
  • He recommends the church defend universal ideals, but would this not also be a form of political engagement?
  • Perhaps his wording is poor, but is the church doing anything to disallow Christians from joining political parties and movements?

The church has always presented its participation in the overthrow of Morsi and the backing of the roadmap as a national decision, not a political one. It backed the constitution and the presidential election, but did not back a specific candidate. Again, its decision to speak at all can be criticized, but the nature of its speaking does not represent an attempt “to reestablish itself as the monolithic voice of Egypt’s Coptic community,” as the author accuses.

Here is his evidence:

The Church’s support for the military’s 2013 intervention has given it a privileged position in the new regime, prompting the Church to try to revive the old pact it had with the Mubarak regime. And changes carried out by the state have helped the Church regain its position as the only representative of the Coptic community.

As the new political authority has tightened its control over the public sphere, youth movements, including the Maspero Youth Union, have lost their ability to mobilize. Coptic politicians have also lost their influence, as the new regime seems to see little role for parties; President Sisi has not held any meetings with political parties.

What sort of privilege does the author intend? Is the church any more privileged than the judiciary, or the police, or the administration, or other institutional bodies that backed the overthrow? And where is the evidence of the church’s intention to “revive the old pact”? One can guess at their internal desire, but the author confuses the conduct of the state with the approval of the church.

The Maspero Youth Union lost its ability to mobilize long before the overthrow of Morsi. But it says that despite initial uncertainty it has a good relationship with the church. And within the political parties, Coptic politicians are still quite numerous and influential. Yes, the public sphere has shrunk, and political parties appear marginalized. Yes, the church has not spoken out against this, but few have. This is a national issue, and not one to lay at the foot of the church.

So should the church take a stand? Fahmi argues in his conclusion:

In terms of discourse, the Church needs to differentiate between defending universal values in the public sphere and engagement in deals with the state or political parties. While the first is needed and would improve the Church’s public image among Egyptians, the latter could have drastic consequences because it makes the Church a part of the political regime. The ideals of human dignity, social justice, and human rights need to be integrated into Church discourse. Only by struggling for a political regime that respects these principles will the Copts, together with all Egyptians, receive their full social and political rights.

In this and Fahmi’s other recommendations are found much wisdom. But where he wants to differentiate, I see simply a different involvement. To hold out a discourse for these values would be to very obviously criticize the current regime. Perhaps this prophetic voice is the burden of the gospel, but it is also very political. If the author wishes to accuse the church of hypocrisy for criticizing Morsi and not criticizing Sisi, let him do so. But the stakes for Christians were different, and as mentioned above, the church presented its approach in a national context, not one of religion or politics.

The consequence of its decision, however, is to put the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi supporters outside the national context. Indeed, Egypt’s Christians are convinced of the terrorist designation with which the government labels them. And Christians suffered much terrorism, as their churches were attacked by Morsi supporters across the nation.

This is a high price to pay for the church, but the author comes very close to blaming the victim.

This leads to a situation in which Church decisions can put the lives and property of any individual Copt at risk, even if he or she did not actually participate in making a political choice.

Earlier he wrote:

The strategies of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Church in this period have increased the level of religious polarization between Egyptian Muslims and Christians. The result has been a cycle of sectarian violence, with each side accusing the other of attacks on its followers.

Unfortunately, this critique is partially true, but is it a cycle? The Brotherhood has certainly accused the church of a conspiracy, but their manner is deeply sectarian and propagandist. If the church had stayed silent, if Christians were not among the many, mostly Muslim activists who campaigned against the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps they would not have been targeted.

But did the church stand against Morsi for political gain only, to reset the Mubarak-Shenouda relationship? Or, did they place themselves in jeopardy because they thought it was right – for Coptic liberty, yes, but also for human rights and the good of the nation?

If their intentions were true, which can be debated, then this is exactly the situation Fahmi calls for now, with the church defending universal values as part of its discourse. Many Muslims have spoken positively of the church, for what it has suffered, and many Copts appreciate that the bulk of ‘moderate Muslims’, as they call them, now see Christians in a different and better light.

Like Fahmi, I can read into recent actions of the church a pattern of political engagement and representation of Copts as a community. I lean toward his perspective, wishing Copts as citizens would be in the forefront. But I try to watch carefully for evidence of this being the intention of the church, and I have not yet seen it. Fahmi links considerably to articles which trace history, but he can only interpret on this issue, and not link to any quotes.

Certainly I have not seen the church discourage its people from their own participation in politics. If movements are faltering and parties are weak, is this not their own fault? They have had three years since the revolution to assert themselves, to build apparatus and win support on the street. They have not done so. If Sisi ignores them, as mentioned above, is it because they do not yet have sufficient weight to force their hand.

The church does have weight. Fahmi’s correct question concerns how the church should wield it. The weight of the gospel does call for a prophetic voice, for self-limitation, and the promotion of the common good. Within the sharp political polarization and challenge to state authority, the church has a very difficult line to walk.

It is right to call the church to sublime ideals, but Fahmi’s article misrepresents in its critique. His opening sentence stated:

The Coptic Church’s recent involvement in politics in Egypt has harmed both the Church and the country’s Christian community.

If so, were he in Egypt, he would be one of the very few Christians to say so. Nearly everyone else is overwhelmingly positive about the status quo.

Perhaps this is why his own prophetic voice, even in overstatement, is needed. May his readers in Egypt bristle, but also consider.