Pope Tawadros II broke 25-year-long estrangement between the Coptic and Greek churches with a recent visit to Greece.
The visit on 8 December followed an invitation by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece. It was the first visit to Greece by a patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church to the Greek Church, and is expected to have positive results for closer relations not only between the churches, but also between the two peoples.
Visit cut short
When Pope Tawadros arrived in Athens he was met at Eleftherios Venizelos international airport by the Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Ioannis Amanatidis on behalf of the Greek government. At hand to welcome him were the Egyptian ambassador to Greece, Muhammad Farid Munib; and senior State and Church officials.
The Pope was accompanied by Anba Demetrius, Bishop of Mallawi, Ansena, and Ashmonin; Anba Raphael, Secretary-General of the Holy Synod and Bishop-General of Cairo Downtown churches; Anba Epiphanius, Abbot of the Monastery of St Macarius in the Western Desert; the Pope’s secretary Fr Ammonius Adel; and a representative of Watani, Victor Salama.
The visit was scheduled to last for a week and conclude on Wednesday 14 December, but Pope Tawadros cut it short and returned home on the evening of Sunday 11 December once he learned of the terrorist blast at the Boutrossiya church of St Peter and St Paul in Abbassiya, Cairo, that had taken place that morning. The horrific blast occurred during Holy Mass, and killed 25 people, mostly women and children. The Pope presided over funeral which was held on the following day, Monday 12 December, at the church of the Holy Virgin and St Athanasius the Apostolic in the eastern Cairo district of Nasr City.
Middle East Christians
Pope Tawadros’s first visit in Athens was to the Inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, where he was received by its head and members who welcomed him and hinted at possible communication in the future with the Egyptian parliament.
In his address, the Pope said: “In Egypt, the Nile is our father and the land our mother. Egypt has gone through several revolutions in the recent years and faced many challenges, some of them positive and some negative.
“There have been problems regarding the building of churches,” the Pope noted, “but now a Law for Building Churches was recently passed by the House of Representatives.”
The following day, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras received Pope Tawadros together with Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos II.
A press release from the Premier’s office stated that their discussion focused on the good ties between the Greek and Egyptian people and the significant steps taken by the Greek government in support of the Coptic Church and community in Greece. They also noted the importance of inter-faith dialogue as a way to promote peaceful coexistence among peoples in the Middle East and the surrounding region.
The Pope thanked Mr Tsipras for the support of the Greek government and informed him of the missionary, educative and social work carried out by the Coptic Church in many places in the world, especially in Africa.
Pope Tawadros was received by Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulo at the presidential palace in Greece. The meeting was attended by several Greek officials, and the discussion centred on the violence against Christians in the Middle East as well as the issue of Palestinian refugees.
Love never fails
The pope then met the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church headed by Archbishop Ieronymos II. Pope Tawadros hailed the Church of Greece’s humanitarian role in the care of refugees coming from several countries.
Pope Tawadros also praised the warm reception shown by everyone on his first visit to Greece. The pope added that his tour aimed to find common ground between Orthodox Churches.
Archbishop Ieronymos pledged his allegiance to the Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, who, he said, were being persecuted by fundamentalists.
“Love never fails,” the Pope wrote in the guest book, and he thanked the Church of Greece for its role in “providing aid to people fleeing war and destruction.” He spoke of the strong bonds between the two churches, “We have more in common than differences,” he stressed.
Sunday morning, the Pope consecrated the church of the Holy Virgin and St Mark in Athens, the only Coptic Orthodox Church in Greece which was established 2000. He also opened a community centre attached to it.
The consecration ceremony was followed by Holy Mass, during which Pope Tawadros was informed of the bombing at Boutrossiya church in Cairo and the fall of victims. Despite his visible pain, he proceeded with Mass to the end, then called Egypt’s ambassador to Athens to arrange for his return home as soon as possible.
19 December 2016