The altar draw today is only the last step in the long, arduous process to choose a new pope for the Coptic Orthodox Church. Watani International offers its readers a look into the details involved in the entire process of the papal election, since the departure of Pope Shenouda III and until today’s altar draw
Today, an altar draw should be conducted after Holy Mass at the St Mark’s cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo. The three names of Bishop-General Anba Raphail of Downtown Cairo, Bishop-General Tawodros of Beheira, and Fr Raphail Ava Mina, are to be placed in a big glass box on the altar and, right after Mass, a blindfolded child draws one of the names: the name of the new pope.
The new pope will be enthroned on Sunday18 November.
The altar draw marks the final destination on the course of the election of the 118th pope of the Church of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St Mark. The Coptic Orthodox Church considers the draw an integral part of the election process because it is rooted among the practices of the first Church, as cited in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, verses 23 – 26. “And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, You, Lord, knower of all hearts, show which one You chose from these two, to take the share of this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell, to go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots. And the lot fell upon Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”
The process of the choice of a new pope, which is legally governed by the 1957 Bylaws, started once the arbaeen (40-day) mourning period for Pope Shenouda III ended on 24 April. The door then opened for voter registration and the nomination of candidates for the papacy.
According to the 1957 bylaws, a candidate for the papacy may be nominated by six members of the Holy Synod or 12 members of the Melli (Community) Council.
Archbishop of Beheira, who is also acting patriarch, Anba Pachomeus was nominated by more than 50 members of the Holy Synod; and Anba Moussa Bishop of Youth was nominated by some 30 members. But both Anba Pachomeus, 77, and Anba Moussa, 74, declined candidacy for the papacy; the latter for health reasons, and the former because he wished to remain directly in charge of his parish. Anba Pachomeus also explained that he regarded that his primary role at this point in time was to fulfil the task of acting patriarch, “serving the Church until she peacefully crosses this critical phase, and is handed over to a new pope chosen by the Divine.” Had Anba Pachomeus accepted nomination, he would have had to relinquish the post of acting patriarch which would have then gone to the next in line in the Holy Synod.
On 1 June, the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church announced the names of the nominees for the papacy: seven bishops and 10 monks, and was preliminary in the sense that it was open for contestations and appeals. Once these were resolved by the election committee, a shortlist of five to seven candidates would be offered for a vote to choose three names for the altar draw. This meant that the shortlist had to wait for the voter lists to be drawn, however, since only registered voters were entitled to contest the candidacy of the nominees.
The seven bishops nominated were: Archbishop of Dumyat Anba Bishoi, Bishop of Samalout Anba Pavnotius, Bishop of Milan Anba Kyrillos, Bishop of Services and Papal Secretary Anba Yu’annis, Bishop of Downtown Cairo Churches Anba Raphail, Bishop-General of Beheira Anba Tawodros, and Papal Secretary Anba Boutros.
The 10 monks nominated were the fathers Bishoi Ava Pola, Sawiris Ava Pola, Anastasi al-Samu’ili, Pachomeus al-Suriani, Danial al-Suriani, Sarofim al-Suriani, Bigoul Ava Bishoi, Shenouda Ava Bishoi, Raphail Ava Mina, and Maximos al-Antoni.
Not all Copts are eligible to take part in the vote for the new pope. Only a representative body from each diocese takes part; the voters are chosen according to numbers and standards specified in the 1957 bylaws.
This year, voter registration posed a particular problem, especially where Copts in the Diaspora were concerned. The 1957 bylaws had been enacted at a time when the only substantial Coptic community outside Egypt was centred in Ethiopia and Eritrea; the huge increase in the Coptic population outside Egypt today complicated the process.
According to the bylaws, every diocese should be represented by 12 of its laity and two clergy, with the exception of Cairo which is represented by 72 laypersons and 24 members of the clergy, and Alexandria which is represented by 24 laity and seven clergy. Eligible voters should be over 35 years of age and should qualify to the conditions stipulated in the bylaws. Overall, these conditions guarantee that voters should be well educated.
The electoral committee decided that, apart from the three United States dioceses presided over by the Bishops Anba Serapion, Anba Youssef, and Anba Michael, the US congregation would be treated as the Cairo congregation, represented by 72 laypersons. Canada and Europe were each treated as the Alexandria diocese. Australia was represented by its Sydney and Melbourne dioceses.
It took till 17 September for the voter list to be drawn. It included 2412 voters, among which some 54 per cent were members of the laity and 46 per cent clergy.
The five chosen
Voters were entitled to contest the candidacy of the papal candidates until 30 September.
The diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii had earlier issued a statement which insisted that choosing the patriarch from among the diocesan bishops was a non-canonical action.
On Thursday 4 October the nomination committee, over which the acting patriarch Anba Pachomeus presided, headed to Anba Bishoi monastery in Wadi Natroun in the Western Desert for a retreat during which the 16 candidates were short-listed to five. Anba Kyrillos of Milan had informed the committee he had withdrawn his candidacy.
The arduous vetting process followed strict rules and took into account the contests submitted. It was conducted in complete secrecy. The reasons for the exclusion of any candidate were not made public, in order to preserve their dignity. The vetting criteria included the education of each candidate, his administrative competence, preaching capability, tranquillity or calmness under stress, how close the candidate is to the Coptic public, his thought and spiritual service before and after ordination.
The five candidates included two bishops-general: Bishop General of Beheira Anba Tawodros, and Bishop General of Down Town Cairo Anba Raphail; as well as three three monks: Fr Raphael AvaMina, Fr Seraphim al-Suriani and Fr Pachomeus al-Suriani.
Anba Pachomeus said that the shortlisting had been determined according to the personal characteristics of the candidates, the 1957 bylaws, and the “pulse of the Coptic street”. He declared the full respect of the Church for the candidates who did not make it to the shortlist, saying that each of them was “indispensible for the Church, each in his respective position”.
Know your future pope
A campaign to familiarise the Coptic congregation with the five candidates began.
Their resumés were publicised, and they jointly celebrated Holy Mass in several churches in various places in Egypt: in Alexandria, Cairo, the desert monasteries of Mar-Mina and Wadi Natroun, and Beheira.
The Church satellite channels aired interviews of the five candidates, conducted by Anba Pola, to inform the congregation of their outlooks. This, Anb Pola stressed, was not done for the sake of electoral campaigning since, he said, the candidates refused to sit for press interviews or to hold debates, since they were not after competing for the post which they saw as a service first and foremost.
All five candidates signed pledges to start amending the papal elections bylaws—which has been pronounced by the majority of Copts to be in need of updating and amendment—as soon as any of them wins, and to finish this process during a period of one year since the enthronement. The new bylaws will include an ecclesiastical aspect for which the new pope and the Holy Synod are responsible, and a legal aspect that has to await the enactment of the relevant law by the authorities.
The stage was now set for the election of three from among the five to enter the altar draw.
Last Monday, some 2412 Coptic voters cast their ballots at the grounds of St Mark’s cathedral at Anba Rweiss in Abassiya, Cairo.
Voters hailed from all over Egypt. Voters residing outside Egypt either voted in person at Anba Rweiss’s, or through power of attorney.
Five bishops from the Ethiopian Church took part in the voting, according to a protocol signed in 1994 between the two sister Churches—the Egyptian and the Ethiopian—according to which both Churches reciprocate in the election of their respective patriarchs. Two members of the clergy from the Eritrean Church, also a sister Church to the Coptic Orthodox, attended the elections as observers.
At Anba Rweiss’s, the Church’s scouts and guides were on hand to usher in the voters and lead them to their respective ballot boxes. For the aged and disabled, wheelchairs were available.
Six glass ballot boxes were in place, two of which were reserved for Diaspora Copts. A huge billboard hung with the resume of each of the five candidates running for the elections.
The elections were conducted under full judicial supervision.
Also monitoring the elections were several rights NGOs. The National Human Rights Centre (NHRC) issued a statement in which it announced it was honoured to monitor the papal elections, especially given that the 1957 bylaws which govern the elections stipulated neither judicial supervision nor NGO monitoring. The fact that the Coptic Church welcomed both in the current elections, the statement said, meant the Church was working with integrity and transparency, and had nothing to hide.
In its entirety, the polling went through lucidly and peacefully. The majority of voters were happy with the manner in which the polling was run; all who were approached by Watani described the polling procedure as a showcase of efficiency and thoughtfulness.
Rights NGOs that monitored the elections have commended the polling. Emad Haggab of A New World for Monitoring Elections told Watani that no violations had been detected during the polling: the voters reached the ballot boxes easily and cast their votes in absolute freedom. No pressure whatsoever was exerted on the voters by any party to favour any candidate. NHRC director Maged Adeeb confirmed that no violations had been detected.
No’ to rallying
There had been a few earlier attempts by a number of Coptic activists to rally voters behind specific candidates, but the Church announced its rejection of such efforts. Bearing in mind that, a source from the office of acting patriarch Anba Pachomeus said, the papacy was an office of service not one open to traditional competition, the five candidates were praying and fasting together in love, and awaited the Lord’s final word on the matter. The Church itself approached the papal elections with prayer and fasting.
A total 85 bishops from among the 89 who are members of the Holy Synod cast their votes. Those who did not show up were Anba Serapion of Los Angeles; Anba Boulos of Africa; Anba Pavnotius of Samalout, and Anba Mikhail of Assiut. The last to cast his ballot minutes before the deadline was Bishop-General Anba Ermiya who came from Mar-Mina monastery south of Alexandria.
Earlier during the morning Anba Bishoi of Damietta cast his ballot, while Bishop-General Anba Yu’annis had cast his during the first minutes since the polls opened. Both had been strong candidates for the papacy, but had missed being short-listed by the elections committee for the vote.
Anba Yu’annis told Watani that “we pray the Lord chooses a patriarch to care for the Church with compassion righteousness, especially given the upheavals that have been taking place in Egypt in recent times.”
Anba Bishoi, for his part, said that it was obvious to all that day that God is extending His care over His Church, and intervening to choose a good shepherd for his congregation.
Only one out of the 34-member Melli (Community) Council of the laity did not show up.
In a press conference which began with a prayer of thanksgiving, Anba Pachomeus announced the names of the winning candidates. Voter turnout, he said, was some 90 per cent. Only two votes out of a total 2177 were invalid. Anba Raphail scored 1980 votes, Anba Tawodros 1623, and Fr Rapahail Ava Mina 1530.
Anba Pachomeus thanked everyone who had helped make the elections the epitome of fairness, transparency, and lucidity. He thanked the members of the elections committee—clergy and laymen alike, the judges, the State officials, and the young men and women of the Church scout and guide movement who were responsible for keeping order and aiding and guiding the voters.
He thanked the congregation one and all for their prayers and fasts which, he said, have been answered in an unmistakable manner.
But first and foremost, Anba Pachomeus addressed his gratitude to the good Lord who never for a moment abandoned His Church and His people from the day the beloved Pope Shenouda was laid to rest last March. “No matter how heavy the burden of the service entrusted to us the undeserving, or tumultuous the path towards handing the Church over to the shepherd He chooses for His people, God’s eternal arms always carried us through. For this,” Anba Pachomeus said, “we are eternally thankful.”
Reported by Michael Victor, Nader Shukry, Mariam Rifaat and Angele Reda
4 November 2012