of the Holy Synod
New saints and laws
Following a four-day convention, its first since Pope Tawadros II became patriarch in November 2012
, the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church issued several decisions.
Anba Raphael, secretary-general of the Holy Synod, told Watani that the Synod approved a list of regulations to govern the service and work of priests, monks, and the laity councils in the various churches. The regulations, Anba Raphael said, were based on the teachings of the Holy Bible, the patristic heritage of the Church, and the Church’s laws. The list will be sent to the archbishops and bishops next week.
New bylaws for the election of popes
In the wings, Anba Raphail explained, are projects to set clear principles upon which education in the Church should be based, also to set new bylaws for the election of popes.
The current bylaws, according to which Pope Tawadros was elected, were set in 1957 and need to be updated for better definition of certain standards and to accommodate modern-day variables. There had been demands during the last years of Pope Shenouda III to change the bylaws, but the late Pope had rejected the demand. He said he feared that drafting new bylaws then would have opened the door to bitter conflict; the effort might have been geared to the election of a specific candidate. It was decided then that the new pope would be elected according to the old bylaws, but would pledge to work to have a new set of bylaws drafted at once; which is what Pope Tawadros demanded of the Holy Synod directly following his enthronement.
Towards a united Church
Watani asked Anba Raphail whether the Synod had discussed the issue of the unity between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, especially after the visit last May of Pope Tawadros to Pope Francis in Rome, and their joint wish to work for the unity of the Church. The first step, as explained by Pope Tawadros then, would be to agree on the issue of the rite of baptism, which is today a point of difference between them. Anba Raphael said a committee had already been formed to study this matter. “We cannot rush such matters,” he said. “They need to take their fair share of scrutiny and investigation.”
The Holy Synod announced the canonisation of Pope Kyrillos VI who was the 117th patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox from 1959 to 1971, and of the archdeacon Habib Girgis (1876 – 1951). Watani asked Anba Raphail what effect would that have, on the practical level. “That sainthood of Pope Kyrillos is an unquestionable fact with the congregation;” he said, “The canonisation is an official step on the part of the Church which, in this case, merely recognises a fact on the ground. As to Archdeacon Girgis, we are all his disciples; he founded the modern Sunday School movement in our Church. He taught us in full love and modesty a lot about our Orthodox faith.
“Now these saints may be invoked during the prayers of Holy Mass, priests and bishops may be named after them, and churches or altars may be consecrated in their names,” Anba Raphael said.
Convent in Upper Egypt
The Holy Synod announced the establishment of two new monastic centres: the Anba Antonius monastery in Austria, and Tamav Sarah convent in Minya, Upper Egypt.
To establish a convent in Upper Egypt came in answer to an imperative need by numbers of Upper Egyptian women who wished to take orders and had to travel north to do so. It was Pope Shenouda who first said the Church had to work to answer the needs of these women. Now the dream has materialised into a fact on the ground.” Anba Raphael explained.
Watani brought up the topic of the bishops who had been suspended for one or another reason, and what the Holy Synod had decided about that. “It is the Church’s policy to meet the needs of its congregation. Among the three bishops who were suspended, one has already been allowed to return to his seat, Anba Takla of Deshna in Upper Egypt. The Holy Synod took this decision basing on the unanimous demand by the congregation of Deshna.
“In case of Anba Matthias of Mehalla in the Delta,” Anba Raphael said, “the matter is more complicated and the Holy Synod is still looking more closely into the case.”
The third bishop who is suspended, Anba Ammonius of Luxor, did not attain the near-unanimity required for him to be returned to his seat. The congregation of Luxor is divided over his return so, according to Anba Raphail, the Synod could not reinstate him. A committee was formed to look into the issue.
It is the Church’s policy, Anba Raphael said, to assign an acting bishop to the dioceses whose a bishop is suspended. But a new bishop can never be seated as long as the current one is alive.
26 June 2013