The Coptic Orthodox Church gets its 118th patriarch
A few years ago, when word started getting around that the late Pope Shenouda III was ill, the Egyptian media went into a frenzy attempting to predict who would succeed him. Readers were treated to a deluge of analyses, reports, and opinion on the topic.
On one occasion, a number of Watani’s young reporters handed me an in-depth report on potential successors to Pope Shenouda. I read it carefully and returned it back. “What do you think?” the young men said. “It’s well-researched and well-written,” I said. “But that’s not an opinion,” they retorted. Knowing most of them were seculars who saw the issue as a purely political one, I had not wished to get into an argument there and then; but now I was cornered into answering.
“The problem,” I said, “is that the question of papal succession is being tackled as no more than a civic, political issue. While I in no way downplay that aspect of the post, but neither can I downplay another equally vital feature: it is a position primarily grounded in the spiritual. And despite our modern-day down-to-earth times, the spiritual role and aspect of the papacy cannot be overlooked.
“Even while official and political arrangements would be conducted to choose a new pope, I can see another entirely different activity will be taking place. I am certain the Coptic congregation will be fervently praying from the depth of their hearts for a good pastor to lead their Church. This may not count much with someone outside the Church but, as a Christian, I cannot imagine that God will stop His ears. My faith tells me He has to respond.”
I have been frequently reminded of this conversation since Pope Shenouda III passed away last March. The next day after his death, the Church began daily prayers for the Lord to grant us a good shepherd who would lead in purity and righteousness. And on the personal level, Copts were praying hard for that matter.
Once the process of electing the new pope started, the Church declared three fasts to ask for divine guidance. The first was before the 17 papal candidates were shortlisted down to five; the second preceded last Monday’s elections in which three from among the five were chosen for the altar draw; and the third was before the altar draw today, which should finally determine who the pope will be.
The first two processes express the wishes and aspirations of the Coptic congregation and clergy, and put its members before their responsibility to decide upon the leader they see best qualified to lead on both the spiritual and civic levels. The altar draw, however, expresses their wish for divine intervention, for the Lord to have the final say on who that leader will be.
4 November 2012
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