The evening of Friday 19 January 2024 saw Pope Tawadros II preside over the spiritual celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany, also called the Feast of the Theophania, at St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, the original seat of Coptic patriarchs until that seat was moved to Cairo in the 11th century; Alexandria, however, still retains its honour and prestige as papal seat.
Taking part in the ceremony were Alexandria general bishops: Anba Hermina of central and eastern Alexandria; Anba Pavli of Montazah; and Anba Illarion of western Alexandria; also Fr Abra’am Emil, deputy-general of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Alexandria.
Under strict security, the cathedral was packed full with the Coptic congregation. MPs, senior military and security figures, as well as public figures were there to share the Copts’ festive event.
The following day, Pope Tawadros received at the Papal headquarters at St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria official guests and public figures wishing him and the Coptic congregation a Happy Epiphany. He received Governor of Alexandria Mohamed al-Sherif; Major General Hisham Hosni, Head of the Northern Military Region; Abdel-Aziz Konsowa, President of Alexandria University; and a number of security, executive, and religious leaders, as well as representatives of Al-Azhar and MPs from Alexandria.
Renewal of creation
The Epiphany Midnight celebration started with the traditional praises, and moved on to the Liturgy of Blessing the Water of the Theophania, prayed by Pope Tawadros. Once this was completed and the congregation blessed with the holy water, Epiphany Mass began, presided over by the Pope.
Pope Tawadros gave a sermon that started with offering his good wishes for a blessed feast to all Coptic parishes, churches, monasteries and convents, and congregations inside and outside Egypt. He then moved on to talk about Epiphany as “the feast of renewal of our creation”, of being born again of water and the Spirit, to qualify for the Kingdom of God as in John 3:5.
Three pivotal points are closely connected to the Feast of the Epiphany, the Pope said. First is the River Jordan which flows from the Golan Heights, running through some 255km in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Israel, and into the Dead Sea. Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan, thus sanctifying the waters.
Second, Pope Tawadros said, is the person: John the Baptist. John was born into a righteous family at a special timing in history. He represented the link between the Old Testament and the New; he was the hinge that connected the immovable part, the Old Testament, to the dynamic New Testament that incessantly works in our lives. He was the one who came before Christ; he is venerated as a hermit and martyr.
Third, the Pope said, is the Voice; “the Voice crying in the wilderness ‘make straight the way of the Lord’,” (John 1:23).
The Pope contemplated on the Voice, denoting it as a prophetic voice that proclaimed “This is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29). It was a voice that evangelised joy to the world. It was a voice of wisdom and humbleness: “He must increase but I must decrease,” (John 3:30). It was a voice of meekness: “… Whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loosen,” (John 1:27).
Finally, the Pope said, the voice of St John the Baptist was the voice of truth. That voice had no fear to testify before the king, King Herod: “It is not lawful for you to have her,” (Matt 14:4); St John was talking about Herodias, King Herod’s sister-in-law. The truth cost St John the Baptist his freedom; he was thrown in prison, then his life. His strong voice of truth has resonated throughout all time.
The Pope’s Epiphany message was clear: through his righteousness, humbleness, courage, and testimony of truth, St John was deserving to be the baptiser of the Lord.
Pope Tawadros concluded by praying for peace for Egypt’s land, people, and Church; also for the whole world especially areas of conflict.
24 January 2024