"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
mattress,/
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).


Monday, March 19, 2012

Electing a New Pope...of Alexandria

It was with sadness that I learned of the death of Pope Shenouda III, the Coptic patriarch of Alexandria. In fact, just last weekend in Los Angeles, before hearing of the news of his death, I had a conversation with one Orthodox Christian who told me that a new Coptic monastery in southern California was apparently built recently in part to be a place of refuge and possible retirement for the Coptic pope. Now that is not to be. Eternal memory!

He has had a very difficult papacy over the last several decades as the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt has gone from bad to worse. It is surely a mercy that he has been spared any more of this suffering, which looks only to worsen in the months and years ahead if current trends are any indication.

Certain aspects of the press have been amusingly shocked at how the obsequies are unfolding, with Copts coming to see and reverence the fully vested body of the late patriarch, as here:

But this is a good and healthy thing, as I have argued before. And it is not entirely uncommon in the Christian East. I know that Syriac hierarchs have been recently buried in a similar manner, as you can see here in the Malankara church.

What comes next? Unlike the Roman pope, there are no "cardinals" in the Coptic Church to meet in secret conclave to elect a successor. Instead, the Coptic Church's procedures have varied over time, as I demonstrate in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.

In the main, the election has historically involved many parts of the Coptic Church and is not confined merely to other hierarchs: usually lower clergy, and laity, vote on a new patriarch, often using the ancient biblical method of finally selecting a candidate by lot.

Regardless of method used this time, let us pray for a man of great strength for he shall surely need it in the trials that lie ahead.


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