While most of the world is focusing on the USA Presidential election, there is another election going on in Egypt that is even more important. It is the election of the successor of Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria who died on March 17, 2012.
Established by St. Mark (the same guy who wrote the Gospel of Mark) around 42 AD, the Coptic Orthodox Church has about 18 million followers worldwide with 2 to 4 million currently living in Egypt. They are also part of the Oriental Orthodox Communion, a group of six churches in full union with each other.
Not to mention the fact that, as if having this large of a flock wasn’t enough, the new pope is going to have to deal with the political upheaval of the new government of Egypt. It is a task that can only be done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit….
The election itself is very interesting to me as it is done in a way that is contrary to how other church groups election their popes. Rather than choosing a new pope from among the existing bishops, the Coptic Church gathers a list of monks, bishops, abbots or priests whom have been endorsed by six bishops or twelve of the 24 members of the General Lay Council. A committee of nine bishops and nine laypersons will then narrow this list down to five or seven candidates.
From there, a 2,400~ member Electoral College (diocese representatives, community leaders, bishops, etc.) votes to narrow the list down to the top three candidates. The entire church body then embarks on a week-long prayer and fasting period followed by a liturgy service. During this service the name of the three final candidates are then placed into a box on the altar of St. Mark Cathedral in Cairo where a blindfolded five year-old child draws the name of the next pope.
This to me is a beautiful combination of democracy, human wisdom and utter reliance on the Holy Spirit! It has democracy as both the bishops and laypeople of the church are allowed to nominate candidates; human wisdom then narrows the lists of candidates down to those who are most gifted and able to lead, before turning things back to democracy (i.e. the voting on the top five to seven candidates). The final selection is then left to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in that God guides the hand of the young child in choosing the next pope.
In ending, I should like to mention that the top three candidates where chosen by the Church on Monday with the final Altar Ballot service to be held this coming Sunday. The candidates are as follows:
The Top Three:
- Bishop Raphael – an auxiliary bishop in Cairo; a former aide to the late Pope; a member of the Church’s Holy Synod, the Coptic Church’s highest authority
- Father Raphael Ava Mina: A monk at St Mina Monastery near Alexandria
- Bishop Tawadros – an auxiliary bishop to acting head of the Coptic Church, Bishop Pachomios; member of the Holy Synod
The Other Two
- Father Pachomios al-Syriani – a monk from the Paromeos Monastery in Wadi al-Natrun; currently lives in Italy
- Father Seraphim al-Syriani: A monk from the Paromeos Monastery; currently lives in the US
An interesting note on this list is that three of the top five were monks – two of which currently live outside of Egypt. This shows the shifting demographics of the Coptic Orthodox Church from the country of their origins to the wider world. Very interesting things indeed…. :/
More information about each of the candidates and their thoughts on the future can be found on this Al-Ahram Weekly’s article.