A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Coptic Papal Candidates Chosen, Vote Moved Up

The process of choosing a new Pope for Egypt's Coptic Church has seemed stalled for months, but in the past few days it has not only started up again but now the election date has apparently been advanced from Decenber 2 to November 4,

Pope Shenouda III died in March. The rather cumbersome election process was expected to take until July or so, but moved at a glacial pace, largely because the election of an Egyptian President was also under way. There was much speculation and plenty of rumor about political maneuvering within the Church's Holy Synod, possibly due to concerns about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and growing tensions in Coptic-Muslim relations.

In August the Church finally announced the names of 17 candidates for the position. An electoral commission was due to narrow that list from 17 to about seven, later to be submitted to a vote of seberal thousand selected Copts who will narrow it to three. The Electoral Commission began its work on October 4 and was widely expected to take until November; December 2 was named as the expected date for the Altar Lot, when a blindfolded young boy will choose one name from the final three.

But last Saturday it was suddenly announced that the Electoral Commission had narrowed the number of candidates to five. eliminating most of the best known (and most divisive) figures. It was announced that the election would be held November 24 to choose the three candidates, with the Altar Lot on December 2.  I was starting to write this post explaining events to date when it was suddenly announced that the election to narrow the list will be held October 29, less than two weeks from now, and the Altar Lot on November 4.

What had been a glacial process has in a matter of days been speeded up to elect the new Pope quickly. Whatever considerations (political and otherwise) had been slowing the process down have apparently been fixed.

My earlier attempt at handicapping the papal race on this blog discussed three key candidates. None of them made it into the final five, so you may want to consider that track record in judging my prognostication powers when it comes to choosing Coptic Popes. The controversial and divisive Bishop Bishoy, Secrertay of the Holy Synod and a man who has been "running for Pope" for years, failed to make it into the final list, as did Bishop Youannes, Patriarchal Secretary to Shenouda and a very powerful figure.

The Final Five Candidates

By choosing only five candidates rather than seven, the rest of the selection process is streamlined a bit, since the elections will choose three of the five to go to the Altar Lot. Also, only two of the five are bishops; the other three are priest-monks.  

The tradition of the Coptic Church historically was to choose the Pope from the monks (though bishops are also chosen from the monks only, not from parish priests). In the past century soeme Popes hae been chosen from the bishops. Some conservatives insist the choice of bishops is uncanonical. Shenouda was a General Bishop, a bishop without a specific see but rather head of a department in the church; some of the candidates, such as Bishoy, were both General Bishops but also held diocesan sees. The two bishops remaining under consideration, however, are a General Bishop and an Auxiliary Bishop.

The finalists are:
Bishop Tawadros: Auxiliary Bishop for Behuira, auxiliary to Bishop Bakhomius. A member of the Holy Synod, Tawadros was born in 1952 and studied pharmacy at the University of Alexandria. He was ordained in June 1997.

Bishop Raphael: Auxiliary Bishop of Central Cairo and Heliopolis, former aide to the late Pope Shenouda III and a member of the Holy Synod. Born in Cairo in 1954 and a graduate from Ain Shams University's medical faculty, Raphael was ordained as a bishop in June 1997.

The the other three candidates are priest/monks:

Father Raphael Ava Mina: A monk at the monastery of St. Mina (Mar Mina) in Alexandria governorate. He was a disciple of the late Pope Cyril (Kirillos) VI, considered by many Copts to be a saint. He is the oldest candidate; some reports give his birth as early as 1924, but 1942 seems correct, so he is 70 rather than in his late 80s. He has a law degree from the University of Ain Shams.
Father Seraphim Al-Suryani: A monk at the Virgin Mary monastery in Wadi Natrun. Born in 1959 in Cairo, Seraphim has a science degree from the University of Ain Shams.

Father Bakhomius Al-Suryani: Also monk at the monastery of Virgin Mary in Wadi Natrun. Born in Aswan in 1963, he is the youngest candidate and holds degrees in science and education.

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