Will Anba Pachomius Continue as Care Taker Pope for Sometime?Posted: April 30, 2012
Of course he is the current care-taker Pope. Interesting and mundane news comes, however, by way of American lawyer Maged Riad on the Ahramonline website about the election of the new Pope (note to readers, there are many lawyers named Maged Riad, as the first name Maged is so common among Copts of a certain generation that shouting it in a crowded theater full of middle aged Copts can cause a stampede). Last week was Pope Shenouda’s Arb’een, the forty day anniversary of his passing. The 40 days of mourning is a strong Egyptian custom, dating back from Ancient Egypt, when the mummification process required 40 days between death and internment. It is uncommon to talk about the legacy of the dead until after that mourning period.
The news is that there are 14 candidates at this point (not a major surprise), that Anba Pachomius refuses to place his name in nomination in spite of many entreaties (also not a surprise), that Non-Egyptian Copts, especially North Americans, will have a say in the election of the Pope (perhaps more of a wish at this point), that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the current election rules (which bear the imprint of Nasser from the mid 1950’s) and then the surprising news that in addition to the 3 names in the final lottery, there might be an empty envelope, signifying that Divine Will may not wish for a permanent leader at this point. This, of course, would mean that Anba Pachomius would continue as care taker for a few years. His advanced age, respect among the community, and good health, will be no barrier to a few more years of leading the church until the dust settles on the Egyptian revolution and a long term leadership suitable to the times can emerge.
The church has had 2 powerful Popes since the sad papacy of Anba Yusab in the early 1950’s. As a lay leader in the Coptic Sunday School movement, Nazeer Gayed (later Pope Shenouda), was a critic of Anba Yusab, and may have privately urged for his removal. After the abduction of Anba Yusab in 1954 it became clear that his days as Pope were dwindling and the community cast about for a new leader. Nazeer Gayed joined the monastic orders as Abouna Antonious El-Syriani, thereby becoming eligible for the Papacy (and breaking the heart of many young Coptic Sunday School girls in Shoubra). Nasser, however, was on the rise, and was fond in meddling in all affairs, sacred and profane. The eligibility was changed to demand at least 15 years of monastical life, in effect disqualifying Antonious and handing the Papacy to Kyrillous. (Egyptian fondness for electoral shenanigans is reassuringly constant). With the passing of both Nasser and Kyrillous within a year of each other, sentiment was rising that perhaps it was time for the charismatic Abouna Antonious, who had since been appointed Bishop Shenouda by Pope Kyrillous. He was selected at random by a blindfolded boy from among three names in three separate envelopes. It was an uncanny coincidence of the unknowable will of God with the unequivocal wish of man. It would be totally wrong to suggest that perhaps human agency assisted divine power by inadvertently placing the same name in all three envelopes.
The church now faces a turbulent environment and a changed laity. This may not be the most opportune moment to select new leadership. Perhaps a short delay would be ideal. Anba Pachomius can provide excellent leadership, and if he does not wish to be nominated, then the random selection of an empty envelope might persuade him and the flock to listen to the will of God for a few more years.