Will Anba Pachomius Continue as Care Taker Pope for Sometime?

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.

3 Comments on “Will Anba Pachomius Continue as Care Taker Pope for Sometime?”

  1. Was it Nasser meddling in the affairs of the church in the succession of pope Yousab or were the traditionalist bishops not happy with the young advancing abuna Antonios (later Pope Shenouda?) Or was it both? What are your sources? That Anba Pachomius could well remain care-taker-pope is certainly a possibility.

    • salamamoussa says:

      I think it was both. The period between 1946 and 1958 is worth a full length book. The election of Yusab in 1946 was controversial, although he had the support of many wealthy Copts. The Coptic Youth movement, established in 1946, was slightly sympathetic to Abouna Sergious who opposed the election and was eventually excommunicated. The sources are public, mainly the magazine, El-Manarah El-Murqusiah, published by Abouna Sergious. Hence the clergy supporting Yusab were not sympathetic to the Coptic Youth movement.
      The land reform acts of 1954 dealt a serious blow to the aristocratic Coptic laity, which lost a great deal of wealth and influence, opening a social vacuum. At the same time, Nazeer Gayed was pushing for more involvement from the laity, and with a great deal of support from the rising Coptic middle classes, and minimal opposition from the wealthy Copts, who normally would have been closer in outlook to wealthy Muslims than to other Copts. Nasser also wanted to eliminate the millet system for his political reasons. He wanted to establish a strong central control over the state and religion, in part to defuse the MB influence. The division of the church and the weakness of Pope Yusab presented an open opportunity. The papal seat was open for a couple of years, until Kyrillous was elected in 1958. The bishops surrounding Pope Yusab were not happy with their waning influence, and did not put up a strong resistance to changes in the rules. By then Nasser had set the terms of the election against a weaker laity. State repression was setting in and it was dangerous to cross Nasser.
      My sources for the crucial elections of 1958 and 1971 are three community members (since deceased), one of whom was involved in both the 1958 and 1971 elections, and who taught Nazeer Gayed as a college student, and knew him well until the late 1980’s when their relationship deteriorated a bit over the Pope’s refusal to open the Papal archives for researchers. My sources for Nazeer Gayed’s work in Shoubra, and his views on Pope Yusab, are actually two women, now in their 80’s, who were his Sunday School students and who remained friends well after his elevation to Bishop, and still recall both his lectures and his expressed desire to improve the general educational level of the Coptic clergy. The strategy he followed from the 1980’s onward of attracting college graduates to the clerical and monastic life was something he had already described as early as 1954, and reiterated to Kyrillous, occasionally in public, in the 1960’s. So I tend to believe their recollections. I have no sources for the crucial period of 1978 to 1985; the exile period. The main participants in these events were Sadat, Pope Shenouda and Anba Samuel, who was assassinated along with Sadat. Few others had any close knowledge of that period.
      The possibility that Pachomius would remain care taker for some years is purely speculation on my part of course. Since the passing of Pope Shenouda there has been a steady murmur that the current state of Egypt demands a careful rather than a hasty selection of the next Pope. The idea of a “fourth envelope” seems to fit too neatly into these feelings to be purely accidental. But again, I am speculating here.

  2. very informative and helpful, thank you!

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