And a Child Chooses….

St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria

Today at Abbasiya Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt a new patriarch was chosen to lead Egypt’s 8 million strong Coptic Orthodox Christians.

Three finalists were selected earlier in the year: Father Raphael Ava Mina, Bishop Tawadros, and Bishop Raphael. And while there was consensus on the three finalists the final decision was in the hands of a blindfolded child.

Only not really – because the Coptic Orthodox believe that God is sovereign and the choice is made by him. They leave it in the hands of a child so that their will does not interfere with God’s.

So amid incense and prayers, this blindfolded child walked up to a glass bowl and picked a name. Bishop Tawadros of Beheira was the winner of this unusual lottery.

While this may seem strange to western ears, this process is not random. Weeks ago a committee met and agreed on 17 potential names. This number was reduced to five and ultimately the three above were agreed on as the final candidates. A period of fasting began on Wednesday of this past week in preparation for the service held today.

An article written in Christianity Today earlier this week by Jayson Casper who blogs at A Sense of Belonging said this:

“It is easier to find biblical support for choosing by consensus than by lot,” said Atef al-Gindy, president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Cairo. “But I have observed the sincerity and genuine desire of Orthodox leaders to conduct a process that is clean and according to the will of God, seeking his guidance.”

This is an important decision, not just for Copts, but for all minority Christians in Egypt. The rights of minorities are a concern as Egypt continues to work out its politics internally and externally.

As for a child choosing….I like it. In fact, I wonder what it would be like if a child were to choose the November 6 election in the United States?! A Blindfolded child, free of political fray and disillusionment. 

I appreciate that the initial process included consensus, that there was fasting and prayer ahead of time, and that there was really not a preference when it came to the final three — all three of them were agreed upon as leaders who could lead with wisdom and Godliness.

So a child chose – and Bishop Tawadros is now the new patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church. May God continue to bless the country of Egypt and may Christians living throughout Egypt have opportunity for freedom and growth.

Coptic Christians & Persecution

6 days ago, Coptic Christians in Cairo experienced an attack while protesting restrictions that have been put on building churches as well as protesting an attack on a church in southern Egypt. My daughter’s friend, Sarah, a journalist, had an eye-witness account of the event as it occurred at a large building that houses Egyptian radio and television, Maspero. Her account brought tears to my eyes.

Perhaps some of you have read or seen videos from Sunday, October 9. The brutality of armored personnel carriers going at high speeds through crowds of people; the resulting deaths and crowded halls and morgue of the Coptic Hospital; the urging of restraint from political leaders. The more I read, the more it seems that one side did show restraint, while the other showed aggressive force.

From the start of the church in Egypt, Coptic Christians were aware that they could be persecuted for their faith. Alexandria, under the rule of the Roman emperor, Neru, was the home of this new faith, brought to Egypt by St. Mark, and it was not welcomed kindly. Rather, there was a bitter reaction to the point of St. Mark being brutally dragged by rope through the streets of Alexandria by Roman soldiers the Monday following Easter. He was later killed on that day in 68 AD. This was not the end of persecution. The Copts have been persecuted by many of Egypt’s political rulers, yet have clung fast to the Cross and the messages of humility and hope that come from the Cross.

In the Coptic Church, persecution is perceived as a Biblical part of living out the Christian faith. It’s not about culture wars and ideology over social issues. It’s about believing in the core of the gospel message and standing firm, though you may face imprisonment, beatings, and death.

The fact that Coptic Christians have known persecution for centuries does not exempt me or any Christian from speaking out against persecution, and the right to believe as one chooses, but it does give a perspective and raises a challenge for me. The challenge is that of sustaining a faith, and growing the church despite, and through, persecution. The words from Luke 9:23 are clear:

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me

I have much to learn from Christians in other countries. The comfortable pews and buildings that have become a part of my days of worship have lulled me into a belief that persecution is about a colleague disagreeing with my stance on a social issue. That doesn’t seem to be the true meaning of persecution, not historically, and not in the present. I don’t think I am to chase after persecution, but I do believe I am to daily learn more of what it means to live as a Christian, so that should it come, there will be no question but to cling to the Cross with no looking back.

Would you be a Human Shield?

St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria
Image via Wikipedia

“Egyptian Muslims to Act as Human Shield at Coptic Christmas Mass” –  were the headlines in a story two days ago from Ahram Online news. The story goes into detail on the unity of Egyptian Muslims coming together to shield fellow Egyptians from danger, Coptic Christians, people who share the same country but not the same faith. A week prior at a New Year’s service held at the Two Saints Coptic Church in Alexandria more than 30 Egyptians were killed and over 90 injured in an attack carried out by a suicide bomber.

The story is a story that is seldom heard.  This happened the day before the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona. A shooting that seriously wounded a congresswoman, killed a judge, and took away life from a 9-year old.   There were no Human Shields for the Arizona shooting and the country is grieving and rightfully troubled over this preventable tragedy.   

Salman Taseer, governor of the Punjab, lost his life last week being a verbal human shield.  He defended the rights of a Christian woman in Pakistan – she a minority as a Christian, a minority as a woman. He had nothing in common with her on the surface but chose to  advocate for her release and fight against blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

Would I be a Human Shield if someone or a group of people with whom I disagree are under attack?  Let me bring this closer to home:  If I knew a mosque was at risk of being attacked in the greater Boston area, would I be willing to serve as a human shield, despite the fact that I’m not Muslim and know there are fundamental differences in core beliefs?  Would I be a shield of protection for people who have a belief or ideology with which I disagree, to protect life?

Convictions sometimes prohibit me from compassion and the practical living out of my beliefs. Somehow I get the idea that if I stand up for someone in the face of violence against them, whether it be physical or verbal,  that I agree with them, that I am being untrue to my values and promoting those that are antithetical to mine.  I don’t believe it’s that simple. Was the Good Samaritan afraid of losing his culture and his values? I’ll close with two questions:

  1. Would you be a Human Shield?
  2. Why or Why-not?

Related Articles