New Regulations for Choosing the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch
I. A Historical Session
The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, under the auspices of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, agreed on new regulations for electing the Pope, who is the Patriarch of the See of St. Mark the Apostle, the Archbishop of Alexandria, and the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church worldwide.
In a special session that lasted seven hours, the Holy Synod voted on the following regulations which were presented by the Committee for Nominations. Each member of the Holy Synod voted on each of the 36 articles found in the new regulations. These 36 articles are organized into 6 chapters:
Chapter I contains Articles 1 and 2, which are basic articles. It also deals with the declaration of the vacancy of the Patriarchal See in Articles 3-5.
Chapter II deals with the formation and competence of a Special Committee to nominate the Pope as represented in Articles 6-7.
Chapter III deals with issues related to the nomination of the Pope as represented in Articles 8-12.
Chapter IV deals with the registration of voters in the nomination process as represented in Articles 13-18.
Chapter V deals with the regulations of the nomination process as represented in Articles 19-25.
Chapter VI presents general provisions in Articles 26-36.
II. Preparing the New Regulations
His Holiness Pope Tawadros II issued a papal decree to the Committee for Nominations headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Pakhomios to prepare new regulations to choose the Pope. It was this very Committee that managed the process of nomination and choosing the Pope after the departure of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of thrice-blessed memory.
The Committee held several meetings to examine the previous experiences of electing the Pope and the regulations of 1957, which needed revision. The Committee received proposals from the members of the Holy Synod and reviewed the process in other churches. It then clarified its goal of establishing new regulations that would be in agreement with the Canons of the Holy Church and the ancient Tradition while remaining compatible with modern realities, especially in light of the Coptic Orthodox Church’s global presence today.
After holding several sessions, the Committee sent five suggested versions of these regulations to the members of the Holy Synod for their review and comments. The Secretary of the Holy Synod compiled a suggested two proposals based on the work of the Committee and feedback from the members of the Holy Synod. From December 26-27, 2013, a special meeting of the Committee, the Secretary of the Holy Synod, and any member of the Holy Synod who wished to attend, was convened to reconcile the two proposals into one proposal that was presented to the Holy Synod at a general meeting on February 20, 2014. Members of the Holy Synod discussed and voted on each article separately until the new regulations were approved.
III. A Review of the New Regulations
Here are a few important points concerning the new regulations.
- Article 1 of the new regulations specify that they are used to choose the spiritual leadership of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt and abroad, and as such, regulate a uniquely religious decision, as opposed to political or otherwise. Article 2 specifies that the Presidential Decree for the choice of the Patriarch is only an accreditation of the religious choice made by the Church through the providence of God in a public altar lot that occurs in Egypt between three nominees elected by the clergy and representatives of the laity.
- The new regulations settled the question of whether the altar lot should be used. It is now mandatory as a prerequisite in the process of choosing the Patriarch.
- Article 2 presented an ecclesiastically correct definition of the person and office of the Patriarch. It is the same definition mentioned in Article 49 and based on Canon 6 of the Ecumenical Council of Nicæa. It states, “The Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of the See of St. Mark for the Coptic Orthodox is the bishop of Alexandria and Cairo, and because he is the bishop of the great city of Alexandria, he is the Archbishop of the Episcopate of St. Mark according to the canons of the Holy Council of Nicæa.”In light of this definition, the regulations confirm that the choice of the Patriarch, the Archbishop of the Episcopate of St. Mark, is essentially the choice of the bishop of Alexandria. Accordingly, all of the canons related to choosing the bishop of a diocese, and in particular, transferring a bishop from one diocese to another, apply in the process of choosing the Patriarch.
Article 8 limits the choice of nominees to monks and general bishops only. It prohibits the nomination of metropolitans and diocesan bishops except if it is an absolute necessity in conformity with the ecclesiastical canons. The new regulations reflect several ecclesiastical canons, which prohibit transferring a bishop from one diocese to another, such as Canon 15 of the Ecumenical Council of Nicæa, Canon 21 of the Council of Antioch of 341 A.D., Canon 1 of the Council of Sardica of 347 A.D., the canons of Pope Mikhail, the 46th Pope of Alexandria (c. 744-768 A.D.), and the decision of the Holy Synod of 1873 A.D. on this matter. The regulations also take into consideration the canons that permit the transfer of a bishop to another diocese in special circumstances, such as Canon 14 of the Holy Apostles.
- Article 15 of the new regulations deals with the question of who may participate in the process of choosing the Patriarch and expanded the participation of clergy and laity alike. It provides that all priests in Egypt and abroad who were ordained before the departure of the Patriarch may participate in the process. It also conferred a specific number of votes to laity in each diocese commensurate with the number of clergy in that diocese. Moreover, it provides that all priest-monks, official consecrated deacons, archdeacons, and deaconnesses may participate in the process. The same is true for the professors of official clerical schools. As for nuns, the new regulations permit ten percent of the nuns of each convent to participate in the process.
- Because of the geographical growth of the Coptic Orthodox Church worldwide, the new regulations enabled the formation of subcommittees to conduct the elections inside Egypt and abroad.
- The new regulations confirmed that the final list of nominees for Patriarch must include 5-7 candidates.They also provide for special circumstances in case the election could not take place with the requisite five candidates (e.g., the departure or withdrawal of one or more candidates). In this case, for example, the election would be held between the remaining candidates and the altar lot choose the Patriarch from the last three candidates. If it was impossible to reach three nominees for whatever reason, the altar lot would choose the Patriarch from the two candidates who received the most votes in the preceding election. If the nomination process produced only three names, there would be no election, and the altar lot would be held immediately. Finally, if the nomination process produced only one nominee for whatever reason, he would be immediately enthroned as Patriarch according to the will of God without election or altar lot.