I guess it’s more accurate to say a pope died.
Until I visited Egypt last year, I didn’t even know there were popes. So, to share with you the crash course I went through in Egypt here are four questions that may help you navigate your news feed this week…
1) Who is Shenouda?
The late Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria was the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church from 1971 until last Saturday (17 March 2012) when he passed away at 88 years of age.
Pope or Papa from the Latin means father, and refers to the spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Church, but also the Coptic Church. I thought that the Catholic Pope Benedictus was the only one to keep my eye on, but it turns out there are a few other popes poking around the theological landscape. The Greek Orthodox Church calls their head the Patriarch, which is just a fancier name for Pope. All Orthodox churches call their priests “Father” or if they get promoted up the ecclesiastical food chain, Monseigneur (which means my lord).
This isn’t the place to gag or do an exposition of Matt 23:9 but I am grateful for the Protestant habit of calling their leaders by the biblical descriptors of their role, i.e. pastor (under-shepherd), overseer (bishop), and elder. When these monikers become used as titles, e.g. “Please call me Pastor Archer” or worse, Reverend, then they are missing the point.
3) What’s a Copt?
Coptic refers to the mispronunciation of “Egypt” by the Arabian invaders who coined the mondegreen, “E’copt.” So a Copt is a person of the Coptic culture, or of ancient Egyptian decent, as opposed to Arab Egyptians. Copts are traditionally “Christian” in that they are not Muslim, like their Arabian compatriots. There has always been significant tension between the two groups, as evidenced in the violent persecution and legal discrimination of Copts by Muslims.
This is a fascinating corner of Church history that is worthy of exploration.
I wish I could be objective and say I don’t have a dog in this fight, but the truth is I wish I could vote for the next Coptic Pope.
I met Bishop Thomas last year when I spent three days in his Monastery over Easter. I witnessed the humility, intelligence, theological astuteness, and Evangelical commitment of this extraordinary man.
He wasn’t offended by my seminoid-like theological 3rd degree I subjected him to (I wasn’t going to take communion on Easter unless I was sure there was no transubstantiation or re-sacrificing of Christ going on).
He patiently and passionately explained the gospel to me and encouraged me to walk into the streets of his village and evangelize the lost Copts, as he does himself. Bishop Thomas estimates about 15% of Copts have a true understanding of the gospel. And he himself chuckled at the strange trappings of his office– the breastplate, robes, and sceptre.