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GSFA Meets with Coptic Pope, Elects New Leaders

Delegates to the First Assembly of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) met with Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of Alexandria and leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, on June 12.

They visited him at his summer residence near Anba Bishoy Monastery in the Natrun Valley, and later toured buildings in the papal complex and the nearby monastery, an important center for Coptic spirituality since the fourth century.

“I would like to suggest my happiness and my pleasure to welcome you and your meeting to Egypt and to the Coptic Orthodox Church,” Pope Tawadros said, speaking in English.

He discussed Egypt’s rich history and the Coptic Church’s spiritual life and international growth, and praised Archbishop Samy Fawzy Shehata, primate of the Province of Alexandria, as “a great friend to the Coptic Orthodox Church.”

Tawadros spoke of three central features of the church’s life: its commitment to theological education and “straight teaching, or orthodoxy,” its foundation in monastic spirituality, and its long history of suffering for Christ.

“We are the church of martyrs. We have so many thousands of stories of our martyrs. The most recent one was when 21 youths of the Coptic Church were martyred in Libya in 2015,” he said.

Archbishop Justin Badi, the GSFA chairman, thanked Pope Tawadros for his hospitality and explained that the GSFA was formed from Anglicans who “were not happy with how the gospel is being interpreted by the revisionist provinces, and so we thought it would be good to form a fellowship, a holy remnant, who can speak the biblical truth, holding an orthodox interpretation of the Bible; to encourage one another to hold fast to the understanding of the gospel that we have received.”

Pope Tawadros is the 118th Patriarch of Alexandria, and has been in office since 2012. A former monk of the Monastery of Anba Bishoy, he has guided his church through major changes in Egyptian society since the Arab Spring in 2011.

He told the GSFA delegates that there are about 15 million Coptic Christians in Egypt, the largest Christian population in the Arab World. They are Egypt’s largest Christian group by a significant degree, constituting about 10 percent of the population.

Human Rights Watch has noted growing intolerance and sectarian violence against Coptic Christians since 2011. In 2015, 21 men were beheaded by the Islamic State in Libya, and are now commemorated as martyrs. On Palm Sunday in 2017, ISIS bombed the Cathedral of Saint Mark in Alexandria just after Pope Tawadros had celebrated the liturgy, killing 87 people and injuring 329.

The Coptic Church is also the largest of the six Oriental Orthodox churches, which separated from the Eastern Orthodox Church over disagreements about Christology. These churches do not accept the 451 Council of Chalcedon, though they have entered into extensive theological dialogue with other Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches that have found significant agreement on previously disputed matters.

Ecumenism has been important in Pope Tawadros’s ministry, and he made a groundbreaking visit to Pope Francis at Rome in 2013, only the second meeting between leaders of the two churches in 1,500 years. He has also worked closely with leaders of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Egypt and other members of Egypt’s Council of Churches.

The term pope, from the Greek pappas or father, has been used since the mid-third century for the leader of the Church of Alexandria. It was first used of the Bishop of Rome a few generations later and was reserved for him in the Western Church in the 11th century.

After their meeting with Pope Tawadros, GSFA delegates visited a historical museum, library, and baptistry on the grounds of the papal compound, as well as a display about legends surrounding the Holy Family’s time in Egypt.

They also visited nearby Anba Bishoy Monastery, which is named for one of the most loved Coptic saints, a fifth-century monk who had several visions of Christ and whose holiness and leadership gifts drew many disciples to the monastery in its early days. They visited the ninth-century monastic church, where St. Bishoy’s shrine is located, and saw the monastery’s keep and gardens.

Electing New Leaders

At the GSFA’s morning session on June 14, Raja Singham of the Province of South East Asia, the election supervisor, announced the election of a new Primates’ Steering Committee and Board of the Assembly. The two bodies jointly govern the GSFA, with the primates overseeing faith and order matters and the board managing the group’s organizational life and program.

The Most Rev. Justin Badi Arama, the primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, was reelected as the chairman of the Primates’ Steering Committee. Archbishop Samy Shehata of the Province of Alexandra will be vice chair; Archbishop Titus Chung of South East Asia, secretary; and Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba of Uganda, treasurer. The primates of the Anglican Churches of Congo, Brazil, and Myanmar will also serve on the Steering Committee.

In addition to the four officers of the Primates’ Steering Committee, these leaders were elected to the Board of the Assembly:

Bishops: Melter Tais, South East Asia; Alex Farmer, Anglican Church in North America (ACNA); and Emmanuel Lomoro, South Sudan

Clergy: Geoffrey Byarugaba, Uganda; Charles David, Brazil; Darrell Critch, ACNA; Phil Ashey, ACNA; Emad Basileos, Alexandria; William Ongeng, Uganda; and Peter Garang Deng, South Sudan

Laity: Edson Masiko, Uganda; Amal Houas, Alexandria; Samir Kowa, Sudan; Martha Adut, South Sudan; Elisama Daniel, South Sudan; Rachel Thebeau, ACNA; and Javier Vejar, Chile.

The Council of Bishops elected these members to serve as the GSFA’s Faith and Order Commission: Marcio Simoes, Brazil; Martin Reakes-Williams, Alexandria; Alex Farmer, ACNA; Steven Abbarow, South East Asia; Alfred Olwa, Uganda; Titus Chung, South East Asia; and Danald Jute, South East Asia.

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