32. Church sees red after self-proclaimed patriarch’s announcement, Orthodox Church warns of dealing with Max Michel

Article summary: 

This press review deals with a controversial announcement made by Max Michel, a Christian who split from the Coptic Orthodox Church and set up a church in the Muqattam area and named himself Archbishop Maximus I, amidst an outcry from the Egyptian mother church and severe criticism.

Article full text: 

Angry reactions were voiced by the Coptic Orthodox Church after the latest announcement made by Archbishop Maximus I proclaiming himself to be head of the Holy Synod (Al-Wafd, July 4, 2007).

Dismissing that Archbishop Maximus, whose layman name is Max Michel, represents the Coptic Orthodox congregation, bishop Marqus of Shubrā al-Khayma and the official spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church said that Archbishop Maximus does not now belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church (Al-Wafd, July 4, 2007).

He said Michel cannot be termed "a defector from the church" because it would mean that he was a member of the church to begin with, while he actually quit the church in 1983 and never practiced its convictional rituals due to his ideologies and teachings which are not in line with the Coptic Church (Al-Wafd, July 4, 2007).

The Egyptian Orthodox Church has issued warnings about dealing with the al-Muqattam Church and its head, indicating in an official statement that the new church is a renegade one and the religious rank of its founder is invalid.

The statement lashed out at Michel’s founding of a theological college and condemned the issuing of a periodical that attacks the Coptic Orthodox Church and its legitimate leaders (Al- Ahrām, July 6, 2006).

Bishop Marqus said in statements that Pope Shenouda III, the Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark, planned to hold a meeting with the leaders of the three Christian denominations in Egypt to discuss the possibility of a unified stance followed by a joint statement denouncing Maximus and his church (Rose al-Yūsuf newspaper, July 7, 2006).

Bishop Yu’ānnis, the Secretary of Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, has sent a letter to Ismā‘īl al-Shā‘ir, Cairo Security Director and Assistant Interior Minister, in which he explained the Coptic Orthodox Church’s position regarding Maximus and his denomination (Rose al-Yūsuf newspaper, July 7, 2006).

In his letter, bishop Yu’ānnis said the church disavows the theological college from which Maximus obtained his degree in theology (Rose al-Yūsuf newspaper, July 7, 2006).

Pope Shenouda, in statements made during a press conference held after his return to Cairo from a recuperative visit to the United States, said that the US administration does not support Max Michel, adding that a number of independent US churches are behind the crisis caused by Michel, who was excommunicated from the Coptic Church (Al-Ahrām, July 11, 2006).

The pope said some bishops who defected from their churches have set up a so-called synod for all Christians and their wishes converged with that of Max Michel, who wanted to be an archbishop and was ordained in the US state of Nevada (Al-Ahrām, July 11, 2006).

He pointed out that Michel is married and has two daughters, adding that biblical texts do not allow a married man to become a monk. He refused to get involved in negotiations with Michel in his current capacity as an archbishop, declining to reply to questions about whether there was US pressure on Egypt to allow the presence of the defector (Al-Ahrām, July 11, 2006).

Meanwhile scholars of the Azhar rejected any attempts to undermine the national and spiritual role played by the Egyptian Orthodox Church under Pope Shenouda III, who represents a frame of reference for Orthodox Christians around the world (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 6, 2006).

‘Abd al- Mu‘tī Bayoumī, a member of the Islamic Research Academy, the highest religious authority at the Azhar, said the split led by Archbishop Maximus from the mother church and his announcement of the formation of a Holy Synod must be considered within the framework of risks poised against the national role of Egypt’s Orthodox Church, which must be backed and strengthened (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 6, 2006).

US Ambassador in Cairo, Francis Ricciardone, denied recent reports about the alleged support by Washington for Archbishop Maximus, explaining that American laws do not allow governmental financial support for churches nor interference in those churches’ affairs (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 6, 2006).

Archbishop Maximus, replying to statements by bishop Marqus of Shubrā al-Khyama during an interview with al-Ahrām newspaper of July 7, 2006 (p. 10), said he has never tried to proclaim himself as another pope for the Copts, adding that all he has done is declare a Holy Synod for Orthodox Christians in Egypt and the Middle East (Al- Ahrām, July 10, 2006).

He asserted that this is a basic human rights maintained by all constitutions of the world and that there is nothing wrong with serving God in the way he deemed right, away from strictness and predominance [editor: referring to the Coptic Orthodox that is seen by him as strict and dominating] (Al-Ahrām, July 10, 2006).

Archbishop Maximus is expected to appear before the court in a lawsuit filed against him by a number of Copts who accuse him of offending them and slandering Pope Shenouda III (Al-Musawwar, July 7, 2006).

During a celebration held to announce the establishment of the Holy Synod for Orthodox Christians in Egypt and the Middle East, Archbishop Maximus said that the ordaining of two bishops is just the start of building parishes all over Egypt, adding that his decision does not mean the relief of Pope Shenouda (Al-Musawwar, July 7, 2006).

In an interview Maximus, however, accused Pope Shenouda of sparking sectarian sedition and that his era has been the worst for Orthodox Christians in Egypt (Al- Musawwar, July 7, 2006).

In an article in Rose al- Yūsuf newspaper dated July 10, 2006, writer Nabīl Najīb Salāma said that Max Michel was in the habit of going to the United States until everyone was stunned in May 2005 by a congratulatory note published in al-Ahrām newspaper that was sent to him on the occasion of his ordination as an archbishop under the name Archbishop Maximus I.

The organizations standing behind attempts to destroy the national church are coming from abroad but the collapse of the church is not in the interest of national unity, writes Tal‘at Jād Allah in an article in Rose al-Yūsuf newspaper of July 10, 2006.

In an interview Jād Allah said that Archbishop Maximus affirmed that "the way the church in Egypt is being run is dashing all hopes about any reforms in Pope Shenouda’s church and improvement of the Coptic congregation in Egypt except from abroad" (Rose al- Yūsuf newspaper, July 10, 2006).

The author says there could be political robbery but convictional belongingness can never be abbreviated into one person as Archbishop Maximus said in his statements in which he described the national church as "Pope Shenouda’s church (Rose al-Yūsuf newspaper, July 10, 2006).

Church reform, the author adds, has to be exclusively internal. It is a fact that the role of the General al-Majlis al-Millī [community council] and the Coptic endowments authority needs to be effective and problems regarding the selection of a pope, divorce and the role of the laymen in the church need to be solved. However reforms come only through transparency in a respected way, not through slandering and defamation (Rose al-Yūsuf newspaper, July 10, 2006).

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