Emmanuel Center: A Monument of God’s Victory

While I watched the workers painting the facade of Emmanuel Center’s building with the final color, a thought came across my mind, “This is a Monument of God’s Victory”. I believe there are many who need to be aware of this truth.

It had never occurred to me that financing this project would be a challenge that exposes the spiritual warfare inside us to love and serve one of the two masters. Christ said clearly, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13). Whether we admit it or not, we are in a struggle to choose between the two masters — the “Living God” and “Mammon (Wealth)” — until God gives us victory.

This building stands as a monument of God’s victory in His Cheerful Givers who stood against loving and serving Mammon; those who accepted willingly to share with us our incredible adventure of faith. Their names are recorded in heaven, and this building stands as a witness to many generations, of how God won the battle in them.

I saw God’s victory in many Cheerful Givers. Among these victorious are children who have offered their allowances, widows and new immigrants who have donated from their needs, young couples who have offered generously, and rich people who have loved God more than their wealth.

I saw God’s victory in many who wanted to express their gratitude toward St Mark’s Church for its services to them personally, and/or its services to the land of immigration, as the mother church to all churches in North America.

I saw God’s victory in loving people from many churches that have contributed and enjoyed the sense of being ONE church, regardless of where they are and where they worship. They offered their donations as to the Lord; some of whom do not even know St Mark’s Church or its priests.

I saw God’s victory in many of the Cheerful Givers, including the youth and kids, who have contributed while feeling the heart of missionary work in the middle of Jersey City.

I saw God’s victory in many Cheerful Givers who have faithfully pursued their walk with God by paying their first income and their tithes, in holy fear of God’s word (Malachi 3:8).

In all of these loving people, I saw by my eyes how God won the battle inside them against Mammon, and how He richly has blessed them. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

I am sure God will continue to fulfill the needs of His Church, through His loving people, to complete the building. I hope you will not miss the opportunity of such blessing and honor. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Fr Abraam Sleman

www.SaintMark.com/donate

Message to the Deacons in the Holy Week

In the Coptic Orthodox Churches, the congregations are blessed in the divine services, not only with the participation of the priests but also of the deacons. I thank God, that I personally have been touched by the participation of the wonderful deacons, especially during the Holy Week of Pascha and the Feast of Resurrection in St Mark’s of Jersey City, for many years. I thank God for the gift of having such wonderful deacons, as they are really amazing.

I really love the deacons and value the presence and the role of every single one of them, young or old. But I fear that somehow their pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent (2 Corinthians 11:3). For this reason I wrote this message, in all fatherly love, to all the deacons in all the churches!

The rites and the prayers of the Holy Pascha Week are amazing tools in the hand of God to portrait before the eyes of the people the crucified and risen Christ (Galatians 3:1). Such remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection is intended to bring the hearts of the worshipers into a living fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection. We would miss the point of the Holy Week of Pascha if the portrait of the crucified and risen Lord disappeared from our conscious and hearts.

Every Divine service of the Pascha Week is a real worship before the throne of God. It has to be offered by the Spirit of grace and prayers, in fear and reverence (Zechariah 12:10). We should not be intimidated with the limit of time verses the many prayers, readings and hymns. It is better to read, pray and chant little with understanding than doing this without understanding (1 Corinthians 14:19). Moreover, let your humble voices be heard in heavens, in Spirit and truth.

The Holy week is about the Christ who emptied Himself and obeyed the Father until the death of the Cross (Philippians 2:8). So let us be in harmony with Him through emptiness ourselves. God is looking for our obedience to the priests, the elder deacons and our parents. He is also looking for our kind affections to the younger deacons and the weak with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another (Romans 12:10). Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else (Mark 9:35). In this Holy Week, and always, learn the meaning of washing the feet of your brother as Christ washed your feet (John 13:14).

Beloved Deacons, please be aware of this: Either we are going to work with Holy Spirit to portrait the crucified and risen Christ or we are going to be deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent and portrait a false image of ourselves. I am looking forward to the day when I kneel down kissing and washing the feet of every one of you. I wish you a blessed Holy Pascha Week and the joy of His Holy resurrection.

Fr Abraam Sleman

frsleman@CopticChurch.net

(732) 718-4129

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emmanuel Center: Where God Rejoices With His People مركز عمانوئيل: حيث يفرح الله مع شعبه

مركز عمانويل Emmanuel Center هو عطية من الله لشعبه، ويقع في أرض كنيسة مارمرقس الكنيسة القبطية الأرثوذكسية في جيرسي سيتي. وبنعمة ربنا، سيكون مكانا مقدسا لإقامة القداسات الإلهية، والمؤتمرات، وفصول مدارس الأحد، والمناسبات الاجتماعية، فضلا عن العديد من الأنشطة الأخرى الروحية والكرازية والاجتماعية والرياضية للأطفال والشباب والبالغين وكبار السن. وسوف يكون مكانا مكرسا لله ليفرح فيه مع شعبه وليفرح شعبه بخالقه.

أرجو مساعدة الكنيسة بالصلوات والتبرعات لاستكمال أعمال التشطيبات. الرب يباركك، وشكرا لك.

Fr Abraam Sleman
frsleman@CopticChurch.net
(732) 718-4129
Donation by Credit Card:
www.SaintMark.com/donate
Donation by Check:
Coptic Orthodox Church of St Mark
PO Box 4397
Jersey City, NJ 07304

Emmanuel Center: Where God Rejoices With His People

Emmanuel Center is a gift from God the Almighty to His people, where there is much need of such community center. It is located in the premises of the Coptic Orthodox Church of St Mark’s church of Jersey City. It will be a holy place for worship, conferences, Sunday school classes, social occasions as well as the many other spiritual, missionary, social and sport activities of all ages. It is a place for God to rejoice with His people and for His people rejoice with Him.

I kindly request your help to the church with your prayers and donations to complete the construction of the building. God bless you and thank you so much.

Fr Abraam Sleman

Donation by Credit Card:

www.SaintMark.com/donate

Donation by Check:
Coptic Orthodox Church of St Mark
PO Box 4397, Jersey City, NJ 07304

 

عمل الله في قصة الميلاد

في موسم الكريسماس نتذكر ميلاد السيد المسيح له المجد، ومعه نتذكر الحبل المعجزي والميلاد البتولي وغير ذلك من المشاهد والشهود للميلاد، وكل هذا صحيح وطبيعى ومبارك. ولكن الذي هو غير صحيح ولا طبيعي أن يغيب عن الوعي عمل الله في قصة هذا الميلاد العجيب.

ربما نسي البعض أن مولود بيت لحم هو “ابن الله” أي أن الله أبيه، وفي وسط احتفالاتنا بالمولود قد نكون قد نسينا الوالد. الله هو “أبو ربنا يسوع المسيح” (2 كورنثوس 1 : 3، 2 كورنثوس 11 : 31، افسس 1 : 3، 1 بطرس 1 : 3)، وهو الذي دبر قصة الميلاد كلها. وتم ذلك بحكمة وقوة إلهية خاصة.

بعيدا قبل الزمن، كان ميلاد الرب يسوع في فكر وتدبير الله الآب، فالمسيح منذ الأزل هو “كلمة الله” الذي كان عند الله (يوحنا 1:1، رؤيا 13:19). وقد أحب الله الآب أبنه قبل ميلاده بالجسد، بل وقبل إنشاء العالم (يوحنا 17 : 24)، واختاره ليكون حمل الله الذي “بِلاَ عَيْبٍ وَلاَ دَنَسٍ” الذي “يَرْفَعُ خَطِيَّةَ الْعَالَمِ” (يوحنا 1 : 29، 1 بطرس 1 : 19).

وبعد سقوط أدم وحواء في الفردوس، وعد الله حواء أن يأتي السيد المسيح من نسلها ليسحق رأس الحية (تكوين 3 : 15). وتكلم الله – بروحه القدوس – في الأنبياء ليعلن عن ميلاد السيد المسيح من عذراء (اشعياء 7 : 14، متى 1 : 23)، وعن ميلاده في بيت لحم (ميخا 5 : 2، متى 2 : 5-6)، وعن تفاصيل كثيرة من حياته.

في الوقت المناسب الذي رآه الله الآب، وفي “ملء الزمان” أرسل الله أبنه مولودا من أمرأة، وهي العذراء القديسة مريم (غلاطية 4 : 4)، فقد أرسل الله روحه القدوس وحل على العذراء القديسة مريم، وقدسها، وتم الحبل المقدس بقوته في أحشائها (لوقا 1 : 35)، وكون الجنين في بطن البتول (مزامير 139 : 13)، وحفظ الله بتولية العذراء القديسة مريم قبل وبعد ميلاد الطفل (حزقيال 44:2). وأضاء الله بمجده يوم الميلاد المجيد، وصارت الملائكة تنسب له المجد في الأعالي (لوقا 2 : 9، لوقا 2 : 14).

دعى الله اسم ابنه “يسوع” لكي يخلص شعبه من خطاياهم (متى 1 : 21)، ، وهو “ابن الله” (لوقا 1 : 35)، كما دعى اسمه “عمانوئيل” ليذكرنا بمعية الله معنا في المسيح يسوع (أشعياء 7:14، متى 1 : 23).

ارشد الله المجوس بالنجم إلى مكان الطفل المولود، وأرشدهم إلى طريق آخر في عودتهم (متى 2 : 1-12). وأرسل الله ملاكه برسالته إلى يوسف ليحفظ الطفل المولود من مذبحة هيرودس لأطفال بيت لحم (متى 2 : 16-21).

ودعي الله اسم مولود بيت لحم “عجيبا” (اشعياء 9 : 6)، ليس لأنه كان عجيبا في ميلاده فقط، بل وعجيبا أيضا في حياته أيضا. كان يسوع عجيبا في جهة حلول الله الآب فيه واتحاده مع الآب السماوي ومحبته له. الله حل بملء لاهوته في المسيح يسوع ربنا (يوحنا 14 : 10، كولوسي 2 : 9). وأعلن الرب يسوع المسيح عن اتحاده العجيب مع الله الآب وقال: “أَنَا وَالآبُ وَاحِدٌ” (يوحنا 10 : 30).

وهو أيضا عجيب من جهة محبة الله الآب له، ومحبته للآب. فقد شهد الله الآب بصوت مسموع من السماء أن الرب يسوع هو أبنه الحبيب (مرقس 1 : 11، لوقا 9 : 35)، كما شهد عنه أنه الابن الوارث كل شيء (مزامير 2 : 7-8، اعمال 13 : 33، عبرانيين 1 : 2،5). كما أعلن الرب يسوع عن محبته للآب: “لِيَفْهَمَ الْعَالَمُ أَنِّي أُحِبُّ الآبَ وَكَمَا أَوْصَانِي الآبُ هَكَذَا أَفْعَلُ” (يوحنا 14 : 31). وكلمنا الله في ابنه يسوع المسيح بعد أن كلم الأباء بالأنبياء بأنواع وطرق كثيرة (يوحنا 14 : 10، 24، عبرانيين 1 : 1-2).

الله مسح الرب يسوع بروحه القدوس ليبشر المساكين، ويشفي منكسري القلوب، ولينادى للمأسورين بالإطلاق وللعمي بالبصر، ويرسل المنسحقين في الحرية (اشعياء 61 : 1-2، لوقا 4 : 18)، وجال الرب يسوع يصنع خيرا ويشفي المتسلط عليهم إبليس لأن الله كان معه (أعمال 10 : 38). وكان الله الآب يعمل الأعمال في المسيح يسوع ربنا (يوحنا 14 : 10)، ولذلك قال الرب يسوع: “صَدِّقُونِي أَنِّي فِي الآبِ وَالآبَ فِيَّ، وَإِلاَّ فَصَدِّقُونِي لِسَبَبِ الأَعْمَالِ نَفْسِهَا” (يوحنا 14 : 11).

إنه أمر صحيح وطبيعي أن نتذكر ونعترف ونسبح الله الآب على عمله بروحه القدوس، بينما نحن نحتفل بميلاد أبنه ربنا يسوع المسيح. المحبة الحقيقية للمولود في بيت لحم تستلزم محبة للوالد حتى يمكننا أن نحب المولود منه، لأن “كُلُّ مَنْ يُحِبُّ الْوَالِدَ يُحِبُّ الْمَوْلُودَ مِنْهُ أَيْضاً” (1 يوحنا 5 : 1)، ولا يمكننا أن نأتي بصدق إلى مولود بيت لحم مالم يجتذبنا الله الآب إليه (يوحنا 6 : 44).

الميلاد هو إعلان ظهور الله – الذي لم يراه أحد – في شخص الرب يسوع، مولود بيت لحم (يوحنا 1 : 18). وبذلك تم قول القديس يوحنا أن “الكلمة صَارَ جَسَداً وَحَلَّ بَيْنَنَا وَرَأَيْنَا مَجْدَهُ مَجْداً كَمَا لِوَحِيدٍ مِنَ الآبِ مَمْلُوءاً نِعْمَةً وَحَقّاً” (يوحنا 1 : 14).

أتمنى لكم عيد ميلاد مبارك وسعيد.

Abouna Abraam Sleman

frsleman@CopticChurch.net

Finding Refuge From Unrest in Egypt: A Christian Response

The New York Times has shared in raising awareness to the recent wave of immigration from Egypt, by publishing an article with the headline: “Refuge From Unrest in Egypt”. A version of this article appeared in print on April 21, 2013, on page MB1 of the New York edition.

The author of the article successfully portrayed some of the faithful efforts employed by one of the Coptic Churches in the U.S. in accommodating Arabic speakers fleeing from Egypt looking to find refuge in the U.S. The same can be said of the Coptic Churches in the area of Jersey City, Brooklyn and other neighboring cities.

In emphasizing the effort geared toward the Arabic speakers, the author overlooked the faithful effort to accommodate the English speakers as well, as in the case of St Mark Church in Jersey City, mentioned in the article.

Fr. Markos Ayoub, a priest of St Mark Church of Jersey City commented: “I believe this is not an accurate characterization of the Church of St. Mark. Our church fully caters to both English and Arabic speaking congregations, with a dedicated weekly Sunday liturgy service in English, and another one in Arabic. Most of all children activities are conducted in English. Other services for children & youth on Fridays & Saturdays are held entirely in English. Even for seasonal occasions… parallel services are held in either language.”

“Our church,” added Fr. Markos Ayoub, “has thankfully been and still is a pioneer in ministering to English speaking Copts who grew up here for many years as well as to the recent immigrants who are Arabic speakers. Moreover our church has pioneered using the internet and webcast/satellite broadcast technologies to minister to the broadest spectrum of Copts who live here and beyond.”

An English speaking congregant and servant also commented: “Many of my close friends comment on our English service and especially how we give the youth the big church upstairs and give them an all-English sermon. Add to that Bible Study, Sunday School, the Media team, the retreats, the new building, and on and on and on and I have no idea how someone could say that we are not catering to the English speakers.”

The author of the article may be excused for not being fully aware of the services of the Coptic Churches in the U.S. However; the article raises a serious question of how Christians in the U.S. should respond to what is so called in the article, “the sudden tsunami of new arrivals after the revolution.” It also raises more serious questions about the whole concept of church in the light of a diversifying congregation and how to teach our children to respond to it.

Christians of the U.S. should see the wave of the arrival of the newcomers not as “sudden of tsunami” but as “showers of blessing” (Ezekiel 34:26). They deserve such honor to be called “showers of blessing”, as many of them have lost beloved ones, suffered persecution and the confiscation of their properties for their faith in Christ (Hebrews 10:34). In church history, those who survive of persecution are called “confessors”, the saints who have suffered persecution and torture for the faith, but not to the point of death.

In the First Council of Nicaea, in 325AD, many of the assembled fathers – for instance, Paphnutius of Thebes, Potamon of Heraclea and Paul of Neocaesarea – had stood forth as confessors of the faith and came to the council with the marks of persecution on their bodies. They were greatly honored by Constantine the Great. The emperor left his seat and knelt down to kiss the wounds of Paphnutius, who had been persecuted for his Christian beliefs. The influence of these marred confessors has been substantial.

In His lengthy discourse, the Lord Jesus considered the wounds, needs and the afflictions of His people as his personal wounds, needs and afflictions. It is a wonderful opportunity for blessings to minister to the body of Christ through the wounded, needy and afflicted families coming from Egypt. The Lord Jesus said, “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’… ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40).

Those who leave the church, because of many of newcomers, do not realize what they are doing. They are missing the blessings of ministering to the body of Christ in the person of the wounded, needy and afflicted families. Instead of being hospitable and helping them, they desert them. The Christians of the U.S. should examine their ways of dealing with the newcomers and be more positive in helping them.

The opportunity to partake in the blessing of ministering to the newcomers is also missed by our children when they are taken away to churches where there are fewer newcomers. Failing to teach our children to love, communicate with, and minister to the newcomers is failing to teach them how to integrate and minister to the body of Christ, in the spirit of love. Difference of language is not an excuse. Christ’s love is stronger than the barrier of language.

Church history is rich with the stories of preachers, evangelists and missionaries who went out of their comfort zones and ministered to others in foreign countries. And even without going that far, in St Mark Church of Jersey City, we see wonderful and faithful English speaking servants helping, in amazing ways, the newcomers’ families and their children.

The Christians of US have to examine their perspective of what church is all about. The church is not a social setting for peers to hang out. It should not be culturally oriented or derived. In the biblical, theological and spiritual sense, there is neither an “English Church” nor “Arabic Church”. There is only the “One Only Holy Universal Church” as we recite in the Nicene Creed; one body of Christ.

The Church that is designed to be exclusively for English speakers, intentionally excluding newcomers, such would be a church that is shutting its doors in the face of Christ Himself as He said, “inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me” (Matthew 25:45). That would be a Christ-less church.

The Christian of the U.S. should learn how to integrate with people of other languages, in love, to portray the true image of the church in heaven. In front of the throne of the Father and the Lamb: “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).

Fr Abraam D Sleman

frsleman@copticchurch.net

732 718-4129

 

 

 

عيد الظهور الالهي – القمص أبرام سليمان

20130119 Epiphany – Fr Abraam Sleman – Arabic
هناك كثير من التساؤلات حول موضوع عيد الظهور الالهي، ومنها ما معني “ينيغي أن نكمل كل بر”، ولماذا كانت الضرورة لحلول الروح القدس علي السيد المسيح؟ ومن هو صاحب الصوت السمائي: هذا هو ابني الحبيب الذي به سررت؟ وبعد ذلك كله: ما هي أهمية كل هذه الأمور لخلاصنا وحياتنا الأبدية. أدعوك لتسمع كلمات النعمة في هذه العظة.

YouTube Preview Image

A Church Covered with Badger Skins

While all Coptic Orthodox churches have the same worship prayers, rites and multitude of activities, some consider the Church of St. Mark in Jersey City as “a church covered with badger skins”. Perhaps you may ask, why talk about this church and not others, and what “badger skins” are? Let me share with you some personal memories that you may share how I feel about calling this church, A Church Covered with Badger Skins.

I revere all the churches, and appreciate the effort of all their fathers, but I simply testify of what I have been touched within the church of St. Mark in Jersey City. Following the example of St. Paul, and as a servant of St. Mark’s church in Jersey City I magnify the ministry that has been entrusted to my weakness by the Lord. In doing so, declare the strong work of God, and to bring glory to His name (Romans 11:13).

The Thrice-blessed of Memory H.H. Pope Shenouda III called my weakness to serve in this church in 1995. I remember at that time, there were many loved ones waiting for my return from Colorado to serve in the Church of the Virgin in Ard El-Golf in Cairo, where I had previously started my service. When they heard that my next stop would be Jersey City, they were upset. One of them had even called me and warned me saying: “Are you going to serve in the garage?” I was not comforted with this description of the church. I replied back: “I do not deserve to serve, even in a manger of Bethlehem.”

If you are not familiar with Jersey City, it is a city suitable for new immigrants to the United States, because of the availability of public transportation, its proximity to Manhattan, and the high concentration Egyptians and Egyptian stores. You do not feel alienated in Jersey City, but rather that may be in Shubra or Upper Egypt. However, the situation was a little different for us, since we were not new immigrants. The idea of moving to Jersey City was a shock to my young children, because – according to human wisdom – it did not make sense to leave Ard El-Golf or Colorado for Jersey City; except the Divine plan is greater than human wisdom.

What awaited us was even more shocking. First, the church building was outdated and its architectural design was no longer suitable for the growing number of congregants served by the church. The church doors were not adequate to enter and exit the building. The staircase was not safe for going up and down. The restrooms were unacceptable. Due to this shock, I said bluntly to the Thrice-Blessed of memory H.H. the Pope: “When I entered the church at first glance I felt I was in prison”. But by the grace of God and the love of the people, the church has been renovated with simple architectural modifications that were necessary for the church service. May the Lord reward everyone’s labor of love with regards to this matter, and write their names in His Kingdom.

The biggest shock was even not in the building, but in the congregation which had fallen into a state of disunity. To make matters worse, some of its leaders were spreading propaganda against others, but thanks to the Lord that the voice of the Spirit of God has been much louder those voices. Again the compassionate fatherhood of God embraced all who were at odds with one another and brought peace.

I will skip the details of the long years that I have spent in St Mark in Jersey City. However, there is something worth mentioning that from the first day I considered it as the place of my witnessing and martyrdom. During these years, the altar of the church witnessed many tears, shed for everyone in the church by name, especially for all antagonists and wrongdoers, to be blessed children of grace

God’s response was amazing. The Lord has called some of the children of the church to the holy priesthood and to the monastic life. Many have become blessed deacons and servants in whom the church rejoices. Even the children have enjoyed the fatherhood of God in the church, and wore their diaconal vestments with their fathers in joy. These young children shared in the church readings from the lectern joyfully. Moreover, many of the church’s youth have attained advanced degrees, and prestigious positions in their careers. I thank You, my God on Your great work with the children of this church.

I have a lot to say about this church which I love from my heart. Many honored Bishops and visitors have testified of the work of the Lord in this church. But, unfortunately, in spite of all this grace in which we stand, some see the Church of St. Mark in Jersey City as church covered with badger skins.

In the Old Testament “ram skins dyed red, and badger skins” were the outer cover of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:5). This was according to the Lord’s command: “You shall also make a covering of ram skins dyed red for the tent, and a covering of badger skins above that”  (Exodus 26:14). As many have interpreted this, the badger skins were unsightly in appearance and taken from animals that were unclean. So, the appearance of the tabernacle from outside was not appealing.

Badger skins here symbolize the external condition of the Church of St. Mark in Jersey City, which is no longer favored by some due to reasons that are unrelated to the essence of the Church. Some have mentioned that one of the reasons is that the church is a little more distant from their homes which they have chosen in better places, away from Jersey City.  Others see the effort that is sometimes necessary to find parking. Or perhaps newly-built churches are more appealing. Some others do not like the fact that St Mark Church in Jersey City includes so many of the new immigrants, “the brethren of the Lord”, while other churches have families that are more stable and well-to-do.

Calling St. Mark’s church a “church covered with badger skins”, in that sense does not degrade the church or making little of the glory that God shed on it. While the Tabernacle was not so pleasant from the outside because of the badger skins, it was adorned with gold from the inside. Moreover, inside the Tabernacle, there was what is greater than gold which is the dwelling of God with His glory on the Mercy Seat (the cover of the Ark of the Covenant). That is according to the words of the Lord: “And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel” (Exodus 25:22).

Jesus was not born in Herod’s palace, but in Bethlehem amid the animals of the manger. Neither the palace nor the manger matters, and not the visitors of either, but what matters to us Christ of the manger. I have seen Him in the Church of St. Mark through the afflicted souls and in those who are in need of service. For the spiritual person, Church is not for socializing with friends, but it is a place to worship the Lord, and to have a real encounter with the Lord Jesus and to serve Him through those who are needy and hurting. I thank God that the church is always filled with such blessed people.

The Lord asked His people to come and present to Him their offerings in the Tabernacle or the Temple no matter how distant their countries were. This is so according to His command: “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed” (Deuteronomy 16:16).

The Psalms of Ascents have always been a joyful expression of the people to ascend to the house of the Lord, saying: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’ Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!” (Psalm 122:1-2). Jerusalem was not in the backyard of their houses, but many miles away during an era when travelling by animals were very difficult.

The spirit of God made of the Church of St. Mark a resting place for them. They found in it loving people who embrace them and support them, making their new journey easier. Thus, St. Mark’s church has become a fertile field to serve Christ through these people. A church without serving the needy is a church without serving Christ, according to what He said: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).

There are now what are the so-called “wealthy churches” and “poor churches” depending on the income of their members. Sadly, some have forgotten what is real wealth and what is real poverty, as the Apostle Paul said: “as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:10). So is the case with the Church of St. Mark, which is the church that is poor in financial resources, but rich in the glory of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of love. We thank God for this because living in luxury might be the cause of spiritual death, according to the words of the Apostle Paul: “but she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:6). Moreover, we thank God that He satisfies all our needs in due time.

In a testimony to the history, I have discovered, over the years, that the Church of St. Mark in Jersey City is not a “garage” nor a “prison”, but a resting place of the spirit of God, where He works with amazing strength. From the beginning we have accepted the words of the Lord to Zerubbabel: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! And he shall bring forth the capstone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’” (Zechariah 4:6-7). Thus the church emerged out of all the challenges she faced with a great glory that bears witness to the Lord’s work through His Holy Spirit.

The Spirit of God has made the Church St. Mark a safe haven for children to be raised according to the Gospel and away from human wisdom and currents of American society. This is also is according to the words of St. Paul the Apostle: “and my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4).

I thank God that the skins of the badger, that are not so appealing have, have a deeper meaning in the scriptures.  The are symbol of equipping and beautifying the church with the readiness of the Gospel of peace. The Lord said, I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk” (Ezekiel 16:10). St Paul reveals the meaning and says, “having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).

The Spirit of God has instilled a sense of responsibility in St Mark Church’s priests and srevants to have Bible classes for all the ages of her children in addition to the Sunday school classes. Again, I thank God that the sound doctrines of the Bible are emphasized in all the sermons and the services of the church, as the early church fathers did. Thus many have become disciples of the Lord according to His promise: “All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children” (Isaiah 54:13).

Also, by the grace of the Lord, the message of the Gospel is sent from St. Mark’s church to the whole world via satellite TV and internet. This is to feed the hearts of thousands with the word of God, as it is written: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11). I thank God that in this we see the fulfillment of what the Scripture says: “There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psalms 19:3-4).

It is worthy to mention that behind all this services in the church were the efforts of the Late Hegumen Reverend Fr. Gabriel Abdelsayed over the span of no less than 23 years. Then the Spirit of God, along with my weakness, provided blessed priests, numerous servants, deacons and people, in a harmonious symphony of love led by the Holy Spirit, to speak of the glory of God and His salvation in Jesus Christ.  O Lord, reward everyone who labors in the church.

By faith, I hear what the Lord is saying for this amazing church: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11) … and also what Nehemiah said: “Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach” (Nehemiah 2:17).

I thank You my God for this great blessing …

I thank You my God for every soul that enjoyed being in Your presence in this church …

Remember O Lord all those who labored with us and reward them the heavenly reward …Fr.  Abraam Sleman

frsleman@CopticChurch.net


 

كنيسة مغطاة بجلود التخس – القمص أبرام سليمان

بينما تشترك كل الكنائس القبطية الأرثوذكسية في طقوس العبادة والكثير من الأنشطة، إلا أن البعض يعتبرون كنيسة مارمرقس بجرسي سيتي أنها “كنيسة مغطاة بجلود التخس”. وربما تسألني: لماذا الحديث عن هذه الكنيسة دون غيرها؟ ما هي “جلود التخس”؟ دعني اكتب لك بعضا من مذكراتي الشخصية لعلك تشاركني بما اشعر به نحو هذه الكنيسة.

أقدس كل الكنائس، وأقدر خدمة كل الآباء في كل الكنائس، ولكنني فقط أكتب عما اختبرته في كنيسة مارمرقس بجرسي سيتي، وعلى مثال ما فعله القديس بولس الرسول أقول لأنني خادم كنيسة مارمرقس بجرسي سيتي أمجد الخدمة التي وهبها لي الرب، لأعلن عن عمل الله القوي، وليتمجد أسمه القدوس (رومية 11 : 13).

اتذكر وقت دعوتي – من قبل المتنيح قداسة البابا الأنبا شنوده الثالث للخدمة في هذه الكنيسة عام 1995 – كان كثير من الأحباء ينتظرون عودتي من كلورادو للخدمة في كنيسة العذراء بأرض الجولف التي سبق أن خدمت بها في ربيع عمري. ولما علموا ان محطتى التالية هي جرسي سيتي شعروا بالاحباط، واتصل بي احدهم وحذرني بقوله: “هل انت ذاهب لتخدم في الجراج”، وقتها لم استرح لهذا الوصف للكنيسة، وأجبته: “أنا لا أستحق أن أخدم في مذود بيت لحم”.

وان كنت لا تعلم عن مدينة “جرسي سيتي” فهي مدينة مناسبة جدا للمهاجرين حديثا إلى الولايات المتحدة، وذلك لتوفر وسائل المواصلات المتعددة، وقربها من منهاتن نيويورك، وكثرة المصريين فيها والمحلات المصرية حتي أنك لا تشعر بالغربة، بل تشعر كأنك في شبرا أو في أحد مدن الصعيد. ولكن كان الأمر بالنسبة لنا مختلفا، فلم نكن من المهاجرين حديثا، بل كان انتقالنا لجرسي سيتي صدمة لأولادي وهم أطفال، لأنه لا يقبل أحد – حسب الحكمة البشرية – أن يترك أرض الجولف أو كلورادوا ليعيش في جرسي سيتي إلا لتدبير إلهي فائق للحكمة البشرية.

وكان في انتظارنا أكثر من صدمة، أولها أن مبنى الكنيسة كان متهالكا، ولم يعد تصميمه المعماري مناسبا للعدد المهول الذي تخدمه الكنيسة، ولم يكن للكنيسة أبوابا كافية للدخول والخروج، ولا حتى سلما آمنا للصعود والنزول، ولا دورات مياه مقبولة، ومن هول الصدمة قلت لقداسة البابا المتنيح بصراحة مطلقة: “حينما دخلت الكنيسة للوهلة الأولى شعرت أنني في سجن”، ولكن بنعمة الله ومحبة الشعب تم تجديد الكنيسة باللمسات المعمارية البسيطة الضرورية للخدمة بالكنيسة. عوض يارب كل من له تعب في هذا الأمر، واكتب اسمه في ملكوتك.

ولكن الصدمة الأكبر لم تكن في مجرد مباني الكنيسة بل في شعب الكنيسة، فقد كان الشعب في حالة انقسام وتشيع. وما جعل الأمور أسوأ أن بعض المسئولين في الكنيسة كانوا يروجون الدعاية للبعض ضد البعض الأخر.. ولكن شكرا للرب أنني لم أستمع لمثل هذه الأصوات فقد كان صوت روح الله أعلى من كل الأصوات، واحتضنت أبوة الله الحانية كل الأطراف… أشكرك يا إلهي على نعمة الأبوة التي احتضنت الكل حتى لا يهلك أحدا.

دعني أتخطى السنين الطويلة التي عشتها في كنيسة مارمرقس بجرسي سيتي التي اعتبرتها أمام الرب “مكان الشهادة أو الاستشهاد”. خلال هذه السنين شهد مذبح الكنيسة الدموع المسفوكة من أجل كل واحد في الكنيسة بالاسم، وبالأكثر من أجل كل المعارضين، بل ومن أجل كل المسيئين، ليكونوا أولادا مباركين للنعمة.

وكانت إستجابة الله عظيمة، فقد دعى الرب بعضا من أولاد الكنيسة للكهنوت المقدس والحياة الرهبانية، والكثيرون صاروا شمامسة وخداما مباركين بالكنيسة تفرح بهم الكنيسة. وحتي الأطفال تمتعوا بأبوة الله في الكنيسة، وارتدوا ملابس الشموسية مع أبائهم في فرح، وخرجوا ليشاركوا في القراءات الكنسية على المنجلية. والأكثر من ذلك نال الكثيرون بل الأغلبية من شباب الكنيسة درجات علمية عالية، وصارت لهم مراكز مرموقة في أعمالهم. أشكرك يا إلهي على عملك العظيم مع أبناء هذه الكنيسة.

ولكن للأسف أنه – بالرغم من كل هذه النعمة التي نحن مقيمون فيها – يرى البعض كنيسة مارمرقس بجرسي سيتي أنها “كنيسة مغطاة بجلود التخس”. ولكن ماذا عن “جلود التخس”؟ في العهد القديم كانت “جلود الكباش المحمرة وجلود التخس” هي الغطاء الخارجي لخيمة الاجتماع (خروج 25 : 5)، وذلك حسب أمر الرب: “وَتَصْنَعُ غِطَاءً لِلْخَيْمَةِ مِنْ جُلُودِ كِبَاشٍ مُحَمَّرَةٍ. وَغِطَاءً مِنْ جُلُودِ تُخَسٍ مِنْ فَوْقُ” (خروج 26 : 14)، فلم يكن منظرها من الخارج مقبولا، علاوة على أن  ”جلود التخس” كانت مأخوذة من حيوانات غير طاهرة حسب تفسير الكثيرين..

جلود التخس ترمز للظروف الخارجية المحيطة بكنيسة مارمرقس بجرسي سيتي، والتي لم تعد تروق البعض لأسباب لا تمس جوهر الكنيسة، ومنها أن الكنيسة قد أصبحت بعيدة نوعا ما عن مساكنهم التي اختاروها في أماكن أفضل بعيدا عن جرسي سيتي، وأن هناك بعض التعب من جهة انتظار السيارات، وربما لأن المباني – في وضعها الحالي – تتميز بالبساطة الشديدة بالمقارنة بالكنائس الجديدة، وربما لأنها تضم الكثيرين من المهاجرين المستجدين الذي يمثل أكثرهم “أخوة الرب” في مصر، بينما كنائس أخري تضم عائلات أكثر استقرارا ورفاهية.

وصف كنيسة مارمرقس أنها “كنيسة مغطاة بجلود التخس” أمر لا يقلل من كرامة الكنيسة ومجدها، لأنه بينما كان شكل خيمة الاجتماع غير مقبول من الخارج لأنها مغطاة بجلود التخس، كانت خيمة الاجتماع مشمولة بالاسمانجوني والقرمز والأرجوان، والذهب، وكان بداخلها ماهو أعظم من الذهب وهو حلول الله بمجده على غطاء تابوت العهد، وذلك حسب قول الرب: وَانَا اجْتَمِعُ بِكَ هُنَاكَ وَاتَكَلَّمُ مَعَكَ مِنْ عَلَى الْغِطَاءِ مِنْ بَيْنِ الْكَرُوبَيْنِ اللَّذَيْنِ عَلَى تَابُوتِ الشَّهَادَةِ بِكُلِّ مَا اوصِيكَ بِهِ الَى بَنِي اسْرَائِيلَ” (خروج 25 : 22)، فكل مجدها في داخلها.

السيد المسيح لم يولد في قصر هيرودس، بل في بيت لحم وسط حيوانات المذود. لا يشغلنا كثيرا القصر ولا المزود، ولا رواد القصر أو المذود، ولكن ما يهمنا هو مسيح المذود، وقد رأيته في كنيسة مارمرقس بجرسي سيتي من خلال النفوس التعبانة والمحتاجة إلي الخدمة. الكنيسة – بالنسبة للروحانيين – ليست ناديا إجتماعيا للتروح مع الأصدقاء وأولادهم، بل هي مكان لعبادة الرب، واللقاء الحقيقي مع الرب يسوع وخدمته في أشخاص التعابى والمحتاجين. وأشكر الله أن الكنيسة مملوءة دائما بمثل هؤلاء الروحانيين المباركين.

لقد جعل روح الله كنيسة مارمرقس مكانا يستريح فيه الغرباء المهاجرون حديثا، ووجدوا فيه من يحتضنهم ويقف معهم حتي تصير أمور الحياة ميسرة لهم. وصارت كنيسة مارمرقس حقلا خصبا لخدمة المسيح. فالكنيسة بدون خدمة المحتاجين هي كنيسة بدون خدمة للمسيح، وذلك حسب قوله: “بِمَا أَنَّكُمْ فَعَلْتُمُوهُ بِأَحَدِ إِخْوَتِي هَؤُلاَءِ الأَصَاغِرِ فَبِي فَعَلْتُمْ” (متى 25 : 40).

ومع تقديسى لكل الكنائس، أنا لست مع الشعار السائد في المهجر “كنيسة لكل مواطن قبطي”، فهذا الأمر مبالغ فيه، وهو بعيد جدا عن فكر الانجيل، ومنذ البداية لم نسمع قط عن أكثر من خيمة إجتماع – أو هيكل يهودي –  لتكون قريبة من منازل الشعب، ولكن بينما كانت هناك المجامع للصلاة وقراءة الشريعة في كل مكان، كان الرب يطلب من شعبه أن يحضر أمامه بتقدماتهم إلى موضع الخيمة أو الهيكل مهما كانوا في بلدان بعيدة، وذلك بحسب أمره: “ثَلاثَ مَرَّاتٍ فِي السَّنَةِ يَحْضُرُ جَمِيعُ ذُكُورِكَ أَمَامَ الرَّبِّ إِلهِكَ فِي المَكَانِ الذِي يَخْتَارُهُ فِي عِيدِ الفَطِيرِ وَعِيدِ الأَسَابِيعِ وَعِيدِ المَظَالِّ. وَلا يَحْضُرُوا أَمَامَ الرَّبِّ فَارِغِينَ” (تثنية 16 : 16).

لقد كانت مزامير المصاعد تعبيرا عن فرح الشعب بالصعود إلي بيت الرب قائلين: “فَرِحْتُ بِالْقَائِلِينَ لِي: [إِلَى بَيْتِ الرَّبِّ نَذْهَبُ]. تَقِفُ أَرْجُلُنَا فِي أَبْوَابِكِ يَا أُورُشَلِيمُ” (مزامير 122 : 1-2). ولم تكن أورشليم في الحديقة الخلفية للمنزل بل على بعد أميال عديدة، وفي وقت كان فيه السفر شاقا على الدواب.

لقد صار هناك ما يسمى بالكنائس الغنية والكنائس الفقيرة حسب دخل أعضاؤها، ونسي البعض ما هو الغنى الحقيقي وما هو الفقر الحقيقي، كما قال بولس الرسول: “كَفُقَرَاءَ وَنَحْنُ نُغْنِي كَثِيرِينَ. كَأَنْ لاَ شَيْءَ لَنَا وَنَحْنُ نَمْلِكُ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ” (2 كورنثوس 6 : 10)، وهكذا هو الحال في كنيسة مارمرقس بجرسي سيتي، فهي الكنيسة الفقيرة في مواردها المالية، ولكنها غنية في مجد الروح القدس، وعطاء المحبة. ونشكر الله على هذا لأنه ربما تكون الرفاهية والظروف السهلة سببا للموت، وذلك حسب قول بولس الرسول: “وَأَمَّا الْمُتَنَعِّمَةُ فَقَدْ مَاتَتْ وَهِيَ حَيَّةٌ” (1 تيموثاوس 5 : 6).

وكشهادة للتاريخ أقول أنني قد اكتشفت مع مر السنين أن كنيسة مارمرقس بجرسي سيتي ليست “جراجا” و لا هي “سجنا” كما سبق وأن قلت، بل كنيسة استراح فيها روح الله، ويعمل فيها روح الله بقوة مذهلة، لأنه من البداية قد قبلنا قول الرب لزربابل: “لاَ بِالْقُدْرَةِ وَلاَ بِالْقُوَّةِ بَلْ بِرُوحِي قَالَ رَبُّ الْجُنُودِ. مَنْ أَنْتَ أَيُّهَا الْجَبَلُ الْعَظِيمُ؟ أَمَامَ زَرُبَّابِلَ تَصِيرُ سَهْلاً! فَيُخْرِجُ حَجَرَ الزَّاوِيَةِ بَيْنَ الْهَاتِفِينَ: كَرَامَةً كَرَامَةً لَهُ” (زكريا 4 : 6-7). وهكذا خرجت الكنيسة من كل التحديات التي واجهتها بمجد عظيم يشهد لعمل الرب بروحه القدوس.

وقد جعل روح الله كنيسة مارمرقس بجرسي سيتي مكانا أمينا لتربية النشء بروح الانجيل وبعيدا عن حكمة الناس وتيارات المجتمع الأمريكي، وذلك حسب قول القديس بولس الرسول: “وَكَلاَمِي وَكِرَازَتِي لَمْ يَكُونَا بِكَلاَمِ الْحِكْمَةِ الإِنْسَانِيَّةِ الْمُقْنِعِ بَلْ بِبُرْهَانِ الرُّوحِ وَالْقُوَّةِ” (1 كورنثوس 2 : 4).

واشكر الله أن “جلود التخس” التي ليس لها المنظر المقبول من الخارج، صارت فيما بعد – في سفر حزقيال – رمزا لتجميل الكنيسة باستعداد انجيل السلام، حسب قول الرب: ” وَأَلْبَسْتُكِ مُطَرَّزَةً، وَنَعَلْتُكِ بِالتُّخَسِ [أي ألبستك نعالا من التخس]، وَأَزَّرْتُكِ بِالْكَتَّانِ وَكَسَوْتُكِ بَزّاً” (حزقيال 16 : 10)، وقول بولس الرسول: “حَاذِينَ أَرْجُلَكُمْ بِاسْتِعْدَادِ إِنْجِيلِ السَّلاَمِ” (افسس 6 : 15). ووضع روح الله في كنيسة مارمرقس بجرسي سيتي اهتماما كبيرا لعمل فصول لدراسة الكتاب المقدس لكل الأعمار، علاوة على فصول مدارس التربية الكنسية، وصار الكثيرون تلاميذ للرب حسب وعده: “وَكُلَّ بَنِيكِ تَلاَمِيذَ الرَّبِّ وَسَلاَمَ بَنِيكِ كَثِيراً” (اشعياء 54 : 13).. كما حرصت الكنيسة علي أبراز البعد الكتابي في كل عظات وخدمات الكنيسة الطقسية والسرائرية.

وبنعمة الرب تخرج من كنيسة مارمرقس بجرسي سيتي رسالة الانجيل للعالم أجمع بالفضائيات والانترنت، لتشبع نفوس الألاف بكلمة الله، لأنه كما هو مكتوب: ” إِنْ كَانَ يَتَكَلَّمُ أَحَدٌ فَكَأَقْوَالِ اللهِ، وَإِنْ كَانَ يَخْدِمُ أَحَدٌ فَكَأَنَّهُ مِنْ قُوَّةٍ يَمْنَحُهَا اللهُ، لِكَيْ يَتَمَجَّدَ اللهُ فِي كُلِّ شَيْءٍ بِيَسُوعَ الْمَسِيحِ، الَّذِي لَهُ الْمَجْدُ وَالسُّلْطَانُ إِلَى أَبَدِ الآبِدِينَ. آمِينَ” (1بطرس 4 : 11)، وتحقق في الكنيسة قول الكتاب أن الذين لا تسمع أصواتهم في كل الأرض خرج منطقهم (مزامير 19 : 3-4).

عندي الكثير عن هذه الكنيسة التي أحببتها من قلبي، ولقد شهد الكثيرون من الآباء الأساقفة والزائرين لعمل الرب في الكنيسة. ووراء هذا كله كانت خدمة الطيب الذكر المتنيح القمص غبريال عبد السيد سنينا طويلة لا تقل عن 23 سنة، ثم  هيأ روح الله  مع ضعفي أباء كهنة مباركين والعديد من الخدام والخادمات والشمامسة والشعب، يعزف بهم الروح القدس سيمفونية حب، تحدث بمجد الله وخلاصه في المسيح يسوع. عوض يارب بالخير كل من له تعب في الكنيسة.

بالإيمان أسمع ما يقوله السيد للرب لهذه الكنيسة العجيبة: “لأَنِّي عَرَفْتُ الأَفْكَارَ الَّتِي أَنَا مُفْتَكِرٌ بِهَا عَنْكُمْ يَقُولُ الرَّبُّ أَفْكَارَ سَلاَمٍ لاَ شَرٍّ لأُعْطِيَكُمْ آخِرَةً وَرَجَاءً” (ارميا 29 : 11)… وعلى نحو ما قاله نحميا: “هَلُمَّ فَنَبْنِيَ سُورَ أُورُشَلِيمَ وَلاَ نَكُونُ بَعْدُ عَاراً” (نحميا 2 : 17).

أشكرك يا إلهي علي هذه النعمة العظيمة..

اشكرك يا إلهي على كل نفس تمتعت بالوجود في حضرتك في هذه الكنيسة..

أذكر ياإلهي كل الذين تعبوا معنا وعوضهم بالأجر السمائي..

القمص ابرام سليمان

frsleman@CopticChurch.net

Patriarch, but without Chains – Fr Abraam Sleman

Abounded these days talks about the time, in which they came of the papal candidate chained, for his unwillingness to stand for the papacy. While some are crying for missing such time, they do not know that we have bound ourselves to other chains. Probably some of those who are circulating such talks – for one reason or another – need to see a divine objective from the perspective of God’s vision and will of the new pope.

In fact, we – the church – have put chains and restrictions to the process of choosing the pope, but of another kind, by implementing human laws and regulations through the ages. Such laws and regulations may not coincide with the will of God in a lot of things, and also may not be suitable for implementation in this era. These chains have become, not in the hands of papal candidate, but unfortunately hindering the Church, not to be blessed by God’s absolute freedom in the selection of the new Patriarch. As in the words of the Apostle Paul, I long to see the new Pope patriarch, but “without such chains” (Acts 26: 29).

Nowadays, those who are aware of the Papal election’s controversy know how we are now suffering as a result of what our fathers have constituted in the laws and the regulations of the election. Sadly, we are following without thinking. The more you impose conditions for the selection of candidates, and narrowing it in a smaller group – with such laws and regulations governing – the likely we miss God’s choice for the best. Is not God free to choose who sees for the papacy? So why all these laws and regulations that may be contrary – often – with the mind of God and His will as stated clearly and strongly on the pages of the Bible?

It is known that the word “Patriarch” means “Father of Fathers” or “the Pope”. The church did not know the word “Patriarch” until the fifth century AD. It was used for the first time in the reign of Emperor Theodosius (401-450 AD). He was the first one who called the Bishop of Rome “Patriarch”.

By the Holy Spirit, Abraham is called the “Father of the Fathers” (Hebrews 7: 4), and then became the title of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as well as of the twelve children of Jacob (Acts 7: 8). In the church tradition, the twelve disciples of the Lord and the seventy apostles are called “Patriarchs”.  St. Mark the Apostle is considered as the first “patriarch” of the Church of Alexandria.

Simple question that arises now:  Who did call Abraham and gave him the grace to be “the father of all believers”? Who did call the twelve disciples and apostles to be the first patriarchs of the Christian Church? Who did call St. Mark the Apostle and gave him the grace to be the first Patriarch of the Church of Alexandria? Was not God Himself by His absolute authority, “from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Ephesians 3: 15, NKJV)? Jesus said to his disciples: “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (John 6:70, NKJV), “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15: 16, NKJV).

In the rite of the Patriarch’s ordination, the elder of the Bishops declare the absolute authority of God in the process of the nomination by saying: “O true God alone with your only son and the Holy Spirit who to Him we ask and pray to Your goodness for your son (the nominee), whom You elected, glorified and chosen him to be the ruler of Your people”

We have never heard that God has consulted with anyone in the selection of people for divine tasks, “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?” (Romans 11:34, NKJV).

In choosing David to be king, Samuel, the prophet, joined with Jesse executing God’s choice, but the absolute decision was for the Lord God. It was the opinion Samuel to choose “Eliab” brother “David” because he was “tall”, but the Lord rejected such considerations developed by Samuel as being  constraints to the choice, and said to Samuel: “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:6-7, NKJV). At the end, the Lord announced his choice for David, of whom it was told that he was the youngest who took care of the sheep (1 Samuel 16: 11).

God’s choice might be as a surprise to the entire Church, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Corinthians 1:25-29).

God is not bound with laws and regulations implanted by human. What matters with Him is, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household” (Luke 12:42, NKJV) and is the one who hears the voice of his master: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25: 21, 23, Luke 17:19).

God’s choice for Saul to be later St. Paul the Apostle was beyond the expectations of every one of the early church. He said about himself: “The gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace” (Galatians 1: 11-15).

When the Lord asked Ananias to go to Saul, he was reluctant to do so at the beginning for what he heard about Saul. “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9: 13-16).

The acceptance of Saul into the apostles’ circle caused much surprise, wonder and controversy in the church. When they saw him preaching Christ in the synagogues and that He is the Son of God, they were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 9: 20-21). Today, would any law or regulation accept “Saul” to be an apostle in the church?

In addition to the absolute will of God in the selection of the Patriarchs – and every priestly rank – He also gives the grace of the Holy Spirit to make them in their ranks, in Christ Jesus. Therefore the four living creatures praise the Lord in the Book of Revelation saying: “You are worthy…, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5: 9-10).

I believe that God’s choice for the Patriarch is a sovereign act of His will, by His Holy Spirit. The Lord said to Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3: 8).

What if the Lord wants the new Patriarch to be a metropolitan, a bishop, a monk or even a layman married person? Can anyone prevent the Holy Spirit to choose whom to work in? Or are we still looking for a patriarch who is chained by our human understanding? Are we looking for God’s choice or the decision of the ballot box?

In the history of the Coptic Orthodox Church there are bishops were ordained patriarchs. Moreover, there are about 42 married laymen who became popes, since the introduction of Christianity Egypt at the hands of St. Mark the Apostle.

In the Book of Acts, the early church was concerned by serving the Lord, fasting and prayer. The Holy Spirit was in charge of leading the church and appointing its leaders. In the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon…, Lucius…, Manaen…, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said: “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed and laid hands on them, they sent them away (Acts 13:1-3). The Holy Spirit is still able to assume the leadership of the church, if we surrendered to Him.

I am not the one, who has the final say in such issue, but I just wanted to bring it into light. It is totally up to the fathers, who are considered pillars of the church. “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth” (Psalm 115: 1).