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).

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