Religion

The soft power role of the Egyptian Orthodox Church in resolving future religious conflicts

Perhaps one of the most difficult and complex global analyzes for the Egyptian academic researcher, is my perception of a special future vision revolving around (the role of the Egyptian Orthodox Church in the possibility of its leadership in the international Orthodox church scene to resolve the religious dispute between Russian and Ukrainian priests and Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox cathedrals), especially on the impact of the issue of politicizing the religious dispute between the two churches for purely political reasons through Turkish politicians to play a role in that crisis, through (Patriarch of Constantinople “Bartholomew” in Istanbul, Turkey, confessing the separation of the Ukrainian Church).

  Therefore, the Egyptian researcher monitored and analyzed a number of the following points to understand the roots of the dispute between the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches and the role of Turkey in it. The scholar here is attempting to make and create such a role for the Orthodox Church in Egypt, to play a conscious religious role for the (unity of Eastern Orthodox Christian peoples around the world), and ultimately contribute to (resolving the political dispute between Moscow and Kiev), which caused the separation of the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches from each other in September 2018, as follows:

 The Egyptian researcher noted the extent of (the Turkish government’s interference and politicization of Orthodox church religious affairs in the face of Russia and Ukraine), through its interference in the affairs of the Orthodox Church of the Great Cathedral in Constantinople, to the extent of (compulsory Turkish President “Erdogan” to religious leaders in the Constantinople Orthodox Church in Istanbul, Turkey, that the nationality of the Pope and the Grand Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Constantinople is Turkish, despite the presence of prominent priests, monks and priests of different nationalities), which confirms the validity of my new international analysis, regarding “Turkey’s politicization of the issue of the religious-ecclesiastical conflict” between Russia and Ukraine for political reasons related to Turkey and its political relations.

   According to my analysis of the reasons for Turkey’s politicization of the religious role of the Turkish Ecumenical Church in Istanbul in the face of Russia in the first place, it is the Turkish desire to exploit this ecclesiastical religious crisis between Russia and Ukraine, in order to (create a kind of Turkish rapprochement with members of “NATO” and the Western and American camp in  Confronting Russia, using the religious pressure card by the Constantinople Church in Istanbul, Turkey by recognizing the separation of the Ukrainian Church from its Russian counterpart), which creates a burning crisis between the two sides in favor of passing a number of Turkish policies and decisions in the face of everyone to pass their interests.  Given that the separation of the Russian and Ukrainian churches is the major crisis between the two parties that led to this conflict in the end, and may be one of the direct causes of the current crisis between Russia and Ukraine.  Then the direction of my academic vision towards the extent of the possibility of (developing a future vision for the role of the Egyptian Orthodox Church and Pope Tawadros II, in resolving that future religious conflict between Russia, Ukraine and Turkey), and its role in the unity of the Eastern Orthodox Christian peoples.

  My raising of this point comes, especially after a turmoil was aroused in all Coptic and international ecclesiastical circles in confusing (the recognition of the Greek Orthodox Church in Alexandria headed by “Pope Theodore”) with the separation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Kyiv from the Russian Orthodox Church in September 2018, in exchange for the refusal of The Egyptian Orthodox Church, headed by Pope “Tawadros II”, acknowledged this separation that occurred between the Russian and Ukrainian churches, in the interest of the spirit of religious tolerance and the non-politicization of religious issues.

  According to my understanding, this confusion of attitudes between the Greek Orthodox Church in Alexandria headed by Pope “Theodoros” and the main Egyptian Orthodox Church headed by Pope “Tawadros II” may have caused a state of intense controversy, until the Egyptian Orthodox Church affiliated with Pope Tawadros clarified the whole matter, and emphasizing (the difference between the Greek Orthodox Church in Alexandria, which is followed by several foreign communities that settled there, and the Egyptian Orthodox Church), which is the old main eastern church, which most Egyptian Christians follow.

  What confirms the importance of the future role of the Egyptian Orthodox Church of Pope “Tawadros II”, Patriarch of Alexandria, regarding the religious conflict of political significance between “Russia and Ukraine”, which caused the separation of the Ukrainian Church from the Russian, which was likened in Ukraine as a “separation from  followers of Satan”. Therefore, what sparked my most research and academic curiosity was what the Russian Orthodox Church announced at the end of December 2021, of its decision to (build its own cathedral in Egypt), and to issue an official church statement to that, confirming:

 “The issue of allocating a plot of land in Cairo to build our cathedral there has been resolved, as the Russian Church wants to build its own cathedral in Egypt”

  This news of the construction of a new Russian cathedral in Cairo was confirmed by the Patriarch of the African Episcopal “Leonid Klinsky”, who confirmed in an official statement on December 30, 2021, that “the transfer of the bishops of the Alexandrian Patriarchate to the Russian Orthodox Church is not excluded”.

  The affirmation of the Patriarch of the African Episcopate, “Leonid Klinsky” as well, that:

  “According to our estimates in the Orthodox Church, 102 clergymen from all over the African continent have submitted applications for admission to the Russian Orthodox Church, and there is a significant percentage of the total number of clergymen, some of whom have been waiting for this since 2019. We expect an increase in the number of applications, and the establishment of  Churches of the Russian Orthodox Church in African countries shall be as needed”

  Here, I am reminded of the controversy raised at the time, following (the Russian Church’s decision to sever relations with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa, Pope “Theodore II” after his recognition of the independent Ukrainian Church), which sparked a controversy at the time in Coptic circles in Egypt and deepened the religious dispute between Moscow and Kiev.

 The Russian Church, in a statement published on its official website in the English language in December 2019, expressed its “strong anger at the decision of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa”, Pope “Theodoros II”, who entered into a partnership with the Ukrainian schismatics, i.e.: (the splinter Ukrainian Orthodox Church), declaring to stop mentioning the name of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and Africa (Pope Theodore II) during the liturgy.

  Pope “Theodoros II”, in his capacity as the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa, announced during the Divine Liturgy that was held in November 2019 at the “Zahir Archangels” Church in Cairo, his recognition of “Epiphanius Metropolitan of Kyiv’s Bishop” as head of the Ukrainian Independent Church.

  A strict assertion by the Russian Orthodox Church, according to my reading of all the circumstances surrounding these facts, that it had noticed that “Pope Theodore II’s decision was not presented at the session of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate in Alexandria, which was held from 7 to 9 October 2019, and was not taken into account”. It was put to a vote, and it was issued in an “unusual way”, stressing that it will close a representative office of the Patriarchate of Alexandria in Moscow and that all (Russian Orthodox dioceses in Africa are no longer under the supervision of the Egyptian Patriarchate, but under the direct leadership of the Russian Patriarch Kirill).

 Therd’re not statements were issued regarding this matter from (the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Alexandria), and Anba “Nicolas Antonio”, Metropolitan of Gharbia and Tanta for the Greek Orthodox, and the official spokesman of the Church in Egypt refused to answer any questions in this regard when asked, citing that he was not authorized to comment or respond to this type of inquiries.

  After the outbreak of that crisis that took place between (the followers of the Greek Orthodox Church against the background of the split of the Ukrainian Church and its separation from the Russian religious guardianship over it, which has been going on for 332 years), the Orthodox clergy held a wide assembly in Kyiv in October 2018, to take a (historic decision to establish an independent church). On behalf of the Russians, with the support of the (Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul, Turkey), which is the seat of the global spiritual leader of about 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world.

  The step of ecclesiastical secession in Ukraine from Russia and its recognition by the Church of Constantinople in Turkey provoked widespread Russian anger, after which the Russian Orthodox Church decided in October 2019 to (cut all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople), in protest of its approval of Ukraine’s request to establish  independent church. The Russian Orthodox Church described it as “the biggest schism in Christianity in a thousand years”.

  The Greek Orthodox Church in Egypt became (the second church to recognize the independent Ukrainian Church after the Church of Greece), which recognized it in November 2019, which also led the Russian Orthodox Church to announce the (severance of partnership relations with the head of the Greek Orthodox Church).

  Noting that the conflict over Ukraine’s spiritual future stems from the deterioration of relations between Kyiv and Moscow after (Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014), as well as the outbreak of separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine that led to the deaths of more than ten thousand people.

 Here, the Egyptian Orthodox Church entered the line of crisis between the two Russian Orthodox Churches and their Ukrainian counterpart, due to the similarity in name between (the Greek Orthodox and the Orthodox Rome), and the decision of the Russian Church aroused an uproar in some major media, because of (the similarity of the name of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria “Theodors II”,  with the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope “Tawadros II”), which prompted the Egyptian Orthodox Church to issue a statement denying any relationship with him.

  Therefore, an official statement came out from the spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt (Rev. Paul Halim), ensuring that:

  “The relations with the Russian Orthodox Church are very good fraternal, and all that was circulated in the Western media regarding the Russian Church’s severing of its relations with the Orthodox Church in Egypt was denied”

  The Egyptian Orthodox Church stressed in its statement that (the decision of the Russian Church to cut ties with the Coptic Orthodox Church and Pope “Tawadros II”, Pope of Alexandria, Patriarch of the See of “St. Mark” is unfounded), and that the decision issued by the Holy Synod of the Russian Church is specific to the Greek Orthodox Church.

  In that previous ecclesiastical crisis referred to, a great confusion occurred between the two churches due to (the same name of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and its patriarch bear in the name of the Pope of Alexandria, and his name is similar to the name of Pope “Tawadros II”, who is Pope “Theodore II”, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa).

  We find that the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church (did not get involved in the issue raised between the Orthodox Churches about the separation of the Church of Ukraine from Russia), stressing that it has good relations with the Russian Church, and visits are exchanged between them.

 Here, it must be clarified that the Coptic Orthodox Church is the main Christian church in Egypt along with other Christian sects, noting that (the number of Copts in Egypt is about 15 million people, who make up about 15% of the Egyptian people), according to the previous statements by Pope “Tawadros II”, the head of the Egyptian church.

  I consider the priests and monks of the Egyptian Orthodox Church that what is happening is a (political issue, not a religious issue), and we will find that the confusion here resulted from two things, namely:

  1. The first matter: is that the seat of the Greek Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox churches is located in Alexandria, and the name of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch “Theodoros II”, which means in Greek “Tawadros”, is similar to the name of the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church “Tawadros II”, which caused major media outlets in the trap.
  • The second matter: We find here that the Egyptian Orthodox Church has nothing to do with the Russian Orthodox Church and is not a party to the conflict between the Greek Orthodox.

  We can consider that the political crisis that has erupted since 2014 between Russia and Ukraine is behind the religious strife and the separation of the Ukrainian Church from its subordination to the Russian Church.

  Many Ukrainian Christians are of the opinion that (the Russian Church prefers the Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine). The Russian Church in Moscow denied that it had fallen into the hands of the Russian government as a political tool, and said it was trying to bring peace to eastern Ukraine.

  Regarding the repercussions of the decision to separate the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches from the decision to sever relations with the Greek Orthodox Pope in Egypt, we can conclude that the (Greek Orthodox in Egypt are a foreign community that historically settled in Egypt like other sects, and that the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Alexandria is not a foreign national, nor it is appointed by the Egyptian authorities). Therefore, we can consider that: “the dispute between the churches and each other will, of course, not affect the relations between Moscow and Cairo”.

As for (my future vision) for the most prominent roles of the (Egyptian Orthodox Church) in resolving the crisis of the future religious conflict between Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, perhaps this can be done, as follows:

The strong rapprochement between the Egyptian and Russian Orthodox Churches allows Cairo to play a role in the future Ukrainian-Russian religious ecclesiastical crisis, with the relations between the two Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Churches headed by “Pope Tawadros II” and their Russian counterpart headed by “Pope Kirill” in Moscow are (witnessing closeness  Intense). The Egyptian and Russian Orthodox Churches, until the moment of the Russian declaration of war against Ukraine, were in a state of exchange of visits and continuous meetings, and cooperation and rapprochement between them in an unprecedented manner. The cooperation between the Egyptian and Russian Orthodox Churches included several areas, including:

  (Exchange of delegations and visits, monastic visits and meetings, academic and media cooperation, social service and development, as well as theological dialogues)

The Egyptian researcher here was able to monitor some important recent visits, which had a positive impact on the relationship between the Russian and Egyptian Orthodox churches, the most important of which, in my view, was the visit of a delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church to Egypt, with a large delegation that included prominent priests and priests belonging to the (Russian Theological Academy), from (6-13 May 2019), in addition to the important church meeting that took place between “Pope Tawadros II” and his Russian counterpart “Pope Kirill” in Moscow and the meeting of the Bilateral Dialogue Committee between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Coptic Church in Cairo (18-29 May 2019).

The importance and symbolism of the Egyptian Orthodox Church’s invitation to a prominent delegation from the (Russian Theological Academy), as an important Egyptian ecclesiastical step during the reign of his Holiness Pope “Tawadros II” for rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox churches, in the field of exchanging visits and academic cooperation between them, by extending an invitation to the (Theologian Academy in Moscow) to visit the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church during the period from (6-13 May 2019).

The symbolism of the Egyptian Orthodox Church’s invitation to the (Theological Academy in Moscow), as it is one of the oldest and most prestigious theological academies in the Russian Orthodox Church and around the world, and it supervises the rest of the four academies and theological colleges in the Russian Church, which are located in the cities of (Moscow – St. Petersburg – Kyiv – Minsk), and 33 theological colleges throughout the Russian Church. The (Theological Academy in Moscow) was founded in 1687 by the monks Sophronius and Yoaniki. It is currently chaired by the Archbishop.

The noteworthy note here is the continuity of relations between the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church for more than two centuries. There are (multiple visits by the Russian Orthodox priests to Egypt, Sinai, and the churches of the East), and there are many Russian books about the Egyptian Copts and the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt.

During the reign of His Holiness, Pope “Tawadros II”, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the St. Mark, the two historic visits of His Holiness to the Russian Orthodox Church came on (October 28 – November 4, 2014), and his second visit was from (23-25 ​​May 2017).  In recent years, there has been a significant rapprochement and growth in relations between the Egyptian and Russian Orthodox Churches.

The Egyptian researcher also focused a lot on the symbolism of the Egyptian Orthodox religious church calls to their Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox counterparts, before the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, coinciding with (the Egyptian Orthodox Church’s invitation to visit all Christians and priests of Coptic Orthodox churches around the world), with constant concern for receiving visitors in the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox churches with an (official and honorable reception by the priests of the Orthodox Churches in Egypt and the Christians Orthodox religious people).

The religious ecclesiastical and theological relations between the Egyptian and Russian Orthodox Churches also flourished during the reign of His Holiness “Pope Shenouda III”, in the context of exchanging visits on various religious occasions, as well as through the (theological dialogues that bring together all of the Coptic, Syriac and Armenian Orthodox Churches on the one hand and the Russian Orthodox Church on the other hand).

We note here, (the extent to which each of the men of the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches is connected to the sacred Christian religious monuments in Egypt). In addition to their constant keenness for many years to visit the most important landmarks of religious and archaeological tourism in Egypt, especially (tracing all stages and effects of documenting the Holy Family’s journey in Egypt). You will find many photos documenting their visits to the holy religious areas in Cairo, such as:

   (Visiting the sacred Christian heritage and religious monuments in the Old Cairo region of Cairo, paying attention to the antiquities of the Coptic Museum and making a detailed tour of it, always being careful to organize special trips to visit the Egyptian Hanging Church, and visiting several churches, such as: Abu Serga Church, due to the presence of the ancient cave in which the family stayed  Holy, St. Barbara Church, St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church, and others)

What remains striking to me is the intense interest and passion that the Egyptian researcher analyzed for several previous visits, by the men of the Orthodox Church in Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, and even their religious Orthodox Christian peoples in those countries, and their passion for learning about the (Egyptian Coptic melodies and even the Egyptian ancient Coptic language), and to identify the most prominent religious Christian monuments in Egypt, on top of which is the “The Path of the Holy Family’s Journey, the Coptic Museum, and the ancient churches and monasteries”. Therefore, I believe that (the future role of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church to mediate conflicts, crises, and the different viewpoints of other Orthodox churches around the world), and to contribute to resolving and dissolving differences between them, requires many tireless efforts to strengthen acquaintance between the two sides within the framework of what he called personally (the soft power of the Egyptian Orthodox Church).

Understanding the mentality of others is an important ecclesiastical gain, which, according to my understanding of the role of the Egyptian Orthodox Church in resolving conflicts, is to (exchange experiences, professors, and scholars with representatives of other churches, especially in our analysis in Russia, Ukraine, Turkey), and even to prepare for their conducted joint studies discussions of theses, research and scientific theses between (the Russian Theological Academy and the Seminary College in Abbasiya in Cairo). Provided that it is agreed to exchange visits and delegations between the Christian clergy in Egypt and their counterparts in the churches of Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, and to host them constantly in Egypt, to deepen the roots of cooperation with them.

In my personal opinion, setting up a dialogue table, bringing together the (representatives of the seminary in Egypt and the Institute of Coptic Studies with the delegation of the Russian Academy and in the presence of some members of the Committee on Relations between the two Churches, to determine aspects of cooperation between the educational institutions of the two churches) will be in the interest of the Egyptian role in the future.  Here, the most prominent areas of cooperation between the Egyptian Orthodox Church and others, through:

    (Exchange of professors and students visits, translation of publications, exchange of publications, teaching languages, educational missions, organizing conferences, arts fields, training in the art of ancient Egyptian iconography), provided that this is expressly formulated in a (body of recommendations to be submitted to the Committee on Relations between the Egyptian and Russian Orthodox Churches) to rely on the future Egyptian role through our Egyptian Church in solving and passing this test successfully)

We can consider that the (interest in the churches of Egypt with the Orthodox Christian clergy in the churches of Russia, Ukraine and Turkey are all factors that support the efforts of the Egyptian Orthodox Church in “unifying the Eastern Orthodox Christian peoples”), by inviting them in Egypt to give lectures at the “Seminary College”, and perhaps seeking for the exchange of specialists, professors and visiting researchers in (the Institute of Coptic Studies and the Department of Tunes at the Institute for specialists). This coincides with introducing them to the (departments of the Institute of Coptic Studies in Egypt, and then inviting them to inspect the huge library of the Institute), which contains a complete heritage and a comprehensive history of the Christian heritage in Egypt, and holding joint Egyptian exhibitions with them on Coptic art under the supervision of the “Art Department at the Institute of Egyptian Coptic Studies”, which including: (icons, mosaic works, textiles, stained glass works, pottery works), and others.

  Based on my comprehensive observation and analysis of the features of rapprochement between the Egyptian and Russian Orthodox Churches, I personally believe that the work and coordination of “an initiative of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church and its priests to bring rapprochement again and bring the views closer between the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches primarily after the end of the current war, and even for the opening of branches of the Egyptian Orthodox churches in Russia, Ukraine and then Turkey for rapprochement with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in Istanbul”, to be preceded by several other initiatives, as I have aforementioned in my analysis, and to highlight several areas of joint cooperation between the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church and Pope “Tawadros II” with their counterparts in other churches, through  Inviting priests, priests, and monks of the Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish Orthodox churches to give lectures and conduct various religious-theological activities and studies at the (Theological Seminary in Abbasiya region) at Cairo and the Egyptian Coptic and (Theological Studies Institutes).

  And I believe that (giving the opportunity for a large number of Egyptian professors and scholars to rapprochement with their Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish counterparts, which will eventually facilitate a better understanding of the best approaches to playing a real future role in which the Egyptian Orthodox Church contributes to its historical role in uniting the Eastern Orthodox Christian peoples in the world), especially in light of the long-running disputes between the churches of Russia, Ukraine, and later Turkey, after recognizing the separation of the Ukrainian Church from the Russian Church in September 2018, which I encourage priests, priests and fathers of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church and Pope “Tawadros II”, because of his paramount historical and cultural importance for Egypt in the world, within the framework of what called it, that it constitutes one of (the soft power features of the Egyptian Church in front of the world).

Dr.Nadia Helmy

Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit

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