Friday, March 08, 2013

New Patriarchs, Popes, and Bishops while Rome Picks Its Pope

While the world's attention is turned towards Rome as the Catholic Churches prepares to elect a new pope, the last few months, the last week especially, have seen significant turn over in other Churches and ecclesiastical communities.  These new leaders face unique sets of challenges.

Bulgarian Orthodox Church

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church elected Simeon Nikolov Dimitrov (Metropolitan Neophyte) as its new patriarch on February 24.  Neophyte, and much of the rest of the church, have been tainted by its close relationship with the previous Communist regime.  In fact, Neophyte actively worked with the secret police and other intelligence agencies.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has little active role in national politics, somewhat rare for a post-Communist Orthodox church, probably due to its appearance of being too tied with the old regime.  Neophyte faces lack of relevance, declining birth rates which threaten the long-term existence of Bulgaria, and internal division with the an alternative synod.

Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

Ethiopian Orthodox elected Teklemariam Asrat (Abune Mathias) as its new patriarch on February 28.  Mathias was active in the Ethiopian church abroad when the Communist Derg movement overthrew the emperor which caused Mathias to live in exile.  Mathias was active supporting the Church in Europe and Jerusalem even after the fall of the Derg.

The Ethiopian government is highly supportive of the Church yet it faces problems from a natural birth rate growing Muslim minorities, Protestant missions and growing native-run Protestant groups, and the former patriarch from the Communist-era, Abuna Merkorios, who runs his own alternative synod and parishes in the United States.

Church of England/Anglican Communion

Justin Welby was appointed by the British prime minister on November 9, 2012, elected on January 10, 2013, legally took office on February 4, and will be enthroned as the protestant Archbishop of Canterbury on March 21.  Welby is a low church "evangelical" who follows the new tradition of having a low church person follow a high church ritualist "Anglo-Catholic" as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Welby, a former oil executive, has the appeal of a socially responsible, real world social justice churchman.  However, he faces a government which can override any church decision, a pro-gay marriage/pro-women bishops divide inside the Church of England, conservative churches ready to breakaway from the Anglican Communion, and liberal North American churches which ignore communion rules on homosexuality.  Welby may very well be the last Archbishop of Canterbury of a nominal-pre-schismatic Anglican communion.

Coptic Orthodox Church

On November 4, 2012, the final three candidates for Coptic Pope sat in a room as a blindfolded child picked a name out of a jar.  The child picked Wagih Subhi Baqi Sulayman's name and Sulayman decided to have the papal name of Tawadros II.

Tawadros II faces the significant problem of a Muslim Brotherhood-run Egypt where Islamist gangs lay open siege to Christian villages.  Before the Egyptian "Arab Spring" about 10% of Egypt's population was Christian.  By late 2011 over 100,000 Copts fled Egypt.  Since then things have gotten worse to the point Church leadership has advised faithful to leave the country if religious freedoms are not ensured.  The Coptic Orthodox Church faces the very real possibility that it will lose its home in a generation or two.

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