Bill Gull has an encounter of a serious kind in Cairo

PUTTING A QUESTION to the Pope is not everybody’s opportunity. ‘The Pope’ in this case was not the successor of St Peter at Rome but the 117th successor of St Mark, the Patriarch of Alexandria and head of the Coptic Church in Egypt.

Pope Shenouda III holds a teach-in at his cathedral in Cairo every Wednesday evening. Members of Forward in Faith should put it on their itinerary after the Pyramids, the Sphinx and the Mummies in the Cairo Museum. St Mark’s Cathedral, one of the largest in Africa, seats 5000 and every seat is filled. Let them know you are English and they provide a simultaneous translation through your own personal earpiece.

Pope Shenouda, a lively 78 years, arrives to enthusiastic applause. he begins by answering questions which are handed to him as he arrives. I had written mine on a scrappy piece of paper. Though I had been told that his English is excellent, I wrote in my neatest hand writing, “I am an Anglican priest distressed by the ordination of women priests, what should I do?” He had answered half-a-dozen questions when I heard him say the word “Anglican” but pronounced “Ann Glick Ann”.

“There is a question here from an Anglican about women priests”. He made a three-point answer. First, an ordinary priest is not responsible for what has happened. It is the responsibility of bishops and metropolitans, and they do not have to do the ordinations. Secondly, he said that I should remain within the Anglican Church. Thirdly, that the ordination of women is in neither Scripture nor Tradition is what I should preach and teach.

Pope Shenouda is the head of a church experiencing an unprecedented renaissance. In his new book Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity Otto Meinardus writes,

“The unprecedented revival in the Coptic Church toward the second half of the twentieth century is one of the great historical events of world Christianity. Whereas in many parts of the world, historians recognise a certain stagnation of Christian witness, the sons and daughters of the pharaohs are filled with an unheard-of enthusiasm for the establishment of the Kingdom of God and for the evangelization through their Coptic Church”

My experience at the beginning of the year 2000, after five weeks’ stay at the monastery of St Makarios, is that the Coptic Church continues with a spiritual vigour unseen in the West and unknown in the Church of England.

Bill Gull is a priest in Nottingham