H.H. Pope Tawadros II comment on His Grace Bishop Sarbion's letter to the priests of his diocese.

H.H. Pope Tawadros II comment on His Grace Bishop Sarbion's letter to the priests of his diocese.

And now I would like to respond to a question that someone submitted to me regarding all the talk on the Internet and various media about His Grace Bishop Serapion’s letter to the priests of his diocese in the Los Angeles area in California, in the USA, regarding when they will celebrate the Feast of Nativity this year.

I am sure that you have of course read many things on the various media channels and see how everybody who has and has nothing to do with this matter has been speaking about it, and we all know that there are people who are always closely monitoring the Church and the Holy Synod’s activities and the priest fathers’ personal lives as well as how they manage their responsibilities, and people broadcast their own personal opinions and this is of course a very, very sad state of affairs, and some things have been posted which have even violated the boundaries of respectfulness and so I would like to tell you the story from its very beginning.

In the letter that Anba Serapion wrote to the priests of his diocese – the Los Angeles Diocese – he said, “Our usual celebration of the glorious Feast of Nativity is on the 29th of Kiahk and this is when we always celebrate it,” but because he received complaints from several families in America – and this is because life there is different from life over here, and the weather there is different from the weather here.

And so what he said was, “Because December 24th and 25th are days that already occur within the midst of the Fast of the Nativity, we can pray a Liturgy on those days and consider that to be our celebration of the Feast of Nativity. However, we are not to break the fast at all but we are only doing this as a way to support those who would not be able to participate in the Feast celebration on our usual later date.”

And so I want to tell you this: Across the ages the Church has had the authority to manage the details of worship and Church rituals in ways that support the needs and care of the flock, and I will give you examples of this.

Not very long ago, at the beginning of the 20th Century, Liturgies were only held on Sunday and Sunday was called “the day of the Lord,” as it is referred to in the Book of Revelation, but when the country’s national weekly holiday changed from Sunday to Friday, the Church also changed the weekly Liturgy to Fridays, but before that, the Church had never prayed Liturgies on Fridays, and so we see that it made a change.

Some time later when people’s weekly days off began to vary – some establishments and schools give Friday off while others give Saturdays or Sundays off, and so on – as a response to this increasing variety in people’s schedules the Church began to offer Liturgies throughout the week and throughout different times of day, and nobody can criticize such decisions and changes because they are based on the needs of the flock.

Another very obvious example of changes the Church has made over the years has to do with the celebrations of holy matrimony. Holy matrimonies were always held during the morning Liturgies, and some of you may remember or may have yourselves been married during a morning Liturgy, but when the Church discerned that this was no longer a practical way to conduct the sacrament of holy matrimony she said, “I will remove the celebration of the sacrament of holy matrimony from the morning Liturgy and make it later in the day so that people may be able to attend, and to bless and rejoice with one another, and this way they would have ample time to do so.” So this is another example of the Church managing the rituals and practices and doing so in a way that meets the needs of the flock.

A third example is that here in Egypt we pray blessings for the Nile, but what about Copts who have immigrated out of Egypt? Should they be praying for the rivers where they now live or should they be praying for the Nile? Yes, this is a valid question.

Or how about that our Church’s calendar is aligned with Egypt’s sowing and harvesting cycles, and we have praises for the grass and plants of the field, another one for the waters and the flooding of the Nile, and we pray for the harvest, and we in Egypt pray these prayers because we all live around the River Nile. But what about those who have left Egypt? Some of them live in countries that don’t even have rivers! Should they not pray for the waters? Or should they pray for rain, for springs, for lakes? Every country will be different and this is “a tax,” if you will, of our Church’s expanding abroad, and so it is a very natural thing that such differences and questions would arise.

And I want you to know that any exceptions or changes pertaining to the flock take place in a meeting of agreement between that particular diocese’s Bishop and its priest fathers, and he also consults with the Patriarch, so that he may discern what the most appropriate decision for his flock would be.

And without doubt, the honorable fathers [leading] our Coptic Church are truly the keepers of the Doctrine and the keepers of the Tradition and the keepers of the rituals. They are the ones through whom any changes go and come through and this is done after much prayer, much discussion, and consensus. It is only then that we discern what is appropriate to do and go about doing it.

And you should also keep in mind that the number of fathers in the Holy Synod today is not just ten or twenty people, no, there are more than 100 fathers in the Holy Synod. And so there are many viewpoints and we discuss and deliberate, and we seek the decisions that the majority are in agreement and in favor of.

And here is a question for you: Was man made for the Sabbath or was the Sabbath made for man? And by the way, this issue goes back all the way to the time of Christ. In the Gospel of our teacher St. Mark 2:23-28 – and please allow me to read this short section to you, it says:
23 Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain.
24 And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
Simply, the disciples had been walking along travelling and they became hungry, so they plucked some grain and ate it, but the Pharisees – and Pharisees are those who are narrow-minded, and please keep in mind that Pharisees did not only exist at the time of Christ but they also exist with us today.

And I want you to please pay attention here as to how Christ responded to their criticism of the disciples’ behavior, it says:
25 But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him:
26 how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?”
There are exceptions to be made in life; life is not the exact same thing all the time. And so while the Sabbath was the Doctrine and the ritual, in the next verses we see the principle Christ sets forth.
27And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”
Please memorize this Scripture reference – Mark 2:23-28.

And so please know that any exceptions or changes that the Church makes regarding its rituals are for the benefit of people, and not vice versa.

Here is another example I would like to share with you, the celebration procession that we do on the eve of the Feast of Resurrection, this never even existed before the year 1902 or 1903, but we learned it from another Church and it became part of our own Church ritual. Rituals change over time. The Doctrine remains steadfast but rituals may change over time.

Summary points regarding His Grace Bishop Serapion’s letter to the priests of his diocese (the Diocese of Los Angeles, USA:

He issued a letter and not a decree
He wrote it in English because it was being sent to his own priests, in the USA
He wrote the letter as a response to several questions and comments presented to him and to his priests from among the congregation of that diocese – clearly, this is a dioceses matter and not for outsiders to become involved with. Here is a bishop managing the affairs of his diocese along with the help of his priests
His Grace Anba Serapion abided by the rulings of the Holy Synod which say that when there are pastoral needs that arise within dioceses that exist outside of Egupt, the Bishop is to discuss the matters with his priests, present it to the Patriarch, and wait to see how it would be best handled and dealt with
The letter is a temporary remedy for a specific set of circumstances, and I will tell you about some of these circumstances in a moment
The letter’s suggested change is an absolutely voluntary issue – each church within the diocese is free to observe it or not, depending on whether the church feels that such a change would serve its congregation or not
The suggested alternate date for the Feast’s celebration is NOT a replacement to the Feast’s traditional celebration on the 29th of Kiahk
The celebration on the 29th of Kiahk remains exactly as it is and will be celebrated; thus, the celebration on December 24th or 25th would be in addition to and not in replacement of the 29th of Kiahk Feast day, which is our traditional day of celebrating this Feast
The suggested additional feast day is NOT A GENERAL SUGGESTION – it is not to be observed by all the churches of the diocese but only by those churches whose priests feel that it would support their congregation
This suggestion is NOT A MANDATORY suggestion upon anyone, not at all
The idea behind this suggestion is not to be applied perpetually but it is ONLY A TEMPORARY ALTERNATIVE based on arising circumstances where such a change would support the congregation of one of the church’s within the Los Angeles Diocese

Some, out of ignorance, thought that the Bishop’s letter to his people was saying that the one Feast has now become two feasts, and this is simply not true.

Also keep in mind that people who immigrated to countries outside of Egypt took all they had with them when they left. They are considered to be “first generation,” their children are “second generation,” and their children’s children are considered “third generation.” And with each generation, the Egyptians from within that generation have married people from other nationalities, and this intermarrying increases with every additional generation.

I went to one of our churches in Canada that had 52 nationalities in attendance! An Egyptian man married a Vietnamese woman, an Egyptian woman married a European man, and so on. And so if such are the circumstances of a church then this exception may be used, but if there are no circumstances calling for the need for this exception to be made, then there is absolutely no mandate nor need for its application.

And when his grace wrote this letter to the priests of his diocese, there were no changes made to any of the other Feasts of the year – every other feast remains as it is. No other feasts were changed.

Keep in mind that we do not live in the West and the weather in the West, especially during December and January can be very prohibitive. For example, during the last Feast of Nativity (Christmas), a priest and his congregation and their church received warnings that the roads would be closed on the eve of the Feast, and so everybody stayed home and consequently they did not pray the Liturgy of the Feast because of the weather and the ice that was blocking the roads. There are circumstances that we are not aware of and so we may not appreciate them.
The strange thing about all of this is that those who have been talking about this in the media were not authorized to do so by anyone, and the simplest question I would ask such persons would be: Who authorized you to speak on behalf of the Coptic community? Who told you to do so?

Is your ego so large in your own eyes? Beloved one, look at the plank in your own eye and do not try to remove the specks out of the eyes of others. You must have forgotten that there is a plank in your own eye, so how will you be able to see at all?

And in general, it is not at all wise to discuss ecclesiastical matters, and especially when it comes to posting them on social media sites and pages. This is a sin. If you want to discuss certain matters that is fine, discuss them with a responsible party – all the way from the Patriarch to the Bishops or to any other father, come, discuss, but that you just comment on the matter when you have no idea about it? Try to understand a matter before you talk about it and do not involve yourself in things that do not concern you.

One of the priests from here in Egypt published a letter to “talk it over” with Bishop Serapion, but is it right my dear one to broadcast a letter on social media and call it a, “I just want to talk it over with you, Bishop Serapion”? When I want to discuss a personal issue with someone I do not do so publicly for everyone to see, no, I take that person and discuss the matter with them in private. And also, did you elect yourself to be a teacher, because I see that you have made a list of points – 1, 2, 3? What is this? Have you lost your mind?

Another one is a priest who is completely cut off from the Coptic Church, and I’m sure you all know what that means that he is cut off from the Church. Well, he wrote a letter and included verses from the Holy Bible but he twisted their meaning, and he did this to show that he understood something. Why don’t you mind your own business?

Beloved one, you only have one soul, if you lose it you will have lost everything. And when you stand before Christ He will not ask you about anyone except yourself; He will only ask you about yourself and He will not ask you about anybody else, so be careful.

I would like to direct a plea to all those who wrote something: be watchful and responsible over your own selves, over your own lives, over your own salvation. Pay attention to the responsibility you have been given, which is the responsibility over yourself alone, and if an inappropriate word were to come out of your mouth – like those we saw written on the different pages and social media sites – know that this takes you way off course, far off the path to heaven.

Will you win here on earth? Fine, win here on earth. Take all that you want from this life. You want fame, take fame, and the end will be the dust, but where will you be in heaven? The Bible tells us, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). Before you write or speak about anything you must study the matter and understand it.

And so beloved ones, be careful, and know that everything done in the Church is done through people who are filled with loving zeal toward God, people who are faithful guardians of the Church. Do not listen the different voices and writings, the time you spend reading such things is a wasted time.

I wanted to clarify these matters and to explain them very briefly in hopes that those who have commented on this matter would learn a lesson, return to what is peaceful, and that they would understand and know that the Church is not like any other social establishment; the Church is holy and is due a certain respect, the Church has honor and is to be honored, and the Church has a certain way of dealing with and remedying situations. I wanted to share all of this with you in order that there would not be any offense found among the Church.

To our God be all the glory and honor, from now and forevermore. Amen.














Certainly Our Coptic Church and Our Faith is more strong than any other modern thoughts. Thanks Our Lord Logos that many people here in The Land of Immigration still observing the Feast and Fast Of Our Coptic Calendar. To HG Bishop Serabion, May Our Pure Lord Almighty continue blessing him and show him the truly way of Christianity.