The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the See of St Mark
The draft Principle Constitution of the Holy Synod was studied article by article and every member of the Synod had the opportunity to discuss it. Consensus was reached on the final version by the fathers who were present. The Constitution was then set down after discussing it in the meeting of the Holy Synod on Saturday 01/06/1985. It was then approved and signed by the members of the Holy Synod on Sunday 02/06/1985 (on the day of Pentecost).
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is an Apostolic Church linked to the rest of the Eastern Orthodox Churches with the unity of faith, sacraments and ecclesiastical tradition.
The priestly chairmanship of the Alexandrian Apostolic throne extends to all parts of the See of St Mark, both inside and outside of Egypt.
Alexandria is the historic Apostolic Centre and Cairo is another residence of the Pope and Patriarch of the See of St Mark.
The Holy Synod is the highest priestly authority in the Coptic Orthodox Church, and its authority covers the clergy and all the people.
The clergy are the Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. The Episcopate rank includes: His Holiness the Pope and Patriarch, as well as the Gathlek, Metropolitans and Bishops, whether diocesan bishops, general bishops or auxiliary bishops. The auxiliary bishop is a full bishop on the one hand of the Episcopal degree, but on the pastoral side he helps another bishop.
The Holy Synod consists of the Pope and Patriarch as Chairman, and all persons of the Episcopal rank and of the heads of the monasteries, Chorbishops, and Patriarchal Agents as members.
The membership of the Holy Synod is a lifetime membership of all persons of the Episcopal rank and of the rest of the members of the Synod.
However, membership of the Synod is lost for those of all ranks of priesthood without exception for anyone who:
(a) diverts from the rules of the proper Christian faith;
(b) falls into heresy;
(c) suffers from madness [insanity]; or
(d) has been sentenced under Church laws to separation, excommunication, or deprivation.
This should be by virtue of a ruling from the Holy Synod following an official trial according to the traditions of the Church and having given him an opportunity to defend himself.
However, he may be excluded from [this provision] if he stubbornly insists on not attending [his trial]. If this happens, a ruling is formally issued to him from the members [of the Synod] according to the Principle Constitution of the Synod.
The Holy Synod is the supreme legislative authority in the Church. It has the authority to enact laws for the Church in line with the new needs of the Church and to issue internal regulations for the ordination of every rank of priesthood, and also for various ecclesiastical actions when necessary. It can also reduce Church punishments and to set regulations for trials and penalties.
The Holy Synod is the supreme judicial authority in the Church. It has the right to judge persons of any rank of priesthood, as well as any layperson who is presented on the charge of affecting the Church and its teaching. Also, any Church decisions issued against a Priest or a member of the congregation can be appealed to the Synod.
The Holy Synod is the supreme authority responsible for faith and doctrine. It is for the Synod to interpret the rules of faith in a way that does not contradict the steadfast ecclesiastical tradition. As such, the Synod has the authority to review any books issued regarding Church education and to judge them accordingly.
The Holy Synod is the first reference regarding Church rituals.
The decisions of the Holy Synod are final. Only the Holy Synod will review its decisions if the reasons for those decisions have changed.
For example, it may pardon a sinner, or accept someone who returned from a heresy or aberration and it makes its decisions according to what it deems appropriate.
The Synod manages the process of electing the Pope and Patriarch, participates in his nomination, performs his ordination after his election, and participates with the Pope in the ordination of the Bishops.
The Synod is concerned with codifying relations with other churches in the light of the Church’s faith and the teachings of its fathers.
The Synod meets under the chairmanship of the Pope and Patriarch, and it is not permissible to meet without his attendance as chairman during his lifetime.
Two situations are excluded from this rule [Article 15]:
If the Pope is in a very poor state of health, which prevents him from speaking
and thinking based on reports from certified doctors and the testimony of more
than half of the members of the Synod.
If more than one half of the members of the Synod ask the Pope and Patriarch to call for a meeting of the Synod, but he [the Pope] refuses, although he was able to call a meeting.
In either of these two circumstances, the Synod may meet without the Chairmanship of the Pope, and the meeting is presided over by the most senior Metropolitans and Bishops in attendance.
In the event that the Patriarchal throne is vacant following the death of the Patriarch, or losing his priestly ranks pursuant to Article 7 of this Constitution, the meeting of the Holy Synod is presided over by the Locum Tenens of the Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of the See of St Mark.
The Chairman of the Holy Synod manages the general meetings, and it is permissible for him to attend and chair any committee of the committees.
The Secretary of the Holy Synod is chosen from among the members of the Metropolitans or Bishops by election (secret ballot).
The Secretary is elected for a period of three years, which can be renewed following for a new election process.
The election of the Secretary of the Synod will take place in a lawful session of the Holy Synod in which the Chairman of the Synod takes charge of managing the election process. The Chairman must be mindful of secrecy in casting votes so that all can express their opinions without feeling criticised.
Whoever secures the largest number of valid votes of those present shall be deemed the winner of the position of Secretary of the Synod, provided that he has obtained more than half of the votes of those present. If no one obtains this proportion, the election between those who secured the two largest numbers of votes is repeated.
Working with the Secretary of the Synod is a committee called the Holy Synod’s Secretariat Committee, which consists of three people in addition to the Secretary. The Holy Synod elects two of them by election (secret ballot) and His Holiness appoints the third member.
The Secretariat Committee meets under the chairmanship of His Holiness the Pope. His Holiness chooses an Assistant Secretary for the Holy Synod from among them, who assists the General Secretary and replaces him in his absence.
The Secretariat Committee meets under the chairmanship of the Synod Secretary and carries out its work, which includes:
(a) looking after all the documents of the Synod or copies thereof, and the decisions issued;
(b) transcribing and keeping records of meetings;
(c) corresponding, drafting decisions, researching and studying, and sending necessary documents to Synod members;
(d) monitoring the work of the Synod Committees and logging their decisions for presentation to the Holy Synod, as well as the recommendations or studies presented by the Committees;
(e) sending invitations to the members of the synod to attend its meetings following the instructions of His Holiness the Pope, and preparing the necessary presentations to the Synod, including data, projects, committees' decisions or studies; and
(f) monitoring the implementation of its decisions and submitting a report to the Pope on this.
The Secretary of the Synod is considered an assistant to His Holiness the Pope (the Synod Chairman) in His Holiness’s Synodal duties, in all matters assigned to him, in addition to the auxiliary secretary and the rest of the members of the Secretariat Committee.
The Secretary records the meeting minutes and takes the signatures of the attendees on the minutes of each meeting.
The Secretary of the Holy Synod and the Auxiliary Secretary may attend the meetings of the Synodal Committees.
In addition to the Secretarial Committee, the Holy Synod shall choose from among its members individuals who will undertake duties for the following committees:
1. The Faith and Education Committee: supervision of all aspects of education in the church, whether in religious institutes, church education [Sunday School], preaching, publications in books or otherwise, and audio and/or video recordings.
2. The Legislative Committee: responsible for review and collation of Church Canons, and the proposal of necessary canons. [proposing drafts for canons?]
3. The Diocesans Affairs Committee: studies issues within the dioceses and proposes solutions.
4. The Church Ritual Committee: supervision of all matters concerning rituals, including worship, church buildings and icons, translation of ritual and hymnological books, Coptic art, and answering any questions regarding rituals.
5. The Ecumenical Relations Committee: this includes ecumenical relations with sister churches and other churches, and communication with ecumenical organisations.
6. The Public Relations Committee: this includes the Church’s relations with the other organisations, and establishment of love and good relations with all.
7. The Pastoral Care and Services Committee: this includes the allocation of servants for church services.
8. The Church Projects Committee: development projects and the like.
9. The Synod is permitted to create further committees. *
* see the meeting on 21/06/1986 and the meeting on 18/06/2005
There is to be formed a committee to oversee the implementation of the Decrees of the Synod and the performance [workings] of its committees. This is formed of the Secretariat of the Synod and all Chairmen of the Permanent Committees which shall meet with His Holiness the Pope regularly regarding its duties of overseeing [the Committees].
Each member of the Holy Synod must submit his wishes to join the committee(s) that are suitable for him. The Secretariat Committee, in consultation with His Holiness the Pope as Chairman of the Synod, examines these wishes, coordinates them, and submits to the Holy Synod the names proposed for membership of the committees for approval.
If necessary, it is permissible, in other than the previous terms of reference, for the Pope to appoint any Synodal committee to carry out an urgent or temporary mission, and specify its tasks for it.
Each committee chooses a Chairman who manages its meetings and invites its members [for meetings]. He also sends two copies of the committee’s recommendations, one to His Holiness the Pope, and the second to the Holy Synod Secretariat. The committee keeps a third copy of it [the recommendations].
What the committees offer is just projects, recommendations, or studies, none of which are final decisions. These are not finalised until presenting it to the Holy Synod and securing the Synod’s approval of it.
However, if the Synod delegates specific executive powers to a committee, then its decisions will have the force of implementation.
Each of the Synod’s committees has the right to seek the assistance of experts and scholars who are not members of the Holy Synod, within the limits of their competencies. They are not considered official members of the committee.
The invitation to convene the Holy Synod is sent to the members bearing the signature of His Holiness the Pope.
In the case of the application of Article 16 of this Constitution, it is signed by the Secretary of the Synod.
In the event that the throne becomes vacant for the reasons specified in Article 17 and Article 7 of this Constitution, the invitation shall bear the signature of the Secretary of the Synod before choosing a locum tenens. Once a locum tenens is selected, it shall bear his signature, and the Secretariat Committee will send the invitations.
The meeting agenda is sent with the invitation to the meeting, along with the necessary papers and documents.
The Synod meetings are held on two fixed dates each year: once at the beginning of the Great Lent, and once at the beginning of the Coptic year.
It is permissible for the Holy Synod to convene in any urgent circumstances for an important goal without being bound by a specific date. All members of the Holy Synod located inside Egypt are to be notified before the meeting of the Synod with an appropriate date so that the opportunity may be available.
The Holy Synod may convene if requested by more than half of its members.
The regular meeting is considered lawful if the meeting is attended by two thirds of the members of the Synod in general. As for emergency meetings, it is necessary for two thirds of the members present in Egypt to attend for the meeting to be considered lawful.
If the meeting satisfies the requirements of lawfulness at the outset, it will continue to be lawful, even if some members leave the meeting.
The Synod’s decision is considered lawful if the decision is approved by at least three quarters of the number of attendees, of which the Synod Chairman’s vote is counted as two votes, or if it gets more than half of the members in general (or more than half of the Synod’s members who are in Egypt only for emergency meetings).
If it is necessary, if it is impossible to hold the Holy Synod meeting for reasons beyond the members’ control, the Synod may approve a decision, provided that three quarters of the members of the Synod sign it, with the members outside Egypt not being counted.
In order to approve a decision, the decision must be lawfully signed by His Holiness the Pope, or three quarters of the Secretariat Committee if the Pope cannot sign it, and on the condition that this decision does not contradict Article 7 of this Constitution.
The decisions of the Holy Synod are binding on the whole church after its proclamation and are binding even for members who have been absent or who did not agree, but they must submit to the decision of the majority.
Each member of the Holy Synod who violates the decisions of the Synod and discredits its reputation and the reputation of its decisions, exposes himself to Church prosecution and punishment.
If one of the members of the Synod is unable to attend a meeting due to illness or force majeure, he may send his opinion in writing to the Chairman or Secretary of the Synod and his vote is counted in this case.
The Chairman of the Holy Synod is the Pope and Patriarch, the successor of St. Mark the Evangelist, who is the Bishop of Alexandria and Cairo. As Bishop of the great city of Alexandria, he is the Archbishop of the See of St. Mark according to the laws of the Holy Ecumenical Council of Nicaea.
It is necessary that the one sitting on the throne of St. Mark must be Egyptian Coptic Orthodox, and this is also necessary for the Locum Tenens after the departure of the Pope.
The Pope is the Bishop responsible for all the vacant Dioceses and the new Dioceses, such as those in the diaspora, until the ordinance or the appointment of Bishops for them, and in that he may delegate a papal deputy or an agent to manage it under supervision. He may also appoint a Synodal Committee to assist him in managing diaspora affairs.
His Holiness the Pope chooses the General Bishops who help in the See of St. Mark. He determines their specialties and presents them to the Holy Synod and presides over the celebration of their ordination.
The Pope and Patriarch, in conjunction with the Bishop members of the Holy Synod, are the ones who perform the ordination of the new Bishops, and also promote the Bishops to the rank of Metropolitans or Gathlek.
The Pope is responsible for the general affairs of the Church, and he is the one who represents it before the State and before other Churches and all official and religious institutes.
The Pope is the general supervisor of the Coptic monasteries and he appoints the heads of the monasteries.
In the event the throne becomes empty, the Locum Tenens of the throne of the Patriarch will perform all his duties until the ordination of a new Pope, except for the ordination of Bishops and those of their level.
All that the Patriarch leaves is the property of the Patriarchate, and it is not the right of the Locum Tenens to inherit or dispose of it to the benefit of the Patriarchate, just as the Pope does not inherit from his familial relatives.
The Metropolitans and Bishops of the Dioceses are their pastors and head of their priests. Each of them is responsible for all the churches, priests, and monasteries of the Diocese (except for the monasteries of the Patriarchate), and all its pastoral, financial and administrative matters.
The Bishop ordains Priests and Deacons in his Diocese, and consecrates Churches, Altars, baptismal fonts, icons, and all utensils of the Altar. He looks after his people as he receives the Staff [of Pastoral Care] from the hand of His Holiness the Pope, and he participates with the Pope in the Apostolic Service and in the membership of the Holy Synod and in the ordination of new Bishops and in episcopal work.
New Bishops are chosen with the consent and approval of the people, and with
the approval and support of His Holiness the Pope, provided that it fulfills
the spiritual and personal conditions according to the teaching of the Bible
and the laws of the Church.
If the majority of the members of the Holy Synod oppose the ordination, the ordination will not proceed.
His Holiness the Pope assigns some Bishops to the new Bishop to enthrone him on his throne in his Diocese. They read the tradition of the position, [a document] signed by the Pope.
The Bishop may be assisted in the service by Auxiliary Bishop or Chorbishop or more under his supervision and he is the Bishop of the throne.
The Patriarchate does not inherit the Episcopate. Instead, all the money, real estate or movable property [chattels] is left to their Diocese. His Holiness the Pope will act as a trustee of these possessions until it is handed over to his successor.
His holiness the Pope may ordain General Bishops to assist Him in the affairs of the Diocese or in the general work of the Church or assist some of the Diocesan Bishops in their pastoral duties.
A General Bishop does not have a specific throne or a specific Diocese. His work depends on what is assigned to him by the Pope or the Bishop of the Diocese.
A General Bishop does not need to be endorsed by the people. It is sufficient for him to be recommended by the Pope or the Bishop in whose Diocese he will work.
It is permissible to elevate a General Bishop to a higher rank of priesthood, as it is permissible to appoint him to any vacant Diocese. In this case, it is necessary to secure the endorsement of the people of the Diocese and receive the approval of His Holiness the Pope, and the Holy Synod participates in his appointment using a special rite, without the laying hands to the episcopate again.
The whole Church shall abide by this Constitution from the date of its approval by the Holy Synod. All the members of the Holy Synod and every new Bishop will sign it.
The Synod can add other Sections to this Constitution.
If the public interest requires amending any item of this Constitution, the following is required:
(a) The amendments must be in accordance with the laws and traditions of the Church.
(b) Amendments may occur under normal circumstances, with the approval of at least three quarters of the members of the Synod. The members of the Synod will have the opportunity to amend the Constitution during any lawful meeting.
(c) There must be sufficient time of not less than a month to study the proposed amendments or additions.
(d) The amendments must not occur in the absence of the Patriarch.