Thursday June 2, 2005
Another rival for Coptic Church
By Magdy Samaan
[photo at url: Wannabe Patriarch Maximum Yohanna, aka Maxie Michele
Courtesy Maxie Michele]
The Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the oldest Christian institutions
in the world, has a new competitor in the form of the recently
established Church of St. Athansius, a branch of an existing
denomination founded in the United States.
Maxie Michele, an Egyptian Copt, succeeded in obtaining a license to
establish a church from the state in mid-April. He has added his
voice to a growing number of Copts who are displeased with the
Church's handling of personal matters and accuse it of being rigid,
authoritarian and unwilling to modernize. The church's handling of
personal status matters such as divorce is widely seen as the primary
cause of conversions to Islam and to Protestant Coptic Evangelical
Bishop Moussa, a prominent member of the Coptic Church, countered by
saying that the church is very responsive to the needs of the
community, as seen by how priests are actually chosen. "We have a
democratic system in choosing priests, the people must accept their
priests and nominate them. There is direct communication between them
to solve any problems."
Michele has made himself the patriarch of the new church under the
name Bishop Maximus Yohanna. The church was registered with the help
of a Coptic immigrant to the United States, who established it in the
United States as an interdenominational church. Michele used
documents from the U.S. government's register of churches to
establish his case before the Egyptian government.
"The new church is open for all Christian denominations and it will
conduct prayers according to Orthodox, Roman Catholic and all
Christian denominations in the same building," Michele told Cairo.
The Coptic Orthodox Church has refused to recognize Michele's
breakaway group. "There aren't independent churches in Christianity,
and anybody who says they are a patriarch, who appointed him? When
somebody receives a religious title, one receives it from a higher
power. Who has the authority to make him a patriarch?" asked Pope
Shenouda III, the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, in a
conversation with journalists on 24 May following his return from a
medical trip to the United States.
"Our people will reject something like this, and it will not
succeed," he predicted.
Michele was a lay worker in the Church from the Gharbiya governorate
and had a conflict with Church leaders in the 1970s over an article
he wrote for a local paper about the Holy Spirit. He was expelled
after refusing to repent.
"They refused to discuss it with me and found it easier just to
say, `Leave!'" said Michele.
In 1991 Michele created the St. Athanasius Foundation to do charity
work in Muqattam, and his ideas developed over the course of the
work. His followers today largely come from this base, although he
refuses to disclose their total numbers.
"We have two fundamental principles," Michele said of the new
church. "The first principle is theological, and stems from the
teachings of the Church fathers in the age before the division in the
4th century, and this is that we believe the creed of Christian faith
is a common ground for everyone to join. The second principle is
weightier, and depends on acceptance of the other and unity from our
Copyright © 2005 Cairo Magazine