Cairo Conference: Interweavings No 9 May 2016
by Graham Kings
Date added: 31/05/2016
In April I flew to Cairo via Addis Ababa from the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Zambia, which was the subject of my last Interweaving article. Just before travelling to the airport, I enjoyed playing football in the grounds of Lusaka Cathedral, with Andy Bowerman, Co-Director of the Anglican Alliance.
On the flight from Addis Ababa to Cairo, I found myself surrounded by the entire Egyptian Women’s Football Team. They were returning from the Ivory Coast, having just qualified for the Africa Women’s Cup.
Varied discussions during the flight included the relative merits of Arsenal and Manchester United, the ‘Arab Spring’, relations between Muslims and Christians and how we prayed. Ethiopian Airlines generously provided a celebratory chocolate cake, which the team kindly shared. So there was football at the beginning and the end of the journey.
It was my first time in Cairo. I was warmly greeted by Archbishop Mouneer Anis, Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East and Bishop in Egypt, with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, and Dr Samy Shehata, Principal of the Alexandria School of Theology and Dean of St Mark’s Pro-Cathedral in Alexandria, who as Co-Chair had planned the conference with me.
On the Friday, I very much enjoyed interacting with, and learning from, the students at the Cairo campus of the School as I taught two sessions on ‘Inculturation and Mission’. On the Saturday, it was delightful having time to explore the Pyramids and Old Cairo, including the Coptic Museum.
A. Setting and Process of the Conference
The three day conference, Monday 18 to Wednesday 20 April, was held at the Cairo campus of the Alexandria School of Theology, in the grounds of All Saints Anglican Cathedral. The theme was Contextual Mission in Egypt.
It was the first of the global conferences of our Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion project. In the UK, we hold four seminars a term (two papers presented at both Durham University and at Lambeth Palace). In Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, we hold three ‘writing-for-publication-conferences’ a year. This was the first such conference. Further conferences are being planned: this October in Bangalore, India; in 2017, in Brazil, Jerusalem and West Africa.
The UK seminars and global conferences provide material for the Mission Theology site which may also be considered for our new series, Anglican Theologies: African, Asian, Middle Eastern and Latin American, to be published by SPCK in London and copublished by publishers in the global South. Dr Samy Shehata is our Middle Eastern editor for the series.
The six theologians presenting papers were chosen by Dr Shehata in consultation with Archbishop Mouneer. The papers were written beforehand, and circulated by email to those attending. They were presented during six two hour sessions, which allowed plenty of time for a prepared 10 minute response from another theologian, clarification and discussion. In the light of comments they were revised and published on our Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion website during our final session.
There was great anticipation, and even a countdown, as watched the large screen in the conference room. They were published simultaneously on the site to applause before we moved to the Cathedral for our concluding service of Holy Communion and a feast.
B. Papers and Presenters
Present were 15 Egyptian theologians and priests, many of whom were lecturers at the Alexandria School of Theology. The following papers were given and are well worth reading in full online.
1. 'Theological and Cultural Foundations for Positive Inter-Religious Relations'by The Most Revd Dr Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt, North Africa and the Horn of Africa and Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East.
The Archbishop covers misconceptions to dialogue, before moving to theological and then cultural foundations for it, and concluding with three case studies from the Diocese of Egypt.
The theological foundations consider Abraham (Genesis 12), Jesus (Luke 10, drawing lessons from the parable of the Good Samaritan), Paul (Acts 17, his speech in Athens on the Areopagus) and humility before God who is the Greatest.
The Archbishop also draws on the seminal document, ‘A Common Word between Us and You’, signed by 138 Muslim scholars and leaders in 2007, and quotes comments on it from Professor David Ford of the University of Cambridge.
In introducing his three contextual examples of working together for harmony, he outlines three key principles: the rights of citizenship regardless of religion, sex, gender, social and economic class; the involvement of different ethnic and religious groups in shaping Egyptian society; and young people serving together in community services, art, music and sport.
The examples are: the medical partnership between the Anglican Church in Egypt and the Misr el Kheir Foundation (founded by the former Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa); the Arkan Cultural Center in Alexandria; and, in cooperation with Al Azhar Mosque and University, ‘Together for Egypt’, an Imam Priest Exchange project.
2. 'Desert Spirituality: Coptic Perspectives'by Abouna Youhanna, Coptic Orthodox Abbot of St Marcarius Monastery
The Abbot, who sadly could not present his paper in person due to ill health, outlines four points: the Holy Bible and its relation to the spirituality of the desert (drawing on the words of St Antony, St Esithorus and St Isaak); the unity of humanity as the hope of the ascetics (with the purified heart as the House of the Lord); the spirituality of the desert in our days in the thought of Father Matthew the Poor (outlining 11 spiritual principles); and the secret spiritual transformations in the life of a monk.
The latter includes four transformations, which may be summarised as: from compensation to progress; from marriage to the joys of celibacy; from parenthood to wider family relations; from financial legacy to inheritance in God’s kingdom.
3. 'Koinonia as an Image of Ecclesiology in Egypt today'by The Very Revd Samy Shehata, Dean of St Mark's Pro-Cathedral, Alexandria and Principal of the Alexandria School of Theology
The Dean, in his introduction, states:
The Church as Koinonia has taken a prominent role in ecumenical discussion on ecclesiology. It is an accepted notion of the Church for the various denominations. Zizioulas, Ratzinger, Volf, and Sagovosky have produced further insight and critical evaluation of the Church as Koinonia according to their denominational allegiances, i.e. Orthodox, Catholic, Free Church and Anglican.
He then considers four points: the Church as koinonia (biblical foundations and current denominational encouragement of the concept); Being as koinonia (the Trinity with reference to Doyle, Zizioulas, Volf and the Coptic theologian Al-Maskin); Eucharistic ecclesiology (drawing on the works of Avis and Ratzinger); and koinonia as unity (confessing the one faith and sharing the one life, discussing Pannenberg, Tutu and Sagovsky).
The Dean concludes:
A new paradigm of mission theology is emerging from the understanding of the Church as koinonia. The effectiveness of mission is tested more by the success in strengthening the bonds of koinonia. The Church as koinonia is a practical model for the context of Egypt. It has the strength of the incarnation ecclesiology and leads to the acceptance of other faiths’ communities, the promotion of social work, and the witness of Christians.
He also provides a very helpful detailed bibliography, endnotes and an appendix with the text of the 1991 ‘Canberra Statement’.
4. 'Coptic Monasticism and its Theology: The Models of St Antony and St Pachomius'by Mina Fouad Tawike, the lay Coptic Orthodox Lecturer in Patristics, Alexandria School of Theology
After an introduction on the essence of monasticism as ‘encountering God’, Mina Fouad has three sections: the rise of Egyptian monasticism (an historical overview and its legacy in world Christianity which stresses the two aspects of manual work, eg basket making, and residence in the cell); monastic theology (considered under the four points of the body and evil – distinguishing this to Gnosticism, celibacy, Christ as a model and ascetic life style); St Antony and St Pachomius (pioneers, respectively, of life as a hermit and life in an organised community).
Mina Fouad concludes:
To understand well why and how desert elders practiced these life-structuring strategies, we must understand first that asceticism isn’t running from a world that has gone mad but simply turning backs on society in order to seek God and follow the teachings of Jesus as completely as possible in solitariness.
Harmless describes Scetis like this: “The name Scetis is said to come from the Coptic shi hêt, meaning “to weigh the heart”—an apt name for a place where men, in the quest for God, spent their lives probing the depths and vagaries of the human heart.”
5. 'Diocesan Community Development as part of God’s Mission'by The Revd Dr Emad Basilios Lecturer in Mission at the Alexandria School of Theology and Priest at the Anglican Social Centre
After his introduction, in which he gives some biographical background information, Dr Basilios has five sections: a theology of community development (drawing on the Bible and the work of Christopher Wright and David Bosch); a history of community development in the Diocese of Egypt (building bridges and creating meeting points); the demographic context of Egypt today (a population of 90 million with 60% under the age of 30 and an illiteracy rate of 25.9%); examples of EpiscoCare Diocesan centres (which provide preschools, family support, economic development and training for motherhood, special needs, health, ecology, and vocations); and challenges facing the Church concerning this mission (finding a location and gaining a government license, financial support and recruiting and training suitable staff).
We need churches that build bridges with the community. We need a brave church to help the needy and defend the oppressed. A church that believes stones, persecution or even martyrdom can't prevent her from being the Good Samaritan for the wounded and wounding world.
6. 'Returning to our Roots: Mission in Tunisia and St Cyprian'by a ‘Servant of God’
After a short introduction, this Egyptian ‘Servant of God’ (a pseudonym) has four sections: the struggle today (the revival between 1995 and 1997, which was founded on dreams, the influx of foreign missionaries and their need to report on ‘success’, pressure from the Government, one boat and many captains, and the emerging national church); unity and diversity (drawing on historical lessons from Acts, the role of Bishops, the Didache, St Ignatius and St Polycarp); St Cyprian of Carthage in Tunisia, the first bishop-martyr in Africa (unfair criticism, unity and mission, model of the Church); church identity in Tunisia today (tensions for new believers from an Islamic background, people leaving as well as joining the Church, lack of teaching on the history and shape of the Church).
He concludes with a plea to learn from Tunisia’s ancient Christian roots that unity is crucial for mission.
I am very grateful to Archbishop Mouneer, Dean Samy Shehata, all the participants and those involved in administering the conference, including Helen Fraser, a Church Mission Society mission partner, who is the Development and Communication Manager of the Alexandria School of Theology.
Archbishop Mouneer kindly agreed to write the Foreword to the book of theological resources in times of persecution entitled, ‘Out of the Depths: Hope in Times of Suffering’. This was written by members of the Anglican Inter Faith Network of the Anglican Communion and was recommended for publication and study by the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Zambia. He also agreed to arrange for its translation into Arabic.
It was very moving to be in ancient Cairo, learning from Egyptian theologians, worshiping together and relaxing over meals. We worked hard, dug deep into history and theology, and attempted to apply to today the lessons of inter faith dialogue, Coptic monasticism, ecumenical ecclesiology, community development and evangelism and nurture of new converts in ancient Tunisia.
It was also great fun to meet up again with John Casson, the current British Ambassador in Egypt, who worships regularly at All Saints Cathedral. He was a young colleague of mine in the late 1990s, at what is now called the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide.
On the Saturday, at his Residence, we caught up with each other’s news over dinner and late night snooker, which turned out to be very competitive: Church v State. Church won. In revenge, he asked me to cut the cake at the Queen’s 90th Birthday celebrations, in front of 4,000 guests in his garden on the Wednesday. Archbishop Mouneer chuckled as I was given a ceremonial sword to do the honours.
So as well as football at the beginning and at the end of my journey from Lusaka, there was cake on the flight into Cairo and on my last night in Cairo.
(This article was originally published on Covenant and republished here with permission)