Greek Orthodox leader to AO: Church alone will govern Christians' personal-status issues

Sherry El-Gergawi, Thursday 27 Sep 2012

Greek Orthodox Church spokesman says recent requests by small Coptic group to make Egypt's Christians subject to Islamic Law – in regards to personal-status issues, especially divorce – are 'unacceptable'

Archbishop Nicholas the spokesman of the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria (Photo: ahram online)

In a Thursday letter to Ahram Online, Archbishop Nicholas, spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria, said that recent requests by the so-called '38 Copts Association' to make Egyptian Christians subject to Islamic Law in regards to personal-status issues – particularly divorce – was "unacceptable."

"This group [38 Copts] does not reflect the church's opinion; it only represents itself and its own agenda," said Nicholas.

He added that the group had "issued their demand merely to solve their own problems with the Coptic Orthodox Church to which they belong; this is an internal Coptic problem in which other churches should not get involved."

"Each church has its own rules governing marriage and divorce, approved by the state in which they are located and used in the state's personal-status courts," he added.

Nicholas stressed that the Greek Orthodox Church continued to adhere to church regulations issued in 1937, "which include all regulations on personal-status issues; we therefore have no problems with our congregants in this regard."

The archbishop went on to point to a proposed 'unified personal-status law' for non-Muslims, which would make the Christian churches the final arbiters of personal-status issues for their congregants.

Drafted by Egypt's three main Christian churches – the Coptic Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical churches – in 1978, the proposed law was rejected by the justice ministry at the time. Twenty years later, in 1998, church representatives again proposed the law – with some minor amendments – but again failed to obtain ministry approval, even though Egypt's Al-Azhar gave the law its support.

"Only the churches that sign onto the law will have to follow its clauses, as is the case with all churches in the world," he said. "Each church has its own rules for marriage and divorce, along with the registration of marriages with the state."

In the event that the law is approved, asserted the archbishop, "the grievances articulated by the '38 Copts' group regarding divorce and second marriages would be made subject to the law."

Notably, at a 22 August meeting with Christian leaders, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi promised to approve the proposed law "soon."

Some 300,000 Greek Christians constitute the Patriarchate of Alexandria in Egypt. The current primate of the Greek Church of Alexandria is Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa.

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