Your Grace bishop Mina, your Eminences and your Graces the Metropolitans and bishops, distinguished guests, my fathers the priests and my fellow Copts. Today, according to the ancient Coptic calendar, our Church celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation. When the angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin from Nazareth of Galilee to announce to her the greatest news of all times: the coming of the Messiah.
Theologians delight in giving complicated Greek names to feasts, and this feast is no exception. It is called the proto-evangelion. I am not an expert on Greek but I know that proto means first and Evangelion means Gospel or good news, so proto-evangelion means the first good news. Theologians figured out that since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, this was actually the first good news that humanity had received.
As we read the account of the fall in Genesis 3, we realize that Adam and Eve were driven out from the blessedness of paradise to live in a cursed land. For the Lord told Adam: “Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.” (Gen 3:17)
And any one who studies the Old Testament will realize that it ends with a curse. For the last Verse of the last chapter of the last book of the Old Testament reads: “lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Mal 4:6)
That is why the annunciation to the holy Virgin Mary is indeed the very first good news for humanity since the fall of Adam and Eve.
But today is also the first good news for the Copts in Canada. For next year, in 2014, Canadian Copts will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Coptic Church in Canada. For it was in 1964 that a pioneer, Fr. Marcus Marcus established the first Coptic Church in North America in Toronto. I came to Canada four years later in 1968. For 49 years Canadians have lived and worshipped in this great country Canada without a bishop. They built cathedrals and schools and community centres but they still had no bishop. They looked in envy on Copts in Europe, the United States, South America and Australia for all of these Copts had their own bishops, but Canada was without a bishop. But today things have changed, for in the fullness of time His Grace Abba Mina comes today to be enthroned as the first bishop in a diocese in Canada. And we all rejoice whether we belong to this diocese or we don’t for today is our proto-evangelion, today is the day of the first good news for the Coptic Church in Canada.
Saint Ignatius bishop of Antioch was born in the middle of the first century. He was a disciple of saint john the Evangelist. He died as a martyr around the year 108 AD On the way from Antioch to Rome where he was thrown to the beasts, he wrote several Epistles to the churches he passed by. Here is an excerpt from his Epistle to the Ephesians:
Being worthy of God, is being fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Thus, being joined together in concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. ... Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God. ... For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would look upon the Lord Himself [Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians]
Saint Ignatius is teaching us to receive the bishop even as we receive the Lord Himself. And this agrees with what the Lord himself told His disciples: “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” (Matt 10:40)
That is why, our church, faithful to the command of the Lord and the teachings of the fathers of the Church receives the bishop by the beautiful Greek hymn Evlogemenos which means “Blessed be he that comes in the name of the Lord”, the same hymn with which the people of Jerusalem received the Lord when he entered their city riding on a colt.
Your Grace, we receive you today even as we receive the Lord who sent you to us. And we pledge our obedience and our loyalty and our respect and our love as your children in the Lord. And may the Lord grant us that we be fitted as exactly to your Grace as the strings are to the harp, so that being joined together with your Grace in concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung, to Whom is the glory forever and ever. Amen.