Greetings brothers in Christ,
Quick background: I am a recent convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and while I wholeheartedly ascribe to Chalcedon, I also sincerely love the Coptic Christians; your monasticism, your heritage, your Liturgy, and your bravery in the face of oppression. I have been learning more about the Egyptian Church recently, though my understanding of the Copts as they are today is limited, so I had a few questions:
1. What is the position of the Pope exactly in the Coptic Church. In the EO Church, our Patriarchs are nothing like the Pope of Rome with his direct authority over every bishop of the Church, instead they are simply a bishop whose diocese extends over a larger administrative area than a Diocesan or Metropolitan bishop. However, the Patriarch has no more sacramental power than a diocesan bishop and at a council or Synod, their votes would count the same. Is this the way it is in the Coptic Church? I ask this because it seems to me that the OO Churches, while they concelebrate aren't as uniform as the EO Churches in that despite minor differences in practice, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is the same in Moscow as it is in Damascus (this is kind of neat, because it means I can go to a Liturgy in another language and know what's going on, however, it would be cool if there were more diverse Rites and Liturgies). It also seems that the OO are much more tied to their Patriarchs in the same way that the Latins are attached to their Pope. I also remember running into a RC apologist who said that there has always been two Popes at any given time, in Rome and Alexandria and that the Coptic adherence to their Pope is proof of the predominance of the Pope in the early Church. I gather that he didn't know what he was talking about because Pope and Patriarch mean the same thing, but I confess my own ignorance as well, which is why I'm here :P
I've also read that the Syriacs believe in the Preeminence of Peter over the rest of the Apostles, as in he was the head of the Church. I wonder if they ascribe Petrine Exclusivism to their Patriarch since Antioch was the First Episcopacy of Peter (I bring this up to RC people alot because according to this idea, Antioch has an equal claim as Rome, "Which is more important, his first or last chair?")
2. Is ethno-phyletism (racism/nationalism) and inaccessibility a problem in Coptic or OO churches? I'm sure many of you are aware of the problems the EO have had with being inaccessible at times due to ethnicity being so dominant, and some turning their churches into an outright ethnic club. For instance, my current Priest who is a very traditional immigrant Priest who lived under Communism, and is the nicest most warm hearted guy you could ever meet, was run out of his first Church in the U.S. because of this. He came in and found the Church to be a wicked, clannish ethnic club where the women and children went to the Church (often late) and the men went to the fellowship hall to drink! He shut down the bar and told them this wasn't an ethnic club, and they were horrible to him. So, he was given release by our awesome Bishop to start a mission Church to bring in converts and cradle who were serious about their faith. I haven't heard any direct complaint of this nonsense happening in a Coptic Church though there aren't that many in the States. I have heard from a woman who went to an Assyrian Church where she was either ignored, treated with disdain, and some old Tata gave her the evil eye. I have heard that Coptic Churches are hard to integrate into because of the language, but then again so was the Russian Church just 30 years ago, though dedicated converts like Blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose pushed through that, learned the language and paved the way for converts after them. Is this the case in your Church or is it a different story? If I were to go visit, say, St. Mark's here in Phoenix, what would my experience be?
3. What do you feel is standing between EO and Coptic union? From my perspective there is relatively few differences in our teachings and practice, and I find it fascinating that despite our separation your Church seems so similar, such as having a similar theology of icons despite never having the Seventh Ecumenical council. What seems to be getting in the way is that we've anathematized each others' Saints. Severus might not be that hard to exhonorate according to our own theologians: http://www.monachos.net/content/patristics/studies-themes/252-severus-of-antiochs-objections-to-the-council-of-chalcedon-a-re-assessment
however Dioscorous is a huge stumbling block because our Church views him as a murderer and a criminal. I would never agree to union at the expense of the truth, but I also find this schism to be unmitigated sin that must be rectified, and the sooner the better. Especially now that militant Islam is making a resurgence and the Secular Western World is relativising our beliefs, I find that the need for our Churches to join hands again more than ever.
On that note, may God save Egypt, and I ask you my brothers and sisters to pray for Syria and Patriarch Ignatius IV who I greatly fear for at the moment.
Peace to all of you in XC