Cop­tic monas­ti­cism in Evan­gel­i­cal eyes

Watani International - - الصفحة الأمامية - S EO I R S L R L FR F S LR L R LFL

It might ap­pear strange that a Church known for not en­dors­ing monas­ti­cism as a concept should hold a sem­i­nar on the topic. This was the first thought to spring to minds when it be­came known that an en­tity be­long­ing to the Evan­gel­i­cal Church of Egypt, a Protes­tant Church, was hold­ing a four-day train­ing course on “Monas­ti­cism and ori­en­tal spir­i­tu­al­ity” in Cairo. Pre­dictably, scep­tics num­bered much more than those who took the event se­ri­ously, but they were in for a pleas­ant sur­prise.

The course was held by the Evan­gel­i­cal The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in Cairo’s Cen­tre for Mid­dle East­ern Chris­tian­ity (CMEC) in co­op­er­a­tion with the Bi­b­lio­theca Alexan­d­rina’s (BA) Cen­tre for Cop­tic Stud­ies (CCS). Par­tic­i­pat­ing were Youhanna Nes­sim Youssef, se­nior re­search as­so­ciate at the Cen­tre for Early Chris­tian Stud­ies at the Aus­tralian Catholic Uni­ver­sity; Loay Mah­moud, di­rec­tor of the CCS; Rev. Youssef Samir, pas­tor of the Evan­gel­i­cal church in He­liopo­lis; Rev. Dr Waguih Youssef, head of the CMEC; and Anba Maqar, Bishop of Shar­qiya and 10th of Ra­madan city who gave the fi­nal ad­dress.

Anba Maqar fo­cused on monas­ti­cism as in­sep­a­ra­ble from Egypt’s his­tory since as early as pre-Chris­tian times and un­til the present. He said Cop­tic monas­ti­cism had its sources in Egyp­tian, Greek, Jewish, and Chris­tian ori­gins; and gave au­di­ences a brief­ing of that his­tory un­til the emer­gence of in­sti­tu­tional Cop­tic monas­tic thought at the hands of St An­thony the Great, and its devel­op­ment to its present form at the hands of St Shenoute and St Pa­chomius in the fourth cen­tury.

How the Evan­gel­i­cal Church re­lates to monas­ti­cism was the topic tack­led by Rev. Dr Youssef. “Cop­tic monas­ti­cism,” he said, “is an in­te­gral con­stituent of the Cop­tic Church. Many Evan­gel­i­cals, how­ever, be­lieve that tak­ing or­ders in some desert monastery is

“To­day,” he said, “One hun­dred-and-fifty years af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of the Protes­tant faith in Egypt, it is time to vo­cally re­ject ex­trem­ist thought, and work for rap­proche­ment be­tween both Churches. As re­gards monas­ti­cism, we must ac­knowl­edge that both Ortho­dox and Catholic monks have done mo­men­tous ser­vices to Chris­tian­ity.”

In mod­ern times, Rev. Youssef said, there have been moves to­wards ec­u­meni­cal monas­ti­cism. One such move­ment ap­peared in the south of France in the 1940s, the Taizè com­mu­nity, led by the Catholic Church. Another emerged in Ox­ford, Michi­gan, in the US in the 1950s, The Con­gre­ga­tion of the Ser­vants of Christ at St Au­gus­tine’s House, led by the Lutheran Church.

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Dr Mah­moud of the CCS talked about Cop­tic monas­ter­ies, mon­u­ments and an­tiq­ui­ties. He said there were 45 an­cient churches and monas­ter­ies within the bound­aries of Pharaonic, Greek, and Ro­man ru­ins. There were also four en­tire monas­tic set­tle­ments in Kil­lia, Abu-Mina, Nubariya and Wadi al-Na­troun; as well as 300 old monas­ter­ies and churches through­out Egypt; and count­less early-cen­tury caves and monk cells of which a mere 90 are on the An­tiq­ui­ties List in Egypt.

Cop­tic an­tiq­ui­ties and mon­u­ments, Dr Mah­moud ex­plained, were the re­spon­si­bil­ity of three of­fi­cial sec­tors in the An­tiq­ui­ties Min­istry: the mu­se­ums sec­tor, the Cop­tic an­tiq­ui­ties sec­tor, and the Egyp­tian an­tiq­ui­ties sec­tor. The di­vi­sion of re­spon­si­bil­ity does not serve the preser­va­tion of the an­tiq­ui­ties or mon­u­ments. The big­gest predica­ment, how­ever, is that many of these her­itage items lie within work­ing churches and sites of wor­ship. The swelling con­gre­ga­tions need more space, so the priests in charge of these old sites fre­quently ex­pand them at dire cost to their his­toric fea­tures. Dr Mah­moud gave the ex­am­ple of Deir al-May­moun in Beni Sweif, 100km south of Cairo, which is a listed mon­u­ment. Four years ago the priest de­cided—ow­ing to the large num­ber of wor­ship­pers—to ex­pand the wor­ship area by de­mol­ish­ing an old wall. He was sum­moned by the po­lice, but it was dis­cov­ered that the site was only listed but was not doc­u­mented in de­tail. Noth­ing could thus be done, and the old fea­ture has been for­ever lost.

The case of Deir al-May­moun is not an iso­lated one, Dr Mah­moud said; many oth­ers have taken and are tak­ing place. “We need good-willed co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Church and the an­tiq­ui­ties author­i­ties,” he said. “This is the only way we can pre­serve Cop­tic mon­u­ments and an­tiq­ui­ties.”

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