Reviving the Clerical College in Alexandria 50 years on
The evening of 26 February 2022 saw Pope Tawadros lead the Coptic Orthodox Church in celebrating a special anniversary: the Golden Jubilee of the Clerical College, the Coptic Seminary, in Alexandria. Alexandria’s Clerical College was established in 1972 at the hands of Pope Shenouda III the 117th Patriarch from 1971 to 2012 as a revival of the Catechetical School of Alexandria founded by St Mark the Apostle in the first AD century—St Mark was martyred in Alexandria in 68AD—and closed by the Byzantine Emperor following the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
The mission of the Alexandria Clerical College is primarily education. Many of its graduates have gone on to become bishops, priests, deacons, and servants in the Coptic Orthodox Church.
The College’s current Deputy Dean, Professor of Comparative and Pastoral Theology Fr Abra’am Bashondi told that the Clerical College aims that its graduates, especially those who would go on to be priests, would all be united in theological education and vision.
Among the college graduates, Fr Abra’am said, is the current Patriarch of Alexandria, Pope Tawadros II who was enthroned in November 2012. He graduated in 1983 under his lay name Waguih Sobhy Baqi.
Pope Tawadros II is today the College Dean, in his capacity as supreme president of Coptic Orthodox theological and clerical institutes. The College boasted prominent Coptic theologians and educators as its Deputy Deans; Professor Mahfouz Andrawes was the first Deputy Dean in 1972 till he died in 1986, followed by Anba Bishoy 1942 2018 Metropolitan of Dumyat and Kafr al-Sheikh; the current Deputy Dean is Fr Abra’am Bashondi.
Alexandria’s Clerical College is not the only Coptic Orthodox seminary in Egypt. The first to be established in modern times is the Clerical College in Abassiya which was founded in 1893 by St Habib Girgis, and the maMor seminary in the Coptic Church. There are other seminaries in Damanhour, which has two branches in Ekingi Mariout and Marsa Matrouh in western Egypt; Port Said east of the Delta; Mehalla and Shebin al-Koum in the midDelta; Fayoum south east Cairo; and Minya, Balyana, Luxor, and Muharraq Monastery in southern Egypt. According to Fr Abra’am, there are efforts to unify the curriculum in the various seminaries, a task of which almost 75 per cent has been achieved.
In addition, there are a number of Coptic Orthodox theological institutes around the world.
Under ae is oI leri al olle e ns i e oI i le dies
In celebrating the golden Mubilee of Alexandria’s Clerical College, Pope Tawadros was Moined by a number of bishops and priests at the event held in the papal headquarters at St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria. Present were Anba Salib, Bishop of MitGhamr; Bishops- General of the pastoral sectors of Alexandria: Anba Pavli of Montazah; Anba Ilarion of West Alexandria; and Anba Hermina of East Alexandria; also Anba Bigoul, Abbot of Muharrak Monastery in Assiut and Deputy Dean of its Clerical College; Anba Mikhail, Bishop- General of Hadayeq al- Qubba and Abassiya in Cairo, and Deputy Dean of the Clerical College at Anba Rweiss in Abassiya; as well as Fr Abra’am Emil, Secretary- General of Alexandria Diocese; Fr Abra’am Bashondi, Deputy Dean of Alexandria’s Clerical College; Fr Matta Zakariya, Deputy Dean of Marsa-Matrouh Clerical College; and a number of priests. Faculty members, graduates, and students of Alexandria’s Clerical College attended the celebration.
Pope Tawadros and the bishops were received by the traditional procession of white-robed deacons with red sashes chanting the welcoming Coptic melodies that go back in time to ancient Egypt. He then unveiled a marble plaque commemorating the occasion, then moved through stations’, each illustrating a milestone in the history of the Clerical College over the past 50 years.
A documentary was screened on the history of the Clerical College and its impact as a beacon of culture and Church education in Alexandria. A number of graduates gave words in which they remembered their time in college and testified to the formative experience they had there.
The Pope then ratified the legal document establishing the Institute of Bible Studies in Alexandria, under the aegis of Alexandria’s Clerical College. A short film titled “This is Alexandria” was then screened; it focused on a vision for the seminary 50 years from now.
The event concluded with a speech by Pope Tawadros, in which he expressed his Moy at the golden Jubilee celebration, and said that he had five dreams for the Clerical College, which he hoped would come true.
The first dream, the Pope said, was that the Clerical College would one day have its own well- equipped building to house it. “I suggest,” he said, “that the College would endeavour fund-raising to bring in donations to build new headquarters fit to host its scope of work and mission.” [It is now housed in a building that used to be the Coptic school in Alexandria .
The second was t hat t he number of students doing postgraduate work would rise sufficiently for t he seminary to gain official accreditation. “We live i n a time when t he President of Egypt and t he education authorities are promoting university education; some 70 new universities have been established,” Pope Tawadros said. “It would be expedient to have a Christian i nstitution specialised i n Christian and t heological studies, t hat would be t he pride of Egypt.”
The third dream was that there would be students who would study on scholarships outside Egypt. “The Church does receive such grants,” the Pope said, “but there is a dearth of students who could apply for them because of the lack of knowledge of the adequate foreign language. But this student exchange is extremely beneficial, so I urge students to learn languages other than Arabic and English.”
The fourth dream of the Pope was that there would be a fifth academic year at the Clerical College, during which students may study more general but timely topics such as climate change, ecumenical relations, or African churches.
iIe oI onse ra ion
The fifth dream was that the College would be able to accommodate boarders. This, the Pope said, would allow for the early preparation of male and female students who seek a life of consecration to service. “Consecration does not apply only to teaching in the Church; it extends to a wide range of services such as in the health and medical fields, social field, and others. I dream that there would be highly qualified, consecrated professionals to serve in such domains so that we would realise perfection in service. The Bible verse of James 4:17 says: If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them’.”
The Pope concluded by thanking the bishops and clergy of Alexandria, Fr Abra’am Bashondi, the students and professors of Alexandria’s Clerical College, all the attendees, and everyone who contributed to the success of that prestigious college over the years.