FILE- Pope Tawadros II in the Bishop Epiphanius’s funeral - press photo
CAIRO – 12 August 2018: In an official statement released Thursday, the Church explained that those who serve God know that they are protected from the first to the last day of the year, verifying that the recent murder did not shake the church or scare those serving God.
With Pope Tawadros II leading thousands of preachers and religious men and women, as well as millions of Egyptian Christians—and non-Egyptian Christians too, the Egyptian church has always been strong internationally, helping millions become more pious and thankful every year.
In light of the importance of the church and recent events, Egypt Today delves into the church’s history.
More than anything else, Bishop Epiphanius’s funeral brought more questions to the forefront of the Egyptian mind than answers. “You do not follow a particular individual,” said Pope Tawadros II as part of his speech to his fellow religious preachers. His sentence rang loud of the different ideological schools: The Pope Shenouda school and the ecclesiastical school of Matthew the poor.
But what is the difference between the school of Pope Shenouda and the ecclesiastical school of Matthew the poor?
A Blooming relationship
If we decide to go into the origin of the dispute between the two schools of thought, we first need to go back to the origin of the ideological difference between the two great symbolic men and the root of the relationship that Matthew had with his student Shenouda. Both enjoyed a good relationship that unfortunately ended with ideological clashes, with consequences that affected the church and is likely to continue to have effect on the future of the church.
During the 1940s and the 1950s, the Coptic Church saw a wave of young monks, bishops and priests that had university qualifications. These monks were different from the ones that came before them; they were not just looking at religious while being secluded in the desert, they were applying it to everyday life and they were armed with science and worldly knowledge that allowed them to make sense of the information given to them.
In fact, Pope Shenouda first joined the monastery due to influence from Matthew the poor.
The start of a disagreement
Father Matthew was nominated twice for the papal throne: First as a rival to Pope Cyril after the death of Pope Yusab II in 1956; and the second as a rival to Pope Shenouda after the death of Pope Cyril in 1971.
Before the latter ascended the throne of St. Mark, in 1971, when they differed on the revision of the Book of the Times in 1961, Pope Shenouda was entrusted with his review, but the first did not follow the observation of Anba Shenouda, then Bishop of education.
In a recorded video, Pope Shenouda confirmed that he had sent his remarks to Matthew more than once, but that the latter was determined to print his books in the same way as they had come, prompting the pope to respond to his books in lectures at the seminary without mentioning the name of the author.
“A faithful monk, but not aware of the seriousness of the wrong theological expression,” Pope Shenouda described Father Matthew in his writings.
From the beginning of the 1960s until early on in the 21st century, the ideological disputes continued between Matthew and Shenouda; the most prominent of which revolves around the question of human deification, the doctrine of expiation and redemption, biblical criticism and questioning parts of the Gospel of Mark, the role of good works in the days of salvation, the concept of unity with other communities, and other issues.
Father Matthew got hold of a complete collection of the words of the Fathers translated in English. Upon reading them, his thoughts and reflections altered to slightly reflect the readings that he had explored rather wisely. This showed in his writings, whereby he believed that uniting all Christians is possible; not through dialogue, but through the actions of fathers, something that Shenouda and his ideological wing strongly rejected.
The highest point of disagreement was reached when Pope Shenouda disagreed with President Anwar El-Sadat; this came as a result of Pope escalation against the state when he decided to cancel the celebrations of the Easter holidays and not to receive officials because of what happened in the red corner incident in which dozens of Copts, as a result of sectarian strife. Father Matthew did not agree with Pope Shenouda’s actions and had a sit-down with President Sadat to calm the situations, according to Matthew’s memoirs published after his death. Rather spectacularly, the memoirs of Pope Shenouda did not reflect this, and rather recorded that the meeting between Matthew and Sadat only made matters worse and more complicated.
Kamal Zakher, who specializes in Coptic affairs, argues, based on his observations over the years, that the dispute between the two was one of intellect and power, pointing out that Pope Shenouda excluded anyone who did not agree with his opinion. He also stressed that the ideological disputes are merely a hard outside for the real personal differences between the two.
How does the Monastry of Anba Makar fit in?
The Monastery of Anba Makar was the platform for struggles between the poor and Pope Shenouda.
The first decided to spend the remainder of his life in this convent between his disciples and his monks. Pope Shenouda returned to the cathedral.
The monastery of St. Anba Makar was closer to the intellectually and administratively independent of the church. His monks wore various monastic clothes. They read, translated and published books translated into several languages.
Pope Shenouda publicly declared his disagreement with them when he answered questions in his sermons. In one recording he said that love must be mutual. Pope Shenouda began to respond to the books of Father Matthew in his lectures at the seminary.
Throughout the era of Pope Shenouda, the writings of the late Father Matthew were banned from church. They are not sold in the libraries of the churches and are distributed only in the monastery of Anba Makar. Even an exhibition of the Coptic book at the cathedral witnessed the confiscation of copies of the books by Matthew.
What happened after Father Matthew’s death?
In 2009, after the death of Matthew, Pope Shenouda visited the monastery of Anba Makar on a historic visit. For the first time in the history of the modern church, he changed the monastic order of the monks of the monastery of Anba Makar to be unified with the rest of the monasteries. Monks were given the choice between wearing the traditional headdress and to keep their clothes, some of them wearing it became a follower of Pope Shenouda and some of them refused.
Why did the pope recommend Tawadros II to reconcile the monastery?
In 2013, Pope Tawadros decided to appoint new bishops. And as a result of Bishop Michael being in his 90s, Pope Tawadros II spent much time with tose in church finding out what I can wear. The divisions between the schools of Matthew the poor and the Pope However, sources from the monastery fathers confirm that Abba Epiphanius had obtained the majority of the voices of the parents belonging to the school of Matthew the poor monastic, and not all the abbots of the abbey, who abstained quite a few from them Vote for.
It was the Pope's first recommendation to Abba Epiphanius at the time of his creation of the "Congregation of the Convent" after the differences that they saw between 2006 and 2013.
What is the reason behind the Pope's anger during the funeral of Pope Epiphanius?
The Pope appeared sad and depressed at the funeral; for the first time, he sent firm messages to monks in a sermon broadcast before the public, where he used words of great significance. He said, “You do not follow a particular individual. You are the monks of St. Macarius the great,” after whom the Monastery is named.
He even asked them not to speak to the media, stressing that speaking to the press conflicts with one of main principals of becoming a monk: Choosing to remove oneself from worldly lives and pleasures.
Not under the Church’s control: The Monastery of Anba Makar
Until the death of Bishop Epanianus, the Monastry of Anba Makar was causing a slight problem and was a source of crises due to its independence from the cathedral. In 2009, Pope Shenouda brought the Monastery under the administrative power of the church. Since then, the church had an ideological change, as Pope Shenouda was now its monk, and his ideological followers were serving in it. They were, according to Sarah Allam, a Coptic affairs specialist, “his eyes inside.”
During his last days, three monks were nominated for the monastery's presidency. The pope said that the three candidates were among the monks' choices, but research reveals that they were handpicked by the Pope.
Among the many crises inherited by Bishop Epanianus was the case of the Yaqoub al-Maqari, the Monk who decided to build a fifth monastery in Wadi El-Natroun, bearing the name, ‘Virgin Mary and Bishop Karas’, and was able to complete most of the construction.
The death of Bishop Epiphanius
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria announced July 29, the death of head St. Macarius Monastery in Wadi El-Natrun, Bishop Epiphanius.
The late bishop had set an example for the modest scholar and ascetic monk who continued to serve the country and the culture, Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Mostafa el-Feki said, mourning murdered Bishop Epiphanius.
The church’s statement mentioned that the bishop’s death is being investigated by the security authorities as mystery shrouds the incident. The statement pointed out that the Bishop’s funerals to be held after the investigation is closed.
Wagih Mikhail, head of the Center for Middle Eastern Christianity of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, said that Bishop Epiphanius lectured Muslims and Christians in the seminary, adding that he won the hearts of his students.
When Bishop Epiphanius was invited to an international Christian conference, he came early and gave a perfect academic speech, Wagih said. On the following day, Epiphanius sat in the last row in the hall and refused to sit in one of the front rows, saying: “yesterday I was a speaker. Today I came to learn,” Wagih added describing the late bishop’s modesty.
Bishop Epiphanius was born in 1954 in Tanta, Gharbia governorate and graduated from the Faculty of Medicine. In February 1984, he joined the Monastery of St. Macarius in Wadi El-Natrun and only a few months later, he was ordained as a monk. He was ordained as a priest in 2002, and was elected as the head of the monastery in 2013.
The late bishop was found dead and covered in blood on Sunday morning. The preliminary security investigation suggested that Bishop Epiphanius was hit by a sharp object. The body of the bishop was transferred to the morgue of the Wadi El-Natrun Central Hospital.
Suggestions that the crime is part of a terrorist attack were reportedly excluded as the bishop was not a famous public figure and did not look different from the monks inside the St. Macarius Monastery.
Monk Basil of the St. Macarius Monastery told Al-Watan that 130 monks live in the monastery and that the body of Bishop Epiphanius was discovered by Monk Gabriel. A part of Epiphanius’s brain got out of his skull which enhances the probability that the bishop was hit by a sharp object.
Monk Basil said that the crime took place at 3 a.m., adding that the monastery contacted Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria following the discovery of the crime. Basil excluded the possibility that Epiphanius was murdered by a thief, as Epiphanius did not own anything and none of his stuff was reported missing.
Basil suggested that the killer is someone inside the monastery as the killer surely knew that the monastery's passage where Epiphanius was killed is out of the surveillance cameras reach. In addition, he targeted the head of the monastery in particular.
The monk said that he cannot accuse anyone of committing the crime, saying that there were no disputes between Bishop Epiphanius and other monks or workers.