Nov 1, 2008

Coptic Missionary in Africa

In the year 1976, His Grace Bishop Antonios Markos came all alone to Kenya, zealous to spread the kingdom of God. Similar to St-Mark the evangelist, Bishop Antonios Markos came to Kenya with a big heart, and relied on the Lord to lead him. And because of his zeal and faithfulness, the Lord blessed the seeds which he planted. Within a relatively short time, numerous churches were built in several African countries, and many Africans were ordained as deacons and priests.

As the service had grown to more than seven African countries, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III ordained also H.G. Bishop Paul as Bishop of Mission in 1997. Today, some countries are assigned to the care of H.G. Bishop Antonious Markos, and others are assigned to the care of H.G. Bishop Paul. The countries that are listed below are the ones under the care of H.G. Bishop Paul.

The first Coptic Orthodox Church was established in Kenya in 1976. By the grace of God, it has grown tremendously year by year. Today Kenya has 29 churches, shepherded by eight priests and 160 deacons.

The churches in Kenya have numerous projects and ministries, including a Coptic Hospital and Hope Center in Nairobi, an Orphans Project, a Street Children's project, a Theological School and much more.
Nairobi Parish

The Nairobi Parish is served by two priests, namely Fr. Michael (ordained in 1994), and Fr. Moses (ordained in 1997), both ordained by H.H. Pope Shenouda III. They are serving at St-Mark’s Church, which was the first Church established in 1976 by His Grace Bishop Antonios Markos.
Tala Parish

The Tala Parish has three churches, served by Fr. Joseph, who was ordained in 1998 by H.H. Pope Shenouda III. There are also two new churches in the area, for which buildings have not yet been constructed.
Nakuru Parish

The Nakuru Parish has three churches, which are served by Fr. Michael, ordained in 1994 by H.H. Pope Shenouda III. Fr. Michael also serves in Nairobi with Fr. Moses.
Kaluo Parish

The Kaluo Parish has three churches, served by Fr. Timothy, ordained in 1996 by H.H. Pope Shenouda III.
Maseno Parish

The Maseno Parish has nine churches, served by Fr. Bishoy (ordained in 1996) and Fr. Elisha (ordained in 2002), both by H.H. Pope Shenouda III.

The Coptic Orthodox Church in Zambia was established in 1987 by His Grace Bishop Antonios Morkos. By God’s grace, it has grown to include 3 churches, a hospital, a Hope Center for Infectious Diseases, and several other projects. It has a very unique mission service in the area of Mongolee, a bush area 40 km deep from the main road.

The three churches are currently being served by Fr. Mark, who was ordained by H.H. Pope Shenouda III in the year 2002, and Fr. Abraham, ordained in February 2007 by His Grace Bishop Paul.

Democratic Republic of Congo
The Coptic Orthodox Church was established in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the year 1997. Today, there are 8 churches, served by 4 Congolese priests, namely Fr. Shenouda, Fr. Angelos, Fr. Theophilos (all ordained by H.H. Pope Shenouda in 1999), and Fr. Paul (ordained by H.H. Pope Shenouda in 2002); there are also 80 deacons supporting the fathers.

The D.R. of Congo has many services to cater for all age groups; two of the unique services are: a widows project, and three credited Christian Schools run by the churches.

The Coptic Orthodox Church was established in Tanzania in 1997. Today there are two churches in the province of Mara, served by Fr. Joshua and 12 deacons. There is a unique service in Tanzania, which is the service of the leprous people.

Fr. Joshua has been a member of the Coptic Church in Nairobi (Kenya) since his childhood. He was a deacon for 15 years, of which he was a disciple of Fr. Moses in Nairobi for 8 years. He was ordained in April 2006 by H.H. Pope Shenouda III.

The Coptic Orthodox Church was established in Nigeria in the year 2005 in Lagos. Another one was started in 2006 in Calabar, where most of the members are Egyptian Copts working in Nigeria. Neither of these churches have permanent buildings yet; believers are renting places that they can use to meet and pray until they can build or buy a church. Presently, it is being served by visiting priest Fr. Moses from Nairobi, Kenya, and 5 deacons from Nigeria.
Churches under care of H.G. Bishop Paul

The Release of the Spirit, by H. H. Pope Shenouda III

this a chapter from one of the greatest books written by H. H. Pope Shenouda III, first published book by him and also the first book I've read for him..

About The Book
The book is a collection of articles entitled, "The Release of the Spirit" written for the Sunday School Magazine from the year 1951 . Pope Shenouda was then the editor of that magazine before starting his monastic life.
These articles were published in the form of a book in the year 1957 including some of his poems which were published in the magazine as well..
The fourth edition included some meditations and poems which he wrote while still a monk before his ordination as a bishop of Religious Education

Ch.3: THE RELEASE OF THE SPIRIT : The release from bonds

It was seven O'clock in the evening, and silence {surrounded} every-thing when my father monk and I be-gan to set our feet on the sand of the desert. We walked from time to time contemplating on matters beyond human utterance. A long time passed without our being aware until we stopped at the gate of the monastery to discuss together.

Impressions and bonds:
I do not mean by the 'release of the spirit from the body' what Simeon the Elder meant when he said: "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word.." .. What I mean is the release of the spirit while still in the body; its release from any bonds encompassing it. Only then, one can experience complete peace and live the free life of God's children.

Do you know, dear brother, that a child, after being baptised, has his spirit free, in the original condition in which it was created..? Do you know what happens to it afterwards? The world, the customs and the environment implant in it many impressions. Many bonds bind it and hinder its movement towards God to be united with Him and abide in Him. What God's children seek is to be freed from all this.. to have their souls released from the bonds of the world and the environment and from the bonds of the senses and human wisdom...

At this point the father monk said: 'Perhaps some think of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, "unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3). that they mean, "Unless you become as young as children.." No , He wanted to say, "Unless you become as great in spirit as children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.'

The bonds of the senses:
St. Macarius the Great once met a monk who was fought with self-righteousness, he thought he had overcome adultery, love for money and anger.. St. Macarius began to ask him about his feelings on seeing a woman.. The monk replied that he would discern that she was a woman but would fly away lest he should feel lust.. St. Macarius asked him again what his feeling would be when he saw some money in the desert.. The monk said he would be able to distinguish money from stones but he would abstain from the love of money.. The saint asked him a third time how he would feel if someone insulted him.. The monk replied that he would feel that he was insulted but would not let anger remain within his heart.

Here, St. Macarius told the monk that he was still frail and needed to strive more and the saint began to teach him..

The bonds of the senses, dear reader, make a person discriminate between a man and a woman, between an old woman and a young girl, and between a beautiful girl and an ugly one.. Such bonds also make one discriminate between money and stones..

What about praise and insult then?
Once a monk asked St. Macarius for advice.. St.Macarius ordered him to go and praise the dead. He did so but no one replied to him. The saint then ordered him to go and insult them, but when he did no one replied either. Then St. Macarius said to that monk, 'You also must be like the dead since you have died to the world.. You must not be affected by anything whether this be praise or insult'.. Once a rich man brought some money to the monastery in order to be distributed among the monks.. the abbot wanted to teach that person a practical lesson, so he put the money aside and rang the bell. When the monks gathered the abbot asked them to take their need of the money as an expression of their love for the rich man. But the monks looked at the gold as if looking to stones and took nothing of it in spite of it. Their behaviour had so great effect on that person that he asked to be a monk..

The world and the flesh, dear brother, have many impressions on our senses. This makes us look upon the worldly and material things as being more beautiful and attractive than they really are and as having a deeper effect. However, when the spirit is elevated and released partly-from the bonds which hinder its way, the senses will be elevated accordingly . In other words , they will be released from the worldly feelings and you will have a new spiritual understanding of matters.

You can feel this if you were away from your family for a long time, and on you return they embraced you in excessive love and longing.. You felt overwhelmed by their love, but would you, amidst this love, feel that the person who embraced you whether your father or mother, your sister or brother was a man or a woman!

The same is the case of the person who rescues others in fires or drowning accidents. If such a person felt that whomever he was rescuing was a man or a woman, a girl or a boy, he would expose himself and that person would be in danger of death.

I think this demonstrates that the spirit is superior to the senses. There are even times when the senses are partly or completely suppressed because the spirit is engaged in things which are greater.

So in your spiritual life, you have to get rid of the bonds of the senses . Then you will have a different view of things, you will not be overcome with lust: whether the lust of the flesh, the

eyes, the lust for money or women or the pride of life. You will be like the angels of God in heaven, and see everything as good as the Lord Jesus Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount, "If therefore you eye is good, your whole body will be full of light" (Matt. 6:22).

These were not the only thoughts which my father monk and I discussed, for we talked about things more profound. We discussed the attitude of the senses `when one tries to understand and meditate on theological matters. The senses are physical and limited and thereupon are not able to approach God Who is unlimited . The senses are also fallible and often mistake between what is wrong and what is right.

Even the apostles were mistaken when they returned to the Lord joyfully saying, "Lord even the demons are subject to us in Your name", the Lord replied to them, "Nevertheless do not rejoice in this." (Luke 10:1 7,20).

Likewise, the murderer who kills for revenge or honour, feels content as if he has done a great deed. It is a wrong feeling certainly.

You also, my beloved brother, may have various feelings during your prayers, fasts, seclusions and meditations. Examine them well for they may be unsound human feelings . Try to free your spirit from the bonds of the senses. Another point which I like to draw to your attention is that when one is completely involved in meditating on theological matters, one becomes unaware of the world and of the things around them.

For example Hanna was in the temple praying in bitterness from her soul before the Lord . She was not aware of anything around her. Eli the priest thought she was drunk and reproached her saying, "How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!" (1 Sam.13,14). If you are completely involved in your prayers and meditations, you will not be aware at all of anything that may take place around you. There may be some people talking near you or there may be some noise or various scenes but you will not be aware of anything because you are absorbed in spiritual matters.

Your senses are partly passive and it is your spirit which acts. I think some consider that the spirit in this case is caught up! I remember an example of this - St. John the Short who used to spend long times in meditations during which people talked to him but he never heard their voice or knew what they were saying. Some tried to repeat what the they said but he only exclaimed what the thing they wanted was and the more they repeated their words, the less he heard . "the reason is that his spirit at times was involved in other matters which were more important, far deeper and nearer to the hearing and the memory. Sometimes people asked him certain questions but the saint used to reply to them with theological meditations which had no relation whatever with what they asked. In fact, he did not hear what they were saying, because his spirit was released from the senses..

Read the complete book "The Release of the Spirit", by H. H. Pope Shenouda III

Oct 31, 2008

Bishop Antonious Markos, An African evangelist

Bishop Antonious Markos, An African evangelist"There are many nations, and millions of souls across the universe, who live in spiritual famine: in the darkness of ignorance and paganism. If we embrace the evangelistic thought, we shall be able to reach the whole world and to look at all these people with eyes of love, concern and responsibility. We will be able to offer them all that was handed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles, and share with them one communion"
Bishop Antonious Markos.

Prayer and the practice of medicine, time and chance have taken Bishop Antonious Markos El- Baramousy to the heart of the African continent. Four decades ago, Abuna Mikhail of Asmara welcomed him with these words: "Saint Mark is our father, and Alexandria is our mother." That was long before he was officially ordained Coptic Bishop for African Affairs.

If there is a surefire way to enthrall the masses it is to combine ritual with miracle, mass with social and community work. "My memory of preaching to the poor begins in the early fifties, when I was a boy of 15." This weekly ritual began with a short trip to some poverty-stricken village outside Cairo where he held a service for Coptic peasants. The first village he served was Abu-Za'bal Al-Balad, in the vicinity of what is today Cairo's northernmost suburb, Al-Marg. He discovered Christian peasants who had never been baptised. Others had not had Communion for years. Poverty, illiteracy and illness were the most prominent features in their lives. Their need was great, the resources at his disposal hopelessly meagre. The learning curve was steep but he quickly realised that negative thinking led only to bitterness, fatigue and frustration. The encounters in the village prepared him for Ethiopia, which in turn prepared him for Kenya and South Africa.

"Church is not just about rituals and prayer, it is a way of life, a unique sense of community," he stresses. Vocational training centres are established alongside the Coptic churches he has founded across Africa. "I long ago learned to adopt a holistic and humanist approach. When you preach to the dispossessed give them a fishing rod or trap. Teach them to fish. Don't give them fish," says the Bishop, striding toward his nonagenarian mother who is being helped to her seat by a nurse.

"She likes it here" in the old people's home in the Anba Barsoom Al-Aryan Monastery, Helwan. Spotless and spacious, it combines a school, training centre and hospital.

"We are building similar complexes across Africa," he tells me. "We need volunteers and adventurous professionals."

Wherever he goes in Africa he always appears to be coming home, waving at one parishioner, shooting a big smile at another.

The Coptic Church was a founding member of the All-Africa Council of Churches, a pan-African organisation that groups several churches. Bishop Markos was vice-president of the AACC for 11 years. The Coptic Church is also a member of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC) which brings together a large number of Christian Orthodox and Protestant churches. He has participated in several WCC meetings in which he met many African clergymen from a wide variety of Protestant churches. And to the African clergymen he would invariably claim that the Coptic Orthodox Church is the oldest church in Africa, founded in Alexandria by its first patriarch, Saint Mark.

Born in the Old Cairo district of Al-Malek Al- Saleh, the bishop's father was a clerk at the Ministry of Education. "My father was a poor but strong-willed and determined man. He made sure that all his children became university graduates, doctors, engineers, holders of PhDs."

"A loving family, a fulfilling career and charity. All these things are important but there is this other dimension. Because the world is a very precarious place you need a comforter, larger than life. So many people are living on the edge."

Bishop Antonious Markos maintains excellent working relationships with a wide variety of African churches -- mainstream Anglicans, Methodists and Roman Catholics as well as the more evangelical Pentecostalists, the indigenous African Zionist Christian churches of South Africa and the Kimbanguists of Central Africa.

Through a Swiss missionary friend, the Reverend Wilfried Flade, he was introduced to Joseph Diangienda Kuntima, spiritual head of the large and immensely influential Kimbanguist Church. The bishop soon received an invitation to visit the Kimbabguist Theological College in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital.

Today there are three Coptic churches in the Democratic Republic of Congo. "We respect the indigenous cultural traditions of the people. We accommodate indigenous custom except where it flagrantly contradicts the tenets of the church."

The bishop was instrumental in founding the Organisation of African Independent Churches in 1978, a grouping of indigenous African churches not affiliated to any European mother church. The Coptic Church was a founding member.

There are 12 Coptic churches in South Africa today. One is in the African township of Gugulethu on the outskirts of Cape Town, another in Soweto, the sprawling Johannesburg township and a city in its own right. "Every people's language is dear to them." In one South African Coptic Church, the priest is an ethnic Zulu, the liturgy is in Zulu and even the music is not Coptic. "The parishioners choose fast-paced tunes for their services. I do not object." The bishop smiles. "Outward appearances do not really matter. Substance is from within."

The bishop may be a man of religion but it is difficult to pigeon-hole him. He was the first Egyptian surgeon to practice in Ethiopia. His nickname, "Doctor Bishop", opened doors, endearing him to the poor, both confusing and amusing the powers that be. He initially had trouble convincing the Kenyan authorities that, even though he was a monk, he was applying to the Kenyan Ministry of Health for a licence to practice medicine.

He tends to answer questions about his experiences in Africa south of the Sahara by painstakingly working out both the year and his age at the time as if shuffling through mental index cards for an autobiography already in progress. He has, indeed, written several autobiographical works covering different periods of his African ministry in which he variously describes himself as doctor, deacon, monk or bishop to designate the different stages of his career.

The Coptic Church in Africa struggles against many odds, as no one knows better than Coptic Pope Shenouda III's special emissary in Africa and chief advisor on African affairs. Unlike the Church in North America and Australia, where wealthy Coptic communities sustain church coffers, the Coptic Church in Africa is poor. The bishop, moreover, does not want the activities of the Coptic Bishopric in Africa to be a drain on the church's resources though he is perfectly well aware that "a missionary without money is like a soldier without a gun."

Even before his ordination Bishop Antonious Markos was obsessed with working for the Coptic Church, and no more so than in Ethiopia. He left Egypt for Ethiopia in May 1966. His first posting was in Asmara, today the Eritrean capital but then a pretty provincial city. From Asmara he was transferred to Deber Berhan -- The Mountain of Light -- a remote and impoverished outpost. Conditions there were deplorable. The church was too small to accommodate the masses outside every Sunday morning. Sixty children showed up for the first Sunday School. The following Sunday the number jumped to 250 children. In subsequent weeks it multiplied -- 500 to 1,000 to 1,500. Services were in Coptic and not Ge'ez, the ancient liturgical tongue of the Ethiopian Church.

Perched high in the wild range it was wet and bitterly cold. Ethiopian doctors refused to work there, frightened off by rumours of the barbarous nature of the region's inhabitants. Bishop Markos's introduction to the youth of Ethiopia was through the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). Local YMCA leaders asked him to help in first aid training; in return he asked the youths to teach him Amharic. The Tigrinya he had learned in Asmara was incomprehensible in other parts of Ethiopia.

The bishop never had a family of his own but in Ethiopia he adopted the son of a poor Ethiopian priest, educated him and raised him as his own. Also in Ethiopia the bishop founded a welfare association and home for needy students.

Bishop Antonious Markos has the easy warmth of those born to minister. I first met him in Ghana in November 1977 when he was assessing the possibility of founding a Coptic church to serve the Egyptian Coptic and Ethiopian communities in Ghana. Sometimes his diligent efforts do not bear immediate fruit and to this day there is no Coptic church in Ghana, even though he did manage to establish churches in two of Ghana's immediate neighbours, Ivory Coast and Togo.

But Bishop Antonious Markos is patient and continues to work on founding a Coptic Church in Ghana.

Africans appear to be particularly impressed with the Coptic funeral service. "Someone once told me that, 'you pray for the departed as if he or she was a king or queen'." Prayers for the departed are in the local African languages which is very important. Indeed, many Africans become curious about the Coptic Church after witnessing a funeral service.

The Coptic Church sees itself as the Mother Church in Africa. And of all Africa's contemporary churches, the Ethiopian is the closest to the Coptic. "One faith and a 17-century spiritual bond," the bishop remarks. Tradition and the priesthood have linked the Coptic and Ethiopian Churches down the ages. The 20th century, however, witnessed a tragic break between the two. The bishop was in Ethiopia when talk of the severing of ties was first bandied.

The prospect grew out of a long-running grievance and the demise of the emperor only exacerbated matters. The Elders of the Ethiopian Church were yearning to cut the umbilical chord between the Egyptian and Ethiopian churches and it was eventually severed, though the final cut was largely at the hands of politicians rather than the clergy.

All the warning signals were there. The sudden deaths of first Abuna Basilious, the head of the Ethiopian Church, in 1969, and then of Egypt's Pope Kirollos in March 1970, presented an opportunity for radical change.

The Egyptian Church "received a surprise request" from the Ethiopian Church to consecrate the Ethiopian patriarch in May 1971 without waiting for the enthronement of the new Egyptian pope. More symbolically significant and without any historical precedent, the Ethiopians also requested that their patriarch's consecration take place in Ethiopia and not Egypt. "The Coptic Holy Synod decided to send a Coptic delegation to Addis Ababa to consecrate the new Ethiopian patriarch. The Egyptian delegation was led by the Metropolitan Antonius of Sohag, the acting patriarch while the throne of Saint Mark was vacant.

"After the end of the liturgy, we realised that all the films taken of the crowning of the Ethiopian patriarch had disappeared. The only pictures remaining were those of him adjusting the crown with the help of the Ethiopian bishop. And these appeared in the Ethiopian media with headlines like: 'For the first time the Ethiopian Orthodox Church crowned its patriarch with its own hands and in its own land and among its own people.' Tempers were running high," the bishop remembered.

The Ethiopian emperor was a conservative who loved Egypt and its Coptic Church. His name was ritually changed from Ras Tafari to Haile Sellasie, or The Power of the Trinity. The old emperor couldn't stop the call for change which was reaffirmed after his political demise. The Egyptian doctor in Ethiopia was at a loss. He refused to play the blame game. In the past the Ethiopian Church was a daughter of the Coptic Church, but now it is a sister church, he told himself.

The bishop cherishes the memory of the late Emperor Haile Sellasie. "His Imperial Majesty visited the sick and infirm in hospitals. He sat by their sickbeds, held the hands of his diseased and humble subjects. He was a kind man, a fatherly potentate who helped his people. He did not publicise his good works," the bishop assured me. "'Where is the Egyptian doctor who speaks Amharic,' inquired the emperor on one of his rounds." Thus began a special friendship between two devoutly religious men.

Tragedy struck on the first day of the Ethiopian New Year in September 1974 with the eruption of the Ethiopian Revolution. The Egyptian doctor had no idea trouble was brewing as Mengistu Halie Mariam was usurping power as the country's new strongman. The imperial bodyguard was disbanded, the vast imperial estates confiscated and the private imperial exchequer closed. Next the aged and ailing Haile Sellassie was deposed. A few months later the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Patriarch Abouna Theophilos was disrobed. The Egyptian Church refused to recognise the new head of the Ethiopian Church. They were trying times.

The Egyptian medical practitioner loved the old Ethiopia but there was no place for him in the new. Ethiopia Tikdem, Ethiopia First, was the new slogan of the ruling military and revolutionary clique. The country was now officially atheist and the bishop soon received a surprise visit from a high-ranking officer who told him in no uncertain terms that proselytising was forbidden. Religion, he was told, was the root of backwardness. That was the last straw. He left Ethiopia for good in March 1975. He was to return for short visits again to the country he had come to love and Ethiopia was the springboard from which he explored other African countries.

After a brief spell at the family home in Faggala, Cairo, the doctor headed for a monastery and braced himself for monastic life. But he yearned to return to the social concerns of his earlier career. At heart he was a preacher, a prosyletiser, more so than a medical practitioner. But he had vowed to devote himself to monastic life on 22 February 1964. Now he was about to fulfil his promise.

On 29 July 1975 Pope Shenouda visited the Baramose Coptic Monastery, and the doctor was summoned and summarily informed that he would be consecrated as a novice at dawn. He spent a sleepless night in prayer and has never turned back.

Even so he could not resist the pull of Africa and barely six months later he was back. Accompanied by a young Kenyan, Joseph Omanyo, who had just completed his theological studies in Cairo, he left for Kenya on 11 January 1976. Armed with liturgical books, altar utensils and a few medical and surgical instruments he arrived in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

Kenya was a world away from its northern neighbour Ethiopia. His first task was to master Kiswahili, the national language. The second was to cater to the needs of the Copts of Nairobi who wanted to have liturgy only once a fortnight because they were accustomed to head for the beautiful countryside surrounding the Kenyan capital on Sundays to picnic. Services were therefore held twice a month, and still the congregation arrived late -- "just before the end of the liturgy".

Life, at first, was difficult. He enrolled in a school of languages to study Kiswahili -- a Bantu language heavily influenced by Arabic. He had to speak the language of the people and within six months of intensive study he could communicate well with the locals.

Food and accommodation proved to be a less easily surmountable problem. Devout Copts fast for well over half of the year. During the fasts Copts do not consume meat, dairy or other animal products. At the Methodist Church's guest house, where he was initially lodged, the cooks refused to prepare vegetarian meals for him. Lent of 1976 became a most trying time.

In a separate incident the Archbishop of the African Independent Pentecostal Church in Kenya prohibited Bishop Antonious Markos from preaching the Coptic sermon. "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely," the bishop says of the time. He knew he was in uncharted waters, but he pressed on. Trials and tribulations only strengthened his faith.

The full details of this glorious mission can be read in his books:
Come Across And Help Us Book 1
Come Across And Help Us Book 2
Come Across And Help Us Book 3
Theology of Mission Book 1

also, Bishopric of African Affairs

Oct 17, 2008

Coptic Monasticism, by H.H. Pope Shenouda III

From Contemporary Coptic Icons
I want to tell you now about Coptic monasticism. Egypt is considered the motherland of monasticism. The first monk in the whole world was St. Anthony, a Copt from Upper Egypt. He was born in the year 251 and departed in the year 356; he lived 105 years. During this period he established monasticism and all the leaders of monasticism in the whole world were his disciples or the disciples of his disciples.

Also, the first abbot in the world who established monasteries was St. Bakhum (Pachomius), also a Copt from Upper Egypt. He lived in the fourth century and at the end of the third century. When we say that St. Anthony was born in the year 251, that he became a monk when he was about twenty years old or less, and then spent the first thirty years in complete solitude, that means monasticism began in Egypt at the end of the third century or the beginning of the fourth century -- more than sixteen centuries.

Monasticism began in Egypt as a life of complete solitude, a life of solitude and contemplation. No one of our monks in the fourth century or the fifth century served the church in the world. They wanted to forget the whole world and to be forgotten by the world and to have only our Lord God in their thinking, in their emotions, to fill all their hearts and all their lives.

So, when monasticism began it did not begin in monasteries, it began in caves scattered through the mountains, and holes in the ground, and some dwelling places. But afterwards, they began to build monasteries. Monasteries were built in the midst of the fourth century, or perhaps some years before. The monasteries of Upper Egypt, of St. Bakhum, had many monks living in them, living together a life called in the Greek language, "kenobium," which means "life together." And that was a characteristic of the monasteries of Upper Egypt of St. Bakhum and St. Shenouda.

But in Wadi Natrun, the monasteries had a special characteristic. The monasteries were built in the most ancient places and had churches and the refectory. The monks used to go to the church once every week on Saturday evening to have a kind of spiritual teaching by the elders, with any question or problem being said by the monks -- who were called brothers at that time -- with the answers being given by the elders. They used to celebrate the Holy Communion on Sunday morning and then eat together in the refectory; then each monk would leave the monastery to live his own life of solitude until the next week. That means they used to gather together only once, one day every week, and live the rest of their lives in complete solitude. Why? They wanted to purify their minds from anything of worldly thinking, not to think of the world any longer, not to have news from the world, not to have letters from the world, not to read newspapers, even not to receive visitors.

But at last, this light of monasticism could not be hidden. Many people came from abroad to hear a word of benefit from those monks and these monks, the Coptic monks, the Egyptian monks, did not write about themselves, but the visitors who came wrote about them. One of the most famous was the Lausiac History by Palladius. It was called Lausiac History because it was written to a certain noble man named Lausius. This Lausiac History was translated into the English language with the title of "Paradise of the Fathers." This "Paradise of the Fathers" was known in the Arabic language as "Bustan al-Ruhaban." Another famous work was that of Rufinus about the desert fathers; another was by John Cassian who published two books, one called the "Institutes" and the other called "Conferences." In his book, "Institutes," he had twelve chapters, the first four about the history of Coptic monasticism, the life of monks and their way of life, and the other eight chapters about spiritual warfares which may attack monks; for example, pride, vainglory, anger, and so on.

He said the traveler who passed from Alexandria to Luxor had, on all the journey, the sound of hymns in his ears from Alexandria to Luxor. That means all along the River Nile; but he was speaking about the western desert. In the eastern desert of the Nile Valley, we have two famous monasteries, the Monastery of St. Anthony and the Monastery of St. Paul the Hermit. Those hermits were also called, in monastic life, anchorites. Anchorites. In the Arabic language, they were called "as-Sawah." They always used to live in caves very far from any monastery. When we read the story by St. Paphnutius who wrote for us the history or life of Abba Nofer, it was a trip of nearly thirty days in what was called the "inner wilderness." They lived in a place quite unknown to anybody.

For example, St. Paul the hermit lived about eighty years in monasticism and did not see the face of any human being. Many other hermits -- for example St. Caras -- lived about 60 years in monasticism without seeing the face of any human being. They forgot all about the world, they had nothing in their memory about the world or its news. Their senses could not collect any worldly matter, they had only God and His Love in their memory, in their mind, in their hearts, and in their emotions. They could fulfill the biblical verse which was written in Deuteronomy 6, and also was said by our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 21, "to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, with all they soul, and with all thy power." How can a person give the whole of his mind to the Lord God? How? How to give the whole of your heart? We may love God through loving human beings, but those hermits, those anchorites, had only God in their minds. They could not think about any other matter.

Now, for example, when we speak to youth classes, we say to youth that bad thoughts are thoughts of any kind of sin; but for these monks, bad thoughts were thoughts of any matter besides God. For this reason, they were called "earthly angels," or "angelic human beings." They lived as angels on the earth, but as you know from biblical studies, we have two kinds of angels. (The first kind is) angels who live all their time praising God: for example, the seraphim. Those angels of the seraphim are mentioned only in Isaiah 6; they always were singing "agios, agios" or "holy, holy, holy" praising the Lord. But we have another kind of angel which was mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 1, verse 14. They are ministering spirits sent to those who are called for salvation. We can call the pastors of the church, the ministers of the church, angels sent to the world to serve the world of salvation; for example, the pastors of the seven churches in Asia were also called angels -- the angel of Ephesus, the angel of Smyrna, the angel of Pergamos, and so on. But, the angels who devoted all their time praising the Lord as the seraphim were the symbol of holy life put in front of those monks.

St. Athanasius of Alexandria was chosen to be the 20th Pope of the See of St. Mark in the year 328 or 329, while he was only a deacon. At that time St. Anthony was living and was his spiritual father. But St. Anthony was not chosen to be the pope or patriarch; instead, they chose the deacon Athanasius. Through the flourishing era of monasticism of the fourth century, the fifth century, and the first half of the sixth century, they did not choose these monks to be bishops or patriarchs because those monks preferred to have a life of solitude, a life of prayer, a life of contemplation. They preferred to live with God, not with human beings. They preferred to be remembered only by God, not by human beings. Why? Because sometimes if they permitted visits they could lose their life of solitude and prayer, their prayers would be interrupted, and their meditation of God would be interrupted.

A story that was mentioned in the "Paradise of the Fathers" was that a certain monk was walking in the wilderness and two angels came beside him. He did not look to the right or to the left, but said, "I do not want even angels interrupting my meditation of God," remembering what was in the Epistle to the Romans, chapter 8 (verses 38 and 39).

At last, the Church was in need of those people and then bishops were taken from among monks of the deserts and then patriarchs and then the great need of the Church was for some of them to work as priests, as pastors. Then the life of complete solitude became a minority in our monasteries. . . . Remember two verses in the Bible; I do not know how you comment on these verses. The verse in St. Luke's gospel, chapter 18, verse 1 ("And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint."), and also another verse, "Pray without ceasing," in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 17. Pray without ceasing, without interruption. How can we fulfill these verses?

We have to fulfill the symbol of Mary, not the symbol of Martha. The symbol of Martha is working for the service of God Himself; but for Mary, it is to be only looking at God, contemplation, prayer, to be at His own feet, listening to His words, and contemplating His words. So at least we should have a small number of these monks representing that life of the past and to be a blessing for the world and to bless the world. When our Lord God wanted to burn Sodom . . . He said even if I find only ten pure persons in the city, I will not burn the city. To have these persons only existing. He did not say if ten persons pray for this city -- only that if there are only ten persons I will not burn the city. Those monks were a kind of blessing to the world representing pure life, the purest life in the whole world, resembling persons who don't love anything in the world -- even themselves -- but only God to be kept in mind.

Now in Egypt we are trying to let monastic life return to many deserted monasteries. We had hundreds of monasteries in the past. We are now working in the White Monastery of St. Shenouda, in the Red Monastery in front of this white one, and in about four monasteries in the mountain of Akhmim, trying to send monks to this area to let monastic life return. . . . If you come (to visit our monasteries), you will be deeply welcomed and you will see something about the ancient monastic life and the expansion of monasticism today. I myself, in only the single monastery of Anba Bishoi, ordained about 150 monks, new monks. For this reason, we had to build many new cells in the monasteries to receive those new novices who want to prepare themselves for monasticism. Also, in every monastery now we have a retreat house for those youth who want to come to the monastery to spend some days of spiritual experience under spiritual guidance. Some of them like monastic life and become monks.

We have great work in Sunday schools. In Sunday schools we prepare the children from the very beginning of their lives to live a spiritual life, to live in the Lord, some of these children join the seminary, some become Sunday school teachers, and some of those Sunday school teachers join the seminary. And when they graduate from the university and the seminary and Sunday school, they go to the monasteries to become monks -- some of them -- and some of them become parish priests. So, through the revival of Sunday schools we prepare a great number of persons to be monks. To live a spiritual life for their own benefit is all right; if the church needs some of them to serve, that is all right.

We don't oblige any monk to lead a certain life. For he who wants to live in the monastery as part of the congregation, that is all right. If he wants to lead a life of solitude inside the monastery, that is all right. If he wants a cell of solitude outside the monastery or on the near hills, that will be all right. He who wants to live in a cave will have the permission to live in a cave. We have all kinds of monasticism.

I thank you for listening; I am sorry to use your time in such a long address.

A Transcript of a Speech of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Patriarch of Alexandria and the See of St. Mark. Delivered at the Opening of the Exhibit, "A Still, Small Voice: Sixteen Centuries of Egyptian Monasticism," at the Washington National Cathedral, March 15, 1992.

Coptic monasticism

Monasticism In Egypt

Seven Coptic Monks in Ireland

The Coptic Orthodox Church has long known of the historic links between the British Isles and Christian Egypt, but documentation and solid evidence is thin on the ground for these early centuries of church history. There are learned articles by Monique Blanc-Ortolan of the Musee des Arts dE9coratifs, Paris, and Pierre du Bourguet of the Louvre on 'Coptic and Irish Art' and by Joseph F.T. Kelly of John Carroll University, Cleveland, Ohio, on 'Coptic Influences in the British Isles' in the Coptic Encyclopedia which are worth consulting. Other works, like Shirley Toulson's The Celtic Year, which asserts that "rather than adhere to the ruling of the Council [of Chalcedon], some of the most dedicated adherents of Monophysitism fled from Egypt, and some of them most surely travelled west and north to Ireland", in their enthusiasm to establish a link, make up what is lacking in hard evidence with sheer conjecture and fantasy.

The late Archdale King noted the links between Celtic Ireland and Coptic Egypt. He suggests that much of the contact took place before the Muslim Conquest of 640. There exists evidence of a Mediterranean trade in a single passage in the life of St. John the Almsgiver (Ioannes III Eleemon), Greek Patriarch of Alexandria between 610-621, in which reference is made to a vessel sailing to Alexandria from Britain with a cargo of tin, doubtless come from Cornwall or Somerset.

King observes that the kind of asceticism associated with the Desert Fathers was especially congenial to the Irish but refers to Dom Henri Leclercq's suggestion that Celtic monasticism was directly derived from Egypt, as an "unsubstantiated hypothesis". No serious historian, however, would deny that first-hand knowledge of the Desert Fathers was brought directly to the South of Gaul by St. John Cassian and that the links between the British and Gallican churches were especially strong at this period. King nevertheless admits that the grouping together of several small churches within a cashel or fortified enclosure seems to support Leclercq's view.

King mentions an Ogham inscription on a stone near St. Olan's Well in the parish of Aghabulloge, County Cork, which scholars interpret as reading: 'Pray for Olan the Egyptian.' Professor Stokes tells us5 about the Irish monk Dicuil, who around 825 wrote his Liber de Mensure orbis terre describing the pyramids as well as an ancient precursor of the Suez Canal. It would seem that Egypt was often visited by pilgrims to the Holy Land. Stokes instances the Saltair Na Rann, an anthology of biblical poems attributed to Oengus the Culdee, but containing the sixth or seventh century Book of Adam and Eve, composed in Egypt and known in no other European country except Ireland.

King also notes that one of the commonest names for townlands or parishes is Disert or 'Desert': a solitary place in which anchorites were established. Presumably the same etymology gives us the Scottish Dysart, just north of Kirkcaldy, and the Welsh Dyserth, to the south of Prestatyn ? This would then present a consistent picture common to Celtic Christianity. The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee, an early ninth century monastic bishop of Clonenagh (Co. Offaly) and later of Tallaght, has a litany invoking 'Seven monks of Egypt in Disert Uilaig, I invoke unto my aid, through Jesus Christ.' [Morfesseor do manchaib Egipr(e) in disiurt Uilaig]. The Antiphonary of Bangor (dating from between 680-691) also contains the text:

" ... Domus deliciis plena Super petram constructa Necnon vinea vera Ex Aegypto transducta ..."

which is translated as:

" ... House full of delight Built on the rock And indeed true vine Translanted from Egypt ..."

Providence undoubtedly put me in touch with Fr. Feargal Patrick McGrady, priest of Ballymena, County Antrim in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Down and Connor. As well as being a native of Downpatrick (the burial place of St. Patrick), Father Feargal is enthusiastic about the Eastern churches and holds His Holiness Pope Shenouda in high esteem. He was delighted to assist with my enquiries and very soon made contacts with local historians, who are the real source of the information we need.

Dr. Cahal Dallat, Genealogist and Historical Consultant, of Ballycastle, County Antrim, identified Disert Ilidh or Uilaigh with Dundesert, near Crumlin, county Antrim, which is to the north-west of Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, between Belfast International Airport and Templepatrick.

Mr. Bobbie Burns, a local historian living in Crumlin, was another link in the chain. He produced a report in the Belfast Telegraph of 13th July 1936 under the headline "Unique Once Famous Ulster Church: Neglected Crumlin Ruins", which showed the ruins of the medieval church built on the site of an earlier shrine. The local historical group is taking a renewed interest in the site and the local Protestant landowner has given permission for them to come and go freely to the site. It is hoped that they might obtain a grant to restore the dilapidated ruins but they are excited by its more ancient and possible Coptic connections. The site is approached by a path along the side of a grazing field 200-300 metres from Poplar Road. It is on the steep bank of the Crumlin River, which is a large free-flowing river, but is more than 100 metres from the water. Access is easy in dry weather, but not pleasant after heavy rain. The terrain inside the enclosure is very rough. The ground is strewn with boulders which have either fallen or been removed from the medieval walls. Parts of the medieval walls, in places three feet thick and covered in ivy, survive on the east (or gable) and south sides. The east wall contains two arched recesses or sedilia, now only about four feet in height but probably much higher if their foundations were cleared of the extensive in-fill of stones and earth. The gable rises to around thirty feet in height but a number of stones have already been removed and were any more to go it would be undermined and likely to collapse. What remains of the wall at the other end is much lower. It is likely that the whole structure would have been removed long ago but for the difficulties of dislodging stone from the walls and the problem of transportation to the road.

We are grateful for the efforts of these local enthusiasts for having preserved these ancient ruins and look forward to making further discoveries about the last resting place of the seven monks of Egypt.

On the Trail of the Seven Coptic Monks in Ireland - by His Grace Metropolitan Seraphim
Contributions to Christendom

Oct 5, 2008

Mother Irini of St. Mercurius Convent; A Modern Desert Mother

on 31 Oct 2006, one of our church's bright lights faded from this earth. Mother Irini, mother of (St. Mercurius) Abu-Seifen Convent in Old Cairo, and known to many as Umina (Our Mother in Arabic) Irini or simply as Tamav ( our Mother in coptic), departed to the heavenly Jerusalem.

To tell the stories and miracles of Tamav's life would require endless pages of writing. In time, the blessings from this amazing woman's life will be made known to all. For now, let us remember her through the words of others:

Below is an excerpt from El Ahram Weekly, April 1999, which briefly discusses Tamav and shares some reflections that manifest her love, kindness and charity to others:

Mother Ireni, mother superior at the Abu Seifein Convent, is deeply involved in her effort to bring to light women's real contribution to monastic life in Egypt. Mother Ireni must be the one nun Coptic Christians today love the most; she is considered a living saint by the majority. While traditional accounts have consecrated St Paul of Thebes and St Anthony as the pioneers of monastic life and seclusion from the world, Mother Ireni insists that it was women who started this tradition, in the first century AD. Shortly after the resurrection of Christ, she believes, a group of women vowed to live a celibate life of prayer in a community at Mount Olive. They are supposed to have been in close contact with St Mary, the mother of Christ. Although this was the first of its kind, according to Mother Ireni, such communities of women proliferated and became commonly known as the "houses of virgins". In the centuries that followed, women also sought a solitary life in the desert as anchorites, but disguised themselves as men. Their real identity was only discovered after their death. Mother Ireni, however, emphasises that some of the anchorites who reached high levels of spirituality even had monks as disciples, "like Anisimone, the anchorite who taught many monks."

The first convent, where 400 nuns lived, followed the rule of St Pachomious. In the first centuries, there were also women's convents in Akhmim, Sohag, while another convent in Upper Egypt had more than 1,800 nuns within its walls. At one point, the number of nuns exceeded the number of monks; near Beni Suef, there were monastic communities where 10,000 monks and 20,000 nuns lived.

Mother Ireni, who hails from Upper Egypt, became head of the convent at the age of 16. She holds fast to the tradition of St Pachomious in the monastic way of life. In the second half of the fourth century, St Pachomious began a movement in which monks and nuns were organised in strictly regulated communities. In his monastery of Tabenna near the Nile, 7,000 men and women lived in congregations. Their garments included a tunic of linen, a cloak of goat or sheepskin, and a hood. They came to live within a walled enclosure, which included a church, refectory, dormitory, garden, and a separate lodging for visitors. St Pachomious's way of life has been instrumental in shaping the contemporary Catholic monastic movement. Mother Ireni insists on the importance of living in a community. "While it is up to each nun to decide on the level of austerity appropriate for her, our life is still essentially built on partnership and love."

Mother Ireni doesn't run a convent like a traditional mother superior -- she emphasises the importance of leading a community in a democratic way. "I don't like to point to the sisters' faults and shortcomings. Words of love and encouragement are more effective." Still, despite her non-confrontational, non-aggressive philosophy, Mother Ireni is anything but a submissive, introverted woman. She is reputed for being outspoken and for not budging once she has taken a stand. In the Coptic Church, only priests are allowed to anoint people with oil, but Mother Ireni is an exception. This right was given to her by former Pope Kyrollos, and she continues to exercise it as people flock to see her, ask for her prayers and request that she anoint them.

To all the questions about her philosophy and her community, she would state over and over again the importance of love.Was it all so simple for her?

'In a family, different people take on similar features and traits. It is like that when you live your life with God. You are influenced by those you spend the most time with. Peace, joy and love come from prayer with God. That's why our life here is a life of prayer.'

The obituary for Mother Irini appeared in Watani Magazine on November 6, 2006 (authored by Victor Salama and reprinted below):

Amid the bustle and jarring materialism of 21st century Egypt, a figure like that of Tamav (Coptic for Mother) Irene appeared to come from another world. Her mere presence exuded peace, happiness, modesty, profound faith, and a love that was deep enough to engulf the world at large. No matter that she had to endure repeated spells of illness— in many of them she almost looked death in the face —Tamav Irene's faith never faltered. She lived on to take tender care of her spiritual daughters, the nuns at the convent of Abu-Seifein (literally the One with the Two Swords, the name commonly given to St Mercurious) in Old Cairo till her death.

The Beginning

Christians see death as rebirth. And in the Coptic tradition, monks or nuns 'die' the day they renounce all worldly interests and take orders. The consecration ceremonial prayers include funereal prayers, and from then on a monk or nun is dedicated to a life of fellowship with the Lord and His saints. In this context, Tamav Irene's life began in the late 1940s in the convent of Abu-Seifein, with whom she is said to have enjoyed a unique fellowship. In 1954, the then father confessor of the nuns, Father Mina al-Baramousi — who in 1959 became Pope Kyrillos VI — told Mother Kyria, the mother superior of the convent, that Sister Irene would one day become mother of the Abu-Seifein nuns. Surprising as it seemed, since Sister Irene was the youngest and most recently consecrated of the nuns. The prophesy came true and, in 1962, Pope Kyrillos VI ordained her Mother or Tamav Irene.

Under Tamav Irene, the convent saw great spiritual revival. The number of nuns increased dramatically, the buildings were renovated and expanded, and two new churches were added. The present-day convent was established by Pope Kyrillos V in 1912 on relics of the dilapidated, original 11th-century one which had throughout the years undergone several changes. For many years it contained no church and the nuns used to partake of holy Communion in the adjacent fourth century Abu-Seifein church. A new Abu-Seifein convent was established in the1990s on the North Coast.

Rest In Peace

Earlier this month, the Coptic Church paid its last loving respects to its Tamav Irene. She had died at al-Hayat hospital in Heliopolis, Cairo. The nuns carried her body to the convent, performed the last rites, and laid her out in the top-floor church of Archangel Michael. They then moved her to Abu-Seifein's church downstairs where they sang Midnight Praise and held Holy Liturgy at dawn. In the morning, the convent opened its doors to the public, as thousands queued to pay their last respects.

On Thursday the coffin was moved to the wider church of the Holy Virgin. Again, Praise and Holy Liturgy was sung then, before noon, the funeral ritual for nuns began. Participating were Anba Rweiss, delegated by Pope Shenouda III who was in the U.S. recuperating after spinal surgery, as well as Coptic bishops and priests, mothers superior of Coptic convents, top officials and a large Coptic congregation. Once the prayers were over, the coffin lid was shut, and several of the clergy carried it out, across the garden and to its final place of rest near the baptismal font in the convent. The nuns followed in a procession, each carrying a lighted candle, to lay away a woman who had lived a life of light.

May her prayers be with us. Amen.

A Modern Desert Mother
On the Departure of the Blessed Umina Irini, Mother of Saint Mercurius Convent in Old Cairo

Oct 2, 2008

Ragheb Moftah, A Musical Resurrection

What would have become of our church hymns had God not brought forth Ragheb in that generation?” said Pope Shenouda III in December of 1998...

The Feast of the Resurrection is the most glorious of Coptic feasts and the rites that celebrate Easter among the most ancient practices of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Ragheb Moftah (b. 1898-d. 2001), who worked from the mid-1920s until his death preserving and documenting Coptic liturgical music, presented the Church with an anthology of pristine recordings of Coptic Orthodox liturgical hymns and chants. The chanters included cantors well known for their virtuosity in rendering Coptic chants. Moftah selected the most gifted deacons to join his choirs, and his collection of recordings includes chants rendered by Al-Mu'allim Mikhail Al-Batanouni, the first master cantor in the history of Coptic music to have his chants recorded. Moftah also recorded the chants of the next two generations of cantors and choirs.

Among Moftah's most important recordings are the hymns and chants for the celebration of the Great Lent, the Pascha or Holy Week, which celebrates the Passion of Christ, through the chants of Bright Saturday to the magnificent Resurrection chants. The recordings of Easter celebrations provide a spiritual and dramatic narrative of the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ. The choirs render the Paschal celebration hymns with extreme solemnity. Their chants are rendered in an unadorned "a cappella" style. Their voices are deep, exultant and unsullied as they move through the sorrows of the Passion Week to the spirited tempo of Easter splendour.

No doubt Moftah will be remembered for his masterly recordings of these liturgies and chants, which he bequeathed to Copts and the world at large. But he will also be remembered as the old man in a black suit, wearing a black beret on his bald head, standing in the front row among the choir, his ears attentive to every melisma rendered by the master cantor and deacons as he conducted the Coptic Orthodox Easter celebration, and all other Coptic feasts and festivities, at St. Mark's Cathedral in Abbassiyya.

Moftah was born on 21 December 1898 at Al-Faggala in Cairo, the son of Habashi Moftah and Labiba Shalaby. In 1919, in preparation for his future as heir to agricultural land, Moftah went to Germany to study agriculture at the University of Bonn. After earning a bachelor's degree in agronomics he auditioned for the Music Department to study piano and music theory. Later, in 1924, he continued his musical education at the University of Munich.

Moftah was intrigued by the theories of those musicologists who believed the liturgical music of the Coptic Church was directly descended from ancient Egyptian music. He decided to research its origins and for years delved into the ancient Egyptian and Coptic manuscripts at the British Museum, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and other archives and libraries in Europe, as well as, back in Egypt, the manuscripts at the Coptic and Egyptian museums in Cairo, at various monasteries and in the Patriarchal Libraries. The music of ancient Egypt had not been well researched but eventually Moftah found several pieces of evidence in Egyptian and Coptic manuscripts to support its links with Coptic liturgical music.

Although Moftah believed that the Coptic music evolved from Ancient Egypt, he was also aware of the influence of the Hebrew and Byzantine traditions. For example, the singing of Psalms is a Jewish practice. Later on, early Christian communities in Egypt adopted Greek antiphonal singing, and developed this practice to accommodate the needs of the early Christian communities in Egypt. Furthermore, the solemn ecstasy in the music of the Coptic Orthodox Church can trace its roots to the early days of Christian worship, during the Byzantine Empire of the Near East. But Moftah's overall contention was that the main influence on Coptic music was the music of pre-Christian times.

On several occasions Moftah recounted that events during the early 20th century, when the British alleged that they needed to protect the Christian minority, a pretext intended to justify their prolonged occupation of the country, acted as a goad for him to preserve the Coptic musical heritage. British evangelists and Protestant missionaries were particularly keen to convert Copts to Protestantism. Although fearing that the Coptic musical heritage would be compromised by the influence of modernity in general, Moftah's immediate incentive was the occupiers', and the Protestant missionaries', interference. The British missionaries, and Copts who had converted to Protestantism, described Coptic liturgical music as "decadent". Despite being apolitical, Moftah reacted vehemently to save the heritage: it was a decisive moment in his life and work.

In the early 1920s he launched his campaign to promote awareness of the value of the Coptic musical heritage. He approached many of his friends and colleagues -- among them Habib Gorgi, Archdeacon Habib Girgis and Aziz S Atiya -- to support his project to preserve liturgical music but they refused to collaborate with him, arguing he needed institutional support to carry out such a monumental task. But when they attempted to dissuade him from undertaking such a project alone he turned a deaf ear.

After extensive deliberation his family backed the project. Habashi Moftah, Ragheb's father, initially provided him with the financial support he needed, and later his siblings, nephews and nieces contributed. In the early 1920s Moftah travelled to England where he met Ernest Newlandsmith, a clergyman's son and a professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London. They shared a common interest in religious music. Moftah was intrigued by Newlandsmith's gift for music and recognised in him a superior talent. He proposed that Newlandsmith undertake the monumental task of transcribing the musical notation of Coptic Orthodox liturgical chants. They agreed to meet again in Cairo.

In 1926, when Newlandsmith passed through Cairo on his way to the Holy Land, Moftah arranged that he would stay in Cairo on his return journey and work on the transcriptions. Moftah paid Newlandsmith's expenses, including his travel and living costs, and purchased a grand piano. Staying on Moftah's houseboat moored on the Nile they worked together, and discussed extensively the origins of Coptic music, its structure and form of notation. It was a defining moment in the Coptic cultural renaissance.

Moftah worked with the most authoritative singers of his time, recording the entire corpus of Coptic liturgical music as sung by three generations of choirs and cantors. His intention was both to preserve the musical heritage and to make it available for study, research and critical analysis. His collection includes all Coptic liturgies and chants, and repeats of different versions by different chanters representing different periods of history. The process of selecting cantors was slow, arduous and careful, involving travels from the furthest reaches of Upper Egypt to the Mediterranean coastline. There were many Coptic singers in Egypt, and finally Moftah entered into an inspirational collaboration with the legendary Coptic master cantor, the blind Mikhail Girgis Al-Batanouni (b. 1873-d. 1957), chosen by Moftah and Newlandsmith for his rich baritone voice and accurate rendition of the liturgical chants. He was knowledgeable in Coptic Orthodox religious rites, in addition to being well versed in both the Coptic and Arabic languages.

From 1927 to 1936 Newlandsmith came to Cairo every winter to transcribe, spending time with Moftah listening to the cantors as they auditioned and discussing and analysing musical form and content. Newlandsmith's first project was to notate the Liturgy of St. Basil, which he did from live performances by Al-Batanouni, who sat in a corner on the floor, chanting tirelessly for the transcription. The legendary cantor shared Moftah's and Newlandsmith's perspective about the value of preserving Coptic musical heritage. In the early 1930s he was appointed the first instructor of hymns at the Coptic Orthodox Clerical College by Archdeacon Habib Girgis. He was the Archpsaltos of the Saint Mark's Cathedral in Al-Azbakkiyyah in Cairo. Later, in 1954, Moftah appointed him teacher of Coptic hymns and chants at the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies (HICS).

In those pre-tape-recording days Newlandsmith compiled some 16 folios of manuscripts which could be read by trained musicians anywhere. The Liturgy of St. Basil (used in the Coptic Orthodox Church throughout the year except during feasts) was followed by other liturgies and hymns, including the Liturgy of St. Gregory (used in the four major feasts of Nativity, Epiphany, Resurrection and Pentecost), and a number of special services including the ordination of popes, new priests, festivals, weddings and funerals.

In 1931 Moftah and Newlandsmith travelled to England to lecture on Coptic liturgical music at Oxford, Cambridge and London Universities. Their lectures drew the attention of a wide audience. Professor Griffith, the well- known Egyptologist, Professor Einstein and many others were intrigued by the new findings. Among several articles published at the time one, entitled "Western Music from Egypt: Its Origin in the Coptic Church -- Emotional Appeal", appeared in the Morning Post in May 1931. "Western music", said the article, "has its origin in ancient Egypt, according to Professor Ernest Newlandsmith, who has recently completed a three years' [period of] investigation in that country of the traditional music of the Coptic Church... 'The investigation,' he explained to a Morning Post representative yesterday, 'had its origin in the conviction of Mr. Ragheb Moftah, a distinguished Egyptian Effendi, that beneath the veneer of Arabic and Turkish influences there was much in Coptic music both of aesthetic merit and profound emotional appeal. This opinion, though I was many times inclined to doubt it, has been amply justified.'"

In 1932 Moftah was chosen by the Egyptian government to present Coptic music at the Arab Music Conference held in Cairo and sponsored by King Fuad. Bela Bartok, the composer and ethnomusicologist who attended the conference, was intrigued by Moftah's endeavours and promised to work with him but was unfortunately called away to a more urgent project in Turkey.

In 1940 Moftah formed the first Coptic Orthodox Choir, seeking out the most accomplished cantors and deacons as members. Moftah, who was known for his austerity and self-discipline, subjected the chanters to a rigorous training program before he recorded the chants. In 1945 he established two centres to teach Coptic chant melodies, one in Bab El-Hadid, the other in Old Cairo. He also ran summer camps in Alexandria for additional instruction, all by rote memorisation.

In 1954 Moftah was among the founders of the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies (HICS), and established the Music Division. He continued working on his recordings there, and eventually completed the recording of the entire corpus of Coptic Orthodox liturgical chants and hymns. He was also responsible for training cantors at the HICS, and students at the Coptic Clerical College.

Moftah also made recordings of a second generation of cantors -- including Fahim Girgis Rizk (b. 1910-d. 1999), Sadiq Attallah (b. 1918-d. 2001) and Farag Abdel-Messih (b. 1921-d. 2000) -- mentored by the master cantor Al-Batanouni, as well as of the third generation. Indeed, his recordings of Al-Batanouni and the second generation of cantors effectively established the canon of Coptic Orthodox liturgical music.

In 1970 Moftah commissioned Margit Toth to transcribe the notation of the Coptic Orthodox Liturgy of St Basil that he had collected and recorded as orally transmitted chants from authoritative cantors. Cantor Sadiq Attallah chanted the sacred celebration of the Holy Liturgy in its entirety, including all the roles assigned to the priest, the deacon, and the choir of deacons. This collaborative work was published by the American University in Cairo Press in 1998. It contains the full text of the liturgy in Coptic and Arabic, together with an English translation.

With Pope Shenouda III's support and blessings, a number of archives preserving Ragheb Moftah's collections of recordings, documents, writings and letters were established. These include the Ragheb Moftah Collection at the Library of Congress, a collection at the American University in Cairo Library, as well as a collection at the HICS. It is hoped that the latter, which contains some 470 reels of recordings in rapidly deteriorating condition, as well as several unpublished texts, receives the attention and preservation efforts it deserves.

In 2005, four years after Moftah's death, Marian Robertson- Wilson, an eminent musicologist and Coptologist, completed her cataloguing of the Ragheb Moftah Collection of Audio Recordings of the master cantor Al-Batanouni, which she had started at the Library of Congress in 1992 when Moftah was alive. With the help of the recording engineer Kenny Hodges, Wilson has put the music and guide in a usable format. The finished product consists of 21 CDs, and The Revised Guide to the Ragheb Moftah Collection of Coptic Chant Recordings contains Wilson's transcription of the texts into Coptic, transliterations into Latin script, and translations into English. Hodges removed all extraneous surface noise, producing the purest sound possible.

Terence Duquesne, scholar of Egyptology and Comparative Religion, stated in an article on Ragheb Moftah's legacy that appeared in Discussions in Egyptology (vol. 47, 2000), that Moftah's work will be of "interest to Egyptologists, Coptologists, historians of religion, ethnomusicologists, and spiritually engaged people both within and without the monotheistic tradition."

written by Laurence Moftah -Ragheb Moftah's niece- a librarian emerita and consultant, Coptic studies collection development, American University in Cairo.

A Musical Resurrection
Ragheb Moftah
Ragheb Moftah's Collection
Higher Institute of Coptic Studies, Liturgy of St. Basil in Coptic
Preserving Pharos Psalms