Thursday,20 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1405, ( 9 - 15 August 2018)
Thursday,20 June, 2019
Issue 1405, ( 9 - 15 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Restoring monastic order

The Coptic Orthodox Church is expediting the implementation of a package of reforms on the back of Bishop Epiphanius’ murder at the Monastery of St Macarius, writes Michael Adel


Restoring monastic order
Restoring monastic order

Police are still investigating the murder of Bishop Epiphanius, abbot of St Macarius Monastery, whose body was found in the monastery near Wadi Al-Natroun.

Pope Tawadros II is following the investigation closely. Church sources have been forced to deny rumours the murderer has been arrested. It is still not known whether the culprit was connected to the monastery or not.

Sources close to the papal headquarters in Abbasiya say Bishop Epiphanius’ murder has precipitated a number of changes. The Holy Synod, headed by Pope Tawadros II, is scheduled to hold a meeting after St Mary’s Fast ends on 21 August. The administration of monasteries is one of the subjects that will be up for discussion.

Following Bishop Epiphanius’ funeral Pope Tawadros II summoned the Holy Synod’s Committee for Monastic Affairs, composed of 18 bishops and archbishops, and instructed them to take measures to instill greater discipline among monks, says Church Spokesman Boulis Halim.

Inhabitants of monasteries have been told to renounce worldly pursuits, halt media appearances and refrain from social media networking. It was also decided to place a 12-month moratorium on accepting any new monks and halt the building of new monasteries, though older structures can still be refurbished. Any monk found to have overseen the building of monastic complexes not approved by the Church will be de-frocked.

A decision was also taken to cap the number of monks inhabiting individual monasteries and end public attendance at monastic ordinances.

The meeting agreed that monasteries should be able to receive visitors year-round, except during the Fast of the Advent and the Fast of Great Lent at which times visits will be restricted to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and that monks who appear in the media or engage in financial activities not directly assigned by their monasteries could be expelled.

Clergymen were given a grace period of a month to close their social media accounts or else face questioning by the Church.

The Coptic Orthodox Church also appealed to its congregation not to enter into financial arrangements with monks and to only give donations to the heads of monasteries and their deputies.

The decisions, said sources, were already under discussion after Pope Tawadros II received complaints of misconduct among monks but the death of Bishop Epiphanius had accelerated the announcement.

“These decisions take monastic life back to its basics, as founded by Antonius the Great, Bakhomius the Great 

 and Saint Shenouda. I hope the time is right,” said researcher Suleiman Shafik.

“Changes have swept over monasticism in the wake of the information revolution. Nowadays 20 per cent of monks live outside their monasteries. The clergy needs reform.”

Coptic researcher Mina Asaad Kamel and Fady Youssef, founder of Egypt’s Copts Coalition, both say it is time to get a grip on any violations.

“The Church’s decisions are strict, and violations will be met with de-frocking. This is why so many monks closed their social network accounts the day after the Holly Synod’s statement,” said Youssef.

Karim Kamal, head of the Copts for the Homeland Union, applauded the measures, which he says will enhance discipline and spirituality. Kamal Zakher, a Coptic writer, said “the pope’s decisions are a step towards protecting the clergy from chaos and are meant to take the monks back to the original spirit of monasticism.”

Meanwhile, the Coptic Orthodox Church announced on Sunday that the monk Ashiaa Al-Maqari had been de-frocked following a monastic investigation. The Church said the incident was unconnected to the death of Bishop Epiphanius.

When first accused of misconduct Al-Maqari had been told to spend three years outside the monastery walls but when his fellow monks appealed to Bishop Epiphanius to suspend the sentence their petition was forwarded to Pope Tawadros II and accepted.

The Church says despite this second chance Al-Maqari failed to commit to his monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, at which point the decision was taken to remove him.

Under Church regulations visits to monks in their sanctums are banned. Monks are not allowed to hear the confessions of women, leave their monastery without permission, engage in worldly professions or politics, publish articles or make home visits without written authorisation from the head of the monastery.

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