New Age Islam
Wed Apr 21 2021, 11:20 AM

Islam and Pluralism ( 15 Aug 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Egypt's Coptic Church: Pope Kyrillos V continue to inspire Egyptians today

Samir Sobhi

16 July, 2012

Pope Kyrillos V, born Yohanna in the town of Beni Sweif in 1831, lived through turmoil, revolution and wars. He became the 112th pope of the Coptic Church in 1874 and held the post until he died in 1927 at the age of 96, making him the longest-serving pope in the history of the Church.

The name Kyrillos, which means master in Greek, is popular in the Coptic Church, where clerics associate it with biblical accounts of the life of Joseph.

There are many patriarchs who have assumed the name Kyrillos, including Kyrillos I, also known as the "Pillar of Religion". and Kyrillos VI, known as the "Father of Reform".

Kyrillos V was famous for his pioneering work in education. He built the Great Coptic School and the Haret Al-Saqayin School, and throughout his life he tried to revive the use of the Coptic language. He is also famous for establishing Egypt's second commercial printers. The first was the Amiria Print House, which was used to print the official newspaper of the time, Al-Waqae Al-Masriya. When the equipment for the second printing company arrived in Alexandria, Kyrillos V accompanied a clerical procession to the city and received the machinery amid chanting and hymns.

He lived in turbulent times. As pope, Kyrillos V was in office during the later years of the rule of the Khedive Ismail, and he lived through Ismail's abdication and the enthronement of the Khedive Tawfiq. He saw the tribulations of the Orabi revolt and the subsequent occupation of the country by the British. In his time, technology advanced enough for journalism to be born, and Kyrillos V was closely involved in it through the publication of church periodicals.

The Coptic Church at the time was full of men of great piety and outstanding achievement. They include Anba Abraam, the bishop of Fayoum, who was famous for the help he gave to the poor, Hegumen Philotheos Ibrahim El-Tantawi, rector of St Mark's Cathedral, and Hegumen Abdel-Messih Salib El-Baramousi, known for his unparalleled scholarship.

Habib Girgis, who ran the Coptic theological seminary, helped the pope in various ways, including in the publication of the Church's magazine, Al-Karma.

KYRILLOS V BECOMES POPE: After the death of Pope Demetrius, the bishops of the Church met with the dignitaries of the Coptic community and decided to name the bishop of Beheira and the deputy of St Mark's Cathedral as acting patriarch until a new pope was elected.

However, the bishop in question was not satisfied with this temporary appointment and instead set his eyes on becoming the next pope. To support his claim, he formed the al-Maglis al-Melli, or community council, of 24 members and had the Khedive Ismail endorse the council by government decree.

Wahba El-Gizawi, secretary of the treasury, then persuaded the khedive of the bishop's suitability for the position of pope. The khedive promised to have him ordained pope if this was the will of the Coptic community.

Meanwhile, the other bishops, led by Anba Isak, bishop of Bahansa and Fayoum, visited Wahba Bey and told him they wanted bishop Yohanna El-Nassakh to be the next patriarch. Yohanna had acquired the name "El-Nassakh", or scribe, because he used to copy books and sell them to support the Church.

The bishops warned Wahba Bey of the grave consequences of ignoring their advice. There were also other problems confronting the churches of the region: the Ethiopian Church was suffering internal problems that needed papal diplomacy to address, for example, and it had asked the Russian consul to intervene to ensure the immediate ordination of a new pope. The Ottoman authorities in Istanbul wrote to the khedive, asking him to appoint a new pope as a matter of urgency.

At the request of the khedive, Coptic dignitaries convened the al-Maglis al-Melli and had Yohanna El-Nassakh ordained in Azbakiya. While pope, El-Nassakh, now Kyrillos V, arranged for the building of 13 churches in Egypt, the Sudan and Giza, including St Mark's Church in Giza in 1877, the Archangel Gabriel Church in Haret Al-Saqayin, the Virgin Mary Church in Faggala, the Virgin Mary Church in Helwan, the Church of Mar Damianna in Boulaq in 1912, the Church of Mar Morqos in Heliopolis in 1922, and the Church of the Virgin Mary in Masarra Street in Shubra in 1924.

He established nine schools in Cairo and Giza, including the Clerical School, the Girls School in Azbakiya and the Polytechnic School in Boulaq.

THE PAPACY OF KYRILLOS V: The most troublesome aspect of Kyrillos's papacy was his relationship with the al-Maglis al-Melli. Tensions between the pope and the Maglis began early when members of the latter demanded a say in Church matters. The pope adamantly refused, saying that this would be an infringement of his role as head of the Church.

Boutros Ghali Pasha, a key member of the Coptic community and later prime minister of Egypt, was asked to intervene. Acting on the instructions of the Khedive Tawfiq, Ghali succeeded in getting the Council to stay out of papal matters.

This gave Kyrillos V a breathing space, during which he tried to put the Church's finances in order. However, tensions reemerged when the Gamiet Al-Tawfiq, a Coptic community society, demanded that revenues from religious endowments be used to fund community schools. The pope disagreed, and a spat developed between him and the Maglis.

Ghali was once again asked to intervene, and this time he arranged for the election of a new Maglis. In order to oblige the pope to accept this, Ghali arrived at the offices of the patriarchate accompanied by the police and sent those he found there away. The pope asked the khedive for help, but the latter was reluctant to intervene. As the tensions continued, the pope turned down an offer to preside over the election of the new Maglis, and things reached stalemate.

To resolve this, the Cairo governor decided to preside over the election himself. A new Maglis was duly elected, and from that moment on it was independent from the pope, a decision endorsed by the cabinet in 1892.

The new situation led to divisions within the Church and the banishment of the pope and one of his top aides from Cairo. Kyrillos V went into seclusion in Deir Al-Baramus, while Anba Youanes retired to the Monastery of Anba Boulos.

Anba Athanasius, then bishop of Sanbu, took temporary charge of the Church while Church leaders worked out their problems and asked the government of Mustafa Pasha Fahmi to restore the pope to active service. On 20 January 1893, a decree signed by the khedive restored both men to their jobs, and they returned to Cairo to a warm welcome.

Although Boutros Ghali Pasha managed to patch up his relations with the pope, members of the Maglis continued to try to curb the latter's powers. In 1910, Coptic dignitaries in both northern and southern Egypt organised a conference to discuss communal problems and matters of equality among citizens.

On 6 March 1911, the conference met in the Wisa School under the chairmanship of Beshri Bey Hanna. Among the speakers were community leaders including Mikhail Fanous, Akhnukh Fanous, Tawfiq Bey Dos and Morqos Hanna. Habib Dos notably called for education to be available to all regardless of creed at the conference.

Later, during the 1919 Revolution, Kyrillos V allowed churches to be used for political speeches, and he asked priests to cooperate with Al-Azhar sheikhs in promoting calls for independence and the unity of the Nile Valley.

When the Egyptian Wafd, or delegation, led by Saad Zaghloul, travelled to London on 11 April 1919 to negotiate the country's independence, four Coptic dignitaries were among its members: Sinout Hanna, George Khayat, Wisa Wassef and Makram Ebeid.

In sum, Kyrillos V tackled many of the problems that Copts still discuss in Egypt today, from their relationship with the authorities to the secular-religious split in the community, positions on regional issues, and the all-important question of equality.

For this alone, Kyrillos V's life and career are important to all Egyptians and not just to the country's Coptic community.