Egyptian Christians Reeling After Coptic Bishop is Murdered by Two of his Monks Over Efforts to Reconcile With Roman Catholic Church

Pope Tawadros II, right, presides over the funeral of Bishop Anba Epiphanius at St. Macarius Monastery on July 31, 2018, in Wadi El Natrun, Egypt. (Photo courtesy: US-International Coptic Media Center)
Pope Tawadros II, right, presides over the funeral of Bishop Anba Epiphanius at St. Macarius Monastery on July 31, 2018, in Wadi El Natrun, Egypt. (Photo courtesy: US-International Coptic Media Center)

The Coptic Orthodox community in Egypt is reeling from the recent murder of the abbot of St. Macarius Monastery, apparently by traditionalists of his own faith, in the fourth-century center of meditation and scholarship 60 miles northwest of Cairo.

The victim, Bishop Anba Epiphanius, 64, was the point man in efforts by the Coptic pope, Tawadros II, to reconcile their church with the Vatican. The two popes, Roman and Coptic, had explored steps toward mutual recognition of baptism rituals, pilgrimage sites and even reconciling their liturgical calendars.

On July 29, Epiphanius died from a blow to the head with a sharp object.

Investigators obtained a confession from 34-year-old monk Wael Saad after another member of the order, Remon Ramsi Mansour, 33, attempted suicide by slitting his wrists and throwing himself from the highest building in the monastery.

Both now face trial on Sept. 23 for killing Epiphanius.

Epiphanius was elected as abbot of the St. Macarius monastery in 2013, a turbulent year that saw hundreds of thousands of Egyptians protest President Mohammed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

That same year, the military, then headed by Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s current president, ousted Morsi.

Many Egyptian Christians held Morsi and his followers responsible for an uptick in violence against their churches and clergy. Those attacks intensified when militant Islamists went underground after Morsi’s overthrow.

Last year saw increased attacks on Christians, including the fatal stabbing of a priest in October, the killing of 28 pilgrims traveling to a monastery near the city of Minya in May, and the Palm Sunday bombings at two churches in Alexandria and Tanta that killed 44 people in April.

The murders of seven Christians in El Arish by the so-called Islamic State’s Egyptian affiliate in February resulted in the mass exodus of hundreds of Christians from the northern part of the Sinai peninsula.

The Vatican reacted to the jihadist attacks by approaching Tawadros with renewed gestures of solidarity, culminating in Pope Francis’ 2017 visit to Cairo and Egypt’s Catholic community, estimated to be as many as 200,000 people. Copts, an ancient Christian sect, are thought to make up 10 to 15 percent of Egypt’s nearly 100 million people.

During that visit, the Coptic Church said it would not require Catholics who married into their church to be rebaptized as Coptic Orthodox. The two churches also opened discussions of accepting Dec. 25 as Christmas instead of using the older Gregorian calendar to determine church holidays.

Rebaptism, which means initiating members of one Christian denomination into a new church community even if they have been baptized in their own, usually reflects significant theological differences between congregations.

But traditionalists criticized Tawadros and Epiphanius, a theologian respected for his Arabic translations of early Christian sources written in ancient Greek and the pre-Islamic Coptic language, for the change.

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SOURCE: Jacob Wirtschafter and Mina Nader
Religion News Service