Anba Sawiris, abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Virgin in Meir, al-Qoussiya, Assiut, some 330km south of Cairo, died in hospital in Cairo on Friday 21 July, at age 74. The Bishop had been abbot of the monastery, commonly known as al-Muharraq, from 1985 till he passed away.
On 21 July, on news that Anba Sawiris’s health was drastically failing, Pope Tawadros had appointed Anba Ghabrial of Beni Sweif as acting bishop of al-Muharraq.
Pope pays tribute
Pope Tawadros II announced the news of the passing away of Anba Sawiris in a statement to the Coptic congregation and to Churches in Egypt and worldwide. The Pope paid him tribute as “an honourable bishop and abbot of an old and noble monastery”. Anba Sawiris, the Pope said in his statement, served diligently, wisely and quietly for 43 years. He was father and pastor to all in the monastery and surrounding villages, the Pope said. It was a momentous task; the 1st century monastery is the oldest and among the wealthiest in Egypt. It owns some 33 feddans of agricultural land surrounding it, and manages the land and the affairs of the villages located there. As testified by all who knew him, Anba Sawiris undertook this task with wisdom and love.
On Saturday 22 July, Pope Tawadros held a funeral service for Anba Sawiris at al-Boutrossiya church in Abbassiya, Cairo. Assiut Governor Yasser Dessouqi was there to offer condolences to Pope Tawadros and the Coptic Church on his behalf and on that of the people of Assiut. A large number of Coptic Orthodox bishops Church attended; as did the Coptic Catholic Bishop of Assiut, Anba Kyrillos William, and the bishops who head non-Egyptian Churches in Egypt.
Loving father to all
Following the service, the coffin of Anba Sawiris was taken to the monastery in Assiut, where it was placed in the ancient church of the Holy Virgin. The bishops who had come to attend the funeral service at the monastery joined the monk assembly of al-Muharraq in the old church for Midnight Praise at 1:30am, after which they prayed Holy Mass.
At 11am Sunday morning the funeral service started in the church of Mar-Girgis in the monastery, since the church of the Holy Virgin was deemed too small to accommodate the attendants.
Assiut Governor Yasser Dessouqi was again there. Participating in the service were a number of bishops: Anba Raphail, head of the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod; Anba Kyrillos of Naja Hammadi; Anba Pola of Tanta; Anba Yu’annis of Assiut; Anba Ghabrial of Beni Sweif; Anba Stephanos of al-Fashn; Anba Timotheus of Zagazig, Anba Zusima of Etfeeh; Anba Karas of Mehalla al-Kubra; Anba Boqtor of al-Wadi al-Gadeed; and Anba Kyrillos William, the Coptic Catholic Bishop of Assiut. Abbots of Egyptian monasteries also participated, as did the monk of al-Muharraq.
The words said in honour of Anba Sawiris focused in the main part on his love, care, and fatherliness. More than once speakers’ voices broke in emotion.
To the timeless melody of the Golgotha, the poignant Coptic tune that embodies the epitome of mourning, Anba Sawiris’s body was taken to his final resting place. He was buried under the altar of Mar-Girgis’s church.
Anba Sawiris was born in Cairo on 23 January 1943, and took orders on 11 August 1974 at al-Muharraq Monastery, under the name of Fr Bishoi al-Muharraqi. He was ordained a priest in 1975, and became deputy to Anba Aghathon, the then abbot. On 2 June 1985, Pope Shenouda III consecrated him as abbot of al-Muharraq; he served in that capacity till he passed away on 21 July 2017.
The Monastery of the Holy Virgin Mary, al-Muharraq, is among the spots where the Holy Family—Baby Jesus, St Mary and St Joseph—is believed to have resided during its flight into Egypt from the face of Herod the King in the 1st century. “Al-Muharraq” is an Arabic word which means “burnt by fire”, and has been used to denote the monastery which was partially burned by foreign invaders and Berbers in the middle ages.
The monastery is unusual in that it is not located in the desert but in agricultural land. It is a very peaceful place; and its walls enclose an area of 30 feddans, containing five churches and more than 100 monks, as well as a large library. It is a fine example of a fortified monastery, like many that were located in the desert.
The church of the Holy Virgin is believed to have been built over the cave where the Holy Family stayed. The altar stone, dated 747AD, is said to be located on the very spot where the Baby Jesus rested.
The monastery includes a library that contains thousands of books and reference material that dates from the 19th and 20th centuries, and covers religion, science and other topics written in Coptic, Greek, Arabic, English and Amharic. More importantly, it contains hand-written manuscripts in Coptic and Arabic. Scientifically indexed, these priceless manuscripts date back as early as the 13th century.
23 July 2017