The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church has issued a statement explaining the Church’s position of the predicament of the Monastery of St Macarius the Alexandrite at Wadi al-Rayan in Fayoum some 150km southwest Cairo.
“The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church condemns the disgraceful outlaw actions by a few men who took residence in Wadi al-Rayan. The larger number of the Wadi al-Rayan community, however, wish to lead a quiet life that would qualify them in the future to become monks in the canonical sense recognised by the Church.
“The Holy Synod stresses that the Church has not as yet recognised the Wadi al-Rayan premises as a Coptic Orthodox monastery. The fact that those residing there don black habits does not mean that they are monks. The residence of a monk necessitates specific regulations, conditions and traditions; and requires permission from the Church leadership. This is the case with all Coptic monasteries, but it was not applied in case of Wadi al-Rayan. Letters signed by His Holiness the Pope during the first weeks into his papacy [in which the Wadi al-Rayan conglomerate was referred to as a monastery] were written in order to facilitate dealings with governmental authorities, such as Fayoum governorate and the antiquities authorities, and to pave the way for a Church recognition of the place as a monastery. This correspondence was no acknowledgment or recognition of a monastery or monks in Wadi al-Rayan, since the Holy Synod headed by His Holiness the Pope is the only authority entitled to issue such a recognition in an official session, and this comes only after thorough studies of the qualifications of the place and the community living in it.
“We note that the fact that the ID cards of some of those living at Wadi al-Rayan cite them as monks was done hastily, possibly for the civil authorities to have some basis upon which to deal with them, and does not imply that the Church recognises them as monks.
“Ever since the aggravation of the crisis in October 2015 the Pope, together with the members of the monastic affairs committee and a number of bishops, priests, monks, laymen, officials and government representatives, have held a series of meetings with the so called monks. They exercised the utmost patience to attempt to persuade the Wadi al-Rayan community to give up stubbornness, arrogance and defiance, and to refrain from unnecessarily obstructing a national development project. The ‘monks’, however, responded by affronting their religious leaders; they did not observe obedience which is pivotal among the principles and vows of monastic life. But all efforts failed even though several excellent proposals were made to solve the crisis. The sad result was that the outlaw actions by a number of the Wadi al-Rayan residents resulted in their arrest by the police; official investigations into the matter are ongoing.
“We call upon the media for accurate and conscientious reporting on the topic, whether in news, features or comments. The Egyptian Church is a solid spiritual entity which has behind it time-honoured traditions in all aspects of ecclesiastical affairs as well as in the service, educational and monastic institutions; and has introduced the entire world to Christian monastic life. It is unheard of that monks should speak in discourteous, aggressive manner to their leaders.
“We also call upon the relevant State authorities to swiftly legalise the registration of the apparel of priests and monks and make it official. This would make it not possible for any one to illegally take on a clerical status, and disturb thus Church and social peace, sow confusion among the congregation and citizens—as is happening now in case of Wadi al-Rayan—and unduly distort Egypt’s safe image before the world community.
“The Holy Synod appreciates all the sincere efforts that were exerted by governmental, civic and Church authorities in order to cordially solve the crisis. The Holy Synod confirms that Egyptian monasticism was founded on the principles of voluntary poverty, heartfelt obedience, life of chastity, peaceful isolation from the bustle of life, turning one’s entire life to prayer, praise and meditation, and sufficiency with the little. This pure monasticism is what made the monasteries the destination of many Egyptians and foreigners, for them to receive the blessing of this spiritual life. They sought the purity of the heart and serenity of soul nurtured by the righteous and saintly figures who populated the Egyptian wilderness and deserts.
“We are confident that the Hand of the Almighty God will work the best in this crisis. Hardship will end through wisdom; in order for those among the Wadi al-Rayan community who wish to lead a monastic life of peace, and for the nation to successfully fulfil its development projects for the prosperity of all Egyptians. God save our precious Egypt and our sacred Church from all evil.
The Secretariat of the Holy Synod”
The Coptic Orthodox monastic community that had settled down at the site of the ancient cave monastery of St Macarius in Wadi al-Rayan in Fayoum had had to leave in the wake of conflict between the monastery on one hand and the Coptic Church leadership and Egyptian government on the other. The crisis erupted in September 2014 in the wake of government plans to build a road which would pass into land illegally claimed by monastery.
23 March 2016