He was famous as the ‘iron man’. It is not difficult to see why: the late Anba Bishoy, Metropolitan of Dumyat and Kafr al-Sheikh, had an uncompromising, scrupulous, no-nonsense nature that drove many to view him as a ‘difficult’ person. Yet one look into his eyes would reveal so much kindness that made him beloved of all who were fortunate enough to have been close to him.
Anba Bishoy was born in 1942 in the town of Mansoura, Daqahliya, on the eastern branch of the Nile Delta. He was born Makram Iskandar Nicola, the son of a wealthy landowner family. He lost his father when just four, and grew up an only child to his widowed mother. After completing school in 1958, he studied Mechanical Engineering at Alexandria University. Graduating with honours, he was appointed graduate assistant and went on to obtain a Masters degree in engineering sciences in 1968. Two days later he gave up a promising career and the extensive property owned by his family, to which he was the only heir, and which he relinquished to the Church, to join the Monastery of the Holy Virgin of al-Surian in Wadi al-Natroun in Egypt’s Western Desert.
In February 1969, Nicola took orders under the name Toma al-Suriany and, in 1972, Pope Shenouda III (Patriarch from 1971 to 2012) consecrated him as bishop. He was 29 years and 10 months old; Church law decrees that a bishop has to be over 30. The then Pope, however, decided to exceptionally consecrate Toma al-Suriany in order to dispatch him to Switzerland to represent the Coptic Church in a pan-Orthodox dialogue. It was the beginning of a long, arduous journey in Church dialogue in which his scrupulousness served him well, and in which he strived to clear differences between Churches, basing on sound theological principles. He gained a reputation of being a staunch advocate of Church unity, and came to represent not only the Coptic Orthodox Church but, in many cases, the Oriental Orthodox Churches: the Coptic, Syrian, Armenian, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Indian Churches.
Anba Bishoy was seated Bishop of Dumyat in January 1985, in a grand ceremony in which a number of senior bishops took part. That same year, he was elected Secretary-General of the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod and, in September 1990, he was promoted to Metropolitan.
His studies in Theology qualified him to teach that topic at Cairo’s Clerical College (Seminary) as well as many other seminaries, and his ardent fervour in patiently clearing differences between Churches earned him the approbation of Pope John Paul II.
Anba Bishoy wrote a number of modern choruses and hymns. His last was a short poem in which he addressed the Lord: “When do I see you, my Beloved, receiving me with open arms … When do I find You, my Loved One, wiping away all my sadness … Nothing can separate me from You, no matter how prolonged the time … You are closer to me than myself, my words, my thoughts”.
4 October 2018