The Coptic clergy of Melbourne issued a statement informing the congregation that, in the wake of the resignation of Bishop Suriel, Pope Tawadros had appointed a committee of Melbourne priests to liaise with him in running the affairs of the diocese. The statement cited the names of the eight priests who are members of the committee.
The congregation was reassured that all services and activities will run as usual “In the spirit of oneness and love”. It urged to avoid rumours and speculation, and stressed that the clergy were committed to honesty and transparency.
The Coptic community in Melbourne, in fact the Coptic Orthodox community at large, was severely shocked on Monday 5 November at news of the resignation of Bishop of Melbourne, Anba Suriel.
The Bishop posted his resignation online, “in public, for all to see”, citing his history and remarkable work throughout 28 years of loving service in Melbourne, but saying that recent years were marred by “divisions and hate-filled actions”.
Anba Suriel asked the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod to “prayerfully elect another” in his place. He nominated the current Vicar, Father Girgis al-Antony as the best candidate to “shepherd the flock” after him.Anba Suriel concluded his resignation by citing his wish to spend the rest of his days in desert-life solitude, stressing that his decision to resign is final, has long been considered, and will not change.
The resignation prompted a massive, agonised response from the Melbourne congregation. The majority found it hard to grasp and demanded of Anba Suriel to go back on his decision. The clergy of Melbourne and the Australian Coptic movement both issued statements expressing deep sadness at the Bishop’s resignation, and calling on him to stay on. The Coptic movement asked the Church leadership not to accept the resignation, in view of the immense work Anba Suriel had achieved for the Church.
The bishops of Australia responded to the surprise resignation of Anba Suriel, with a statement posted on 5 November on the Facebook page of Anba Daniel, Bishop and Abbot of St Shenouda Monastery in Sydney. Anba Daniel spoke for himself and on behalf of Anba Danieel, Bishop of Sydney, who was then overseas.
The statement addressed Anba Suriel in warm, sympathetic words, expressing shock at his resignation and saying the bishops had had no idea of his suffering or the pressures he was under. They said they were concerned for his well-being, peace, and health, and were praying for him.
The statement advised the congregation to pray and fast, for only through prayer and fasting could such issues be resolved, it said.
A few days later, Anba Suriel closed is Facebook page. He posted a good bye message before doing so, saying that there was no longer a need for the page, and that he would be shutting it down by the end of the day. He thanked those who had sent him “warm messages full of love”, and also those who sent negative messages. He blessed them all and bid them good bye.
Anba Suriel was consecrated and seated as Bishop of Melbourne in 1990 at the hands of Pope Shenouda III. The parish was then 10-churches and 12-priests large; today it includes 26 churches shepherded by 41 priests. Bishop Suriel
established Coptic schools, the world’s first Coptic accredited theological college, a hospital and a home for the elderly, to say nothing of the numerous churches and monasteries, as well as Eporo Tower in the heart of Melbourne, which acts as a Coptic cultural centre and campus for St Athanasius College.
13 November 2018