The Coptic Orthodox seat of Jerusalem now has a new Metropolitan at its helm after Anba Abraham who passed away at age 73 last November, and who had been Metropolitan of Jerusalem since 1991. The post of Metropolitan of Jerusalem is a very special one in the Coptic Church; it is second only to the Pope and is traditionally occupied by a monk who is consecrated metropolitan straight away, not by a bishop promoted to that post.
During Vespers on Saturday 27 February, Pope Tawadros II presided over the initial steps of the consecration ceremony of the monk Theodore al-Antouni (from Anba Antonius Monastery in Egypt’s Eastern Desert) as Metropolitan Antonius of the Jerusalem seat. The consecration was finalised during Holy Mass the following day.
Pope Tawadros arrived at the Morqossiya [St Mark’s] church in Azbakiya at 7pm Saturday, amid heightened security. The Morqossiya Scout drummers, in their characteristic uniform and wearing badges that carried the photograph of Fr Theodore who would in a few hours be Metropolitan Antonius, were on hand to welcome him with a special march. As his procession proceeded into the church, he was received by cheers and joyful ululations from the congregation. At hand to receive him were the bishops of the Coptic Church, as well as clergy and prominent members of the laity. Attending the consecration were the ambassadors of Palestine and Syria to Cairo.
Fr Theodore had already entered the church holding the hands of Anba Yustus, Abbot of Anba Antonius’s, and Anba Andrawus Bishop of Abu-Teeg in Upper Egypt, the birthplace of Fr Theodore and his hometown.
The consecration ceremony proceeded during Vespers with the Pope inviting Fr Theodore to recite the pledge that is in the main part concerned with his promising to preserve the Orthodox faith and tradition, and to faithfully care for the congregation. The Pope then named him ‘Antonius, Metropolitan of Jerusalem’, he walked in the procession of bishops then the bishops said the traditional prayers on his ceremonial clothes.
In his word, Pope Tawadros II expressed his joy at the occasion. It was auspicious, he said, that the ceremony was held at the Morqossiya, a cathedral which had acted as papal seat for some 200 years before the current St Mark’s at Abbasiya was built in 1969. The Morqossiya had witnessed the enthronement of eight patriarchs, the last of whom was Pope Kyrillos VI who was Pope from 1959 to 1971, and who has been canonised as a modern-day saint. St Mark’s at Abbasiya is now undergoing renovation, Pope Tawadros said, so it would have not been possible to hold the consecration ceremony there. “So here we are,” he said, “in a place that carries the scent of the history of the fathers and saints, and we are inspired by their holy lives and assiduous efforts.”
The Pope explained that the new Metropolitan of Jerusalem would be responsible for the congregations and Church affairs in six countries: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and Kuwait. He said that, previously, an additional six countries in Asia had fallen within the Jerusalem Metropolitan’s care but now that these congregations have swelled will thus be placed under the Cathedral in Cairo, which will be following up on their needs through other bishops.
The first Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan of Jerusalem was consecrated in the 13th century, Pope Tawadros said. Before that time, the Coptic congregation and affairs in the Holy Land were managed through the sister Syriac Church, he said. Since that time, there have been 20 Coptic Metropolitans in Jerusalem; Metropolitan Antonius will be the 21st. He has been chosen from among six monks, the Pope said, who were shortlisted for the post; among the standards placed for the election were the age of the candidate and his proficiency in foreign languages. Pope Tawadros then gave a brief bio of the new Metropolitan.
Seven new metropolitans
The following day, Sunday 28 February, during Holy Mass, the consecration of Metropolitan Antonius was completed, and six bishops of the Coptic Church were promoted to metropolitans. “Even though the word ‘promotion’ is not an ecclesiastical term,” Pope Tawadros said, “we use it to denote a positive move in appreciation of their long, dedicated service in the Church.”
The bishops have been chosen on a geographical basis, the Pope explained. Anba Tadros of Port Said represents the Suez Canal region, east of Egypt, and has served as bishop for 40 years. Anba Pavnotius of Samalout represents Upper Egypt and has also been bishop for 40 years. Anba Benyamin of Menoufiya represents the Delta region and has behind him 40 years as bishop; and Anba Serapion of Los Angeles, 30 years bishop, represents the US. Europe, the Pope said, is represented by Anba Kyrillos who is Papal Deputy and has been Bishop of Milano for 30 years; and the French Anba Athanasius who took orders at Anba Bishoi Monastery in the Western Desert in the 1970s, was consecrated bishop in 1994, and was seated as Bishop of Marseilles two years ago. This, the Pope said, brings the number of metropolitans in the Coptic Church up to 12; the present ones being Anba Pachomius of Beheira, Matrouh, Libya, and Pentapolis; Anba Bishoi of Dumyat; Anba Arsanius of Minya and Abu-Qurqas; Anba Wissa of Balyana; and Anba Hedra of Aswan.
The new metropolitans, Pope Tawadros said, together with Anba Yustus and Anba Andrawus, will conduct the seating ceremony of Metropolitan Antonius in Jerusalem next week.
From Fr Theodore to Anba Antonius
Fr Theodore was born in 1969 in the southern town of Abu-Teeg; his birth name was Emad Timotheus Sharmoukh. His father was a priest and he has three brothers, two priests and a painter; and two sisters, a pharmacist and a teacher. Their father, Fr Timotheus, was deputy to the Bishop of Abu-Teeg, Sadafa, and al-Ghanayem for some 50 years.
Fr Theodore is known for his beautiful, angelic voice, and his special interest in Coptic hymns and melody. As a young man, he formed a choir that went on to win a number of prizes and awards in church contests. His mentor and teacher was the late Fr Theophilus of the monastery of the Holy Virgin at al-Muharraq in Assiut.
After earning a degree in agriculture from Assiut University he studied medicine and obtained his degree in 1994. He later opened a pharmacy but it was not long before Fr Theodore chose to forego all worldly interests and take orders at Anba Antonius monastery. In a gesture of sacrifice, his father and family took him to Anba Yustus, Abbot of Anba Antonius’s, as an offering to the Lord. He took orders in 2008, and was modest, gentle, and loved by all.
He first served with the monastery’s pharmacy then joined the monastery’s mission in Cairo to serve the sick and aged fathers. In 2013, he was ordained a priest.
Two years ago Fr Theodore was chosen by Pope Tawadros II for a four-year scholarship in Greece. He spent two years there but is now back because he was nominated by Anba Yustus and others to be the new bishop of Jerusalem after Metropolitan Anba Abraham passed away in November 2015.
It has been an almost unbroken tradition that the bishop of Jerusalem would be elected form among the monks at Anba Antonius’s. The late Anba Abraham was an exception to the rule since he came from Anba Bishoi’s Monastery in the Western Desert. [http://en.wataninet.com/coptic-affairs-coptic-affairs/coptic-affairs/pope-tawadros-in-jerusalem-for-anba-abrahams-funeral/15173/]
2 March 2016