A trip by Pope Tawadros II to Jerusalem to preside over the funeral of a leading Coptic cleric gave Copts more than they counted for.
The Pope went to Jerusalem on Thursday 26 November to preside over the funeral of Anba Abraham, Metropolitan of the Coptic Orthodox Seat of Jerusalem and the Near East. Anba Abraham had passed away Wednesday 25 November at age 73. He left a will that he wished his funeral service and burial to be held in Jerusalem; arrangements were made for Saturday 28 November.
The Pope and his accompanying delegation of bishops and priests left Cairo for Jerusalem on Thursday 26 November. All travel arrangements had been done by the Egyptian government.
In Jerusalem, he was received by a host of clerics and Church elders, as well as Adeeb Gouda al-Husseini, the Palestinian Muslim who is custodian of the keys of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Husseini presented the Pope with a gift of holy items and oil that pertain to the Holy Week and Holy Saturday (the Saturday preceding Resurrection Sunday) and rituals annually held at the church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Accompanying Pope Tawadros to Jerusalem were the bishops Anba Bishoi of Dumyat, Anba Sarapamon of Anba Bishoi monatery in the Western Desert, Anba Yustus of Anba Antonius monastery in the Eastern Desert, Anba Kyrillos of Mar-Mina monastery in Maryout, Anba Theodosius of Middle Giza, as well as the papal secretary Fr Angaelos Ishaq, and the honorary president of the Middle East Council of Churches Girgis Saleh.
The funeral took place at he church of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem’s Old City, adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The entrance to the Coptic Patriarchate in Jerusalem is one of the 14 Stations of the Cross—the route taken by Jesus on the way to His Crucifixion.
The Pope extolled the virtues of Anba Abraham who was well-known for his spiritual stature, profound knowledge, arduous ministry, and his sense of humour. “Until his last days on earth, and despite his poor health, he carried on with the duties of his ministry,” Pope Tawadros said of the late Anba Abraham. “He insisted on paying a final visit to the flock in Qatar and Muscat.”
The Pope gave a word in which he spoke of life and death, death being the beginning of an afterlife with no pain or sadness, according to Christian faith.
Anba Abraham was born in 1943 in the southern province of Sohag. He earned a B.Sc. in agriculture in 1962 and went on to obtain a Ph.D in medicinal plants in 1968. He was fluent in Arabic and Coptic, as well as English, French, and German. As a deacon, he served in Giza parish till he took orders in 1984 as Fr Sidrac Anba Bishoi. In November 1991, he was consecrated Metropolitan of the Seat of Jerusalem and the Near East by Pope Shenouda III.
Pope Tawadros’s visit to Jerusalem aroused plenty of controversy in Egypt, with many criticising the Pope for having broken the travel ban to the Holy Land imposed by the Coptic Church since the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Even though the majority of Egyptians supported the peace treaty and were relieved that the more-than-30-year state of war between Egypt and Israel had come to an end, there was a strong movement against naturalising relations with Egypt’s long-time ‘enemy’, Israel. At the time Pope Shenouda III, upon a decision by the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church in 1980, imposed a ban on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and said that Copts should only go there once Egypt’s Muslims naturalise relations with Israel; otherwise the Copts risked being counted traitors. He said the Christian faith demanded no ‘pilgrimage’, and that the ban did not apply to any personal travel to Israel, only to ‘pilgrimage’. When Pope Tawadros became patriarch in 2012, he relented on demands by many older Copts who insisted they wished to ‘visit the Holy Land before they died’ and allowed visits for individuals over 60. Otherwise, however, pilgrimage of Egyptians to the Holy Land remained banned by the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Some Copts welcomed the Pope’s Jerusalem trip as a move that would open the door to all Copts to visit the Holy Land. Others criticised it as a unilateral ‘untimely’ step towards naturalisation with Israel, a step they believe would harm the Palestinian cause. But the Pope replied that it had nothing to do with politics. He said it was no ‘visit’ in the first place; a visit entailed preparations, appointments, an agenda, a schedule, and so on. This was not true in his case; the Pope said, his trip to Jerusalem was sudden, on account of the death of a ‘dear friend’. The Coptic Church’s position on visiting the Holy Land remained unchanged, he said.
On social media, many Copts rejected the mere idea of casting any suspicion on the Pope’s patriotism or loyalty to Egypt. “The Pope who said ‘we would all die for Egypt to live’ when the Muslim Brothers burned 100 Coptic churches and establishments in August 2013, cannot be placed under any doubts,” was an opinion expressed by many.
His ‘visit’ to Jerusalem, Pope Tawadros said, was for clerical and humane reasons. The Jerusalem seat is second only to the patriarchate in the Coptic Orthodox Church, meaning that Anba Abraham was the second senior cleric in the Church. He explained that his friendship with Anba Abraham went back to the days when he, the Pope, took orders at Anba Bishoi monastery in the Western Desert in 1968, and was received by the then Fr Sidrac. The two men enjoyed a close relation ever since. The Pope said: “We pray for comfort to all those who loved Anba Abraham, and ask for his prayers that the Good Lord should grant us a suitable successor to fill the great void left by his passing away.”
30 November 2015