Pope Tawadros II left Cairo to Jerusalem Thursday evening to preside over the funeral of Anba Abraham, Metropolitan of the Coptic Orthodox Seat of Jerusalem and the Near East, who passed away Wednesday 25 November at age 73. The funeral service and burial will be held in Jerusalem according to the Anba Abraham’s will.
The Pope and his accompanying delegation of bishops and priests was received in Jerusalem 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 from the church.
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’. 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.
Some Copts welcomed the Pope’s going to Jerusalem for Anba Abraham’s funeral as a move that would open the door to all Copts who wish to visit the Holy Land. Others criticised Pope Tawadros’s move which they saw as a unilateral ‘untimely’ step towards naturalisation with Israel, a step they think 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, he said, involved preparations, appointments, an agenda, a schedule, and so on. He said this was not true in his case; his leaving to Jerusalem was sudden, on account of the death of a ‘dear friend’. The Coptic Orthodox Church’s position on visiting the Holy Land remained unchanged, he said.
This ‘visit’, he 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 Fr Sidrac who later became Anba Abraham. 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.”
The funeral will take place on Saturday in 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 said to have been taken by Jesus on the way to his crucifixion.
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 Jerusalem and the Near East by Pope Shenouda III.
27 November 2015