A man who alleges to be a monk in the monastic settlement of St Macarius the Alexandrite in Wadi al-Rayan in Fayoum some 100km southwest Cairo, and goes by the name Boulos al-Rayani, has been sentenced to two years in prison by Fayoum Criminal Court. Boulos, whose real name is Maher Aziz Hanna, was charged with violating a natural reserve and assaulting an environment conservation official on duty.
The alleged monk had been handed a five-year prison sentence in absentia, but it was reduced to two years in the recent court ruling. He is also charged in a separate case with setting aflame a loader belonging to the construction company The Arab Contractors. The loader was parked outside the illegally built fencing wall of the monastic settlement, and had been used to demolish part of the wall. Fr Boulos and a number of other monks objected to the demolition and attempted to rebuild the wall, and Fr Boulos set fire to the loader.
The crisis involving the Wadi Rayan monastic settlement erupted in September 2014 as a result of government plans to build a road which would pass into land illegally claimed by a Coptic Orthodox monastic community that had settled there since the 1990s. The Coptic Orthodox Church, however, had never recognised the settlement as a monastery because neither the settlement nor the community fulfilled the conditions needed for a full-fledged monastery. In fact, a number of the alleged monks who had settled there were seen as deviants by the Church.
The projected road would pass through a natural reserve in the area, and also close to the monastic settlement which lies at the edge of a sprawling 700-feddan (1 feddan is 4200sq.m.) stunningly beautiful area of 4th-century cave cells and churches that were inhabited by early Christian hermits till the 12th century.
The majority of the modern monastic community had to leave in the wake of the dispute with the government; they were resettled in other monasteries or Church-owned premises. The few who remained at Wadi Rayan and refused to leave, disobeying thus their Church leadership, got into occasional skirmishes with government authorities since they insisted on resisting the demolition of the illegally-built wall.
The crisis prompted the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church to issue a statement on the matter, in which it “condemned the disgraceful acts committed by men who are taken to be monks but who are in fact not recognised by the Church in the canonical sense, neither is the site recognised by the Church as a monastery.
A recent agreement between the government and the Coptic Orthodox Church stipulates that the monastic settlement of St Macarius the Alexandrite in Wadi Rayan should by allotted 3,000 feddans which would include the church, monk cells, the farmland that had already been reclaimed by the monastic community, and the well springs on the southern side of the land. The land, buildings and utilities will be officially registered as property of the Coptic Orthodox Church, hence legalising the status of the settlement. The road under construction will pass away from any ancient sites, monk cells, and well springs. A fencing wall will be built to enclose the newly assigned monastic premises.
25 June 2016