Loay Mahmoud, director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s Centre of Coptic Studies, told Watani that the crisis of the monastery of St Macarius the Alexandrite at Wadi al-Rayan in Fayoum some 150km southwest Cairo, has finally been resolved. “After long hours of negotiation with the members of the monastic community at Wadi Rayan,” Dr Mahmoud said, “We were finally able to persuade them to agree to a solution that is acceptable to all the parties involved in the predicament.” These parties were represented by Ibrahim Mahlab, Egypt’s previous Prime Minister and current presidential assistant for national projects; Bishop-General Anba Ermiya; Maged al-Raheb, head of the NGO Lovers of Coptic Heritage; and Coptic businessman Adly Ayoub. Dr Mahmoud acted as mediator, and was happy to announce that an agreement was finally reached.
The crisis of 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 down there since the 1990s. The site is part 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 conflict between the monastery on one hand and the Coptic Church leadership and Egyptian government on the other. Those who left were resettled in other monasteries or Church-owned premises; a few, however, refused to leave and remained at Wadi Rayan, disobeying thus their Church leadership and getting into occasional skirmishes with governmental authorities.
Matters came to a head-on a week ago when one of the so-called monks burned a loader used by the contractor company doing construction work on the road project.
The crisis prompted the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church to issue a statement on the matter last Tuesday, 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.
The recent agreement stipulates that the monastery St Macarius the Alexandrite in Wadi Rayan should by allotted 3,000 feddans which would include the church, monk cells, the farmland 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. 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 monastery premises.
25 March 2016