The monastery of St Macarius the Alexandrite in Wadi al-Rayan in Fayoum some 150km southwest Cairo appears to be headed towards a final resolution of the crisis it has been involved in since September 2014.
In September 2014 the Egyptian government began working on a plan to build a road that would pass through Wadi al-Rayan in Fayoum. In the process, the road had to cross land illegally claimed by a Coptic Orthodox monastic community that goes under the name St Macarius the Alexandrite, and that had settled there since the 1990s. The site is part the natural reserve of Wadi al-Rayan, and is also 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 Wadi al-Rayan monastic community was in conflict not only with the Egyptian government but also with the Coptic Orthodox Church. A number of the members of the community insisted on going against the orders and guidance of the Church, a move which contradicts the essential monastic principle that a monk renounces his life and will to God, meaning he has no specific will to apply but must be obedient to his spiritual leadership. The break of the vow of obedience put the ‘monks’ in the position where the Church considered them deviant.
The majority of the modern monastic community had to leave in the wake of conflict between their community 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 the Church leadership and getting into occasional skirmishes with governmental authorities. At one point, one of the rebellious monks who goes by the name Fr Boulos and whose real name is Maher Aziz Hanna, burned a loader used by the contractor company doing construction work on the road project. For this, and for violating a natural reserve and assaulting an environment conservation official on duty, he was taken to court and handed a two-year prison sentence last June.
Last March, however, a resolution to the crisis was worked out between the Egyptian government, the Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Wadi Rayan monastic community. It stipulated that the monastery of St Macarius the Alexandrite in Wadi Rayan should by allotted 300 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.
Anba Macarius, Bishop-General of Minya, who was appointed by Pope Tawadros II to supervise the St Macarius the Alexandrite settlement in Wadi al-Rayan says that the fencing wall enclosing the newly assigned monastery premises is now near completion.
“Given that for a monastery to be officially recognised by the Church it has to fulfil specific criteria among which is that it should be enclosed within a fencing wall, and given that the wall around St Macarius the Alexandrite’s is nearly complete, we are approaching the Church to recognise the place officially as a monastery,” Anba Macarius told Watani.
Anba Macarius says he has also taken steps towards regulating the internal affairs of the monastery by establishing a regular monastic community there. Many of the original members of the monastic community have returned, and those who were before disowned by the Church for breaching the monastic have asked to return. “We have welcomed them in,” he says, “and they are now in a probation period which, if they pass successfully, would qualify them to fully rejoin the monastery.”
As to Fr Boulos who was handed a two-year prison sentence, Anba Macarius says, “The Church is contesting the ruling and at the same time striving to work a conciliation between him and the environment authorities.”
Now that matters are going in the right direction, Anba Macarius says, “we have sent a request to Pope Tawadros II for the Holy Synod to recognise the monastery of St Macarius the Alexandrite in Wadi Rayan. The Pope promised to review the request and will send within a few days a committee from the Holy Synod to assess the monastery in preparation for its recognition by the Church.”
11 July 2016