The Archangels church in the district of Daher in Downtown Cairo is a live witness of a vibrant community that has become part of Egyptian life: the Greek Orthodox. The church recently celebrated its 80th anniversary
A passerby in the Downtown Cairo area of Daher can never miss the presence of a large number of churches representing various Christian denominations. Among them, the church of the Holy Archangels of the Arabic-speaking Greek Orthodox community has recently celebrated its 80th anniversary.
The Greek Orthodox Church belongs to the larger communion of the Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Once the official Church of the Byzantine Empire and today the official faith of Greece and Cyprus, its followers exist in the four corners of the earth but are concentrated in the Eastern-Mediterranean countries of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt and Turkey. In Egypt there are today an estimated 25,000 followers of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Service in Greek
During the 19th century, the Greek Orthodox community in Egypt consisted mainly of Greeks; and their prayers were held in the old form of the Greek language (Koine Greek), the original language of the New Testament. As the 19th century closed and 20th began, a flow of Christian migration from the Levant, came into Egypt, driven by adverse to socio-economic factors in their home countries. Christians coming from the Levant were mainly Maronite, Greek Orthodox and Catholic, Syriac Orthodox and Catholic, Chaldeans and Armenians, most of whom conducted their prayer services and Divine Liturgy in Arabic.
As the number of Arabic-speaking Greek Orthodox increased, the need arose to build new churches to serve them, especially in the major cities where they concentrated: in Cairo, Alexandria, Mansoura, Tanta, Damietta and Port Said.
A group of community benefactors led by Prince Michel Lotfallah took the initiative of constructing a Greek Orthodox church for the Arabic-speaking community of Cairo. Prince Michel donated a parcel of land in Daher; architectural plans were drawn and the foundation laid in 1928. Donations flowed in from members of the community, notably Helena Siag. The church was consecrated in 1931 during the tenure of Patriarch Meletios II Metaxakis and dedicated to the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel. Ever since, the church has been ministered by successive Egyptian and Arab priests.
The first long-time pastor of the church was Father Christo Mikhail who spent more than 40 years in the service of the community until his death in the late 1990s. He was succeeded for a brief period by Fr Alexios who then left for Greece to pursue higher studies in theology, and the church was once again in need of an Arabic-speaking pastor. Archimandrite Elias Habib was therefore sent to Cairo in 1999 by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch to care for the church of the Archangels, a task which he performed with the utmost care and dedication for more than ten years. These years saw a huge revival in the church on both the social and spiritual levels.
Father Michel Zaki followed for a short period, but now the church and the community are looked after by Archimandrite Isidoros Salakos, assisted by Fr Youssef Darrous.
When the church was consecrated in the 1930s, Prince Michel Lotfallah headed the parish council, with the help of Habib Pasha Lotfallah. They were succeeded by Mr Antoine Drosso and Mr Bassim Hesny, during whose time the church was renovated, a new iconostasis made of rosewood replaced the old one and additional icons were painted on the walls.
In 1978, Engineer Robert Hesny was chosen as the new president of the parish council. Under his leadership, several new activities were established and many renovations made.
Social work has always figured highly on the agenda of the church of the Holy Archangels. The church provides assistance to needy families, as well as cultural and spiritual activities.
On the spiritual level, there are weekly youth meetings, Sunday school and Bible study groups. The church also participates in local and international spiritual conferences and retreats and organises seminars to discuss many social and spiritual topics.
The church choir was founded by Mr Mitri al-Morr, and besides celebrating the Divine Liturgy it participates with choirs from other churches in the annual celebration of the unity of the church. The church’s 80th anniversary coincides with the 75th anniversary of its Boy Scout group, al-Sharq Scouts, which is considered one of the most renowned scouting groups in Cairo.
Oasis of comfort
On the day of the church’s 80th anniversary His Holiness Theodoros II, Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa for the Greek Orthodox Church, celebrated Holy Mass there. Attending were the Greek ambassador to Cairo Christodoulos Lazaris; the Consul General of Greece in Cairo, Ioannis Hatzantonakis; the Consul of Cyprus, Fotis Fotiou; and the General Secretary of the Hellenic Community of Cairo, Antonios Iordanides.
“Every church is a place for the perpetual presence of Jesus in the world,” His Holiness Theodoros II said. “When a new church is consecrated, the bishop asks the Lord to fill the sanctuary with His perpetual presence; this prayer was recited by Patriarch Meletios II when he consecrated this church. When a person enters here, he feels the strength of the Lord’s presence, the protection of the Holy Archangels, the intercession of the Virgin Mary and the prayers of all the priests who served this church. Most importantly, one can feel the supplications and invocations of all the believers who laid their worries, joys, sorrows, hopes and repentance in this holy place.” To conclude, His Holiness wished that the altar in this church would always remain a shield to the parish, a place of constant adoration, a spiritual beacon and an oasis of comfort.
Mr Hesny, president of the Parish Council, paid tribute to the many benefactors who founded the church, vowing to follow in their footsteps and spare no effort to enhance and improve the church with the help of all the members of the Parish Council.
During the celebration, the Parish Council’s vice-president Mr Farid Khoury was awarded the cross of St Mark by His Holiness Theodoros II.
Archimandrite Isidoros Salakos added that the church of the Holy Archangels was a glowing Greek Orthodox architectural gem in the city of Cairo. He asked Jesus Christ to bless the parish and make it a true witness of the Orthodox faith.
Community reputed for excellence
During the 80 years of the lifetime of the church, many of its parishioners excelled in the different walks of life in Egypt. Among the names who are a source of pride for the church of the Holy Archangels we remember Paul Ghaliongy, professor of endocrinology; Karam Samaan, professor of pharmacy; Dr Rashad Razouk, professor of chemistry; and Dr Nicolas Basiour, professor of mathematics. Moreover, the congregation included great names such as Edward Bey Kossery, Charles Ghaliongy and Farid Mancy in law; Bassim Hesny, Bishara Habash, George Abou Lehaf, Gabra Zarifa, George Abdalla and John Kiriazi in commerce and industry; and George Khoury Haddad, Faragalla Tewfik and Michel Foty in architecture. Each and every one of these has been a valuable addition to their respective fields in Egypt. The community earned, among average Egyptians, a reputation for excellence in performance.
Mr Khoury told Watani the number of Greek Orthodox in Cairo was currently estimated at some 10,000 out of a total 25,000 in Egypt. Since the community was established, the number has been increasing or decreasing according to political, social and economic factors. It boomed at the beginning of the 20th century but plunged significantly during the 1960s, following the nationalisation movement by the then president Gamal Abdel-Nasser. This was followed by another period of stability that lasted from the 1970s to the January 2011 Revolution. Since then, many Egyptians have opted for emigration; the congregation of the Holy Archangels was no exception, particularly in case of the younger generation.
6 January 2013
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