The year 2015 has been a special one for Anba Pachomius, Metropolitan of Beheira and Pentapolis. It marked three important dates: His Grace’s 80th birthday, his 53rd year as a monk, and his 44th as Bishop of Beheira and Pentapolis—one of the most widespread parishes that covers Egypt’s northwest territory and Libya. He was born on 17 December 1935, took orders on 11 September 1962, was consecrated bishop on 12 December 1971, and later became Metropolitan on 2 September 1990.
For Anba Pachomius’s children all over the world, there is ample reason for celebration. In 2014 and the first months in 2015, His Grace suffered two bouts of serious illness that forced him away from his parish and congregation. He had to go to London for treatment then again for further check-up. But our heavenly Father healed him and brought him safely back home to his Church, parish and children.
Your Grace, I have known you since I was a child of six, but the wider congregation got to know you only relatively recently when in March 2012 His Holiness Pope Shenouda III passed away and you took the helm as acting patriarch. Those were tumultuous times in Egypt; the Arab Spring that started in 2011 was in full swing and the Islamist Muslim Brothers were taking hold of the country. Yet you wisely and courageously navigated the turbulent waters and led the Coptic Orthodox Church to a safe harbour. You did that despite the rough sea, tossing waves, and various forces that assiduously worked to thwart your efforts. With love, humility, and heavenly wisdom you walked in the footsteps of your Father and Lord, and saved the ship. Through you, His promise was fulfilled, “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16: 18). You projected to the world a true image of the real Christian shepherd, putting up with abuse and turning the other cheek for the sake of the unity of the Church. You only wanted to accomplish the mission entrusted to you by Providence: to hand the leadership of the great Coptic Orthodox Church to a heavenly-chosen shepherd.
My dear spiritual father, you have always urged us to resort to prayer; yourself a strong believer in the power of prayer. You translated this faith into practical action, teaching one and all that reliance on our heavenly Father never fails. As Acting Patriarch, you insisted that every stage in the process of electing the new pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church should hinge on prayer; you asked the congregation to fast and pray in oneness of heart for three days before every action that took place. Pray and fast we did, earnestly raising our hearts to our heavenly Shepherd. Up to the very last minute, at the end of the Holy Mass held for the altar draw that was to determine who among the three elected names would become the new patriarch, you again asked every one of the congregation to raise a final, silent prayer for the choice of a good patriarch. The young boy Bishoi, blindfolded, stood there ready to stretch out his hand and pick up the name of the new pope. While we raised our hearts in fervent prayer, Bishoi drew the name; you stood high and resolute in faith, then proudly and joyfully announced: “Anba Tawadros: your new pope. Blessed, blessed, blessed!”
“The oneness of heart that is of love, may it take root in us.” This is a litany said by the celebrant in the second half of the Liturgy of St Gregory. Many a time have we heard it and responded with “Lord have mercy,” but you made us fully understand its meaning when you met every form of hostility with love and, to quote His Holiness Pope Tawadros II in his first Christmas TV interview as Pope, you “did not lose a single person in the Church”. You could have been Pope, but you refused despite countless entreaties, giving once more an example of the true shepherd who could never abandon his flock. Then you gave us a great lesson in humility when, during the enthronement ceremony of Pope Tawadros II, you called yourself before millions of viewers who were either at the Cathedral or watching the event on TV, “I am the poor raised out of the dust and the needy who is lifted out of the ash heap.” You humbly stepped back, following the example of St John the Baptist who said: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3: 30). You went back home to your parish after entrusting the leadership of our great Church to your spiritual son Anba Tawadros, now Pope Tawadros II.
As a monk, you exemplified the true life of monasticism, whose virtues and principles are difficult to summarize in a few words. However, you always stressed the importance of celibacy and voluntary poverty. When I was working on preparing lectures on Coptic monasticism for American universities, you told me that I should emphasise these two virtues in particular. You generously gave me much of your time to project a true image of this life and heritage which was Egypt’s great gift to the entire Christian world. You were a living example of these virtues. None of us can forget the amazement on the face of one famous TV commentator when, while interviewing you, you said that a monk chooses to live a life of voluntary poverty, desiring nothing and owning nothing. “I don’t even possess this garb which I am wearing,” you said. “When I depart from this world, it will go to someone else.”
Zealous for the Faith, you always entreat your children to be a true image of and real ambassadors to the Lord. I remember in particular when a group of youth from England visited you in Damanhour, you stayed with them from six in the evening until past midnight, answering their questions and strengthening them. You asked them to be courageous in defending their Christ and presenting Him amid all modern-day challenging circumstances. They left the following day, which was a freezing cold January afternoon. However, you sat on a simple plastic chair at the door till you made sure that they had boarded the bus taking them back to Cairo.
You continue to give us living lessons of love and humility. A strong and a poignant one took place in Damanhour during an event on Tuesday 15 December to celebrate your 44th year as Bishop and your 80th birthday. With Pope Tawadros II attending, the evening was one of genuine and overflowing love. You gave such a moving word that it drove almost all those present to tears. Despite being the one in whose honour the occasion was held, you turned the event into a celebration of His Holiness’s third year as Pope and described him as “a leader, a teacher, a thinker, and a true patriot of whom we are proud”. You spoke of his faithfulness to his children in Damanhour and Beheira, still asking about each and every one of them by name.
Pope Tawadros returned love for love and humility for humility, saying: “In Anba Pachomius we find various role models, the most important being that of the father.” His Holiness highlighted your three major roles as a father in the lives of your children: the father as an educator, the father as a teacher and the loving father. “As a loving father,” he remarked, “you taught us the love of God, the love of our country, and the love of the Church.” He quoted one of your favourite phrases: “We ought to be ever faithful to St Mark”, faithfulness best exemplified and put in practice in your life as a father and shepherd to your congregation. He said that celebrating your 44th year as bishop was actually a celebration of the parish of Beheira which you established from scratch. “Persons like you,” he told Your Grace, “teach us through action and example rather than words. They are beacons of light on the path of humanity. He finally gave you as gift a statue of two eagles, quoting the holy bible: “Those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
My dearest Father, words and human language will never give you your due right. Nor does this article, nor will many books. Yet, I wish to tell you that I am thankful and grateful to our dear Lord for having you as a father and shepherd. I wish to tell you that to me, like to many who have been blessed to know you and learn from you, you are my loving, caring and compassionate father who has touched me deeply and left an indelible effect on my life and character. May God renew your youth like the eagle’s and keep you for us for many years to come.
One of your children
Anba Pachomius was born Samir Kheir Sokkar on 17 December 1935 in the Delta town of Shebin al-Koum. In 1956, he graduated from Ain Shams University’s Faculty of Commerce. He studied at the Clerical College, the Coptic Orthodox Seminary during 1959 and 1960, then at the Sociology Department of the Institute of Coptic Studies. In 1962, he took orders under the name Antonius al-Suriani, and was ordained a priest in January 1966. He started his service in the Church by teaching and training Church volunteer workers who would be dispatched to Africa. He served in Sudan from 1967 to 1971, and established the first Coptic Church in London in the UK. He represented the Coptic Orthodox Church in the World Council of Churches, the Middle East Council of Churches, and the Africa Council of Churches.
In 1971, Pope Shenouda III consecrated Anba Pachomius as Bishop of Beheira and Pentapolis, and in 1990 he made him Metropolitan.
When Pope Shenouda III passed away in March 2012, and Anba Mikhail of Assiut who was the oldest bishop in the Coptic Church declined to act as Locum Tenens (Acting Patriarch) owing to his failing health, Anba Pachomius had to take on this responsibility. On 18 November 2012 Anba Tawadros, who was Bishop-General in Beheira and Anba Pachomius’s disciple, was enthroned Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark, and Anba Pachomius was back to his parish.
Beheira Governor Muhammad Sultan, who attended the event held in honour of Anba Pachomius’s 80th birthday and 44th year as Bishop of Beheira and Pentapolis, is in one of the pictures presenting Pope Tawadros II and Anba Pachomius with the governorate’s shield
23 December 2015