On the occasion of its Golden Jubilee, Pope Tawadros has consecrated the Church of the Two Saints (St Mark and Pope Boutros the Last of the Martyrs, who was martyred in 311) in Sidi Bishr, Alexandria. The church, commonly denoted simply as the church of the Saints, was established by Fr Bishoy Kamel (1931 – 1979) who Copts see as a modern-day saint, and who is currently considered for canonisation by the Coptic Orthodox Church.
On 12 June 2021, Pope Tawadros anointed the altars and icons of the church. The main altar of the church is consecrated in the name of Pope Boutros, whereas other altars are named after the Holy Virgin, and Archangel Mikhail and Mar-Marcos (St Mark).
Joining the Pope in the consecration ceremony were Anba Pablo, Bishop of Montazah and of Youth in Alexandria; Anba Ilarion, General-Bishop of the Churches of West Alexandria; Anba Hermina, General-Bishop of the churches of East Alexandria; and priests and deacons, as well as a limited number of Coptic congregation owing to coronavirus restrictions.
“Today is 5 Pa’oune 1737 (12 June 2021); a joyful, special day during which the Church celebrates the consecration of the church of the Two Saints in Alexandria,” the Pope said. Throughout the past 50 years, a Holy Tablet was used instead of the altars, until their consecration,” the Pope explained.
Pope Tawadros talked of the rite of church consecration. He explained that it involves a festive ritual that does not have to be performed once the church is built and goes into service, but can be performed any time, even years, later.
The consecration, the Pope explained, is a three-step ritual, each step consisting of a set of prayers. The first, he said, is taken from King Solomon’s prayers on opening the temple, and focuses on pleading for God’s mercy. The congregation responds: “Lord, have mercy”.
The second involves making the sign of the cross on the altar, in realisation that the altar brings our prayers to God and completes us in Him. The congregation responds: “Amen”.
As to the third set of prayers, they involve anointing the altar with Holy Oil. The name in which the altar is consecrated is cited, together with the name of the church and the town it is in. This is the “birth certificate” of the altar, the Pope explained. The congregation responds: “Hallelujah”.
The Pope’s sermon during the consecration Mass focused on the Coptic Orthodox Church as the Church founded on great martyrs who offered a testimony of blood to the Lord.
“Many wonder,” Pope Tawadros said, “how the Coptic Church has survived and thrived to this day despite the harsh crises it underwent throughout its history. He answered that question by saying that the Church survived from generation to generation through tears, sweat, and blood.
Tears, the Pope said, were those of the fervent prayers the Church raised to the heavenly Father, prayers of the desert fathers, the clergy and congregation. Sweat, he said, symbolised the struggle of the Alexandria Church to uphold the upright faith and doctrine of the Lord. And blood, he said, was and is the blood of the martyrs who die rather than deny their faith. “It is what has kept our Church a precious rock of strength through the ages. The Coptic Church is the pride of Egyptian history.”
The Two Saints Church, the church of the Saints, is today famous as the scene of a vicious bombing on New Year Eve 2011. The bombing targeted Coptic worshippers as they left church following Midnight Service, and claimed 24 lives, their bodies blown to smithereens, and some 100 injured. Some two weeks after the bombing, the then Interior Minister Habib al-Adly announced that investigations revealed that the bombing was the work of the Palestinian Gaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) in collaboration with local Islamist elements. By the end of January the Arab Spring uprising erupted; Mubarak stepped down in February, and the case was not pursued by the post-revolution regimes. To this day, no culprit has been brought to justice. [https://en.wataninet.com/coptic-affairs-coptic-affairs/coptic-affairs/pope-tawadros-spends-new-year-eve-at-the-alexandria-church-bombed/2476/ ]
14 June 2021