Today, 9 March 2021 (30 Amshir 1737), marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of St Pope Kyrillos VI away from our world. Pope Kyrillos VI, the 116th patriarch in the Coptic Orthodox Church, was patriarch in 1959 – 1971. He was canonised in June 2013, but the Coptic congregation had already held him as a saint long before that.
The 50th anniversary of Pope Kyrillos was celebrated today by Pope Tawadros II and the Coptic Holy Synod at the monastery of Mar-Mina in the Western Desert some 70km southwest Alexandria, where Pope Kyrillos is buried in a special shrine. The monastery is as old as the 5th centuries, but fell into ruins in the 8th century during the Arab Islamic era, and was only brought back to life at the hands of Pope Kyrillos in the 1960s.
Panorama and anointment
At Mar-Mina’s, Pope Tawadros today opened “The Golden Jubilee Panorama”, a small museum especially prepared to celebrate the golden jubilee of Pope Kyrillos VI. The panorama documents Pope Kyrillos’s life since his early childhood until his departure. Pope Tawadros listened to a detailed description of the panorama by Bishop Anba Kyrillos, Abbot of the monastery.
Once the Pope had toured the Panorama, he proceeded together a number of bishops, to the shrine of Pope Kyrillos where, to chants of praise sung by a deacon procession, he anointed the saint’s relics with sweet spices. Pope Tawadros said that today, Pope Kyrillos is seen by the Coptic congregation as a true saint to whose name and through whose intercession so many miracles are attributed.
“Today is a joyful day for our Church,” Pope Tawadros said. “We celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pope Kyrillos in the place which he had so loved and the modern monastery of Mar-Mina that he established.
“Had there not been strict cautionary measures on account of COVID-19, there would have been thousands upon thousands Copts here celebrating.”
The Pope then presided over Mass to honour the day.
Man of prayer
Pope Kyrillos VI was the 116th Pope of Alexandria and successor of Saint Mark the Evangelist. He sat on the seat of Saint Mark for twelve years (1959-1971) during which—and even much earlier—he earned the reputation of being a ‘man of prayer’. [https://en.wataninet.com/archive-articles/the-popes-mill/9559/]
Pope Kyrillos VI was born in 1902, Azer Youssef Atta, in the western Delta town of Damanhour. He resigned a distinguished civil service position to become a monk in July 1927. He passed his probationary period and, in February 1928, took his monastic vows at the Baramos Monastery in Wadi Natrun in the Western Desert and assumed the name of Father Mina al-Baramosi.
Father Mina’s love for God was so great that he desired a life of solitude where he could live exclusively with God. Only thirty years old at the time, the assembly of monks of Baramos Monastery tried to dissuade him. “You are only 30, and you have only been a monk for five years. Do you want to pursue the life of solitude in the desert while many others before you have struggled for the same goal for thirty or forty years and failed?” they said. Yet Fr Mina stuck to his decision.
He lived in a cave near the monastery and pursued a life of solitude. One day in 1933, Fr Mina heard a knock at his door. It was Hassan Fouad, head of the House of Arab Antiquities, accompanied with Head of the Theological College in New York and who asked him for information about Orthodox monasticism. Dr Fouad was impressed with Fr Mina’s rich knowledge and spirituality and, as he left, asked him to contact him if he ever needed anything. As improbable as this seemed at the time, it was to materialise only three years later.
Hill of the mills
In 1936 Fr Mina had to move to Cairo on account of his volunteering to care for seven elderly monks who had been temporarily dismissed from Baramos. When their problem was resolved and they later returned to the monastery, Fr Mina decided to stay on and resume his solitary life in an old windmill on a desolate part of Muqattam Hill. This was one of some 50 mills which were built there during Napoleon’s military campaign against Egypt in 1798-1801, and Fr Mina needed official permission to lodge there. He remembered Dr Fouad’s offer three years earlier and headed to his office asking to rent the windmill. Dr Fouad agreed to give him a lease contract and insisted upon paying the rent on his behalf for a long time. He even gave orders to his guards to see if Fr Mina needed anything.
The windmill is six metres high and three metres in diameter, built of limestone, and stands upon a part of Muqattam hill that has been known as the Hill of the Mills. When Fr Mina took his residence there it was totally abandoned save for the outlaws who roamed the area and sometimes took shelter there. Scorpions and poisonous snakes infested the place. [https://en.wataninet.com/archive-articles/the-popes-mill/9559/ ]
Fr Mina also built a church at Ancient Cairo under the name of Saint Mina. He lived in this church till his ordination as Pope of Alexandria and the Holy See of Saint Mark in 1959. He found himself surrounded with college students, many of them were from outside Cairo, so he started a dormitory for students who needed this service. This informal programme produced the first church-affiliated dormitory in modern times in Egypt, and produced many Church leaders, some of them became bishops and priests later on, including Pope Shenouda III (the 117th patriarch from 1971 to 2012).
Father Mina used to clean the dormitory without letting anybody know, and would not let anyone else do this job. By serving others, he fulfilled His Lord’s commandment: “But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26)
Fr Mina was elected Pope in 1959 and took the name Pope Kyrillos VI. The years of his papacy saw numerous, varied achievements. Not least among them was the establishment of a modern monastery of Mar-Mina at Mariout right next to the site of the ruins of the 5th-century monastery, and the new Saint Mark’s Cathedral at Anba Rweiss in Abbassiya, Cairo.
For the first time in the history of the Coptic Orthodox Church, he established Coptic Orthodox churches in Asia, America, Canada and Australia. He sent priests to undertake religious services in Europe and Africa. It is also during his era that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in unique manifestation her church in Zaitoun, Cairo.
Pope Kyrillos VI was able to reach an agreement with Pope Paul VI to bring back part of the relics of St Mark from Venice to Egypt in 1969. Saint Mark, who wrote the Gospel bearing his name, is the founder of the Coptic Church. After his martyrdom in Alexandria in 68AD, his body remained in Egypt but was smuggled to Venice by Italian sailors in AD828. Ever since, the Coptic Church had desired to retrieve the relics of her patron saint.
“I would like to review three main features of the papacy of Pope Kyrillos VI,” Pope Tawadros today said in his sermon. “First, there was the love of Heaven in his heart; it completely preoccupied his mind and heart. Second, he enjoyed fellowship with the saints: The name of Pope Kyrillos is closely associated with the great martyr Mar-Mina whom he greatly loved and established this monastery in his name. But Pope Kyrillos was not only a friend of Mar-Mina, but also of the Holy Virgin; during his time, she manifested herself in the Church of Holy Virgin in Zaitoun, Cairo, in 1968. Third, was his loving and complete care for the Coptic congregation.
“We asking St Pope Kyrillos to pray for us all before the divine throne. Amen”
In Old Cairo, al-Tahouna (the windmill) received pilgrims who came to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pope Kyrillos VI. The number ’50’ was put on the top of the mill, and the church inside was decorated for the golden jubilee.
Before receiving visitors, the Church scouts team who ushered in visitors and cared for the place took all cautionary measures against COVID-19: the sanitised every corners of the mill; checked visitors’ temperature before allowing them in; and made sure visitors wore masks to guarantee the utmost safety.
9 March 2021