Samuel al-Suryani

While I was looking at the medieval Coptic history attributed to Abu Salih and in reality by Abu’l Makarim, I came across the publication of this work, complete, in four volumes by an Egyptian monk, Samuel al-Suryani.  I haven’t ever managed to set eyes on a copy. 

Fr. Samuel went on to become a bishop, and is now deceased.  This was all I knew of him.

But an email brings me more details on his life. 

UPDATE: Apparently this information relates to a different bishop Samuel!  My apologies for the misinformation.  See attached comment.

It seems that he was killed during the assassination of President Sadat of Egypt in 1981.  A prominent figure, he was on the dais with the president at the time, and died from a grenade.

There is a detailed Evening News Obituary online, which outlines his life.  It seems that he nearly became Coptic patriarch.  There is also a book mention.

It’s worth remembering that Coptic Christianity and scholarship takes place against a background of constant violence.  I do wish, tho, that Coptic publications were more easily accessible!

9 Responses to “Samuel al-Suryani”


  1. Dioscorus Boles

    Roger, please do not confuse Bishop Samuel, who was killed at the same time Sadat was assassinated in 1981, and is very unpopular in the Coptic Church, with Bishop Samuel (Al Siriani), who died in 2003, and was very interested in Coptology.

    The first bishop cooperated with Sadat when he exiled Pope Shenouda III and replaced him with a bishops’ committee, Samuel being one, to undertake the Patriarch’s duties. Pope Shenouda III was defending the rights of the Copts at the introduction of Sharia into Egyptian public life in the 1970s. Copts, generally speaking, have low opinion of this bishop Samuel, while they love and respect the other.

    Dioscorus Boles

  2. Maged Mikhail

    Bishop Samuel Al-Suryani was arguably one of the most dynamic figures of the Coptic Church in 20th Century. A Princeton graduate, very intelligent and personable man and a student and confidant to Pope Cyril VI, he was a modernizing force in the Coptic Church. Bishop Samuel was a true Christian in every sense. His life was full of energetic service to the poor and as a missionary in Ethiopia, the liason between the Coptic Church and an often unfriendly government, the Egyptian representative to the World Council of Churches, and visionary who concieved and started many wonderful and hugely successful projects that still exist today (the Zabaleen Project (trash recycling)in Cairo. He also envisioned and promoted a stong Coptic (Egyptian Christian) presence outside Egypt, frequently travelling abroad, to help and serve early Egyptian immigrants during 1960-1980. In contrast to Pope Shenouda who was a dynamic public speaker and popular public figure, Bishop Samuel always preferred and was much more effective working behind the scenes. Like his mentor Pope Cyril, he was uncomfortable in the spot light, especially when he was appointed by the Egyptian government as one of three bishops to manage church affairs during Pope Shenouda’s exile. The latter upset many who were not familiar with his work and percieved him to be a rival to Pope Shenouda. From a Christian perpective, it is fitting that he died a martyr representing the Egyptian Church at an official state event (the Sadat assassination) in the very seat that Pope Shenouda would have occupied had he not been exiled.

  3. Roger Pearse

    Thank you for these notes. But is Dioscorus right, that Bishop Samuel is not the same as the editor of the Al-Makarim text?

  4. Maged Mikhail

    Roger,
    The number of bishops appointed to manage the Coptic Church during Pope Shenouda’s exile was five not three. Sadat had falsely accused him of wanted to divide Egypt into separate Moselm and Christian states.

  5. John Rostom

    Roger,

    I would like to add to the clarification you seek regarding the 2 bishops (both named “Samuel”). In answering your question, yes… Dioscorus Boles is correct in that it is a different Bishop Samuel that edited the Abu’l Makarim texts. What probably adds to the confusion is that both Bishops took their monastic orders at Dair el Soryan (Syrian Monastey) in Wadi el Natroun, before being ordained as Bishops.

    First Bishop Samuel:
    Born Saad Aziz Abraham in 1922 in Cairo Egypt.
    Studied law, social work and sociology (masters degree) at the University of Cairo, American University in Cairo, and Princeton Univerity respectively.
    Ordained a monk at the Syrian Monastery in 1948 under the name Father Makari el-Soriani.
    Ordined a Geneal Bishop by the late Pope Cyril VI as Bishop of Public, Ecumenical & Social Services.
    Notes by Maged Mikhail ae accurate regarding his life and achievements. He was killed during the assassination of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

    Second Bishop Samuel:
    Born Sameh Adly Mikhail Gerges in 1937 in El Roda, Old Cairo, Egypt.
    Studied Engineering Architecture at Cairo University, graduated in 1957.
    Entered the Egyptian Airforce and served as a Major in the Engineering field, including during the 1968 and 1973 wars with Israel.
    Consecrated a monk at the Syrian Monastery in 1984 and given the name Samuel.
    He was later ordained a priest in 1987 under the name Father Samuel el-Soriani. He ministered at St. Mercurius Monastery in Tammouh, Giza, and later at Shebin el-Qanater and Abu-Zaabal.
    He was ordained a Diocesan Bishop in 1992 for the Diocese of Shebin el-Qanater and Affiliated Regions, proving himself vry active and energetic.
    Ever since he was a monk, Bishop Samuel was interested in Coptic Art, Architecture, Archeology and History. Often referred to as “the father of Monastic Archeology among the Copts”, Bishop Samuel taught Coptic Architecture at the Institute of Coptic Studies and worked tirelessly at registering ancient churches and monasteries at the institute. He was a great authority on Coptic Architecture and gave many lectures and presentations at institutes and universities worldwide. He was also an Honorary President of the International Association for Coptic Studies (IACS).
    He also published many well-researched articles and books. Amonst these was a 4 volume arabic publication of Abu’l Makarem’s History Of Churches & Monasteries in the 12th Century. (I am currently in the process of compiling his works, of which I have the above-mentioned publication in pdf format).
    Bishop Samuel bravely sustained several strokes duing his service, which left him partially paralysed. This left a heavy burden on his health an he passed away in July 2003 at the age of 66.
    He also happens to be my direct uncle.

    I hope this information helps you with your research project.

  6. Roger Pearse

    John, this is really very helpful indeed, describing both and making clear which is which. Thank you!

  7. John Rostom

    It’s my pleasure Roger.

    Please email me directly should you still be intereted in a pdf copy of Bishop Samuel’s publication of the 4-volume set of Abu’l Makarem’s History Of Churches & Monasteries in the 12th Century (Arabic edition). These are freely downloaded online from the Syrian Monastery’s Bookshop at: http://www.st-mary-alsourian.com/Library/books.php

    Best regards,
    John

  8. Roger Pearse

    Thank you so much! But I think I’ve got them.

    Do you have any idea how one might get hold of the English version of Abu’l Makarem?

  9. John Rostom

    I’m afraid not Roger. I doubt whether there has been any attempt to translate Abu’l Makarem’s work, and almost certain that Bishop Samuel’s publications of the same have not been translated.