Coptic monastic revival

While I was in Egypt, I was interested to learn that the Coptic church has been undergoing a quiet revival over the last few decades.  This has centred on their monasteries, from which the Coptic Patriarch is always chosen.  By 1960, one of the most important monasteries, that of St. Macarius in the Wadi al-Natrun (the Nitrian Desert, or Scete) had only six frail old monks, and the building was in considerable disrepair.  Today it has 130.

Much of the credit belongs to the late Fr. Matta el-Meskeen.  He had created an independent monastic community in the Wadi al-Rayan during the 60’s.  In 1967 he and his dozen monks were ordered by the then Patriarch, Cyril VI – today widely considered a saint – to go to St. Macarius.  They did so, and Fr. Matta then revitalised the community, and began the current revival.  Monasteries are filling up with monks; men who have completed their military training, had a professional education, but have been drawn to the monastic life.  Abandoned monasteries are being reopened, although this has sometimes led to land disputes.  New monasteries are being built.

Books by Fr. Matta have been translated into several languages, and are available from the monastery here.

Fr. Matta was not always able to avoid politics.  As a senior monk in the church he was a natural candidate for patriarch, twice nominated and twice passed over.  As an important copt he was one of those consulted by President Sadat at the time when the Coptic Pope Shenouda III was sent into internal exile.  His closeness to Sadat meant that he was able to enjoy state protection, and to add land for cultivation to the St. Macarius monastery.  But the same factors meant that Shenouda’s supporters regarded him with suspicion, and attempts were made to find theological heresy in his books.  Such communal struggles are inevitable in this life, and should not detract from the immensity of his achievement.  He was able to find a way for Copts to reconnect with God in the modern world, and was the Lord’s implement to renew his people in a Moslem land. 

I have been unable to locate any English biography of him.  The Wikipedia article has several links which are helpful.


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