More evidence that monasticism doesn't produce godliness, as reported by Gianni Valente in La Stampa, August 11, 2018 (updated August 12, 2018) (bold in original):
The Coptic bishop Epiphanius, abbot of the monastery of Saint Macarius, was killed by one of his monks. He smashed his head with an iron rod, in the early hours of Sunday 29 July, while Anba Epiphanius, after leaving his cell, was on his way to church to start the Sunday liturgy with the morning prayer.
The killer’s name is Wael Saad Tawadros and the Egyptian media report that, under the pressures of the investigators, he confessed his crime, and also revealed where to find the murder weapon, which he had carefully hidden in the monastery’s warehouse.
The murky affair is causing dejection and dismay throughout the Coptic Orthodox community. In the meantime, Coptic Patriarch Tawadros II reiterates that the Church “must not hide anything” and invites everyone not to get upset in this trial, trusting that “faith does not need protectors” because the Lord guards it.
A murder and two suicide attempts
Facts have occurred around the tragic end of the bishop-abbot, and objectively disturbing details continue to emerge: internal struggles, human miseries, complicity, ecclesiastics who profane the sanctity of monastic life and do not hesitate to attempt suicide when they see the suspicions and pressures of the investigators coming their way with regard to the murder in the monastery.
Wael Saad Tawadros, 34, had been ordained monk of the monastery of Saint Macarius in 2010, with the name of Isaiah al Makary, but last August 5, in the tense spiritual atmosphere after the murder of Anba Epiphanius, Wael was expelled from the monastery and defrocked, with a decree approved by the Patriarch Tawadros that justified this provision by referring to acts “incompatible with the monastic conduct”.
The day before, Wael had attempted suicide by ingesting insecticide. But in those days Father Boulos Halim, spokesman of the Coptic Orthodox Church, declared that the expulsion measures ordered against the former monk were not to be related to the investigation of the death of Anba Epiphanius: they were the culmination of a canonical disciplinary process begun as early as the beginning of 2018 – said Father Halim –, and whose first punitive disposition imposed against Wael – the expulsion for three years from the monastery, and the transfer to another structure – was not implemented after some of his confreres signed a petition in his defence.
On Monday, another monk from Saint Macarius, Faltaous al-Makary, attempted suicide, cutting his veins and jumping from a four-storey building of the monastery. He is now in serious condition in a hospital in Cairo. According to the reports of the Egyptian media, including Wataninet, it seems that the security cameras of the monastery have recorded scenes of tension and quarrels between some monks and the abbot-bishop Epiphanius, in the hours before his killing.
Many indications suggest that the tragic end of Anba Epiphanius is the result of personal resentments cultivated in the days marked by the rhythms of monastic life, in the shadow of religious zeal. But the story is becoming an upheaval for the Coptic Church, and above all, for its monasticism. With speculations that involve divisions and latent contrasts within the entire Coptic ecclesial structure and its hierarchy.
Contrasting passions have been raging in the monastery of Saint Macarius for decades. In the late sixties, Matta el Meskin arrived at the monastery. He was a prominent figure in the rebirth of Coptic monasticism and of all the Coptic spirituality in the second half of the last century. A strong and charismatic personality, who experienced a significant clash with Patriarch Shenouda III, the other great protagonist of the Coptic awakening of the last decades. Among the reasons for the clash, there were character incompatibilities, theological contrasts and even a different approach to relations with politics: the monk criticised the politicisation of the Church and the excessive activism of hierarchies in opposing established powers.
In the confrontation between Shenouda and the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat – who forced the Coptic Pope to exile himself in the monastery for years – Matta justified the choices of the latter, arguing that the Church was betraying her nature, conceiving herself as a political party, in which “the mind replaced inspiration, and planning replaced prayer”. At the culmination of the confrontation, Shenouda went as far as to prohibit the spread of the works of Matta el Meskin in the Coptic parishes.
Things have changed with his successor, the current Pope Tawadros, who put an end to the damnatio memoriae (“condemnation of memory”) against Matta el Meskin and offered support for the rebirth of the monastery of Saint Macarius, where the monks who had studied with him – including the late Anba Epiphanius – guarded his memory. But in the Coptic hierarchy, most of the active bishops were ordained by Patriarch Shenouda, therefore they shared a feeling of opposition or at least mistrust towards Matta el Meskin’s teaching. Now, the serious episode of bloodshed occurred in the monastery of Matta is also used as a pretext for operations of ecclesiastical politics, perhaps aimed to create new obstacles and problems for the ministry of Pope Tawadros, pastorally cautious and open-minded, but also opposed by a part of the Coptic establishment.
The murder of Anba Epiphanius has been perceived as a serious and alarming signal by the pastoral concern of Patriarch Tawadros and his collaborators. On Friday, August 3, the committee for the monasteries of the Orthodox Coptic Holy Synod established 12 rules – ratified by the Patriarch – by which all those who live the monastic condition in the Coptic Orthodox Church should abide. These measures aim to guard monastic life as a condition of seclusion from the world, marked by moments of prayer, work and silence.
Among other things, the Coptic monks and nuns were asked to take leave from social media and shut down their personal accounts and any blogs they managed, considered by the Patriarch as instruments used to “waste time”, to spread confused ideas and foster personal polemics. The intention of the current Orthodox Coptic leadership is obviously to react to the processes of mondanisation underway within the ecclesial structure. But this desire does not rely primarily on disciplinary measures or rhetorical statements on a “zero-tolerance”.
In his last, traditional Wednesday sermons, Pope Tawadros used other words to try to comfort and confirm into faith the people of Coptic believers: he exhorted everyone not to give in to agitation; he remembered that evil has always existed and that even Judas committed suicide when he betrayed his Master; he repeated that the monks are men, with their fragility, and that many of them have fallen in the course of history because Satan has always besieged monastic life with particular fury; he expressed its confidence that the monastic communities will dwell in the Egyptian deserts “until the end of the world”. He reiterated that the Church has nothing to hide because the treasures that she has as gifts and that keep her alive cannot be dispelled by weaknesses, mistakes, sins and crimes of individuals. Above all, Tawadros invited everyone to recognise that Christian faith is a gift guarded by the Lord, and for this “it does not need other guardians”.