Two days after the funeral of Bishop Epiphanius, the late abbot of Saint Macarius Monastery, the Coptic Church has announced that it would stop accepting new monks for a year starting 1 August, in addition to other restrictive orders.
The orders, which were announced on Thursday and were published on the official social media page of the Coptic Church’s spokesperson, said that workers who remain active in monasteries that are outside the approval of the church will be dismissed, with the exception of monasteries that are being renovated.
It also limited the number of bishops in each monastery to regulate clerical activities. In addition, the ordination of monks as priests and abbots will be suspended for three years.
The decree also banned the attendance of “secularists” from the monastic ordinances, as well as regulated trips and visits to the monasteries in a manner that allowed visits on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays all year, with the exception of the period of the Nativity Fast and the Great Fast.
The orders also stipulated that monks are to give due care to their personal life and activities in the monastery.
According to the decree, any monk who appears in media outlets for any reason, gets involved in financial transactions that are not assigned to him by the monastery, or leaves the monastery without the permission of the abbot will be stripped of monasticism and priesthood.
The church also banned monks from attending weddings and funerals unless they have permission from the abbot. In the same context, it gave monks one month to deactivate any social media accounts, citing that “such actions are not suitable with priesthood.”
The church also called upon all Copts not to enter any financial transactions with monks, and it banned them from presenting any donations unless through the abbot.
In the same context, Pope Tawadros II ordered himself and all monks off social media, describing it as a “waste of age, life, and purity.”
He said on his last final post on Facebook that “time is the most precious gift that God gives us every day and we must use it properly.”
Bishop Epiphanius, who was leading Saint Macarius Monastery, was found dead last Sunday with signs of injuries to his head by an unknown assailant. The Coptic Orthodox Church described the incident as “strange circumstances.”
The prosecution is currently investigating the case and previously ordered an autopsy of the body.
During the funeral, Pope Tawadros II said, “We have lost an honourable face of the Coptic Orthodox Church.”
A source inside the Coptic Church, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Daily News Egypt that that these regulations are not connected to the death of Bishop Epiphanius, but “they might be of help in the investigations and the work of the police and prosecution.”
In 2016, a dispute erupted between the Egyptian government and monks at the Saint Macarius Monastery, after the government accused some monks of “seizing 12,525 feddans of state-owned lands without permission from the authorities or the church,” leading to the arrest of a monk, ordained as Boules El-Rayani, on charges of storming the administrative building of the Wadi El-Rayan Nature Reserve.
Monks at the Saint Macarius Monastery have been involved in disputes with the Egyptian government, since 2012, when a number of monks allegedly began seizing state-owned lands surrounding the monastery and within the Wadi El-Rayan Nature Reserve. Monks also purportedly prevented workers of the Arab Contractors Company from undertaking the construction of the Fayoum-Oasis highway.
Although the Coptic Church previously called on the monks to abandon the area, the monks argue that they have lived on this land for decades. The monastery dates back to the 1960s, when a monk named Matta El-Meskeen—known for his disagreements with late Pope Shenouda III—resided there.
At the time of the dispute that took place in 2016, Pope Tawadros II said, “I cannot justify the mistakes committed by the monks. They disobeyed me and are excommunicated; this place is no longer a monastery, and they are not monks.”
The dispute surrounding the Saint Macarius Monastery reached its peak recently when the Egyptian government decided to establish the Fayoum-Oasis highway close to the monastery. The decision was met with great opposition from a number of other monks in the monastery.