Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Fr. Faltaos el-Suryani and St. Mina

When Pope Kyrillos VI became patriarch he decided to begin working on the monastery of St. Mina buying 15 acres of land for the monastery. At that time he requested Bishop Theophilus who at the time was the abbot of the Syrian Monastery (Der-el-Suryan), to send a group of monks from Der-el-Suryan to the monastery of St. Mina to build up the monastery. Among them was Fr. Faltaos el-Suryani who used to clean the bathrooms and pathways without their knowledge. One day, the donkey that Abouna used to carry the cart filled with water got exhausted from work and ran from him and would not come back. So Fr. Faltaos told himself, ‘Don’t upset yourself, I’ll put myself in place of the donkey’. Abouna carried the cart all the way to the well and carried it back to the monastery. During his return to the monastery, St. Mina appeared to one of the monks of the monastery and told him, “I will not forget the fact that Fr. Faltaos put himself in place of the donkey to bring water back to me.”

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Journey to the Wilderness - Fr. Mettaos el-Suryani

Fr. Mettaos reading the Gospel during Matins Raising of Incense

Beginning on the Journey to the wilderness:

“I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.” (Jeremiah 2:2)

Despite all these burning spiritual emotions and being spiritually occupied with the monastic life of the monastery, the young Shawky never visited an inhabited monastery before! Moreover, he didn’t have any kind of relationship with any of the fathers, the monks!  

At that time, all the information that was available to him was what he knew of a colleague of his from school who had already left and became a monk at the monastery of the great St. Paul, the first hermit in the eastern desert. They used to send letters to each other from time to time. The young Shawky sent him a letter expressing his desire to enter the monastery of St. Paul to become a monk with him in the same monastery. Consequently, Fr. Tawadros replied in a letter informing him of the acceptance of the fathers of the monastery of St. Paul for him to join the monastery and become a monk there, and he sent him the address of the monastery. So he resolved to leave his job and to head to the monastery of St. Paul to join the monastic life there. Thus, he wrote a letter to his family letting them know that he left for the monastery to become a monk. He did not mention the name of the monastery so that they don’t go there and try to prevent him from the path that he has chosen.  He also left a letter with one of his co-workers asking him to deliver the letter to his family only after he has left to the monastery.

He prepared a small luggage bag containing his belongings, necessities and personal documents and papers. He got up one night at the residence he was staying at with his colleagues and without anyone’s awareness, he left and went to the train station to get on the next train heading to Cairo and from there he would head to the monastery of St. Paul.

There at the station he realized that he had forgotten his wallet back at the residence! He returned quickly to the residence, took his wallet, went back to the station and took the train to Cairo.

When he arrived at Cairo as he was leaving the train station he found a bus with “Suez” written on it, so he remembered how the letters he got from Fr. Tawadros el-Anba-Bola had the address, “Suez – El-Zafarana” written on them. He took that bus and after he sat down he asked one of the passengers sitting next to him if the bus is headed to El-Zafarana. The passenger told him that Suez is one place and El Zafarana is entirely somewhere else. He got off the bus and told himself that in order not to get lost on the way especially since I don’t know anyone here, I will go to the patriarchal cathedral “St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral at Azbakeya” and there I’ll ask for directions to get to the monastery of St. Paul.

The young Shawky went to the old cathedral at Clot Bey “St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral at Azbakeya” and entered the small church of St. Stephen the Martyr that is attached to the cathedral. There he found a priest and a dignitary; he greeted the priest, sat with him and asked him for directions to get to the monastery of St. Paul.

The priest asked him why he was asking for directions to the monastery of St. Paul. He [Fr. Mettaos] told him that he wanted to become a monk there.

The priest then asked him about his personal matters and found out that he had a single widowed mother and one sister! The priest strongly rebuked him saying, “The only son and you want to become a monk? You are such a criminal!!!”

His reverence [Fr. Mettaos] commenting on this event said, “I took his blessings and left as if I have heard nothing, for I was convinced of the sincerity of my calling to the monastic life”.

Our beloved father recalled this event, its details and told us how after this situation his thoughts would disturb him from time to time because of the words of the priest. He told this story to the reposed H.G. Bishop Theophilus at that time bishop and abbot of the Syrian Monastery (Der-el-Suryan) who in return reassured and comforted him. He prayed for him the absolution, so he calmed down and these worrisome thoughts regarding the words of the priests didn’t cause him to worry anymore.

He did not want to be a stumbling block and wanted to be blameless, recalling the words of St. Paul the Apostle, “so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.
” (1 Thessalonians 3:13)

+Hieromonk Ignatius el-Suryani on the life of Fr. Mettaos el-Suryani

Monday, 28 January 2013

Longing for Monasticism: Life of Fr. Mettaos el-Suryani, Chapter 1 (2/2)

First Longing for Monasticism:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
The pious youth “Shawky” from a young age preferred a life of calmness and serenity, and was often in solitude praying, contemplating and reading the Holy Bible. He used to mention to us how he would go up to the roof of their house, where they had a pigeon hut. He found pleasure in sitting in front of the pigeons, contemplating their calmness and meekness. He also did not prefer going to weddings and feasts of his relatives and neighbours.

He told us one time how as a young child he would sometimes tell his family, “I want to go to the monastery and become a monk.” So they would tell him, “but there are no monasteries here!” and he would reply, “but I want to become a monk,” so they would ask him, “alright, but how will you go to the monastery?” and he would answer in the simplicity and innocence of children. “I’ll just ride a donkey and will keep going on the mountain until I reach the monastery.” His mother would often be affected and cry from conversations like these and would tell herself that these are just a child’s imaginations and nothing more.

In relation to the previously mentioned story, he would recall this about his mother (God repose her soul), that when she found out he became a monk she would say, “I used to always pray to God asking him to grant me righteous offspring, but not that righteous to the point of leaving me and becoming a monk!!”

The Christian disciplined way of life that he was established in, and his personality which inclined him towards a life of calmness and serenity, and his love for God that was expressed in his prayers and contemplations. His childish and simple thoughts towards monasticism and the monastery, and his constant thinking of spiritual thoughts and good desires burned within him zeal towards the monastic life.

And so he started thinking about monasticism and the monastery….

How?! Where?! And When?!

In this time period, Sunday school was new in Qena, and many servants would come from different places to join and to preach. The young active Shawky joined them and he used to serve with love and great eagerness in many places and scattered villages.

He recalled one time that one day when his service in the village of Qeft ended, it was already night time and he was late. When he couldn’t find any means of transportation to return to Qena, he walked all the way back to Qena from the village on his feet!! You should know my dear reader that the distance between Qeft and Qena is 19 km and at that time he was 17 years old.

He kept his lesson preparations notebooks even after his entrance into the monastery for monasticism; he took delight in that blessed period of his life.

During the period of his service in Sunday school he met the active servant and preacher, the honorable of blessed memory, the late Mr. Alfy Nashed: founder of St. Mark’s association in Luxor. A genuine spiritual relationship of friendship and love was developed between the two that he continuously recalled even till his departure. Being confident in his character, wisdom and experience, he confronted him of his desire to enter the monastery, to live the life of monasticism. So Mr. Alfy Nashed offered him important advice. The advice was for him to work first and later find out if this thought is from God. If it is, then it will stay and will be strengthened but if not, then it will fade and disappear on its own.

The young Shawky listened to him, followed his advice and left his widowed mother and only sister and travelled to Cairo to find a job in one of the factories and companies that are consistent with his studies and qualifications. From there he headed to Kafr el-Dawar where he found a job in a textile company, he worked there for around a year and a half. He did not allow his job to be a distraction in his spiritual life and what came out of it, that meanwhile he was serving in the Church of St. George in Kafr el-Dawar.

Our beloved father tells us about this period:

“At night I would go out for a walk, and I was always thinking about the idea of monasticism, the thought of going to the monastery was very persistent in my mind!! I would pray and converse with God with tears and would say, ‘O Lord…arrange it for me…what do I do? For I desire and long to live for you every day of my life, but what do I do with my small family that is awaiting my arrival. For my widowed mother and my orphaned sister do not have anyone in this small world, and I am their only support. O Lord you are the Pantocrator (Omnipotent), so facilitate this in accordance with Your good will.’”

The reverend father continues saying:

“This call of monasticism was like fire in my heart and I could not find a way to quiet these thoughts except by actually fulfilling them. And so I started to plan out my departure and entrance into the monastery”.

And this reminds us of one of the sayings of the fathers, “Christ’s love estranged me to humans and humanity.” (St. Barsanuphius)

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Fr. Mettaos El-Suryani Chapter 1(1/2): Beginnings

Chapter 1
Birth and Upbringing:

“But You are He who took Me out of the womb;
You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.  I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb you have been My God.” (Psalm 22:9-10)

Born the child Shawky “Monk Hegumen Mettaos El-Suryani” on Sunday 23rd of October 1927/12th of Baba (the Feast day of the departure of St. Mark the Evangelist). He was born to a virtuous father named Hanna Allah Abd El-Malek Atallah, who was the deacon of the thrice-blessed, the reposed Bishop Luke (Loukas) former bishop of Qena[1], and was gifted with a strong and beautiful voice. As for his mother, she was a pious woman by the name of Bahia Suleiman and they were from El-Tramsa village in the province of Qena.

During the mother’s period of pregnancy, his father was transferred to work in his country “Durr” which is located in the province of Aswan south near the Egyptian-Sudanese border. There the child, Shawky, was born. A year and a half before his birth, God had given them a child named Tahany, and she was his only sister, as for his parents and family he was a great joy.

Childhood and Early Youth:
“It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth.  Let him sit alone and keep silent,
Because God has laid it on him.” (Lamentations 3:27-28)

When Shawky was 6 years old, it was during this time that this small simple family faced their first adversity! His father passed away in his prime years of his youth, leaving behind his young wife a widow and his two young children orphans!

His mother was a very pious and faithful woman, loving God with all her heart. In all contentment and thanksgiving she accepted this trial from the hand of God, and joyfully carried her cross that God has willed for her to carry. She consecrated her life to God’s service and in raising her two young children. She completely rejected the idea of a second marriage. She neither complied nor succumbed to this idea, despite the pressures she faced from her family concerning this matter.

She only concerned herself with raising her children in the fear and love of God from an early age. Whenever Fr. Mettaos remembered his mother he would say in his interesting Saidi (Upper Egyptians speak with slightly different dialect) dialect and simply ways. “Allah Yerhamha
[2]" (May God repose her), she taught and raised us up in the virtuous and pious way from a young age”. And this saying from St. Paul the Apostle to his disciple Timothy applies to her, “when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.” (2 Timothy 1:5).

When his mother wanted him to enter elementary school to begin his path towards education, there were no schools in the village of El-Tramsa where she stayed after the death of her husband. So she left her village and family and moved with her children to Qena City and settled there so that her two children may enter elementary schools.

The boy Shawky completed his elementary studies and received his elementary certificate. Then he joined the industrial high school, a five year system and finished his studies there. And so he obtained his industrial high school diploma, the five year system, and during the period of his studies he was an ideal example of the Christian youth, virtuous and committed. And in this regard, our reverend beloved father told us of a story that shows us to what extent his mother was keen on bringing him up in good morals.

He recounted and said: “One day I was running an errand and got into a car where most of the passengers were smoking cigarettes that my clothes smelled like cigarettes. And when I first arrived and greeted my mother, I saw a sudden change in her face and she stood as if she was trying to smell a certain scent and said to me, ‘What is that?!? You smoke?! You smell like cigarettes!! Since when did my son whom I raised in the fear of our Lord start smoking like the children of this world?!?’ and she continued like this all irritated and I am trying to calm her down trying to convince her that I don’t smoke and with effort I began to remember the car situation and the passengers who were in it. I forgot this due to her excessive reaction and with great efforts I convinced her of what happened so that she calmed down at last and her heart was at peace.  

[1] A city in Upper Egypt.
[2] Egyptians commonly say Allah yer7amo/yer7amha for the reposed person. It literally means “May God have mercy on him/her” or could be understood as “May God repose him/her”.

Fr. Mettaos El-Suryani -Introduction by Hieromonk Ignatius El-Suryani

I thank God with all of my heart for permitting and allowing me this opportunity, the great blessing of living as a disciple learning from our beloved father, the monk Hegumen Mettaos El-Suryani, a valuable and important monastic, of very great spirituality. And for allowing me to be a witness to most of the events and stories since I was bound to him during his last period of illness, and what I saw of really astonishing mysteries.

In fact, many of my fathers, the distinguished sons of our beloved father have been granted the blessing of serving him over the very long period of his illness. However, during the last fifteen years of his life, priestmonk (hieromonk) Youssef El-Suryani and my weak-self had the blessing of serving him until his departure to the Heavens.

And I apologize because I am neither a writer nor good with words, but altogether I recorded some of what I have learned about the life of our beloved father, whether it what was from what was narrated to me by his reverence from his pure lips, or from the fathers who lived in his time, or from those who knew and dealt with him closely.

And in fact, it is very hard and difficult, even unjust to summarize and reduce this pure and luminous life -which spanned for more than eighty years of which he spent nearly sixty years in monasticism- in just a few lines and some papers. But we will try to highlight some aspects of his life which contains many situations, events, pain and glory. So that it may be a help to us in our pilgrimage here on earth, in order that we may meet there, in the glorious Heaven.

This biography that is between your hands O dear reader is the product of a lifetime and of spiritual experiences. Fr. Mettaos struggled, fought, tested and endured many trials of all sorts. And whenever his blessed lips spoke on monasticism, he would speak truly, in all truth; he would provide beneficial guidance and experienced advice.

Fr. Mettaos truly lived through deeds and actions, and not in sayings and words. He was a helper to all, he encouraged, instructed and taught. The verse in the book of Job is very applicable to him, “Surely you have instructed many, and you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have strengthened the feeble knees" (Job 4:3-4)

First and foremost, I thank God who aided me in the production of this fragrant biography, and all those who helped in producing this book. I offer my most profound thanks to my father, H.G. Bishop Mettaos, bishop and abbot of our monastery for his love, encouragement, revision and introduction to this book.

The Lord is able to make this fragrant biography a source of blessing to all those who read it, to give us all motivation to seek and strive with all our might so that we may have a share in the inheritance with all His saints.

Through the intercessions and prayers that is offered on our behalf at all times by the Mother of God, the pure virgin St. Mary and St. John Kame the great,  intercessor of our monastery and through the prayers of our father of whose fragrant life is recorded in this book, our beloved Fr. Hegumen Mettaos El-Suryani, and through the prayers of H.H the honoured Pope Shenouda III and his partner in the apostolic ministry, our father the honoured Bishop Mettaos, bishop and abbot of the Syrian Monastery.

And to our God be the glory and honour, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Asking you to pray for my weak-self
The Priestmonk (Hieromonk) Ignatius El-Suryani