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On Habib Girgis - H.H. Pope Shenouda III

The following is an original English translation of a Homily delivered by H.H. Pope Shenouda III at his weekly Wednesday Meeting on August 22, 1990.


In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: One God. Amen.


I wish to speak with you today about our preeminent teacher, Archdeacon Habib Girgis, to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude and without whom we would neither be seated in this place now nor would we have any understanding or knowledge.


To speak about Habib Girgis, it behooves me to first speak about the time in which he lived, and whether it assisted the existence of a person of that sort. If I speak of him, I must recall certain verses found at the beginning of the book of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light…’” (Genesis 1:1-3a). This light, of course, was Habib Girgis. How was the earth “without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep?” The generation that preceded Habib Girgis and in which he lived in his youth was among the worst times that have faced the Church — from every angle. []


The priests were uneducated and did not know preaching or teaching. The most educated priests, when teaching the people, would merely take one of the old books and read from it an ancient homily. No one knew teaching whatsoever. There was no preaching and no Sunday School. Before, there were some booklets from which they learned hymns and the word of God, inasmuch as the ‘urafa’[1] were able to teach. And the ‘urafa’ were not intellectuals as they are in our days. Today, in the Didymus Institute, which graduates ‘urafa’, they study rites and the Holy Bible, the Coptic language, spirituality, and many other things, [including] Braille, and they could read the Bible [in Braille]. This was nonexistent.


As a result of this state of darkness which was devoid of teaching, before [Habib Girgis] the denominations had begun to spread. Habib Girgis was born in 1876. Meaning 114 years have passed since his birth. The Protestant Church then was beginning to work [in Egypt]. Dr. [John] Hogg and Dr. [Andrew] Watson came, and their work began to spread, and they began to establish a headquarters in al-Azbakiyya and a headquarters in the American School in Assiūt, and they began to enter and work in al-Zarabi and Mir and Abū Tīj. There was no one to guard the flock.


The Catholics also began to work and [made] a bishop for themselves, and the bishop [was] elevated to become a patriarch named Kyrillos Maqār, and then they began to have a bishop for the Bahāry[2] side, and a bishop for the Qiblī[3] side, and they began to become headquartered in Tahta, and the foreign schools and missionary schools began to work and the preeminent Copts began to study in these schools and therefore came out [of them] Catholics and Protestants, and the situation began to become chaotic. No education, no preaching, and not even doctrine — foreigners began to enter. There was nothing.


Even the state of the Church from within had become confused. [] Errors began to become apparent, and laypeople began to enter the politics of the Church and began to say “let us create the Lay Council[4] and the Lay Council will handle the awqaf[5] of the Church and will begin to manage them.” And the Lay Council began in 1875 and 1882 — a law was promulgated and they began to hold the power in the Church. They clashed with Pope Kyrillos V and sent him to the monastery and brought the bishop of Sanabo[6] to replace him. The bishop of Sanabo, [which is] next to Dairut, was coming by train through Upper Egypt, and [] at every stop the metropolitan [of the area] would meet him to excommunicate him. [] The train was coming from Dairut. When it reached Assiūt, the metropolitan of Assiūt came out and excommunicated him. When it reached Minya, the metropolitan of Minya came out and excommunicated him. When it reached Benī Suef, the metropolitan of Benī Suef came out and excommunicated him. When it reached Gīza, the metropolitan of Gīza came out and excommunicated him. Until he received all of these excommunications and reached Cairo, and those in Cairo also excommunicated him. To the point that he, undeterred, went to the church [], and when he came to offer the Eucharist, the chalice fell from [his hands], things became disorderly, and the Church began to become confused — the pope is exiled, the bishop is excommunicated, the authority is in the hands of the laypeople, the denominations are working, there is no teaching. In this time, Habib Girgis was born. []


There was no Clerical School[7]. The ancient School of Alexandria that once existed was relocated after the fifth or sixth centuries from Alexandria to the monasteries, and its work ceased, remaining so until the days about which we are speaking.


Habib Girgis was born in 1876. His father was Head Clerk of the Office of the Abolition of Slavery, which was an office that was created at the time of Khedive Ismā’īl as a humanitarian effort. His father passed away six years after his birth, and his mother accorded him a religious upbringing. Afterwards he enrolled in the Great Coptic School in Klot Bek in al-Azbakiyyah. He completed his primary [studies] and began his secondary studies, and was hard working and sharp. Then the Church found that things could not continue as they were, and needed to restore the Clerical College in order to teach people to become learned pastors to administer the churches.


There was a previous attempt, and the Clerical College was in a run down area in al-Fajjālah, or near the Coptic School, and did not even have [benches] on which the students could sit [] and no support either financially or by food or drink, to the point that once, some time ago, Sargīos, who was a student in the Clerical College, organized a protest and said, “board it up or fix it up,” and it became a big issue. To the point that the students found the environment unavailing, so they left and there was nothing remaining. “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.” Nevertheless “Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

The Spirit of God was waiting for the birth of Habib Girgis and when he would grow up to become a young man, and when he became fit to enroll in the Clerical College and to become a teacher and to entrust him with this great task.


It happened that Hanna Bek Bakhūm went to the Coptic School to choose students to enroll at the Clerical College. They chose ten — five from among the students and five from the priests. The first student was Habib Girgis. He left the Coptic School and entered the Clerical College. They were ten [students]. The first two who graduated were Habib Girgis and Fr. Hanna Shenouda, whose son was Fr. Shenouda Hanna who [served] al-Kanīsa al-Mu’allaqa[8] and who departed long ago — ten or fifteen years ago. []


So Habib Girgis entered the Clerical College. What was the Clerical College in which Habib Girgis enrolled? They brought a principal for it whose name was Yūsuf Bek Manqariyūs, who was a history teacher and knew nothing about religion. He was not a religion teacher, but a history teacher — and secular history, not even Church history. There, [Habib Girgis] studied languages, history, geography, some sciences, and one lesson titled “Religion.” This was how the Clerical College was. Then they looked for a teacher of religion and did not find one — they found no religion teacher for the Clerical College. To the point that they thought to bring a Protestant teacher to teach religion, so they called al-Khawaja ‘Ayyād Marzūk, I believe his name was, to come, and he told them: “my path is different than yours; how can I teach?” So they brought Fr. Philotheos Ibrahīm. Fr. Philotheos Ibrahīm was in Tanta, and they transferred him to Cairo and entrusted him with the great St. Mark’s Church in Klot Bek, and he was the only one who knew religious education and had published works, so they had him teach religion in the Clerical College. He is considered the teacher of Habib Girgis. Besides, Fr. Philotheos Ibrahīm’s health had deteriorated — one day while he was teaching, he fell, so they took him home and he remained ill while the Clerical College remained without a teacher of religion.


Finally, they chose the student Habib Girgis to teach religion to his fellow students while he was still a student in his last year. So he began to teach in the Clerical College while a student in the last year.


Here, I would like to mention two foundational points from a psychological perspective. One person says, “when the Church is fixed, I will enter it,” while the other says: “I will enter it while it is weak and will work so that it is fixed.” Do you understand? I recall when I resigned from my job to become a teacher in the Clerical College, the situation was unfortunate at that time as well, and the students were protesting and had a sign [saying], “fix it up or board it up,” and had overtaken the dean’s room [] and closed it up. And it became a big issue. So one of the teachers told me, “is this the Clerical College for which you will resign from your job?” I told him, “but it is the Clerical College for which I will resign from my job.” We must enter and work, regardless of what the atmosphere is like. We enter and work. If we find trouble, we must strive so that it is corrected. But if each one who finds trouble steps aside or distances himself or flees, there will never be results.


The Church in that time was ailing. When I say the Church, I mean the entire Church — from top to bottom, from Alexandria to Aswan, to Sudan, to Ethiopia. The people [then] were of a variety of sorts. One sort wept for the Church, saying: “What a loss, the glory of the saints is gone, what a loss!” And weeping did not benefit the Church and did not bring about any results. Weeping does not mend the Church. Some, seeing the Church ailing, swore and criticized and cursed the priests and cursed monasticism and cursed the bishops and cursed the patriarch himself, and these curses did not bring about any benefit. The Church is not mended by swearing. The Church is mended neither by weeping nor by swearing.


The Lay Council also stood up and brought lawsuits against the metropolitans regarding how the awqaf and finances and such things could be placed under their command, and how they could take these things from them, and lawsuits and countersuits were being brought, and thousands were being spent on lawyers, and the Church was not benefitted by lawsuits. It was not benefitted by weeping, or screaming, or swearing, or lawsuits.


Habib Girgis stood up, dug a foundation, and placed two foundational stones therein — one stone called the Clerical College and the other called Sunday School. And he repeated, “as for your people, they will be in blessing, thousands of thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand, doing your will.”[9]


And he labored in the field of positive, edifying work. [] To say, “the Clerical College does not have one religion teacher, this does not mean that I will not enter the Clerical College; I will enter and strive, and I will become the religion teacher and will graduate teachers,” this is positive work. But for one to scream, another to curse, another to weep, another to fight, another to bring lawsuits, this is not what brings about results. What brought about results in the Church was Habib Girgis. When God saw the world dark on every side, “God said, ‘let there be light,’ and there was light,” and light began to dawn.


Habib Girgis became a teacher in the Clerical College while still in his last year of study. He enrolled in 1893, and graduated in 1898, and he was a student in the Clerical College. He became principal of the Clerical College, or Dean of the Clerical College, twenty years later, in 1918. But because he was not yet the Dean did not mean that he would only teach. He began to circle the entire country, preaching in cities and villages and in every place, and he began to gather donations for the construction of the Clerical College. [] And people began to love his preaching. And elderly people who had no inheritors [donated to him], so he would take from them.


He bought for the Clerical College 365 acres of waqf. He began to receive money and donations, and purchased more than 3000 meters of land in Mahmasha, and he began to work and build, so the Clerical College was built in Mahmasha, and he built for the Clerical College a church, so that the students could be trained in preaching and so that they could have liturgies for the students, which is the Church of St. Mary in Mahmasha, in which I taught Sunday School in 1939 []. At that time, we would call it the Church of the Clerical College, [and] Fr. Tawadros was teaching there, whose name [before ordination] was Mr. Tadros. He was the teacher of the Coptic language in the Clerical College who then become a priest and [continued] to teach at the Clerical College and pray in the Church of St. Mary in Mahmasha. Now [the church in Mahmasha] is alone.[10]


[Habib Girgis] began to build the buildings and rejoiced greatly when he built it. I hold his book al-Qulliyah al-Iklīrīkiyah bayn al-mādī wa-al-hādir[11] which he published in 1938; he called the new building he built there “The Bride of Mahmasha.” But alas, this “Bride of Mahmasha” grew old, and her teeth fell out, and her hair fell out, and she was demolished and removed entirely, and we came to Anba Reweiss in 1953. We entered in 1952 and they evicted us, and then we returned in 1953 and have remained there until today.


[] Habib Girgis continued to build the Clerical College. When he came to build the Clerical College, he said “my desires are thus: first, to purchase land; second, to build; third, to bring students to enroll; fourth, to cultivate competent teachers, so that I might elevate its standard so that the Ministry of Education might recognize it.” He made its level quite high. In the days of Habib Girgis, they studied logic, philosophy, Old Testament Hebrew, New Testament Greek, [and] Ecclesiastical Coptic. When Habib Girgis taught in the Clerical College, he was initially called the teacher of religion and then the teacher of theology, [and he was] teaching theology. So [they studied] all of the Church subjects. And he began to send out from among his students people to work. []


He sent out Sim’ān Selīdes, who became the teacher of theology after him. And Sim’ān Selīdes has great fame in the Clerical College, and he authored the book al-salāh ‘al-almuntaqilīn[12]. And he sent out Fr. Ibrahīm Attiya, who was named Ragheb Attiya, who became a teacher of preaching and then a teacher of theology. And he sent out Kāmel Mātta, who is now Fr. Mikhaīl Mātta in Quseya, who became the teacher of the Holy Bible. And he sent out Fr. Tawadros to teach Coptic language. And he sent out Mr. Yassa ‘Abdelmassīh, who was the trustee of the library of the Coptic Museum, to teach the Greek language. He began to send out generations. And Edward Yostos, who afterwards became Fr. Antonios al-Baramosī and then became Anba Dioscorus, Bishop of Menofiyyāh, who has since departed, to teach Church History. And thus subjects that were absent began to enter.


Initially, there was only one lesson called “Religion.” Then it was called “the Science of Theology,” then there was Theology and Preaching, and then there was Theology and Bible Studies and Exegesis and Church History and Hymnology, and things began to become organized. He introduced [many] subjects and the level of the Clerical College began to increase, so students began to come and multiply. And he created two sections: one for proficiency and one baccalaureate, which subsequently became the primary and secondary sections, and so the school grew.


And metropolitans graduated from it, such as Anba Sawīrus, the departed Metropolitan of Minya, and Anba Yakobos, Metropolitan of Jerusalem. And he had many friends from among the metropolitans who loved him, and he continued well in the Clerical College. Then he initiated the evening section in 1945, which was a collegiate section. The class in which I graduated, which was the first class of college students who graduated from the Clerical College, was only five students, no more. Only five students. The only one of them who entered the priesthood was myself, and the others had their services but were not devoted to religious teaching.


He began to work by teaching. But Habib Girgis did not only care about teaching. Teaching in the Clerical College was one of many branches. Habib Girgis began to lead religious education in the entire Church. In 1900, he founded Sunday School, which was a class he taught in the old patriarchate. The group of youth he taught became teachers who went out [to teach in the] east and [the] west. In the ‘20s, Sunday School began to appear with strength. In Assiūt, the one in charge of it was named Labib al-‘Assāl, I believe, who was a teacher of geography [if I recall correctly] and had published an Atlas called Atlas al-‘Assāl. In the ‘30s, [Sunday School] began to grow and spread, and [Habib Girgis] called himself the General Secretary of Sunday School, meaning the general trustee. Then, in the reign of Pope Yu’annis XIX, the pope became the president of Sunday School, and the title of Habib Girgis became Deputy of His Excellency the Supreme President of Sunday School[13].


He began to bring for the Sunday School nice colored pictures, some of which were printed in Italy and some in Germany, and on the back of the picture was written the [Sunday School] lesson. He began to prepare curricula for ecclesial education, he began to prepare pictures for ecclesial education, he began to prepare lessons for ecclesial education, he began to prepare training [materials] for teachers of ecclesial education, and ecclesial education began to spread throughout the entire [Church]. Without him, we would not be teachers of ecclesial education, and we would not be servants, and you would not be [female] servants. He is the father and guide and leader, and he is the one who became responsible for leading this matter. He is considered the true originator of the Clerical College and the true originator of the ecclesial education of Sunday School.


Habib Girgis was not satisfied with this. He said, “we must introduce teaching in the schools.” He began to communicate with the Ministry of Education; there was no [religious] education in the [schools]. Religion only became an official subject [in the schools] with Mohammad Nagīb. Before that, religion was not an official subject. So he said, “at least let us teach the children, at least in additional classes.” “Where will we find teachers?” “We will prepare [them], if even on a volunteer basis without pay.” “Fine, volunteers.” So he would prepare the teachers, he would encourage [them] to teach religion, and he would prepare religious curricula for them. He authored three books titled al-khilāsat al-īmāniyah[14]. And when teaching spread further he authored a book called Mabādi’ al-‘Akīdah al-Urthudhūksiyah[15], eight books — four for primary school and four for secondary school. He began to author books. [And regarding] the stories of the Holy Bible, he prepared three books titled al-Kanz al-anfas fi tarīkh al-Kitāb al-Muqaddas[16]. He began to work to author books for religious education. The teachers would tell him, “how can we teach religion? We do not know how!” So he would tell them, “I will prepare books for you.” He would prepare these nice books and every lesson had its picture, and the lesson had its ends and its spiritual meanings and everything, the teacher takes it prepackaged, like a peeled boiled egg.


He began to enter religious education in the schools and to establish curricula for it and to author books for it. In 1909, he had authored [] al-khīlasat al-īmāniyah[17] and in 1913 the fifth edition was printed — every year he prepared a new edition, and the teachers and students longed for his books because he was teaching them religion. So he was responsible for the Clerical College, and Sunday School, and religious education in the schools, and establishing the curricula and lessons and authoring books and importing pictures, all of these things. And then he said “this is not enough; religious education needs something else.” So he began preaching.


He was among the most powerful preachers of his day, and is considered the strongest preacher after Fr. Philotheos Ibrahīm, may God repose his soul. He began to preach in the cathedral, [and] the pope loved him — Pope Kyrillos V — and made him his personal deacon and the preacher of the great St. Mark’s Church, which was the patriarchate. He routinely preached at the patriarchate, and began to form religious societies to work by preaching — the churches were few in those days. He graduated from the Clerical College in 1898, and then all of Cairo had [very few churches]. The Church of St. Mark was there. In all of Shubra even after that time there was only one church — the Church of Saint Mary in Massarah. That was it. [] As for the other churches, in the ‘30s the Church of Anba Antonios began and the church in Toson, and even the church in Jazīrat Badrān was [established] in the ‘40s. And the church in al-Qolalī was one of the old churches. I am speaking about Shubra, which only had [the church of] Massarah. And then began the church in al-Giushi. Mr. Sidrāq built the Church of Anba Antonios and Mr. Matta Sawīrus founded the church in al-Giushi. And then every area began to make a church — [] the church in Rod al-Faraj did not exist at first. Its building began in the beginning of the ‘50s when Fr. Dawoud al-Maqarī began to go and build it. [] I was teaching Sunday School [] on the rooftop [of that church], which afterwards became the floor of the church that is there now. The first floor was built and then they built a second story on the rooftop so that it became a two story [building].


Preaching then was in the societies[18]. These societies were being built and did not even need to be licensed [] because the Ministry of Social Affairs did not yet exist. The Ministry of Social Affairs only came into existence at the end of the ‘30s, in ‘38 or ‘39. [] Before that, there was no Ministry of Social Affairs, and societies were easy for everyone to make. These societies had preaching, and trained people to teach and preach, and they were in charge of social services and took care of the poor and needy and the orphans and widows. The societies were the ones that took care of the villages and they were the ones that established the churches. In order to establish a church, a society would be established. The Society of Peace[19] established the Church of St. George in al-Giushi, the Society of Faith[20] founded the Church of St. George in Jazīrat Badrān, the Society of Love[21] established the Church of the Angel [Michael] in ‘Ayyad Bek, the Society of the Angel [Michael][22] instituted the Church of the Angel [Michael] in Toson. A society would be founded and the society would build the church.


In the days of Habib Girgis, there were not many churches, so he worked in the societies. He would preach in the societies. The first sermon he delivered was in 1898 about the Christian religion, and he delivered it in a hall in the Great Coptic School. It was an eloquent sermon, and Tādrus Bek al-Manqabādī, who founded the Misr Newspaper, was in attendance and asked him for permission to print the sermon. After he printed it, he distributed it free of charge to the people because he enjoyed it.


He then delivered a sermon at the Society of Growth[23], which established the church of Haret al-Sakayyīn, and which would publish a calendar. Pope Kyrillos V was in attendance, and the sermon took about an hour. The pope stood during the entirety of the hour, signing the cross towards him and towards the congregation. He was overjoyed. Nobody could preach, and here was this young prodigious man full of knowledge and understanding.

He established many societies. [] He established the Society of Love[24] which took care of the poor, and the Great Central Society of the Faith[25]. He began in the Clerical College to establish societies for preaching such as the Society of Spreading the Word of Salvation[26] and the Society of the Soldiers of Christ[27] and the Society of Graduates[28]. And the societies spread. The Clerical College oversaw 84 branches of service as a result of the operative societies.


The man taught, and not only taught but also filled the world with teachers. There came a time when he was not only the preeminent teacher in the Church but also the only teacher in the Church. And he began to cultivate teachers and graduate [them], and to send them into every village and every city. He was the first to attend to the service of the villages. He traveled throughout the entire country, on one hand to preach and teach and on the other to collect donations to build the Clerical College. Some would give him personal donations, but he would transfer even these to the Clerical College, remaining poor as he was. To the point that Pope Kyrillos V gifted him a home in which to reside, so he gifted it also to the Clerical College so that it would be a house for the ‘urafa’, for the school of the ‘urafa’. He was a wondrous man.


He began to work in preaching everywhere. Once he gave a sermon in the Great Central Society [of the Faith][29] about the history of preaching and its importance in the Church. As soon as he finished, they printed it in a book. The book made a profit, but he dedicated all the money to the Society so that it could operate. For this reason, he lived in poverty.


He lived in poverty and virginity. And all his siblings were celibate. Mr. Habib Girgis was celibate, his brother, Mr. Kamel Girgis, was celibate, and their sister was also celibate. The three lived to teach []. He worked in teaching in the Clerical College, he worked in religious education, he worked in Sunday School, and he worked in preaching. How else could he teach? He taught with his pen.


He published a journal called al-Karmah. al-Karmah journal was the most powerful journal in its time. It was at an academic level and in it wrote the greatest authors in knowledge and understanding and also in position. It had ‘Aziz Bek ‘Osa, Gabriel Bek al-Tūkhī, Mr. Yassa ‘Abdelmassīh [who was] the trustee of the library of the Coptic Museum, Mr. Sim’an Selīdes, Mr. Takla Rizq who taught Science and Religion. It was a journal of the highest caliber. The al-Karmah journal was the first journal in our modern time to begin translating the sayings of the Fathers. He established it in 1907, and it continued for 17 years. “Why did it not continue,” you may ask. He bore all of its financial obligations until he could no longer do so. So it ceased for financial reasons. [] But the one who reads it finds an exceedingly high standard in science and knowledge for that time period.


The man worked in education by teaching, preaching, authoring, publishing, and Sunday School. He was the leader in all of this. []


Afterwards he found that personal status issues were handled by the Lay Council. Before the law of ‘55 was passed, which transferred [ecclesial] personal affairs to secular courts that deal with personal affairs, the Lay Council oversaw those issues. He feared lest the Lay Council was doing things at its own whim, because it expanded the bases for divorce, and especially the regulation that was passed in ‘38, so he nominated himself to the Lay Council and would come out first or second or third in the ranking of the 24 [members]. The people loved him very much and voted for him. So he joined the Lay Council and attended the personal status [meetings]. He joined the Lay Council not because he desired membership, but for many reasons: to support the Clerical College in the Lay Council, to support religious education [], [and] to participate in the personal status cases []. So he was the [bastion] of the Faith in the Lay Council.


Of course they did not elect him to be the trustee of the Lay Council because in that time they would choose the trustee [] from among the bashawāt. For example, Ibrahīm Fahmy al-Minyāwī [was] a Pasha and a trustee of the Lay Council, Habīb al-Masrī [was a] Pasha and a trustee of the Lay Council []; Tawfīq Doss Basha [is another example] []. And when the bashawāt decreased, they would choose from al-bahawāt, such as Azīz Bek Mishreqī. Of course he was not of those, but he was the religious representative. [] He was respected by the religious bodies, to the point that when Pope Kyrillos V would convene the Holy Synod, he would tell them: “why don’t you bring Habib Girgis, he is like us.” He loved him dearly. The best days he lived were the days of Pope Kyrillos V.


He was nominated to the papacy three times, but was not chosen because he was not a monk. He was also nominated to the bishopric of Gīza in 1948, but the Holy Synod refused him because he was not a monk. He could have been a monk, but he remained as he was. He was an archdeacon. And he was a true archdeacon — completely devoted to religious education. His [spiritual] children and disciples became priests, while he remained a deacon. He remained a deacon his whole life. He could have been ordained a priest because his children were priests; he taught them and would kiss their hands because they were priests. And from among his children were bishops and metropolitans and hundreds of priests, but he remained a deacon, celibate, devoted to the service of teaching, with no function except that he was the teacher of the whole Church.


He authored more than thirty books, besides 17 volumes of the al-Karmah journal. He served during the reign of four popes — Pope Kyrillos V, Pope Yu’annis XIX, Pope Macarius III, and Pope Yusāb II, in whose days he departed. When Pope Yu’annis went to Ethiopia, he took him with him, and there the emperor and empress presented to him certain badges and medals, which are now found in the museum we established for him.


Habib Girgis was distinguished in his life by seriousness. [] Meaning since the establishment of the Clerical College, hundreds have graduated from it, but none like Habib Girgis. The famous graduates, who have a reputation in the Clerical College and who took things seriously, can be counted on the fingers. He was the first serious man [in the Clerical College]. He found no one to teach him, so he would sit in the library reading night and day. Reading! Who taught Habib Girgis? He studied a bit with Fr. Philotheos Ibrahīm, but he was ill and so [Habib Girgis] would consult him on only a few issues. But he began to read []. He authored books on spirituality, like Kitāb sirr al-taqwah[30] and Nazarāt rūhiyah fī al-hayāt al-Masīhiyah[31]. He found them not knowing what to say at funerals, so he authored a book called ‘Azā’ al-mu’minīn[32] containing lectures for funerals. He found that the spiritual songs [in the churches were] overtaken by the Protestants, so he authored three books of Orthodox spiritual songs. Even for young children, he authored a book called ‘In’ash al-damīr fī tarānīm al-saghīr[33].


He began to work. He was a poet, but not a poet as we are. I will tell you what I mean by “poet.” Habib Girgis as a poet — I recall when he departed in ‘51, and we issued a special volume in the Sunday School Journal about him, they asked me to write an article about Habib Girgis as a poet. So I said in the introduction to this article, I began to study Habib Girgis as a poet — the man did not study the meters of poetry,[34] nor its measuring units,[35] nor its scansions,[36] nor the zihāf[37], nor the ʿilla[38], nor its prosody,[39] nor its rhyme,[40] nor any of that. But he studied, as a deacon, the hymns of the Church. [] He would then produce a poem on the tune of a θεοτοκια, or a Ⲯⲁⲗⲓ, or one of the hymns of the Church. For example, he would study a hymn like Ⲁⲣⲓⲡⲁⲙⲉⲩⲓ[41], and then he would take its tune, the tune would fill his heart and mind, and then the words would disappear, and the tune would remain, and he would place his own words upon the tune. [] The experts in poetry then ask, “is this of the trembling meter[42] or the trilling meter[43] or the complete meter[44]?” Our great professor did not know trilling meter or trembling meter, but he knew Ⲁⲣⲓⲡⲁⲙⲉⲩⲓ. In this way, he created songs. He would take the hymn, repeat it until the tune stuck to his mind, and then place the words on the tune. And he became a poet in this way. This is Habib Girgis. And he created songs. The anthem of the Clerical College is an attuned poem [] on the tune of Fā’ilātun Fā’ilātun Fā’ilun, which is the trotting meter.[45] He did not know trotting meter, [] but he began to attune it.


He wrote spiritual books, he wrote spiritual songs, he wrote books of condolence, he wrote books for Sunday School, he wrote books on the Holy Bible. Regarding doctrine, he wrote the book Asrār al-Kanīsah al-sab’ah[46]. He wrote the book al-Sakhra al-Urthūdhuksiyah[47] to answer other denominations — Protestants and Catholics. He began to work in every area. In history, he wrote the book al-Qiddīs Murqus[48]. He began to work in many areas; he entered all areas of education. You may find someone in the Clerical College who only knows one subject, but beyond it [he does not know]. But one like Habib Girgis could speak on any subject — he could speak on theology, doctrine, the Holy Bible, personal status, hymns, [in a word] everything. He led teaching in the entire Church and was known by all Copts from one end [of the country] to the other.


Of course [he was not distinguished by] only seriousness in work, and his reliance on himself and God, and his self-edification, but also his consistent productive work. [] He encouraged the people and never criticized or rebuked or uttered a harsh word. Never. I remember in the poem I wrote about him, I recall that one of its stanzas says:


لك اسلوب نقي طاهر

ولسان أبيض الفاظ عارفه

لم تنال بالذنب مخلوق ولم

تذكر السؤ إذا محله وصفه


[(Your behavior is pure and chaste;

A tongue that is [pure] with familiar words.

You do not accuse any creature of wrongdoing, and

You do not mention evil if even it is apparent.)]

He was a man who never criticized. One of the members of the Higher Committee of Sunday Schools once sent to Habib Girgis, who had published certain research, severe criticism, and [that person] recounted this [incident] in an article we published in the [special] volume of the Sunday School Journal issued on the occasion of the forty-day memorial [of Habib Girgis]. He says, “I sent him a strongly worded letter,” perhaps one that would have been intolerable to anyone besides Habib Girgis. What was the outcome? He did not become upset whatsoever, but rather sent to this young man a letter of thanks, saying to him: “I thank you for taking the time to read my research and I thank you for the comments you sent to me.” What is this! Habib Girgis was of this sort.


I remember when I was a young man and there was a great love between myself and Habib Girgis, I would visit him weekly, especially during the final two years of his life on earth. What would happen, honestly, is I would place a notebook in my pocket, and at every visit I would record one or two sentences from which to benefit in my life, [] writing it in the notebook. I could never leave any of the visits without first recording a few words from the wonderful conversation.


He was an incredibly meek person, to an unbelievable extent. Unbelievable! Once as I was contemplating the meekness of Habib Girgis, I was walking down the street, and I said: “Lord, if Habib Girgis is meek to this degree, how meek must You be!” How meek must God be [if Habib Girgis is so meek]!


He was a wondrous man. Sometimes there would be a problem, and we would say, “so and so did this or that.” So he would respond, “why, my children, why did he do that? But no matter, it will be corrected, God willing. God will correct it.” Right away, he caught it and turned it [into a positive thing].


He was an example of meekness, powerful humility, the spirit of fatherhood, and exemplary spiritual ethics. Did I not tell you that he taught by way of preaching, teaching, authorship, publishing, and Sunday School? He also taught by way of his upright leadership. One would sit with him and walk away having learned several lessons, if only by looking at his face!


Many times people criticized him and opposed him, and he would remain silent. Especially when the Sunday School nominated him to be metropolitan and the monks rose up against him, saying: “how can he be a metropolitan; he will destroy monasticism!” But how could he destroy monasticism? Monasticism has always been far removed from the priesthood. They began to oppose him. [] Someone nominates him to the papacy, and they would oppose him. Someone would nominate him to the bishopric, and they would oppose him. People praise him, and they would oppose him. []


Once, one of his students, whom he graduated from the Clerical College and who was a preacher, found Habib Girgis and began to curse at him extensively. There was another preacher who was serving in the same church and who was this man’s colleague, who had submitted a request for a raise from the Lay Council. Habib Girgis was responsible for the Committee of Churches, so he determined that the man who requested a raise was entitled to a raise []. He then said, “he is entitled to a raise, but he also has a colleague in the same church who is under the same circumstances, so he must also be given a raise like him.” Who was that man? The one who cursed at him. So he gave a raise to that man also, because it was right to do so, despite the fact that that man had been the one to curse at him. To the extent that after that preacher received the raise because of Habib Girgis’ advocacy, he went to him and wept [], saying: “I sinned against you. I did not know that you were like this.”


He was gentle to the greatest degree. He worked positively and never responded at all to any criticism directed at him, whether from his children or his disciples or from jealous people or from those who were envious. He never responded whatsoever. He worked with positivity and did not involve himself [in such matters].


This is our professor, Habib Girgis, from whom we learned much.


I recall at the forty-day commemoration we held for him on September 28, 1951, they asked me to recite a poem. I told them "Mr. Riyyād Surīel is more gifted than me in poetry and recites poetry powerfully," but they said: “no, we want you because you will say affectionate words, because you loved him.” [] It happened that Mr. Riyyād Surīel recited a poem, and I delivered an oration at that time. I do not know if I will recall it, but I remember saying


هذه تقواك ايمان في حب

هذه دنياك اشواق وصلب

أنت من أنت؟

رسول ها هنا

أنت أبهى من رسولا

أنت قلب

أنت قلب واسع في حضنه

عاش جيل كامل

بل عاش شعبه

أنت نبع من حنان دافقا

أنت عاطف أنت رفق أنت حب


[(This is your piety: faith in love.

This is your world: thorns and crucifixion.

You, who are you?

An apostle among us?

But you are more exalted than an apostle.

You are a heart.

You are a wide embracing heart

in which lived a full generation

but a whole nation!

You are a fountain of overflowing compassion.

You are passion, you are companionship, you are love.)]

And it ends by saying:


و أب أنت و نحن يا أبي

عشنا بالحب على صدرك نحن


[(You are a father, and we, my father

on your breast were nourished with love.)]


This is the man that discipled an entire generation, and taught an entire generation.


Some people write history, as we are doing now by speaking about the history of Habib Girgis. There are those who record history, and there are those who are more powerful — who make history. What does this mean? It means that they make the events that historians come later and record []. Mr. Habib Girgis is one who created our history, and at least created the history of the first half of the twentieth century. He worked at the end of the nineteenth century, but created the history of the first half of the twentieth century.


Without him, we would not be here.


We ask God to repose his pure soul in the paradise of joy. Let us say a small song and then I will speak to you about a small spiritual topic.


[Here, Cantor Ibrahim Ayad chanted the hymn Ϧⲉⲛ Ⲫ̀ⲣⲁⲛ in honor of the Virgin Mary and Archdeacon Habib Girgis, and His Holiness proceeded with a sermon on the Virgin Mary].


[1] Ar. عرافاء, lit. sages, denoting cantors/teachers.

[2] Ar. بحري, lit. Nautical, denoting the northern area of Egypt, which is towards the Mediterranean Sea.

[3] Ar. قبلي, lit. Tribal, denoting the southern area of Egypt.

[4] Ar. المجلس الملي, lit. al-Majlis al-Millī.

[5] Ar. أوقاف, singular وقف (waqf) denoting charitable donations and land endowments.

[6] in the Assiut Governorate

[7] Throughout the homily, His Holiness uses “Clerical College” to refer to the Coptic Orthodox Seminary at which Habib Girgis studied and subsequently served from 1893 until his death in 1951. We note that the institution was named the Clerical School (al-Madrasah al-iklīrīkiyah) from its inception until 1946, at which time it was renamed the Coptic Orthodox Seminary (Kulliyat al-lāhūt al-Qibtiyah). See Bishop Suriel, Habib Girgis: Coptic Orthodox Educator and a Light in the Darkness, 21.

[8] lit. The Hanging Church, which is the ancient Church of Saint Mary in Old Cairo.

[9] See the Three Long Litanies in the Coptic Orthodox Liturgical Prayers.

[10] The church stood alone in Mahmasha in 1990 because the Clerical College had been relocated, as His Holiness will clarify hereafter.

[11] The Clerical College Between Past and Present; cited by H.G. Bishop Suriel as al-Madrasah al-Iklīrīkiyah al-Qibtiyah al-Urthudhūksiyah bayn al-mādī wa-al-hādir (The Coptic Orthodox Seminary: Past and Present).

[12] Prayer for the Departed.

[13] Ar. نائب غبطط الرئيس الأعلى لي مدارس الأحد

[14] The Doctrines of Faith; cited by H.G. Bishop Suriel as Kitāb khilāsat al-usūl al-īmāniyah fī mu’taqadāt al-Kanīsah al-Qibtiyah al-Urthūdhūksiyah (The Doctrines of the Coptic Orthodox Faith: A Foundational Synopsis).

[15] Principles of the Orthodox Doctrine; cited by H.G. Bishop Suriel as al-Mabādi’ al-Masīhiyah al-Urthūdhūksiyah lil-madāris al-ibtidā’iyah (Christian Orthodox Principles for Elementary Schools).

[16] The Invaluable Treasure in the History of the Holy Bible; cited by H.G. Bishop Suriel as al-Kanz al-anfas fi mulakhkhas al-Kitāb wa-al-tarīkh al-Muqaddas (The Invaluable Treasure: A Summary of the Bible and Biblical History).

[17] The Doctrines of Faith. See footnote 14, above.

[18] Jam’iyāt

[19] Jam’iyat al-Salām

[20] Jam’iyat al-Īmān

[21] Jam’iyat al-Mahabbah

[22] Jam’iyat al-Malāk

[23] Jam’iyat al-Nash’ā

[24] Jam’iyat al-Mahabbah

[25] Jam’iyat al-Īmān al-Markāziyyā al-Qubrā

[26] Jam’iyat Nushr Kālemat al-Khalās

[27] Jam’iyat Junūd al-Massīh

[28] Jam’iyat al-kharījīn

[29] Jam’iyat al-Īmān al-Markāziyyā

[30] The Mystery of Godliness.

[31] Spiritual Perspectives in the Christian Life.

[32] The Consolation of the Faithful.

[33] Children’s Songs for Awakening the Conscience.

[34] Ar. buhūr.

[35] Ar. taf‘īlah.

[36] Ar. wazn.

[37] Minor variations of meter which only affect the cords.

[38] Major variations which affect the beginning or end of a line.

[39] Ar. ‘Arūd.

[40] Ar. qāwafi, denoting the rule in rhymed poetry that every verse must end in the same rhyme.

[41] A hymn for Good Friday and certain other somber rites in the Coptic Church.

[42] Ar. Rajaz.

[43] Ar. Hazaj.

[44] Ar. Kamil.

[45] Ar. Ramal.

[46] The Seven Sacraments of the Church.

[47] The Orthodox Rock.

[48] Saint Mark; cited by H.G. Bishop Suriel as al-Qiddīs Murqus al-Anjīlī: Mu’assis al-Kanīsah al-Misriyah (Saint Mark the Evangelist: The Founder of the Egyptian Church).


To access the video of this lecture, please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7_99Xb8jWA&feature=youtu.be

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