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Bishop Youannis (1923–1987): Bishop of Gharbiyya and Church Historian

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Sunday ,20 September 2020

Bishop Youannis (1923–1987): Bishop of Gharbiyya and Church Historian

His Grace Bishop Youannis (1923–1987), the late bishop of Gharbiyya, is considered one of the most important scholars and church historians of the twentieth century. His books continue to be seen as essential sources even though 29 years have passed since his departure on November 4, 1987. His birth certificate names him “Ramzy Azouz Germanos,” born on October 25, 1923 in the district of Shubra in Cairo, child of two devout parents. He grew up in the embrace of the Church of Archangel Michael in Toson, where he became a servant in 1942. He also served in the Church of St Antony in Shubra and the Church of St Demiana in Shubra. He joined Sunday School House in Rud al-Farag since its foundation in 1949. He obtained a Licenciate[1] in 1952 and worked as a history teacher at al-Malik al-Kamil High School in Mansura for three years, before his soul longed for the monastic life. In 1955, he approached the Syrian Monastery of St Mary to visit his life-long friend, the monk Antonios al-Suryani (who was to become Pope Shenouda III). There, he decided to realise his life-long dream and become a monk. He was ordained as a monk on July 30, 1955, under the name “Shenouda al-Suryani” at the age of about 32. The abbot of the Syrian Monastery, Anba Tawfilus, charged him with the duty of receiving guests and foreigners on account of his proficiency in the English language. He also assisted Monk Antonios al-Suryani in managing the library of the Syrian Monastery. Anba Tawfilus also charged him with the supervision of the monastery s retreat house. Because of his great mastery of church hymns, he also appointed him to teach new priests the hymns of the divine liturgy.[2] He also appointed him to serve the village of al-Hokaria which was located near the monastery. Due to health problems related to severe pain in his spine, he was forced to go down to Cairo for treatment. While there, he took on the responsibility of providing spiritual guidance to the students of the Clerical College, and was also appointed to teach a course on spiritual theology in the College. The first part of his book The Paradise of the Spirit was published in 1960, thsecond in 1963, and the third an final in 1985 when he was Bishop of Gharbiyya. This book with all three of its volumes remains an important, essential and indispensable source in the field of spiritual theology.

 
The late Pope Kyrillos VI chose him to be his personal secretary after his ordination on May 9, 1959. Because of his talent and high level of theological education, His Holiness Pope Kyrillos appointed him to represent the Coptic Church at the Ecumenical Council held in South Africa and Rhodesia. He was later ordained a hegumen by Anba Tawfilus on December 24, 1961.
 
Pope Shenouda III (God rest his soul), selected him to be bishop of Gharbiyya on December 12, 1971. He was ordained together with His Eminence Anba Bakhomios, bishop of Beheira, Matruh and affiliated regions (may God grant him long life and good health). These were the first ordinations performed by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III.
 
Achievements
During his time as bishop of Gharbiyya, he undertook a number pastoral and other projects, including:
 
The ordination of 34 priests for the cities and villages of the diocese, including 14 priests for the city of Tanta alone.
The construction and purchase of 6 new churches (The Cathedral of St Paul the Apostle; the Church of St Demiana and Anba Bishoy, and an adjacent building for services; the Church of Archangel Michael in Mahalla al-Kubra; the Church of St Demiana in Mahalla al-Kubra; the purchase of a church in Tanta in the name of St Mina; the purchase of a church in Zifta in the name of St George).
The opening of a branch of the Clerical College in Tanta with a great celebration attended by Pope Shenouda III himself in 1976.
The addition of a building to the Archdiocese and the renewal of most churches in the diocese and the Archdiocese Headquarters.
The renovation of the historic Monastery of St Mina in Abyar, and the construction of a retreat and guest house opened June 22, 1980 (the anniversary of the consecration of the Church of St Mina in Mariout).
Great attention to preaching and teaching. He held a weekly meeting every Friday in Tanta and another on Thursdays in Mahalla al-Kubra (we will set aside a section below for a look at his books and writings and his labours in the field of education).
He made efforts to bring a piece of the relics of St Paul the Apostle to Egypt in December 1973, and prepared a suitable shrine for them in the Cathedral of St Paul in Tanta.
He made efforts to renew the shrine of the martyr St Refka in Sunbat and the shrine of St Abanoub in Samanoud.
As for his labours outside the diocese, Pope Shenouda entrusted him with the position of Secretary of the Holy Synod in 1972, which he continued to hold for 12 consecutive years. He also headed the Clerical Council for Family Affairs in Cairo. Owing to his specialisation in history, he was appointed to teach courses on church history in the seminaries of Cairo and Alexandria and various specialised religious institutes. Pope Shenouda III also chose him to be a member of Hay at al-Awqaf al-Qibtiyya and a member of committees for dialogue with our Catholic brethren. When two French bishops, Anba Murqus and Anba Athanasius, expressed their desire to join the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda appointed him to visit France and write a decree on the matter. He was also a member of the delegation that accompanied Pope Shenouda on his visit to Pope Paul VI, the Pope of Rome, on May 10, 1973.
 
In the aftermath of the events and decrees of September 5, 1981,[3] a papal committee was formed consisting of: His Grace Anba Maximos, Metropolitan of al-Qalyubiyya; His Grace Bishop Samuel, Bishop of Social Services; His Grace Anba Athanasius, Metropolitan of Beni Suef; His Grace Anba Gregorius, Bishop of Higher Studies, Coptic Culture and Scientific Investigation; and His Grace Anba Youannis, Bishop of Gharbiyya. They served as a go-between linking the government and the church during the crackdown.
 
From his youth, His Grace had suffered a great deal from spinal pain since. He also suffered a heart attack in November of 1982. On October 2, 1985, the renowned surgeon Dr Magdy Yacoub performed heart surgery on him, replacing three arteries. He came down with a mild cold during the month of October 1987. On November 4, 1987, at around 1 pm, he suffered a heart attack which caused him to pass away peacefully in a matter f minutes. His pure body was moved to the [Cathedral] of St Paul the Apostle. On November 5 at about 3 pm, a huge procession accompanied his body from the cathedral of St Paul to the Cathedral of St George, where the funeral prayers commenced at 4 pm, in the presence of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, more than 20 bishops and around 120 priests. After the funeral prayers, his body was laid to rest in the cemetery of the metropolitans, near the bodies of his departed predecessors Anba Thomas and Anba Isaac. This occurred around 6 pm on November 5, 1987.
 
Writings
Turning to his books and writings, His Grace commenced his writings in the Sunday School Magazine. His first article, under the name of Ramzy Azouz, was “Saint Anba Sarabamoun” in July 1953. Then “Paul the Simple” (August 1953), “Ibrahim al-Gouhari” (September 1953), “St Arsanius the Great” (October/November 1953), “St Hilarion” (February 1954), St Gregory the Wonderworker” (June/July 1954). Under the name of Shenouda al-Suryani, he wrote [the articles]: “The Entry into Jerusalem” (April 1960), “The Greatness of Fasting” (October/November 1962), “How Should I Fast?” (February/March 1963).
 
Published in His Lifetime:
 
As for books, His Grace authored 17 books which were published during his lifetime:
 
The Paradise of the Spirit [Bustān al-rūḥ], vol. 1 (1960).
The Paradise of the Spirit [Bustān al-rūḥ], vol. 2 (1963).
The Paradise of the Spirit [Bustān al-rūḥ], vol. 3 (1985).
Martyrdom in Christianity [al-Istishhād fī al-masīḥiyya], (1969).
The Christian Church in the Apostolic Age [al-Kanīsa al-masīḥiyya fī  aṣr al-rusul], (1971).
Heaven [al-Samā ], (1978).
Our Holy Faith [Imān-nā al- āqdas], (1979).
Our Holy Bible and our Holy Christ [Kitābnā al-muqaddas wa Masīḥ-nā al-quddūs], (1980).
Our Christ Above Time [Masīḥ-nā fawq al-zamān], (1981).
Landmarks on the Road to God [Ma ālim al-ṭarīq ilā Allah], (1984).
Christianity and the Cross [al-Masīḥiyya wa-l-ṣalīb], (1985).
The Christian Doctrine of Christ [ Aqīdat al-masīḥiyyīn fī al-ṣalīb] (1985).
Fragrant Flowers from the Lives of the Saints [Bāqāt al- aṭira min siyar al- ābrār], (1985).
Christianity and Suffering [al-Masīḥiyya wa-l- ālam], (1986).
Church Worship: Its Role and Spirituality [al- ibāda fī al-kanīsat-nā: dāllāt-hā wa rūḥāniyyat-hā], (1987).
On the Commemoration of the Martyrs of Christianity [Fī dhikrā shuhadā  al-masīḥiyya], (1971).
Israel: Its Truth and Future [Isrā īl: ḥaqīqat-hā wa mustaqbal-hā], (1973).
Books Published After His Departure
 
These are mostly a series of lectures and printed recollections, reprinted in books after his departure. They include:
 
The Great Preacher St Paul the Apostle [al-Kārūz al- aẓīm al-qiddīs Būlus al-rasūl], (1988).
Lectures on Christian Monasticism [Muḥaḍrāt fī al-rahbana al-masīḥiyya].
Lectures on the Ecumenical Councils [Muḥaḍrāt  an al-majāmi  al-maskūniyya].
The History of the Coptic Church after the Council of Chalcedon [Tārīkh al-kanīsa al-Qibṭiyya ba d majma  Khalqidūniya].
Meditations on the Song of Songs [Ta āmulāt fī sifr nashīd al-anāshīd].
How Can a Christian Live in Society while Keeping the Teachings of the Lord Christ? [Kayf yu- āyish al-masīḥī al-mujtama  muḥtafẓān bi-ta ālīm al-sayyid al-Masīḥ].
Good Family Life [al-Ḥayāa al-usriyya al-salīma].
St Paul the Apostle: The Zealous Servant [al-Qiddīs Būlus al-rasūl: al-khādim al-ghuyūr].
Meditations on the Acts of the Apostles [Ta āmulāt fī sifr ā māl al-rusul].
The Dawn of Christianity and the Pure Blood [Fajr al-masīḥiyya wa-l-dimā  al-dhakiyya].
St Basil the Great [al-Qiddīs Bāsīlyūs al-kabīr].
A Series of Mediations on: the Glorious Feast of the Nativity; the Feast of Epiphany; the Holy Fast; the Glorious Feast of the Resurrection; the Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit.
The Sins of the Past Year are Lessons for the New Year [Akhṭā  al- ām al-māḍī hiyya durūs li-l- ām al-jadīd].
Our Lady the Virgin: Mother of All the Saints [al-Sayyidat al- adhrā : Umm jamī  al-qiddīsīn].
The Influence of St Paul the Apostle on the Christian Church [Athar al-qiddīs Būlus al-rasūl fī al-kanīsat al-masīḥiyya].
Looking at the contents pages of some of his reference books, such as the foundational book The Christian Church in the Apostolic Age, we find chapters on: The Birthday of the Church; The Conflict with Judaism; Famous Apostolic Churches; Christian Doctrines in the Apostolic Age; Christian Worship; Inspiration and Intellectual Life in the Apostolic Age; Luminaries Such As the Twelve Apostles; St Paul the Apostle; Assistants to the Apostles; the Apostolic Fathers.
 
Another foundational book, Martyrdom in Christianity, contains chapters on: Identifying Who is a Christian?; Jewish Persecution of Christians; Rome and the Pagan Empire; Among the Martyrs and Heroes; the Vigilant Church.
 
In the book Our Holy Faith, we find chapters on: The Lord Christ in the View of Thinkers and Philosophers Through the Generations; Why Christ and Who is He?; The Truth of Christ s Divinity as Expressed by Himself and as It Appears in Holy Scripture; Christianity is a Monotheistic Religion; The Scandal of the Cross; Christianity: Producer of Saints; The Church and the Doors of Hell, etc.
 
Our Holy Bible and Our Holy Christ contains chapters on: The Holy Bible an Contemporary Intellectual Perspectives; Christ and the Personalities of the Old Testament; Christ and Old Testament Worship; Christ and the Books of the Old Testament; Christ and the Books of the New Testament; Christ the Desire of the Generations.
 
Having now celebrated the twenty-ninth anniversary of his departure, we have hope that these valuable writings will be collected and printed in popular form and become available to all youth and servants. We hope also that these sources will be incorporated into the programs of church education and seminaries, that they may be preserved for all coming generations. May God repose his soul in the Paradise of Joy and bless us through his prayers.