Open Doors In Egypt


"The doors of Anafora will be open to you", said Anba Thomas, the bishop of this monastery where, in September 2021, an ecumenical gathering organized by JC2033 in conjunction with the Egyptian Council of Churches took place.

This was an important moment on the way to 2033, the 2000 years since the resurrection of Jesus. More than 280 people participated and our website has widely reported on it. In order to evaluate this meeting and understand what the next steps will be, we visited several church leaders at the end of March 2022. 

In "Old Cairo", Father Damaskinos, the General Secretary of the Council of Churches in Egypt, welcomes us to his monastery of St George, next to the Greek Orthodox church of the same name. With a big smile he begins by telling us his convictions concerning Christian unity: "the Churches must focus on what is common to them, namely the incarnation, atoning death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ". In this spirit, he invited the various churches to pray for peace in Ukraine in his church yesterday. 

An innovative idea

Present at the first evening in the Coptic monastery of Anafora where the gathering was held, Damaskinos shares his enthusiasm for this "innovative idea". "I did not expect to meet so many people and leaders from such diverse churches. We must continue our mission of unity and organize other events," he says. 

We then visit Pastor Reefat Fikry in the Ataba district. Chairman of the Council for Ecumenical Relations of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and one of the secretaries of the Middle East Council of Churches, he tells us that the Anafora meeting was a new experience for the churches of Egypt. A media man, he made a television programme interviewing several leaders who had participated in the meeting. He stresses the importance of communicating what was experienced. 

Father Rafic Greiche, parish priest of Saint Cyril of the Greek Orthodox Church, was very involved in the preparation of the Anafora meeting; he welcomed us with joy in his church, which is more than a hundred years old, in the Heliopolis district, where a mosaic of churches of various denominations, not to mention the many mosques, can be seen. 

Cher Rafic Greiche

He shares his impression of the Anafora meeting, which was positive overall, but he does not hide certain aspects that were more difficult, in particular the collaboration within the preparation committee. What continues to please him in the JC2033 project is the dimension of unity: "I hold on to this project so that my daughters and the next generation can experience unity in a context where, too often, the churches are in competition," he says.

Denominational imbalance? 

The Focolare community - one of the mainstays of the Anafora meeting - invited us to their table. They particularly appreciated the first evening where unity in diversity was expressed, as well as the life testimonies during the three days. However, they invite us to reflect on the understanding of evangelization in the Egyptian context. In their opinion, some moments, especially the final celebration, were too much marked by the Protestant-Evangelical churches.    

This is also the opinion of Father Bishoy Helmy, priest of the large Coptic Orthodox parish of Saint Anthony in the Shoubra district of Cairo. He is also one of the secretaries of the Council of Churches in Egypt. As he teaches ecumenism at the Coptic seminary, he had invited several of his students to Anafora. He asked them to give him their impressions. They made the same remark to him about the Protestant predominance on the day of their participation. At the end of our interview, he suggested that we visit his church, where volunteers clean it once a week, and in front of the iconostasis he said to us: "My door is open for the next steps"!

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The next day, at the headquarters of the Egyptian Bible Society in Heliopolis, Ramez Atallah, the former Secretary General, welcomes us to his "retired office". He is now giving his time to advise the Society thanks to his great experience. He is also a key person for us in helping us to better understand the context of the churches in Egypt and the relationships between them. "The Bible Society is at the service of all the churches and in due course will provide them with biblical material for the Jubilee celebrations of the Resurrection," he assures us.

Watering the sown seed

Then we return to the Ataba neighborhood where we meet Samy Samir, the dynamic leader of the Alpha courses organized under the umbrella of the Anglican Church. Samy participated in the whole Anafora meeting, including the three days of fasting and prayer that preceded it, as well as the day dedicated to "ambassadors". He is in touch with youth leaders in several churches and sees the impact that JC2033 could have among young people. 

"How can we make the seed sown at Anafora grow," he asks? "We must water it with prayer and trust through meetings, without excluding any denomination". During the meeting, he particularly appreciated the Lebanese experience of "Celebrating the Resurrection together", which brings together young people from various Churches and movements during the Easter season. He would be interested in talking to youth leaders about introducing it in Egypt. 

Open doors

We also wanted to visit the monastery of Anafora, where we stayed for a day and a half. At the end of breakfast, before participating in the liturgy, Bishop Anba Thomas sat down at our table and, full of joy, asked us how JC2033 was continuing. He tells us above all the joy he feels when he thinks back on this meeting. "The doors of Anafora will be open to you. I will be happy to participate in other projects," he assures us. Une image contenant personne, debout, posant, groupeDescription générée automatiquement

We also share with him the difficulties and reactions we have heard. Wisely, Anba Thomas puts them into perspective by saying that we also learn from our mistakes and that we are on a journey, where we correct each other in order to better serve God.

Next steps

On the last evening of our Egyptian stay, we meet in the parish hall of Saint Cyril, where Father Rafic welcomes us with a sumptuous buffet. Some other leaders are there: the Roman Catholic Bishop Claudio Lurati, Pastor Reefat Fikri whom we have already visited, and Nadia and Marie-Thérèse Doss, animators of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, as well as a Coptic Orthodox couple delegated by Father Bishoy Helmy. 

We share with them the content of our various meetings and listen to their experiences during the Anafora conference. We give thanks for all that God has allowed us to experience. In the name of JC2033, we also ask for their forgiveness for the mistakes we made. 

Gradually a desire to continue the journey towards 2033 together emerged. Those present agreed to set up a working group composed of members of various churches and movements. This would be linked to the Council of Churches in Egypt. 

Some ideas were shared, such as an ecumenical celebration to enter the "decade of the resurrection" during the Easter season in 2023, or ecumenical groups to share the Word of God, in the spirit of "Lectio divina", without forgetting to get young people started. 

Bishop Lurati concluded the evening with a prayer and a blessing. Yes, may Christ shower his blessing on this journey towards the 2000 years of his resurrection in Egypt, a journey on which he has accompanied these people since he walked there as a child!  

Article written by:

Marianne Roche is a member of the JC2033 Working Group and Pastor Martin Hoegger is responsible for inter-church relations

Picture 1: from left to right: Fr Rafic Greiche, Marianne Roche, Nadia Doss, Mgr Claudio Lurati, Martin Hoegger, Pastor Reefat Fikri, a couple from the Coptic Orthodox Church, Marie-Thérèse Doss

Image 2: In the Church of the Resurrection, in Anafora.

Image 3: Anba Thomas between Marianne Roche and Martin Hoegger