Windows on Coptic Orthodoxy

Sent On: 
Thu, 2022-11-10
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From October 20th - 22nd, I traveled with two representatives from our Dutch partner organization, Kerk in Actie, to a Coptic retreat center and the Monastery of St. Macarius [Dayr Abū Maqār]. For all of us, this was our first time to the desert retreat center known as Anafora. In Christian liturgy, the word “anaphora” can refer to the "lifting up" of the bread and wine to God for consecration in the Mass or Eucharist. In a similar way, Bishop Thomas, who is the Coptic Orthodox leader of al-Qussia and Mair Diocese in Upper Egypt, founded the retreat center in 1998 to be a place where all people are uplifted and given a renewed vision of life. Anafora is located about an hour north of Cairo on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road. Despite the arid and challenging terrain, Bishop Thomas and his team have cultivated a community that appears to be thriving both spiritually and physically. On a spiritual level, Anafora is ecumenical and serves Christians of all traditions and backgrounds as a place for spiritual retreat, reflection, and relaxation. Christians from diverse traditions often attend an 8 p.m. evening prayer service where the Bible is read in as many different languages as possible. At 6 a.m. every morning, many attend a full Coptic Divine Liturgy. On a physical level, the center prioritizes simplicity, organic farming, and environmental sustainability. We were privileged to have a personal conversation with Bishop Thomas where he reflected on the place of spirituality in the modern world and his positive vision for Egypt.


A sanctuary from one of the main churches at Anafora


Bishop Thomas speaks with our team about his vision


About thirty minutes back in the direction of Cairo, one finds another remarkable center of Coptic spirituality, only in this case one that is much older. The Monastery of St. Macarius is believed to have been founded in the 4th century by St. Macarius of Egypt, though many of its extant structures were built in the 10th century and later. At the monastery, we received an informative tour from Father Mercurios who discussed ancient and modern dimensions of Coptic monasticism. At present, the monastery is one of close to forty Coptic monasteries and houses around 120 monks. In recent times, the Monastery of St. Macarius has become well known because of its association with Father Matta al-Meskin [Mattā al-Miskīn] (d.2006), one of the main architects of the revival of Coptic monasticism and one of the most famous Coptic theologians of the 20th century. More recently, the monastery was also the location of the strange and tragic murder of Bishop Epiphanius [Ipiphāniyūs] (d.2018) by two monks which gripped Egyptian society for several months in 2018.


Father Mercurios speaks about ancient monastic dining practices at the Monastery of St. Macarius


Both Anafora and the Monastery of St. Macarius offer important windows on the Coptic Orhtodox Church as it remains closely connected to its ancient past but also seeks to be responsive to modern realities. My experience of both places was enriched through conversation and observations from our friends from Kerk in Actie.


It is also worth noting…


  • COP27 continues in Sharm al-Shaykh until November 17th. Ahram Online provides daily coverage here.
  • H.G. Pope Tawāḍrūs II has recently published an autobiography.
  • The 2023 Muslim 500 was recently published. It provides a global survey of influential Muslims living today and a wealth of additional information. It can be accessed here.



With best wishes,


Matthew Anderson

Executive Editor

Dialogue Across Borders


November 10, 2022