Welcome to my humble blog!

Hello everyone.

I wish to welcome you and thank you for visiting my blog.

I hope you enjoy your visit and that you get a chance to respond to any of the posts.

I hope you have a wonderful day. God bless you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Journey "Home!"

Dear sisters and brothers,

Well, I have been in New Jersey now for seven months and ten days. It has been an interesting time of my life and not the easiest at times. Yet, it has also been a very fruitful time. This time away from my diocese has given me a chance for much reflection and prayer. It has also been a very busy time full of useful activities and work.

Being in New Jersey has given me the opportunity to concentrate for a while on my research which I hope one day will be of benefit to the Coptic Church and to religious educators in general and I pray that it may add a little to the body of knowledge. It has also given me the opportunity to gather many valuable resources that are not available in Australia.

During this relatively short period of time I was able to complete my Qualifying Paper and have it approved by my committee of three professors. I was also able to complete and defend my thesis proposal and have this approved as well. This will now open the path to continue the research process.

I am grateful for the fatherhood of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III for his enduring support and love throughout this time. I thank him for entrusting me with overseeing mission and evangelism and youth ministry whilst in the USA.

Working in such a ministry I hope assisted in some way to encourage and inspire local parishes of the importance of mission and evangelism as a central part of our daily work. I enjoyed meeting with the many churches (in NJ, PA, NC, DC and Ottawa), clergy, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders and laity and discussing this work with them.

So, now it is getting very cold in New Jersey and perhaps some snow is expected overnight and the temperature during the day tomorrow will peak at 24 degrees (-4 celsius). Even though I prefer the cold weather, but I think I can do without the sub freezing temperatures! My bags are almost packed and some dear friends will come tonight to bid their farewells.

So then, tomorrow evening (Tuesday) I will be travelling to Cairo and from there I will be heading back to Melbourne, Australia. One positive aspect of that at least, is that it will be summer and the weather will be wonderful and the trees will be in full bloom.

There is much awaiting me back home, yes in a way it is home as a bishop is married to his diocese according to the traditions of the Church and the diocese is his "bride." Yet our permanent home is in the heavens with the Lord and His angels, which I desire in every morning and with every breath.

Please pray for me. Thank you and God bless you.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Clerical Vestments and Evangelism!

About one month ago I was with a friend purchasing some coffee from Starbucks. It was a few days before Halloween. As we were waiting patiently in line an Indian gentleman behind me looked at me and said, "Holy Halloween!" Immediately I understood that he thought that I was in a costume preparing for some Halloween festivity that evening!  I then began to explain to him that I am not preparing for Halloween but in fact that I am a Christian clergyman and that I belong to one of the oldest Christian Churches in the world - The Coptic Orthodox Church. He then said, "Oh, aren't you the people that worship Haile Selassie?" He was alluding to the "Rastafari Movement" which is a cult that use cannabis as part of their so-called religious practices. They also worship Haile Selassie as God incarnate.

I continued to explain to this gentleman that the group he was referring to is a cult that began in Jamaica in the 1930's and we had nothing whatsoever to do with them. We are a Christian Orthodox Church who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour. At this stage I politely suggested that when he has sometime he should Google Coptic Orthodox Church and find out a little more about who we are and what we believe in. We greeted each other and we left.

This morning I was getting my coffee at Starbucks. As I was about to receive my order, to my surprise, the same Indian fellow was standing behind me! After the pleasantries he said, "I looked you up on Google! You are an ancient Church!" I said I am glad that you found out who we truly are. He asked some more about the vestments and their history to which I replied mentioning that it is an ancient tradition handed down from generation to generation. Then he asked me if I was married and I said that bishops and monks do not marry. He then said, "You are missing out on a great thing." I smiled and thought to myself, "well, he is missing out on a greater thing and that is faith in Jesus Christ. As for me, this is an honour and blessing for my life that I do not deserve to serve God's faithful people."

Then I continued to wonder as I walked back to the car, "Will this man one day come to know Jesus Christ? Who knows? Perhaps, but certainly the interest has been initiated through our two encounters."

Many churches today have changed their position concerning their clergy wearing clerical vestments in public and I believe that this is unfortunate. The moral of this real life situation is that if I were not wearing my priestly vestments such a discussion on faith would not have been initiated. It is a type of evangelism in itself and these vestments draw people with inquisitive minds to want to know who you are and what do you belong to and for some such as this Indian fellow may go home and explore the Christian Orthodox world and who knows some day it may bring forth fruit, some thirty, some sixty and some, one hundred fold!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fascinating Visit To The Presbyterian Historical Society

On Thursday 9 December, 2010 I visited the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, PA. It is approximately two hours away by car from the Coptic Archdiocese in Cedar Grove, NJ. A dear friend, Joseph Morcos graciously agreed to drive and spend the day with me. We agreed to leave at 6:30 a.m. to arrive by 8:30 a.m., which is the time the Society opens. I wanted to spend as much time there as possible.

It was an extremely cold morning, in fact it was about 20 degrees! (that's Fahrenheit for you Aussies reading this that means minus 6 degrees celsius!) The car battery would not start since the car was not in a garage and the cold weather affected it. This delayed us for about an hour, but by the grace of God we finally arrived at the Presbyterian Historical Society at around 10 a.m.

I am sure you are all wondering, "Why is a Coptic bishop so interested in visiting such a place so early in the morning on a cold winter's day that is a two hour drive away?" The answer is simple, "Archdeacon Habib Jirjis!" I am sure your next question would be, "What has such a Society got to do with Habib Jirjis?" Well, the US Presbyterian Church began a mission in Egypt in 1854. Their aims were to educate, preach and convert Muslims to Christianity. They were not successful in converting many Muslims and so they turned their attention to the Copts, whom they saw as following an "archaic faith," who were in need to be "saved" from their "old ways" and be converted to Protestantism. The Coptic church was going through many struggles at the time and there was a lack of theologians and religious educators in the church and so the Presbyterians were successful to some extent in converting some Copts.

There greatest success was in education and in the establishment of fine schools built upon solid educational principles and in establishing hospitals and in social welfare. So, the reason for my visit was to search the archives of this Society in Philadelphia for relevant material to my research. Material concerning education, curriculum, communications with Copts or even with Habib Jirjis. Relevant information on their mission in Egypt and their educational philosophy and how this affected Coptic education in Egypt.

I must say that I was most impressed by the facilities which serve as the archives for the Presbyterian Church in the USA. They have nine full time archivists and an annual budget of $2.1 million!!! Eighty percent of this budget is provided by their church and another twenty percent coming form donations and fundraising activities. The staff were polite and extremely helpful and very knowledgeable of their collections. It is very well organised and has a wealth of information about Egypt and their mission since 1854. This includes books, pamphlets, film, photographs, newsletters, hand written notes from missionaries and many reels of microfilm.

I thought to myself, I pray, hope and dream that one day I may see in the Coptic Church such a center in which we can preserve our rich archives of the Coptic church and make it available to researchers from all over the world and especially for our own community to benefit from and learn about our history. It also made me think about how things are organised in my diocese and for the need and importance of archiving all aspects of the ministry. This has always been something in my mind to have such a section in our Theological College Library. Certainly when we build the main library in the future there will be an archival section. Perhaps a few decades down the track there may be a need for a similar society to be established in Australia for the Copts and their history in that part of the world.

The day passed by very quickly and I did not even scratch the surface of discovery of the wealth of material available on the mission to Egypt. I was able to photocopy some useful material. I found for example the speeches given at the Coptic Congress held at Assiut on March 6-8, 1911. I also discovered the Program of Studies for the American Mission Schools for girls in Egypt published in 1921. I also found a booklet titled, "Theological Seminary American Mission, Cairo, Egypt. 1863-1913." There were also several journal articles on the work of the Presbyterians in Egypt.

I think I will need to come back and spend several days to sift through the microfilms for useful information for my research. It was overall a very fruitful experience and a most enjoyable day exploring how a church documents its work in a foreign country like Egypt. If any one lives in the area it is worthwhile making the trip and learning a much of how the Presbyterians established their mission and schools in Egypt.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Successful Thesis Proposal Hearing!

Dear friends,

This afternoon 7 December, 2010 I had my Thesis Proposal Hearing at the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham University.

By the grace of God and through your prayers it was a very fruitful and successful hearing. All three professors were satisfied that this thesis proposal was sound. I am indebted to my mentor, Professor John Elias who has encouraged me along this journey and has offered me great advice and guidance. I also wish to thank Professor Gloria Durka for reading my work and also for the input she has offered towards my proposal. I also need to thank another great scholar, Associate Professor Deacon Severus, who is my external reader. He has been instrumental in giving expert advice in how to proceed with this dissertation and has provided me with many valuable sources and detailed notes to guide me through the labyrinth of writing such a thesis. I am truly grateful to them all for their support and guidance.

There are many others that have assisted me to gather valuable resources for this research, in particular I wish to thank Dr. Saad Michael Saad from Los Angeles, Dr. Sinout from the American University in Cairo and Ms. Lawrence Moftah. I also wish to thank Associate Professor Paul Sedra and Professor Nelly van Doorn Harder for their insights and many sources and articles that they have kindly provided for me, they have both been most gracious and supportive. I will certainly be calling on their work and publications in my thesis. Now I can move to the final and the long journey of reading, researching and writing the actual thesis.

It is projected that it may take about two years to complete.

The photos show me pictured with my mentor, Professor John Elias and one of my readers, Professor Gloria Durka. One of the students from Nigeria, Fr. Noel Effiong, who is my colleague in the PhD program also attend, for which I was very grateful. Fr. Effiong will be defending his thesis next week and I wish him every success.

Also in attendance were two dear friends Joseph Morcos and Ralph Toss and Dina who works in development at Fordham Prep. I am grateful to all of them for their attendance and encouragement.

I also wish to thank the many well wishers both in the USA and back home in Melbourne. May the Lord reward you all for your support and prayers.

Your prayers please. Thank you.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thesis Proposal Hearing

Dear friends,

I am happy to inform you that The Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham University has set a date and time for my Thesis Proposal Hearing. Please remember me in your prayers.

Here are the details: