PRIESTS OF THE MONASTERY
Father Samaan went through a re-consecration to God's service that same year. The Patriarch ministered to him what the Coptic Orthodox Church calls the 'grace of the qomseya' on 15th July 1994. This means the empowerment to be responsible for a group of priests. The title of 'Qomos' comes from the Greek word hegumenos or 'leader'. The Patriarch gave Father Samaan this title in recognition of the fact that he was no longer a lone priest. He was now the most senior member of a team ministry. In June 1990 the Patriarch had ordained three other priests to serve in the area, two of whom had been assigned to the Church of St. Samaan the Tanner: Father Boula Shawqy and Father Abraam Fahmy.
The Patriarch completed the ordained ministry team in June 1995 by adding a fifth priest, Father Butors Rushdy.
All this reflected the growth of the ministry on the mountain, which was by now one of the most active mission centers in the Middle East.
The church that met in the great auditorium was set to become the largest worshipping congregation in Egypt and perhaps in the whole of the Middle East. It is the main focus for the fascination of the Mokattam Mountain, intimately connected with the charisma of Father Samaan. Like his hero of the tenth century, St. Samaan, Father Samaan is short in physical stature yet carries a good deal of spiritual authority. Father Samaan was to be the main speaker at most of the spiritual meetings held in this hall. Each week he spoke to the people in a mixture of homely colloquial language and the classical Arabic in which the Bible is printed. Many of his talks found their way on to cassette tapes, which his hearers would buy and play often.
The Retreat Centre
After the opening of the hospital and the auditorium Father Samaan and his co-workers put up a building on the narrow plateau facing the cavern. Here he could meet regularly with his ministry team to pray and plan. Despite the growth in their work, they were also willing to hire out the new building to other ministries and churches. They called it the St Simaan the Tanner Retreat Centre. On the top floor a fourth church was consecrated, named after the Angel and St John.
The team who met at the retreat centre included lay workers who had graduated from the discipleship groups. Despite the difficulties of regular commitment to these, by sheer persistence, prayer and practical organization, many lay-workers began to emerge from them. They were not all equally qualified, but Father Samaan could find a use for most of them.
Those who joined discipleship groups had to be willing to attend the meetings, and be ready to serve Christ. There were three different phases. To succeed in the first level a person needed to give evidence that his spiritual life was firmly based. If he wasn't able to go on to the second level, he could still start to serve by taking a ministry appropriate to the first level. Some got to the second level, others to the third. Those lay-workers who completed the final level became mukariseen (consecrated workers).
- The Service Cycle
A few of the 'consecrated workers' who had been In the discipleship groups from the very beginning could call on up to fifteen years of part-time training. They could join forces in their ministry With Onsi Labib, a committed layman who worked out a strategy for outreach. Their aim is nothing less than the 'revival and flourishing' of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt.
With this aim, Onsi Labib has built up a network to reach other Coptic churches beyond the confines of the Mokattam Mountain region. The 'consecrated workers' all worship in their own local church and join in its ministry. Once is careful to build up good co-operative relations with the 'responsible authorities' in those churches. The methods the mukariseen use to expand their ministry are self-renewing. Onsi describes them in terms of a 'Service Cycle'.
First, there is 'soul winning for Christ' (2 Corinthians 5.19, 20); this involves 'personal work for winning the souls for Christ, whether inside or outside our congregations'. Second, there is 'stead fasting in Christ' (Acts 14.20-2). This involves following up those who have put their trust in Christ and to encourage and strengthen them. The aim is that they grow in their relationship with Christ, through weekly Bible Study groups that meet m churches or homes. Third, the mukariseen share in training members of these groups to practice different kinds of service. These include personal work, home visits, preaching and guiding: Bible Study groups. This stage Onsi calls 'growth in Christ', and he models it on 2 Peter 3.18 and Colossians 1.28-9. Fourthly (and this is the key to the continuation of the cycle) they must be 'preparing' lay-workers (Matthew 9.37-8).
The fruits of sending out these workers into the harvest field will include more soul winning, and a repetition of the cycle. Out of these lay-workers, leaders will arise - and this is the fifth and final stage, 'preparing leaders'. This follows the principle Paul gives to his 'dear son' in Christ, Timothy: 'the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others' (2 Timothy 2.2 NIV).
A similar cycle occurs not only in discipleship groups but also in caring for Christian families. The 'consecrated workers' aim to help families to 'lead a really effective Christian life and prepare them to serve other families in turn'. By strengthening relationships both within and between families the church community is built up. The process starts by laying a secure foundation at the beginning. Only well trained members of the discipleship groups are entrusted with the delicate and sensitive task of nurturing the children in the Sunday schools. (Despite their name, these are usually held in Cairo on Fridays when the children have the day off from the government schools.)
Conferences are held for the members of all groups and all activities in the Service Cycle. When their outreach reaches a certain critical point, evangelistic conferences are held to which all active group members (no matter what level they are at) can invite their friends. The souls won to Christ in this way can in their turn go on to be made steadfast, to grow and be trained. However many stages they complete, the seeds are sown for another harvest.
- New Halls and Churches
With the foundations for growth laid in this way, more and more people visited Muqattam for conferences, training sessions or for service. So there was wider scope to open more centers of worship and instruction. By 1997 a fifth church was added to the retreat centre. It was named after Anba Abraam (whose original name was Ibn Zara), who was the patriarch in whose time the mountain moved.
The five churches on the retreat site now include three halls. The retreat house can take about two hundred people and there is a special centre for the lay-workers there. There are also all the ingredients of a children's zoo or pets corner, with monkeys and doves and peacocks and parrots! A garden of remembrance was laid out~ in memory of Christ's passion at Gethsemane. A pony-tailed Polish sculptor called Mario goes all over the Site using power tools to carve reliefs out of the rock. These help people to meditate on different scenes of Christ's life.
With the spiritual uplift that the retreat centre inspires there are also vocational training units for young people: offering carpentry, Ironmongery, wall or floor tiling and courses for budding electricians. For Father Simaan the basis of the work - whether 'spiritual' or 'vocational' - is the Holy Spirit. In his view it is ~he Holy Spirit who brings into being the very prayer meetings that uphold the work in all its forms. Of these there are at least four in a week on Mondays and Wednesdays, on Thursdays after the open- meeting, and on Fridays. This is where souls are prayed into the Kingdom. Without prayer none of them would come in.
The numbers attending today bear no comparison to what they were at the beginning. In the beginning, not One-quarter or one-fifth of these numbers came. Every month every week, there is growth, because the Lord is working. This retreat centre is now visited by not less than 10-12,000 people every week. A very great number attend the meeting every Thursday, in the open-air amphitheatre Cut out of the rock.
The Thursday meeting began originally in the church below the mountain, and then, when the church filled up, in the courtyard. After the courtyard they used the halls in the church. After the church halls filled up, they moved into) the first conference hall, 2,000 meters square. After two or three weeks, even that began to fill up! After two or three months they needed a larger place, until they got the large auditorium (10,000 square meters) that by 1997 was three-quarters full That will fill up too. The retreat centre is itself seen as a miracle. As one Christian journalist commented in the magazine Places in Egypt, 'If you wanted to see the miracle of moving the mountain, come and see this miracle going on here and now.'
Father Samaan's vision for the future is that many souls will come back to Christ - since the Lord said 'I have many people in this city' (Acts 18.10). There are three or four communion services every week. Copts are given circular loaves for communion; these are broken up - hence they can't avoid leaving crumbs. When Father Simaan saw just how many crumbs the worshippers were leaving behind them, he confessed that God was fulfilling his promises to the letter in terms of the numbers attending.
He predicts that the day will come when every hall and church will have a video or a big screen working. Then the number of people who can benefit will multiply ten times over. God has provided a place that is unique not only in Egypt, but in any part of the world. In it are halls and churches, and with a television network they could reach everyone and everyone will hear - and God will work.
- High Days and Holidays
People come to use the churches on site during? Fast days especially, and the big auditorium they worship in every Sunday. Many congregations from outside the area arrange outings and come and use the retreat centre churches for holding meetings and Holy Communion. In a typical holiday period there are four conferences every day with communion services in the churches. So the people take the opportunity of a retreat to sit with Christ on the mountain: 'I look to the hills! Where will I find help? It will come from the LORD who created the heavens and the earth' (Psalms 121.1-2). The Lord Jesus himself used to take his disciples up a mountain and people follow this example by taking time apart on the Muqattam Mountain for a spiritually refreshing retreat.
In the last two weeks of the half-term holidays in 1997 and the festival that rounds off the Muslim month of fasting' Ramadan, almost 120,000 people visited the retreat centre. There were many signs of God's Spirit at work - some people were moved to tears. What they sensed most strongly when they came to the mountain was that the Spirit of God was present, and working in them. People frequently came up to Father Simaan and asked, 'How can we make a start with Jesus?' or 'How can we know Christ?'
- Nurture and Outreach
Although larger numbers come at holiday-time, people are always turning up even on working days. During the week they can attend meetings, conferences and services. On Sundays there is a morning communion service attended by 1,000 people - sometimes many more. Some 4,000 come on Wednesdays to see a spiritual film. On Thursdays a special communion service is held with prayers for the open meeting in the evening. An average of around 7,000 people attended the open meeting in 1997.
Each week there are also group training sessions for lay workers. All the groups link up with a priest. Father Abraam, for example, has five or six groups. Fathers Boula and Butros follow the same system, each having groups specially assigned to them for ministry training. This, at any rate, is the theory: in practice there are many demands on the priests' time, with many visitors coming to their offices to ask for their services. So they have to struggle to keep enough time for training.
There is also plenty of opportunity for outreach to the poor in the districts around Muqattam. In 1992 people all over Cairo had lost their homes in an earthquake that many dilapidated buildings in the poorer districts could not withstand. Some buildings that seemed to survive the first shock later fell down in after-tremors that went on for days afterwards. International aid came into Egypt to help the destitute, and the government chose Muqattam as an area for resettlement. As their housing went up and the newcomers moved in, teams from the retreat centre visited them. They helped meet both material and spiritual needs. Man y of the new arrivals, who had no personal commitment to Christ of any kind, began to come to the open meeting on Thursday evenings. Then they also went to the communion service on Sunday. People who had previously lost touch with God now became committed Christians. Some went deep in their study of the Bible and built up their own effective ministries.
Rev. Father Samaan Ibrahim
Ordination of Brother Farahat as Father Samaan
In ⇒ 1978
Was Promoted to the title of Qomos In
Father Abraam Fahmy
Father Boula Shawky
Father Botros Rushdy