Coptic Church of the Sudan

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The episcopal seal of Anba Ystinos.

The Coptic Church of the Sudân (Amharic: የሱዳን ኮፕቲክ ቤተክርስትያን) was an missionary enterprise doing work in the Sudân and the United States between 1969 - 1996.

His Holiness, Pope Kyrellos VI, the 116th Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria appointed His Beatitude, Timothos Ghirgis as missionary Metropolitan for the Sudân in response to the catastrophic situation caused by Gaafar Nimeiry's military coup in 1969.

In 1971, President Sadat made an executive order upon the ascension of Pope Shenouda III (Coptic: Ⲡⲁⲡⲁ Ϣⲉⲛⲟⲩϯ) as Patriarch of Alexandria, recognizing his papacy. However, due to the Pope's unpopular political positions, President Sadat exiled him beginning in September of 1981. However, in 1983, John Garang de Mabior's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) seized control of the country in what has come to be known as the Second Sudanese Civil War. The fighting wasn't limited merely to the southern Sudân, it also spread to the Nuba mountains and Blue Nile in Ethiopia.

In 1981, Abuna Timotheos Ghirgis and Abuna Yeshaq Mandafro consecrated Stephanos Zacharias Al-Fahd to the episcopate. When Abuna Timotheos died in 1982, Abuna Stephanos succeeded him as Exarch of the Sudân in exile. His Holiness, Pope Shenouda III who was imprisoned at a monastery in the Nitran desert was powerless to help until after the next President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak reinstated the official recognition of his papacy on January 1985. But it was too late. Prior to his release from house arrest, the Coptic Church of the Sudân had already sought out the spiritual protection of the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church which had the support of the Communist Derg regime in Ethiopia. It was during that time that Patriarch Abuna Mekerios of Ethiopia sat on the Derg's Politboro, which ordered the murder of forty-nine (49) of his own clergy as part of the Red Terror purge.

In 1995, Abuna Mekerios of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the west, sent Abuna Ystinos to assist Abuna Stephanos, and consecrate the priest, Hadrian Israël as Metropolitan Archbishop for San Francisco under the name Abuna Elias (Coptic form of "Élijah"). He became locum tenens upon Abuna Stephanos's death in 1996.

It was into this church, the fledgling, small and yet hopeful Exarchate that Hadrian Mar Elijah Bar Israel was originally ordained a priest and consecrated as its first American bishop. He served Holy Mary of Egypt Coptic Church in Sacramento, and also at the Saint George Cathedral in New York, and experienced first-hand the trials and tribulations of the Dinka and other Sudanese people in the struggle to integrate into the life of the diaspora, while still caring deeply about and struggling to take care of the needs of their relatives back home - some of which were subject to kidnapping, slavery, forced prostitution, et cetera.

The church that His Excellency Hadrian Mar Elijah Bar Israel inherited from Abuna Stephanos was fractured and in many ways had lost sight of the original mission and mandate given by Pope Kyrellos to spread the Gospel and the Orthodox tradition among the Dinka. Logic would have him resign and allow the Church to be dissolved. However, his refusal to resign, even in the face of adversity, represents the stubbornness, even against all odds, to preserve the Holy Faith. Instead His Excellency petitioned Pope Shenouda III for official recognition for his missions. However, all correspondence went unanswered, and on 24 April 1999 the Coptic Church of the Sudân was officially dissolved.


Bibliography

  1. S. Jakobielski, Christian Nubia at the Height of its Civilization (Chapter 8). UNESCO. University of California Press. San Francisco, 1992 ISBN 9780520066984