More than ever, the world needs strong leaders, committed teachers and people filled with a life purpose. Such was the life embodied by a humble Coptic gentleman named Habib Girgis, who was born in Cairo in 1876 and lived in Egypt until 1951. There is much to be learnt from this man as highlighted in a new book by Leader of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Melbourne, Bishop Suriel.
Habib worked diligently for the Coptic Orthodox Church, founded by the apostle St Mark in Egypt, as a deacon, educator, writer and speaker. In 2013, he was also declared a Saint by the Holy Synod of the Coptic Church.
A natural scholar, Habib was the first theology student to enter the newly established seminary in 1893. He also served as Dean of the seminary from 1918 till his death in 1951. Habib helped to improve the theology school and affiliated seminary by creating curriculum, developing research, expanding buildings, publishing books and conducting translation of foreign texts to Arabic which ensured greater access to literature within the Coptic community.
Habib was also pivotal in establishing a children’s Sunday School program. He engaged young people in faith formation which led to a lifelong learning trajectory of spiritual, pastoral and intellectual growth. The Sunday Schools, founded in many Egyptian cities, continue to flourish today in Egypt and beyond.
Bishop Suriel wrote his doctoral dissertation to showcase the profoundly positive impact of Habib’s educational and pastoral works. The Melbourne bishop’s research has been reworked in a new book entitled: Habib Girgis Coptic Orthodox Educator and a Light in the Darkness. While writing the dissertation Bishop Suriel found a treasure trove of vital material quite by chance stating that: “While researching this book I literally stumbled upon 7000 pages of archival material in storage under the Cathedral in Cairo which no one knew existed. This material shed much new light on Girgis and his work.”
Habib captured Bishop Suriel’s attention because he championed the value of education in cultivating people’s hearts and minds, and unlocking their full potential. “Habib was a fascinating, respected and prominent figure at the turn of the twentieth century in Egypt,” Bishop Suriel said. “He was a writer of books, a poet, a great thinker, a reformer and established formal religious education for the first time in Egypt. He was also the much-loved dean of the theological college in Cairo from 1918 till his death in 1951.”
In fact, Bishop Suriel recently received the Sankt Ignatios Award 2017 from a theological college in Stokholm, Sweden for his sustained efforts in modelling Habib’s commitment to the preservation of theological education and Coptic culture. The Sankt Ignatios Foundation stated that Bishop Suriel received the prestigious award for “…renewing the pedagogical vision of St Habib Girgis. His Grace follows the same path as St Habib Girgis who realised that education cannot develop in isolation. His Grace therefore gathers knowledge for his pedagogical work from various orthodox churches, Christian communities and even various religions. Through His Grace’s efforts the Coptic Church now enters a new millennium of studies, once more aspiring to become an example for others, but at the same time learning from others. This will surely transform not only Coptic Orthodoxy in Australia but also other parts of the Coptic world. May this award, together with the award given previously to His Holiness Tawadros II, inspire the Coptic Church to keep their heritage from the Ancient School of Alexandria.”
The new book, Habib Girgis Coptic Orthodox Educator and a Light in the Darkness, is available in paper and hardback editions. It has been published by SVS Press New York, the largest Orthodox publisher in the world, in collaboration with the Melbourne-based publishing house SAC Press.
This new title, which is part of the Coptic Studies Series, can be ordered online through the SAC Bookstore: www.sacpress.com.au
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