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In an age (the 5th century to be exact) when Egyptian monasticism was threatened by rebellious monks and the peasantry was plagued with ignorance (in terms of religious education), St. Besa the Archimandrite, successor of St. Shenouda, preserved the heritage of a harmonious, communal living among monks and nuns alike. St. Besa, abbot of the White Monastery after St. Shenouda's repose, has been quite underestimated. For example, Worrell writes, "Besa was a timid, apologetic creature, as was indeed inevitable, considering the overbearing character of the master (i.e., Shenoute). His writings are pale and characterless. He quotes the Bible and his master, in the worship of whose memory his effort is exhausted" (Worrell 26). By exploring his character, his writings and exhortations, and his administration of both the White Monastery and the outside world (i.e., neighboring villages, deacons, clergy, etc.), one will see the true St. Besa -- a light atop the hill of monasticism.
His character was that of strength and a firm sense of duty. His love for the book of Proverbs, Isaiah, and Jeremiah show the extent of value he places on ethical teachings and spiritual rebuke (Kuhn I, 40). For example, the so-called "weak" Besa did not hesitate to write a letter of rebuke to the nun Aphthonia, who was the daughter of the comes Alexandros (Kuhn I, 48). He must have been not only firm in character, but wise: he dealt with such problems as theft, the reluctance to renounce property by monks and nuns, and the reluctance to separate from the world (i.e., accepting material gifts and leaving the monastery without permission) (Kuhn II, 177, 184). Additionally, many of the "brethren" did not agree with his open punitive system. Despite this disagreement, he remained unchanged and quoted the Bible to support his views (specifically, 1Tim 5.20). His strong stance on the ethical teachings of monasticism and the Bible kept monasticism alive in such times of tribulation.
His writings also show his powerful character. His exhortations were passionate, especially when dealing with a specific problem (Kuhn I, 45). He overflowed his writings with Biblical quotations, sometimes to the extent that his own words became difficult to discern from the Biblical verses. Despite the forceful exhortations and adamant character, St. Besa also shows, through his writings, the compassion and love he held for his monks and nuns. For example, in the Letter to Herai, he writes, "Do not think that I say these things hating you, but truly I am grieved at the hardness of heart which has come over you" (Besa 108). Additionally, in his letter to the nun Antinoe, he gives her hope for repentance and a new life (Besa 96). Finally, a common pattern in his letters to those who have broken the rules of monasticism is that he never ceases to encourage his "sons and daughters" with hope and love at the end of every letter.
Not only was he forceful in character and compassionate in heart, but he was also wise in administration. According to Kuhn, "...Besa realized that an important aspect of the monastic way of life was the influence which it exercised on the world outside" (Kuhn II, 148). St. Besa wrote to neighboring villages which assumes that he held pastoral authority over them. He also opened the gates of the monastery when a famine struck Egypt and left 6,000 refugees seeking shelter (Kuhn II, 178-179). His influence on the outside world may be more than what is presented in his writings. Kuhn suggests the possibility that St. Besa was the same "Apa Besa" who had an interview with emperor Zeno, according to a fragment of a leaf in the British Museum (Kuhn I, 38). Monasticism continued to play a pivotal role in the "outside world" thanks to St. Besa.
With 4000 monks and nuns under him (2200 monks and 1800 nuns -- the Arabic estimate as accepted by J. Leipoldt), he could not have been a weak figure. Many people of different economic and social status took the vows of monasticism. He, in his wisdom and experience in serving under St. Shenouda, handled all the problems and needs that arose from his "sons and daughters." His continued exhortations helped those monks who were weak to stand strong for their faith. St. Shenouda would not have given up his life's work (the monastery) to a man who was weak. Kuhn writes of St. Besa, "Besa was a successor of a man greater than himself. All the more must he be admired for having preserved intact the heritage into which he entered" (Kuhn III, 48).
Kuhn, K.H. A Fifth Century Abbot. Journal of Theological Studies, N.S.,
Kuhn, K.H. Letters and Sermons of Besa, CSCO IS7, S. Copt. 22, Translation, Louvain, 1956. (Besa)
Worrell, W.H. "A Short Account of the Copts." Ann Arbor, 1945 (Worrell).
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Introduction: The Coptic Synaxarium is an Arabic synopsis of the lives of the Saints, accepted in the Coptic Church; as well as a record of important historical events in the History of the Church, as celebrated by the Copts. It is arranged in the order of the days of the Coptic Calendar. The current recension in-use by the Coptic Church is the Lower Egyptian Recension which became the dominant version. However the orientalists R. Basset and I. Forget, in the first quarter of the 20th century, recognized a different recension, which is called the Upper Egyptian Recension. The Paris Bibliotheque National Arabe 4869 (CML 1595) preserved a portion of this recension. It is characterized by longer version of the life of Upper Egyptian saints as well as being sole source for some others from that region. The text translated below is the longer version of the commemoration of the martyrdom of Apa Kau in the 28th day of the 5th month of the year (Tubah). He was from the time of Arianus in the early 4th century AD. There is a shorter version preserved in our current edition of the synaxarium.
(267R) On this day also, Saint Apa Kau was martyred during that time when Kelkianos had taken an edict from Diocletian that everyone who does not worship the new idols is to be killed by every bad death.
And there was in these days a person from the village, a Namosi(?), named Kau. He went out for a short (distance) outside his village and built a palace and worshipped and lived in it and he was practiced asceticism with great worshipping. And he did not break his fast except from the Saturday to the Saturday and did not eat anything that blood comes out of it and never drank wine. And the residents of his village (used to) come to him and be blessed from him and (he) healed the sick and all the afflicted among them.
And while he was doing his worshiping and prayers on the eve of the 26th of Kiahk, Behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him. (267V) So the saint said to him,"who are you my master?" He told him,"I am Gabriel the archangel, why are you sitting and the struggle is going on. Behold, if you get up early, go to the seashore, you will find the prince Kelkianos torturing the Christians, so confess the Lord Christ before him and he will send you to Ansana and you will conclude your struggle in that place."
And immediately he disappeared from him, and the saint Apa Kau did not hesitate at all, but got up at dawn and left his disciple in his house and told him,"stay here and if someone came asking for me, tell him; my father went to look after a brother of his. Be steadfast till I come to you and do your prayers as you used to see me everyday till the will of God be." And he prayed and kissed his disciple and came out from his presence and reached the seashore and cried out saying,"O son of iniquity, you (who is) defiled more than all the people, why did you abandon God away from you and worshipped the idols?" So when the governor heard this talk from the saint, he said to him, "you (are) from where? and from which place have you come? and what is your name? and how can you say this (lit. speech)?" So the saint said to him, "First of all I am a Christian and a servant of the Lord Christ, and you also know that there is no god beside Him. As for me, I am from the neighborhood of Fayoum, from the village Bemai (sic)." And the governor looked up at his face and saw (268R) the grace of God (and) said to him, "I have pity upon your old age, and I will not take your head off by the sword, but worship the idols of the king".
And the saint Apa Kau said, "This will never be done by me, that I abandon my Lord Jesus Christ and worship the cursed idols". The governor said to him, "I will let them bring to you Apollon, to see his beauty." And he ordered that it be brought, and immediately, the governor hastily worshipped it and the saint was laughing at them. Then he said to the governor, "I will talk to it and see if it can talk back to me also." The governor became happy and thought that he (will) worship it, and the saint walked towards the idol. Kelkianos, when he went to the king Diocletian, he gave him an idol of gold adorned with precious stones being a cubit and a half, called Apolon. And he became happy with it more than all his wealth. And the saint carried (that) idol in his bosom and threw it on the ground and it became two pieces, and when the governor looked at what was there, he went for his garment with his hand and tore it and became angery with great hatred and ordered the saint to be raised up to the hanbazin(squeezer) and be stretched from six in the morning till the eighth hour, and they stretched him until his blood flowed like water. And the soldiers became tired and fatigued and said, "O our master the prince, we are tired and exhausted and (he) did not suffer at all, and he did not seize mentioning Jesus Christ." So the governor ordered him to be brought down and presented (268V) to him, and told him, "(You) tasted the beginning of torture and it is difficult", and the martyr Apa Kau said to him, "O son of iniquity, do (you) not know that I have my Lord Jesus Christ strengthening me, and now make up your mind fast" and the governor ordered him to be tied up and carried with a group of the saints and be taken to the city of Al-Bahnasa. And the governor stood up being angry because of the breaking of the golden idol and did not eat and did not drink on that day, and the governor sat down and ordered everyone to sacrifice on that day. And they brought to him the martyr Apa Kau and he told him, "Worship the idols lest you die." The strong- hearted martyr said to him, "You cannot deceive me to abandon Jesus Christ, the Creator of the heavens and the earth." And the governor ordered him to be (stretched) between four soldiers, and then to whip him with (specially treated) leather until his blood was flowing like water. And a born-blind person came and put his finger on the ground and took from the martyr's blood and put it upon his eyes and saw.
So all the multitude cried out saying, "There is no god in heaven and on earth except Jesus Christ". Thus the governor ordered that they kill everyone who believes in the name of Christ. They counted all who were killed on this day and found them to be 500 and they locked the martyr Apa Kau in prison in Ansana. And while he (269R) was praying, the hater of goodness appeared to him in the garment of an angel from God and said to him, "Peace to you O saint of the Lord, Apa Kau, the governor will ask for you in the morning, and will get you out of prison. So advance and worship Apollon in order that you be rescued from his hands and to (go) to (whatever) place you want." And the saint Apa Kau thought that he is an angel of God. He prayed and he heard the voice of the Lord saying to him, "DO NOT FEAR, I AM WITH YOU, AND NOW, HOLD HE WHO IS STANDING, THE ONE WHO IS TALKING TO YOU, AND HE WILL TELL YOU WHO HE IS." The martyr, advanced with the power of God which is resting in him, and caught the demon and said to him, "Who are you?" (he) said to him, "Let go of me and I will tell you." The saint said to him, "Tell me first and I will let you go." (The demon) said to him, "I am sofonasar the wicked demon who preached iniquity and who loves iniquity, adultery, and fornication. I am the one that made Adam disobey with your mother Eve." And he talked to (the saint ) a lot, so the saint said to him, "Who sent you to me?" (The demon) told him, " my father, the devil, who is the origin of all evil, and I accomplish them by his order." The saint said to him, "If you do not accomplish a matter, and go back to him, what will (become) of you?" The demon told him, "if our father sent one of us to a saint and could not deceive him, (he) will not be able to appear in front of him on that day and he will ask whoever he meets to torture him with great tortures." The saint said to the demon, "What is that which you do?" The demon said to him, "If we see a person doing the will of the Lord, we put evil in his heart, and do not let him do the good, and if we see (269V) a person going to church, we stop him." So saint Apa Kau tied up the demon and punished him with the iron chains (with) which he was tied, so he cried out saying, "I swear upon you by the power of Jesus Christ to let go of me." The governor sent and asked for the saint, so they brought him out of prison and went with him, and the demon with him tied up and being dragged. And when he came to a dirty place, he threw him into it with great disgrace.
When the martyr Apa Kau stood before the governor (who) said to him, "Worship the gods." The saint said to him, "This is something that I will never do," so (the governor) ordered (the saint) to be thrown in the fire alive. And the angel of the Lord came down and saved him, and the martyr cried out and said, "Be ashamed O pagan." And the governor asked who was this, and they told him it is Kau the monk, so he was angered and tortured (him) with difficult torture, (but) the angel of the Lord saved him, and a great multitude believed because of him and their heads were taken (off) by the edge of the sword. And after that the Lord Christ appeared to the saint and promised him the good promises saying" ANYONE WHO IS IN HARDSHIP OR DISTRESS AND ASKED ME IN YOUR NAME, I WILL SAVE HIM."
And the governor (then) sentenced him to be beheaded, and the saint said to the soldiers, "leave me until I pray to the treasure who is full of tenderness and mercy, my Lord Jesus Christ. He Whom I am waiting for his heavenly city Jerusalem." The saint prayed saying, "O Master Jesus (270R) Christ, I accepted all these hardships upon His Holy Name, hear my prayer today and fulfill all my requests," and the voice of the Lord called him saying" EVERYTHING YOU ASKED FOR WILL BE YOURS AND MORE". And when he heard this, he stretched his pure neck, being joyful and happy, and his head was cut off at the time of the sixth hour of the day, and the angels of light took his soul and the Lord put upon him three crowns and (he) celebrated with the saints in the holy city Jerusalem, and immediately they took his body and brought it to the palace where he was living until a church was built upon his name and they placed his body in it. And God showed forth from him miracles and wonders. May God have mercy upon us through his prayers Amen.
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The most inspiring collection of martyrdoms in Coptic is that of the persecutions of Diocletian and his coregents, in the beginning of the 4th century AD. Because of the popularity of such literature among the Copts of Egypt, these beautiful historical stories became colored with popular folklore. Those folkloric additions, though well-intentioned, clouded the authenticity of the acts of those athletes of Christ. This prompted the prominent hagiography scholar H. Delehaye in the early 1920's to label such acts as "cette misérable littérature". This was a scholarly death sentence on such a vital part of our Coptic heritage, not to mention its insulting nature to the Copts in general.
In the early 1970's, Reymond and Barnes, provided the first vindication of some of those acts, in the edition of the Morgan M591 Acts of St. Colluthus , from the same era. Now we have an even more impressive hagiographic document, namely P.Duke Inv.438. This fragmentary single papyrus leaf gives a written eye-witness account of the trial of a priest named Stephanos from the Antinoite Nome of Upper Egypt. It began with his emergence on the scene out of prison and ended with his martyrdom by burning on the same day. It is dated Kiahk AD. 305, and presided over by the notorious of Satrius Arrianus, governor of the Thebaid. All that is recorded on that page is the actions and the conversations that watchers of the trial were witnessing to. There is no doubt that it was written by a Christian Egyptian, possibly a civil servant, at a time shortly after the event probably for his own personal edification! This papyrus fragment was published by Dr. Peter van Minnen of Duke in Anelecta Bollandiana 113 (1995), pp. 13-38. Ironically, this periodical is the same one that Delehaye published his condemnation of the Coptic acts of martyrs in 1922!
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We thank God for giving us this blessing of having a Coptic Regional Center (or mini-center) open at our church, close to the Coptic community in Orange County, California.
On Saturday, July 22 1995, the first branch of the Coptic Society outside of Los Angeles was opened in Orange County, California. The "mini-center" will serve as a bridge, linking the main center in Los Angeles, with its wealth of Coptic treasures, to the communities that are too far from it.
The day began with an all-Coptic Liturgy in which five priests participated along with a large number of deacons. After the Liturgy there were many displays featuring Coptic Art, literature, newly-developed Coptic software, and Coptic manuscripts. The software displayed (and sold) included Coptic lessons and a comprehensive Coptic-English dictionary. The microfiche of Coptic manuscripts and research material that were displayed, are just a few out of nearly 20,000 fiche in the collection of the Society. Following these displays, lectures were delivered by a various speakers. First to speak was Fr. Athanasius who related the importance of keeping in touch with our Coptic heritage. Next, Mr. Hany Takla, president of the Coptic Society, spoke on the founding, goals, and accomplishments of the Society. Following him, Mr. Maged Mikhail lectured on the character of St. Shenouda and his important contributions to the Coptic heritage.
After the day was completed, Mr. Takla pulled aside some of the members of the society who will be responsible for the functioning of the new mini-center and gave some advice. Such advice seemed to be directed to the Coptic people in the whole world. He emphasized the fact that "Before we can present the treasures that the Coptic Culture has to offer to others, we must first dive deep into ourselves and taste its goodness."
During the long course of our Coptic history, our fathers steered the Church through many violent storms. Violence waged on our Church by various ideologies and groups of people such as the heretics, the tyrants who persecuted, the philosophers, and others were decisively overcome through the link our fathers had with God. Today, in our world, we face many of the same challenges that faced our fathers. These challenges threaten to shake our very existence as Orthodox Christians. Various philosophies and ideologies contrary to the teachings of our Lord run dominant in lands in which we now abide. A serious attempt must therefore be made to unite ourselves with the character of our victorious fathers. A character shaped by the Spirit of God. Such a character is persevered and discovered in our Coptic traditions, teachings, and the history of our fathers.
In a foreign land, the Coptic Society provides us with the closest link to our Coptic heritage, traditions and teachings of our fathers. Its main goal is to promote and revive the Coptic culture anywhere there are Copts. The Coptic Society possesses one of the largest, if not the largest, library of Coptic material ever assembled in the world.
The mini Coptic center is the communication link between the main center and the other communities far from the main center. Like a branch that is fastened to the only True Vine, which expands its arms for the birds to take shelter and for men to enjoy its fruits. Such center will provide accessibility for a greater number of Copts to our Heritage, or rather, to the roots of our faith. God's willing, members of the Church community are going to have much easier access to the huge amount of resources of the Coptic Society. Such access, we hope in Christ, will encourage more Copts to learn, study, discover, and share our heritage. For indeed, such a link to our fathers and an understanding concerning our faith, traditions, and the Word of God will consequently lead to the utmost goal: a closer, more sincere, and deeper relationship between each of us and God.
Hours of the mini-center are:
Activities already in progress:
(in both of which we need more youth to participate)
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1. The NKCSC Project: The Coptic New Testament will be released late in October 1995. It will be similar to the Bohairic Dictionary in its hyper-text appearance. It will allow the users to navigate through the New Testament by book and chapter, with a choice of viewing them in parallel Bohairic/English (KJV) or Sahidic/Greek combinations. This program will be distributed in three separate arrangement; Bohairic/English, Sahidic/Greek, or a combination of both.
2. Coptic Word Games Handbook: Sixteen of our Coptic youth, affiliated with the new Orange County Mini Coptic Center are working on this great Coptic educational tool. The effort is coordinated by the most diligent of youth there, Miss Mariam Fahim. The fruit of this wonderful endeavor will be available in December of this year. The price will be $1.70 for members and $2.00 for non members.
3. The Scriptorium in Los Angeles: On September 10, 1995, Drs. Scott Carroll and Bastiaan van Eldren gave a slide presentation on the results of the first season of the excavation of the St. John the Little monastery in Egypt. This was sponsored by the Orange County Mini Coptic Center, and was conducted at Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church in Santa Ana, where the center is located. On Saturday October 28, 1995 at 8:p.m. The same two scholars will speak about that subject at St. Peter and St. Paul Coptic Orthodox Church, Located at 1245 4th St., Santa Monica, CA. An exhibition of Coptic manuscripts and other rare biblical material will be on display, courtesy of the Scriptorium. This will be the largest exhibition of such material that will have the chance to view unless to go and visit their headquarters in Grand Haven, Michigan. They will also be accompanied by our friend Dr. Jerry Patengale.
4. The Second Annual Alumni Retreat of St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church of Heliopolis, Cairo: The Society Sponsored this second annual retreat during the period of September 15-17, in Holiday Inn in Mission Valley, San Diego, CA. A short talk about the Society and its work was given by Mr. Hany Takla, the Society's President. It was warmly received by all that were in attendance, especially the main speakers, Fr. Antonious Amin of St. Mark Church and Dr. Nabil B. Soliman of Los Angeles. We were subsequently blessed by a visit to the Center from Fr. Antonious on his way to the Airport. This event will have a significant impact on the future of the Society. It was very gratifying to see and watch 3 generations in the ecclesiastical sense and how Orthodox Christian Devotion from the disciple to the teacher and the love that the teacher had for his disciples!
5. The Society on The Internet: One of the positive things that came out of the retreat was a call for getting ourselves and our children involved in the Computer World around us. We took this as a mandate and now we established a space for the Society on the Internet's World Wide Web, to be better communicate our message to our generation and to the World. The space will be ready on December 4, 1995 (the 2nd Anniversary of the Opening of our Current location of the Coptic Center). You can visit it now, but remember it is still in beta testing format. The Address is:
6. The Society's Elections: The Election is over and the new elected officers for the term 1995-98, are as follows:
The rest of the members of the General Committee will be chosen this month, and their names will be communicated to you in the upcoming newsletter.
7. Correspondences: We have received. a letter from Professor F. Stanley Jones of the Dept. of Religious Studies of California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). In it he mentioned that he will be offering a course on Introduction to Aramaic (Syriac/Biblical Aramaic) at CSULB in the spring semester in 1996, Thursday evenings from 7:00 to 9:45 p.m.. It will be available through the University Extension Services Tel (310) 985-5561. Such class may be of interest, considering the rich literature of works in Syriac that is related to the Coptic Church.
8. Publications by Copts:..We also received a letter from Prof. Ishak of Toronto, Canada. In this regards we would like to alter our readers to the admirable publication that Dr. Ishak edits in English annually, under the name of Coptologia. Since 1980, such publication brought out many important articles dealing with our Coptic Heritage and written by prominent scholars, Copts and others. Their business address is: Coptologia Publications, P.O. Box 235, Don Mills, ON, Canada M3C 2S2.
Mr. Maged Attia of Sydney Australia has authored a book under the title "The Coptic Orthodox Church of Australia (1969-1994)". This 200-page book outlines the history of the Copts in Australia and the establishment of their 21 churches, 2 monasteries, Theological College, primary and secondary schools, and nursing home. Pope Shenouda wrote the introduction to the book. It can be ordered from: Coptic Orthodox Church Publication, P.O. Box B63, Bexely NSW 2207, Australia the price is $15.00.
The Society has two important publications that it is sponsoring their distribution. The first is a 2-volume set of "Coptic Art". A collection of over 370 beautiful color plates of Coptic Art treasures with a brief caption accompanying each plate. An indispensable set to have by all those interested in the Coptic Heritage. The price is $35.00 for members, and $40.00 for non-members. The second publication is a 2-volume set of analysis of the Coptic and Greek texts of the Liturgy of St. Basil in English. The publication is titled "Analysis of the Liturgy of St. Basil". It does not require extensive knowledge of Coptic and practically no knowledge of Greek to use. It is a must for everyone studying the text of the liturgy for academic or devotional purposes. The price is $24.00 for members and $28.00 for non-members.
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Prepared by Hany N. Takla. Last Update 3/18/95
For more information contact HTakla@stshenouda.com