(SVOTS) - Dean and Professor of Patristics The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr recently journeyed to Egypt as the guest of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria. The SVOTS dean was accompanied by His Grace Bishop Suriel of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Melbourne and Affiliated Regions. Bishop Suriel is familiar with St. Vladimir's Seminary; during his years of ministry in North America in the 1990s he studied towards a Masters degree on the Yonkers campus and has served as a guest lecturer at the seminary's Eastern–Oriental Orthodox Symposium. In March of this year, Bishop Suriel visited the Seminary to discuss a cooperative relationship between SVOTS and St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Theological College in Donvale, Victoria. Photo gallery available here.
In Egypt, Father John spoke on "Orthodox Theological Education in the Twenty-First Century" at the "Theological and Ecclesiastical Institutes Seminar," called by Pope Tawadros to explore the spiritual formation of theological students. Held at the Anaphora Institute, a retreat and training center near the desert road between Cairo and Alexandria, the seminar featured talks by eminent Coptic bishops, clergy, and scholars.
"Before the conference, it was deeply moving to visit the Monastery of St. Anthony on the Red Sea," said Fr. John, "and to be welcomed by the abbot Fr. Ruwais Antony and his community. The stark, beautiful landscape was the backdrop for their truly beautiful and ancient church and other outbuildings, such as the keep built by the Emperor Justinian." During the conference, Bishop Suriel arranged for Fr. John and Pope Tawadros II to meet. "For over an hour we discussed issues pertaining to the Coptic Church, St. Vladimir's Seminary, theological education, and how we might cooperate in future endeavors," said Fr. John.
"From the time I arrived and was warmly greeted and escorted through customs 'VIP style' in Cairo," added Fr. John, "my host Bishop Suriel could not have been more thoughtful and gracious. In one marvelous day, for instance, we visited the Egyptian Museum with its extraordinary collection of antiquities; the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo, with its amazing collection of very early frescoes; the various churches of Old Cairo including the famous Hanging Church; and finally, the 'Sound & Light Show' at the Pyramids of Giza. He also traveled with me after the conference to the monasteries in the desert of Scetis. At Baramous Monastery I spoke to the monks for several hours about my recent work on the themes of life, death, and our humanity." As the political situation became increasingly tense over the course of Fr. John's stay in Egypt, Bishop Suriel arranged for Fr. John to depart on an earlier flight, ensuring his safe passage to the Cairo airport.
After Bishop Suriel's March visit to St. Vladimir's, first–year Coptic seminarian Mina Andrews explained his contribution to the Coptic Church. "He is a pioneer in the establishment of the first accredited Coptic Seminary in the diaspora. His Grace's vision has been very much influenced by the late Pope Shenouda III and His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, and his work is not only recognized in his diocese but in the church at large."