Sinister epilogue for a tragic case, which has plagued the Coptic-Orthodox Church since July 29, 2018. According to information revealed by his family to Agence France-Presse, Isaiah al-Makari was executed on Sunday, May 8, after his death sentence was confirmed on July 1, 2020 by the Egyptian Court of Cassation.
→ ANALYSIS. In Egypt, the very political trial of the monks of Saint-Macaire accused of murder
This former Coptic-Orthodox monk was found guilty of the murder, almost three years ago, of Mgr Anba Epiphanius, Coptic-Orthodox bishop of the monastery of Saint Macarius of Scété, in Wadi el-Natroun, about 80 km to the north- west of Cairo. “We were informed this morning that the execution had taken place in Damanhour prison and I am on my way to recover the body”, Isaiah al-Makari’s brother told AFP.
Egyptian justice concluded that the former monk had accomplished his crime in the company of another monk, Philotheos al-Makari, residing like him in the monastery whose prior was Bishop Epiphanius. However, Philotheos al-Makari had his death sentence commuted to 25 years in prison, which constitutes life in Egypt.
One of the great voices of Egyptian monasticism
Isaiah al-Makari had confessed to having struck the bishop with a metal bar, with the complicity of Philotheos al-Makari. Considered one of the great voices of Egyptian monasticism, influential member of the Monastic Committee of the Holy Synod and former “right hand” of Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria in the field of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, Bishop Epiphanius was found lying in a hallway of the monastery, bloody wounds to the head.
→ READ. In Egypt, the sentence of one of the assassins of the prior of Saint-Macarius could be revised
However, it is not certain that the execution of the sentence puts an end to a case, which deeply moved the Coptic community, and whose motives remain, in part, mysterious. Rumors about the possible motives for the murder (ambition and morals, in mind) have continued to circulate over the months but the authorities have simply mentioned “Disputes” between the three men of the Church. The two monks were indeed presented by the local media as young supporters of the former conservative Pope Chenouda III, the predecessor of Tawadros II, who since 2012 has advocated a slightly more modern line than in the past.
“It must be taken into consideration that there are many tensions between two camps in the monastery: one was ordained by Anba Matta El Maskine (1919-2006) – the predecessor of Bishop Epiphanius, himself inscribed in his line -, which worked considerably for the rebirth of Saint Macarius by encouraging erudition, meticulous work, and the other – more traditionalist, non-reformist – by Pope Shenouda III ”, explained to The cross a source familiar with the matter, in July 2020.
“Bishop Epiphanius arrived in this complicated climate. A few months before his death, and while a synodal commission had decided to dismiss some monks from this second camp, he had decided to give them a second chance ”, she traces. “In the aftermath of this latest court ruling for his murderers, tensions continue to exist. The first camp is certainly strengthened, recognized – the decisions of the Court of Cassation are difficult to contest! – while the second keeps a low profile… ”
Account closures on social networks
Following the bishop’s death, the Coptic Orthodox Church announced a series of restrictive measures linked to the activities of the monks. The latter notably had a month to deactivate all their accounts on social networks, according to state media. “His death may have been an opportunity to try to silence those who have long criticized the decisions of Pope Tawadros II on social networks or on their own websites”, explained in 2019 to The cross Father Rafic Greiche, at the time parish priest of the Melkite Saint-Cyril parish in Heliopolis, Cairo, and responsible for the Catholic weekly The messenger.
Tragic divisions in an Egyptian monastery
Coptic-Orthodox Pope Tawadros II himself closed his official Facebook page. A few weeks after the murder, a commission appointed by the latter had again decided to “disperse” a handful of monks from Saint-Macaire, by sending them to other buildings. All these measures seem to suggest the existence of deep dissension within the Church, which could be at the origin of the murder of the bishop. The ecclesiastical authorities of Alexandria have always remained silent on this thorny affair.