Interview with His Eminence Anba Ermia, General Bishop and Head of the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Center with “Al Ahram Al Arabi”.
Interview by Mervat Fahd – Photography by Mahmoud Shaaban
– I call Egyptians to choose a president that commensurate with Egypt
– Egyptians awareness and political leadership wisdom saved the country from falling apart
– President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi does not side with any Egyptians Sects
– Egypt is not only the heart of the Arab world but the heart of the whole world
– I asks all Egyptians to be positive … Negativity is perilous to all of us
Moments and events defines the history of the nations and form the course of the future, that future generations look for, future generations that needs those who illuminate the road and push them toward the doors of hope.
Egypt is now writing a new page of its long history by holding the 2018 presidential elections to complete a cycle of its democratic process. Egypt is full of inspiring leaders who will be the puller of the ones who do not know despair nor tired from work. They are the guiding light for others to move to safety.
Anba Ermia, General Bishop and Head of the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Center, one of those who have tremendous positive energy, thinks that there is nothing impossible in this life, that tomorrow is brighter, and that Egypt is coming to an age in which it will be a living force in the Arab region and the world.
In this interview, Anba Ermia, General Bishop and Head of the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Center take us on a journey in various aspects of Egypt’s history and spirit, his relation with Pope Shenouda III and the period during which the Coptic Cultural Center was established to preserve cultural and historical legacy of the Copts, and making it available to scholars and researchers. In this interview we cannot neglect to talk about the important role of the Egyptian army and the awareness of the Egyptian people to reach current stability of Egypt . Anba Ermia believes that it is important to provide positive culture and distancing the negative culture that despair the people.
to the details of the interview…
How do you see the situation in Egypt at the moment?
Egypt is beautiful and will remain beautiful. Egypt is “the mother of the world” and will be “As great as the world”. Egypt is the country where we were born, living and will die. We thank our Lord that Egypt started to move toward stability after a very critical period thanks to the awareness of the people and their believe and love for the country, and the presence of conscious leaders in Al-Azhar represented by His Excellency Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, and in the Church represented by His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, by joining together with the support of a strong institutions like the army and the dedication of all Egyptians to rebuild their country under the leadership of Conscious man that doesn’t differentiate between Muslims and Christians. When he began building the mosque, he also built the church in the new administrative capital, because his fond and noble feelings and to lead the country to stability.
How can stability be achieved for Egypt?
The upcoming period in the history of Egypt is very sensitive, and positivity is needed from each Egyptian. I ask all Egyptians to be positive, because without positivity and optimism, there will be no bright future for this country and we want to have a successful and happy future. Positivity of thought and behavior. Many people put life conditions as a barrier toward success. If a person thinks positively, he will have positive behavior, and when thought and behavior get together man achieve positive results. The danger lies in negative thoughts, as researches has shown that masses are convinced by insistent repetition specially with myths and false news.
How can the masses be protected?
We must understand and think about how the outside world looks at us. How they follow our moves, and how they analyse it. “If President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi continues progression with the same pace, he will restore to Egypt its glorious days witnessed 3,000 years ago” said John Kaiser, president of Siemens. All the danger that can make Egypt and all of us fall apart lies in negativity. A person watching the situation without getting involved is like a soldier fleeing the battle at a time when his country needs him. I know it is impossible that Egyptians flee the battle, because of their nature, belonging and love for their country. And history is the best witness for that.
History is full of the stances of Egyptian during adversity. Late Pope Kyrillos VI and President Gamal Abdel Nasser, The two were the strongest and most influential men in the 1960s to the point where, following the defeat “relapse”, Israel commented and said: “Nasser have Kyrillos VI “the sixth” and we have the sixth fleet”. The Pope said he wanted to teach his people 3 Things: I want to teach my people about God , to love their country and true brotherhood, and Therefore, if our children have faith in God, faith and love for their country, they will surely know the danger that threatens them and they will stand against it.
So we are hours away from the presidential elections, what do you want to say to the Egyptians?
I am sure that the Egyptian people are conscious. And these traits surface during crises and adversities. They know as Egyptians that they are electing a president for Egypt rather than electing or supporting a particular person. Their election is a clear proof of their awareness of the extent of responsibility placed on their shoulders. The people must turn to the fact that the world is looking closely to Egypt now and waiting for the democratic electoral process to fail. But with people conscious all will work for good. As people had previously stood in many situations behind the presidents in 1956, 1967, 1973, 2011, 2014 and also on 30/6, 3/7 and 26/7, which means theye know their role and where they are heading to. Therefore I am not worried on the Egyptian people. Egyptians are positive and not negative. And knows the extent of danger surrounding them. I am sure that as Egyptians they will get their country through this period.
How do you see the war on terrorism?
The country is currently at war. People do not feel that there is war. But we already have a war in Sinai to clear Egypt of terrorist elements. I think that all Egyptians understand and are aware that Egypt is surrounded from all directions by stalkers. Because Egypt is not only the heart of the Arab world but the heart of the whole world. It was the refuge of the prophets in the past and their safe-house. Now, the world observe Egypt, since who control Egypt will control the world.
May our Lord support the army and the police and they will prevail, God’s willing.
As your Eminence are the Assistant Secretary General of the Egyptian Family House, what about Christian-Muslim dialogue?
It is in the interest of the Egyptian family house to change the existing culture, to push people to love each other, to work together and to shed light the commonalities that exist between them. For this purpose, we seek through the branches of the family house and through the Executive Committee to present this thought to all of Egypt and export it to the whole world. We thank our Lord that the Egyptian family house won Imam Hassan bin Ali International award. Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, delegated Dr. Hamdi Zaqzouq, Secretary-General of the Egyptian Family House, Grand Imamam Advisor and former Minister of Awqaf, and I traveled with him as Assistant Secretary General and received the award in Abu Dhabi. We gave this award to the Egyptian family house to help finance its activities, which are offered free of charge. And all workers are volunteering to serve the country without getting paid.
How do you see the visit of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to the Cathedral and His Holiness Pope Tawadros II?
It is a new and conscious vision and a different and new future for Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. Of course, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II greeted his excellency. Reception was well conveyed by all the media. It is, of course, the first time that the Saudi Crown Prince visits the cathedral. It is a wonderful first step, God willing, in the course of other steady steps.
How do you see the media at the moment?
Media is the message I want to send to reaches houses, people and youth through different media. If the message broadcasted aims to publicize belonging to the nation and unity, people will benefit. But if it is a message of division and destruction, people will lose. This is due to the media presenter and the objective of this media. It can send untrue or true message. What I demand is that all media presenters be fair when doing their jobs. for the sake of God, the country and the people and the message they receive, and do not run behind false news or malicious rumors. There are people who believe in this country and its cause and are loyal to it. There are others who have bad intentions and purposes. People by nature side with negatives. But if we leave the negatives and hold on to the positives, I think our country and people will rise and grow. The people need a leader, to continue growing, not those who divide and push them to fall apart.
What is the meaning of the word bishop and Diocese?
Bishop means “Overseer”. The bishop is a patron and father who is concerned with his parish. He is concerned with his congregation. He ordains priests and organize work and relation between them, the congregation and the parish. And is the link between them and the province and the center where the diocese is located. Apply for building or repairing churches permits. He has good relations with his Muslim brothers and tries to solve any problems. Any bishop is a member of the Holy Synod of the Church, which is currently headed by His Holiness Pope Tawadaros II. The diocese is the place where the bishop lives and runs the the church affairs.
How have you followed the monasticism path?
Generally anyone who thought to become a monk, have loved God more than anything in the world. Which leads him to follow the path of monasticism. The world becomes small in the eye of this person. God becomes everything in his life. He abandon everything very easily and goes to the desert. His heart becomes inflamed with the love of God. For him, God is everything. He forgets and leave Everyone to be with the one, God. It is a growing love, and desires. As spiritual growth continues, the person become free from all worldly bonds faster.
After becoming monk, did you thought of becoming bishop?
Frankly, I was ordained as monk in the monastery of St. Mina in the desert of Mariout. The Abbot at that time was late Anba Mina Ava Mina, may his soul rest in peace. There were no monks in the monastery who received the priesthood order. And therefore monks do not leave the monastery to serve outside. For that reason, I joined the monastery of St. Mina, because I definitively did not want to go serve outside the monastery. I planned to join the monastery and not leave it again. Of course, our Lord has other ways and plans. Which we obey.
What is the meaning of your name “Ermia”?
I was given the name Ermia after becoming monk and Bishop. And its meaning is Lord establishes, or the Lord found. It is Hebrew name. In English “Jeremiah” and in Coptic language “Aramias’.
What was the idea behind the establishment of the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Center?
It is a long story. But in brief it was the idea of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III. The idea turned into a dream and the dream was achieved. This center was inaugurated on 14/11/2008. Current year marks the tenth anniversary of the inauguration of the center. We thank our Lord for giving and blessing us with a patriarch who is a patron of culture, Pope Tawadros II, who complements the same idea and dream and is a succession of Pope Shenouda III, and that culture center is for the benefit of our children and Egypt.
What is the purpose of the center?
Of course there is a purpose for establishing the center. Including preserving the rich Coptic heritage, culture and history, and making it available to researchers all over the world. Documenting all the ancient monasteries and Coptic monuments that are important in the history of Egypt. Increase cultural and educational exchanges with other institutions. Support the cause of the cohesion and harmony of ecumenical movement with the traditions and beliefs of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Building bridges of understanding between the Church and the Egyptian society. Supporting the poor, the sick, the disabled and the needy.
From your point of view, what is the Coptic culture?
It is a very broad word. But briefly Copts or Coptic came from Egyptos and Egypt. At the beginning of Muslim conquest of Egypt, Egypt people were called Copts of Egypt and not Copts only because they were many in term of number. Now they are called Copts, because their number decreased. The Coptic culture is part of Egyptian history and is an integral part of the Pharaonic, Roman, Coptic and Islamic civilization. There are many mosques built by Christian engineers. They were influenced by Coptic art when they built the mosques. There is always interlace between arts and civilizations.
Are Egyptians still influenced by Coptic culture?
Sure. The customs that exist are purely Egyptian customs back to the Pharaohs time, such as burial method and the third day deceased commemoration, and the gatherings at the feasts and other occasions, as I do not want to call them “Mawlid” (carnival).
Are Egyptian Christians influenced by this culture?
Characteristics of the Egyptian and his genes – Genetic characteristics – are the same all over Egypt. You can only distinguish Christian from Muslim at prayer time at the church or the mosque. As proof, people live together and deal with each other. Neighbor may deliver cooking plates or feast Cookies to her neighbor. There is a kind of cohesion between people. It is difficult to find a difference between them.
You was Pope Shenouda personal secretary from 1995 until his departure. What can you say about him?
Pope Shenouda III loved Egypt. He has a famous quote: “Egypt is not a country we live in, but a country that lives within us.” He carried Egypt in his heart while traveling abroad. He always talked about the country in a good way. He teached his children to do so and to belong to the country and love Egypt. And one of the most beautiful tales and memories he recounted was the time during which he was an officer in the army.
What was he saying about that time?
In the days of Pope Shenouda III, University students were exempt from joining the Army. And It was also possible to pay an amount of money in order to be exempt. But he volunteered while he was still a student at the university. 3 years in the army ongoing daily military training in Sidi Bishr first military and then in Mandara, Alexandria. He was top of his batch at the Infantry School. In the army, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III has learned many skills.
The most important are order, seriousness, scrutiny, to be active and self-reliance. This period was very beneficial for him both psychologically and physically. There were athletic and practical exercises that required patience and endurance as well as obedience and discipline. He always mentioned that he was responsible of preparing meals during the month of Ramadan. He prepared the pre-dawn (Sahoor) and Eiftar meals with great devotion, that his colleagues always nominated him to do that task.
Are there any special memories as you were close to him?
When he joined the army, he learned and get used to the military march. He continued to be influenced by marching pace even after army, so much so that if someone walked by him the pope had to try to walk with the man pace. Often, the pope was affected by the slow pace of the one walking by him, that they may stumble. Here we say, “stagger walk”
What did you learn from him?