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The Departure of His Holiness Pope Kyrillos VI



On this day, March 9 (Amshir 30), we commemorate the departure of the Great Pope and Saint, Papa Abba Kyrillos (Cyril) VI, the 116th successor of the Throne of St. Mark the Evangelist, and the Pope and Patriarch of the See of Alexandria. He was a holy man who excelled first and foremost in spiritual virtue by dedicating his soul to the life of fasting and prayer; this inner lifestyle was steadfastly and incessantly maintained throughout his whole life regardless of changing circumstances and conditions. Various gifts were bestowed upon him by The Goodness and Grace of our Lord, including prescience, clairvoyance, bilocation, and the ability to heal the sick, though it was the most important of gifts: Love, which truly earned this Holy man the title of Saint. His papacy was also marked by the unprecedented Apparitions of the Blessed Holy Virgin Theotokos St Mary in Zeitun, Egypt, as well as the return of the Holy Relics of founder of the Coptic Church: St Mark the Evangelist.

He was born in 1902 under the name Azer, and at the age of twenty-eight he was drawn to the monastic life, and was consequently ordained a monk under the name of his patron Saint, St Menas the Martyr, in Baramous Monastery. When he heard that he was promoted by Pope Youannis to be appointed as a Church Bishop , he escaped to the monastery of Saint Shenouda in Souhag His spiritual vigilance and rigorous asceticism lead him to desire and request a life of complete solitude only two years after entering monasticism. The attempts of many to dissuade him from taking this difficult path failed, and he ultimately moved into a very dangerously situated and abandoned windmill in El-Moukatam Mountain at the outskirts of Cairo. This windmill was located many miles from the nearest city, and it was known to be inhabited by dangerous scorpions and snakes. It is this place that St Kyrillos VI found to be the ideal place to pray and contemplate on the great Love he had for our Saviour.

He was later called upon to build a Church in Ancient Cairo under the name of his patron Saint, St Menas the Martyr. Finding himself surrounded by Coptic school students, many of whom were from outside of Cairo, he served the students by establishing the first Church-affiliated dormitory, which came to produce many of today’s greatest Bishops and Theologians. Not only was he the establisher and founder of this dormitory, but he was also the humble caretaker. He would even humiliate himself to the extent of voluntarily being solely responsible for cleaning the toilets without letting anyone know, and consequently fulfilling the commandment of Christ in Matthew 20:26. “but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant”

In 1959 Fr. Mina was ordained Pope and Patriarch of the See of St Mark, and adopted the name Pope Kyrillos VI (after the great Saint Cyril of Alexandria). Pope Kyrillos did not abandon his ascetic ideals nor his life of continuous prayer and fasting when he became Patriarch. In recalling one aspect of his prayer life, the late Bishop Mina El-Samueli who spent a few years of his monastic life with Father Mina said, "Father Mina the Hermit (the late Pope Kyrillos VI) used to wake up at 2:00 am, start the midnight Agpeya prayers, bake the 'korban', raise incense then serve the holy mass which would end around 8:00 am. This meant spending six continuous hours in prayer. Afterwards, he would meet with those who were hungry and thirsty for God's mercy.” This early start to the day to glorify and worship the Lord continued throughout Pope Kyrillos’ papacy, starting each and every day at approximately 3:00 am with the Holy Paslmody, and continuing with the performance of the Divine Liturgy. His heart was so attached to the Divine Liturgy, that even in his last days on this temporal earth, when he was gravely ill, they hooked a speaker from the great Cathedral to his bedroom at his request because he could not bear not being able to perform liturgy daily as before.

Pope Kyrillos VI furthermore retained complete humility while Pope. Pope Kyrillos the Sixth did not forget at any time that he is the poor monk Mina the solitary . His meals were so poor and simple. Many days he lived on dry bread and salt. In all his fastenings he used to have one single meal after sunset and the Holy Service which he used to hold every day. His dress was so simple. Slept very few hours. He continued his daily prayers , starting early in the morning, followed by the Holy Service , praying in a low solemn voice, his head bent down , with closed eyes. Many times he could not stop his tears from falling. Pope St Kyrillos is famously quoted as having said in his first pastoral letter as Patriarch: “Let us disappear for God to appear with His blessed glory.” During a consultation that he had with a foreign priest in the Saints’ private room of the old St Mark Cathedral, the priest, seeing that the room was in such a humble condition, offered to decorate and furnish the room to a standard befitting the Saints’ position as Patriarch. In response, Pope St Kyrillos laughed, and stated: "The room in its current state is still much better than the manger where Christ The Lord of Glory was born."

Other examples of the Pope’s humility and holiness are recalled by his personal deacon Roufaiel Sobhi (the current Rafael Ava Mena). In following the example of 17th Pope of Alexandria St Peter the Seal of the Martyrs, Pope St Kyrillos would refuse to sit on the throne of St. Mark, preferring to sit at the foot of the Throne on the floor, for he could see St Mark the First Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria sitting on his own Throne. Rafael Ava Mena recalls another story in which during a procession, the Pope all of the sudden ordered him to walk with the papal staff in front of him, as opposed to behind him (as is dictated by our custom). Thinking that he had committed an error, Rafael Ava Mena apologised to the Pope; the Pope however responded with the real reason as to why he was ordered to walk in front of him, with a statement to the effect of: “Do you not know that according to custom you are to walk with the papal staff behind the Pope? Yet, there was St Mark the Apostle, the first and true Pope of Alexandria, and you were walking behind me!”

Despite his newly invested authority, in true meekness and humility, this great Saint sought to break any and all forms of barriers between himself and his sons and daughters - the congregation. After every Liturgy, he would stand for hours upon hours as the multitudes embraced him for his blessings. The Metropolitans and Bishops witnessing his evident fatigue and sweat, urged him, in their pity, to take rest. However, St Kyrillos, in his selfless love, would not even dare to upset a single member of his congregation by turning them away. Furthermore, the Pope opened his doors to anyone and everyone that needed him, placing no restrictions on time; there was no such thing as “after hours” in this Patriarch’s schedule. Even when St Kyrillos himself had been asleep, he would be awakened by his patron Saint and informed of the matter of the one who seeks him, before even speaking a word to that very person in the first place. There have been many recorded instances (most notably recorded by the personal deacon of St Kyrillos, Deacon Roufaiel Sobhi - the current Rafael Ava Mena) where people have either voluntarily turned away, or turned away by those servicing the papal residence, on account of the fact that the Pope was asleep, only to find the Pope himself suddenly awake and dressed before them, calling the inquiring person by name and knew of every relevant detail of the issues at hand.

He was informed of the time of his departure. That day he met with his flock that used to visit him as usual. Then when the last person left, he called the driver and told him he was travelling. The driver left to start warming up the car, and on returning found that Pope Kyrillos had truly travelled and gone to the place that had been prepared for him by our Saviour he loved so much.

Pope St Kyrillos has been characteristically labelled the “Friend of the Saints”, for he was known to have a unique personal relationship with St Mary the Theotokos, the Apostle St Mark whom he succeeded on the throne, St Demiana, St George the Prince of Martyrs, and especially his patron Saint St Menas the Martyr, seeing them and communicating with them on numerous occasions.

The number of documented miracles performed by this Saint during his earthly life and after his departure to Christ, especially those that are in someway also affiliated with his beloved patron Saint - St Menas - is immense to say the least. It has been said, and most probably without exaggeration, that each and every faithful Orthodox Copt that lived in the days of St Kyrillos’ Papacy, had either witnessed or experienced a personal miracle through his prayers; those miracles continue to occur by the Grace of God till the present day. He performed (and continues to perform) miracles for the weakest of children to the most powerful of men.

May his prayers be for us all. Amen.

Copyright 2011 by Saint Mary & Anba Bishoy Coptic Orthodox Church