A former monk has been arrested by Egypt’s public prosecutor following the murder of Coptic bishop Anba Epiphanius.
Bishop Epiphanius, 64, who was Prior of the monastery of St Macarius in Wadi Natrun, was discovered dead on July 29 with significant injuries to both his head and hands; the result of multiple blows with an iron pole. According to the monks of St Macarius, Bishop Epiphanios was last seen alive leaving his cell at dawn to attend the Matins Praise that precedes Sunday Mass.
Following Bishop Epihanius’s death, the Coptic Church released a statement in which they described the bishop as a monk and a scholar, adding that Pope Tawadros “mourned in Anba Epiphanius a true monk whose life was steeped in meekness and humbleness; also a scholar who possessed a wealth of knowledge that fruited research and publications in various branches of ecclesiastical studies. The Pope prayed for peace for his soul, and comfort for the St Macarius monk assembly as well as all who loved the late Abbot.”
Pope Tawadros II has since delegated his secretary, Fr Angaelos Ishaq, to head up enquiries into the matter whilst the Church has begun investigations into allegations of improper behaviour among the monks and halted the admission of new applicants to its monasteries for the next year.
The arrested monk, Wael Saad Tawadros, formerly known as Ishaia’ al-Maqari, was expelled from the order in the days following the murder for what ecclesiastical authorities have referred to as “continuous violations” of the duties of his religious life and order. According to sources, Wael Saad had been a frequent troublemaker and a member of a group of six monks who had consistently disobeyed their abbot. In February he narrowly escaped an order to leave the monastery for three years following a successful appeal by his fellow monks, who wanted to give him the chance to change his ways.
On August 4, Wael Saad unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide by drinking a pesticide and was taken to Damanhour public hospital whereupon, following a brief period of treatment, he was returned to the monastery.
Meanwhile another one of the monks under investigation by authorities has also since attempted suicide. He is currently receiving treatment at a Cairo hospital and has been taken into detention for questioning by the prosecution.
Bishop Epiphanios’s death comes during a tumultuous and uncertain time for Christians in the region. According to Open Doors, 128 Christians were killed in Egypt for their faith in 2017, and more than 200 driven from their homes.