TWENTY FIVE YEARS OF SERVICE
Father Athanasius Iskander
The year 2006 marks 25 years in the priestly service of Father Athanasius Iskander. A short history of these years will be given in the following pages.
Born Adel Iskander on March 9, 1938 in Shoubra, he grew up in this district of Cairo, which is notable for its abundance of Coptic churches. He was accepted into Ain Shams University Medical School at the age 15. While there, he had two distinguished classmates, Emile Aziz (currently H.G. Bishop Moussa) and Emile Maher (currently Fr. Shenouda Maher, serving in Rochester, New York).
After graduating in 1962, he worked as a doctor in Egypt and East Africa before immigrating to Canada in 1968. He served as a deacon with Father Marcos Marcos at Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church (Scarborough).
On August 1, 1970, he married Odette, a Sunday School servant and a final year Engineering student at the University of Toronto. He earned his licence to practice Medicine in Canada in July 1971, and worked as an Emergency Physician in Hamilton, Ontario till 1981. On March 27, 1981, he was ordained, “Athanasius, a priest for the holy Orthodox altar of the Christ loving city of Mississauga, Canada.”
Ain Shams University Anatomy Lab, 1955: Adel Iskander (centre),
Emile Aziz (right). At the back, the late Prof. Shafik Abdel Malek.
Abu Simbel (Egypt), November 1966: Dr. Adel Iskander, then resident physician to the project for the relocation of the temples of Nubia, takes one last look at the temples before leaving Egypt for Europe, then Tanzania. He returned to Egypt 15 years later to be ordained
Toronto Airport, March 1981: Dr. Adel Iskander, his wife and two children on their way to Egypt for the ordination. To his right: Mr. Sorial Sorial. In front: two nephews.
Saint Mary’s Chapel, Anba Reweis, Cairo, Friday, March 27, 1981:
Ordination of Father Athanasius Iskander.
THE CHURCH OF VIRGIN MARY & ST. ATHANASIUS
MISSISSAUGA, ONTARIO, CANADA
Father Athanasius was received by the small Coptic congregation of Mississauga on May 14, 1981 (the eve of the feast of Saint Athanasius). In the beginning, services were held in rented school gymnasia, but efforts to find a permanent place of worship started diligently almost from the beginning. In October 1982, less than one and a half years after the commencement of Father Athanasius’ service, the grace of God presented the congregation with a four-acre parcel of land in central Mississauga. An old school on the land (7,200 sq. ft.) adequately accommodated all the church’s regular services as well as hosting a day care facility.
Plans to build a church on the land started almost immediately. An architect was hired and a design concept was agreed on. His Grace Bishop Reweis, who annually celebrated the feast of Saint Athanasius with the congregation, supported the project vigorously. On May 15, 1983 (feast day of Saint Athanasius), His Grace blessed the foundation stone of the new church. On May 15, 1984, His Grace celebrated with the congregation the ground breaking ceremony. On February 12, 1985, Father Athanasius visited His Holiness Pope Shenouda, and obtained his blessing for the building of the new church. By the end of February, 1985, through the grace of the Lord, the mortgage on the property was fully paid.
Mississauga, May 14, 1981: Reception of Father Athanasius by the congregation of Church of Virgin Mary and Saint Athanasius
May 15, 1983: Blessing of the foundation stone for the new church. First person on the left is Samir Matar (currently Fr. Moussa Matar).
May 15, 1984: Ground breaking ceremony for the new church. First person on the right is Mahfouz Awad (currently Fr. Reweis Awad).
BUILDING THE NEW CHURCH:
The architect estimated the cost of building the church to be in the neighbourhood of one million dollars. Accordingly, the Board of Deacons started approaching financial institutions for a loan. Most of them declined, based on the fact that there was no down payment (except for the paid-up land) and that a small congregation of seventy families could not possibly pay back such a huge loan! Again, the grace of the Lord did intervene, and by the end of March, 1985, The Royal Bank of Canada decided to extend the church a line of credit of one million dollars.
The next challenge was finding a contractor. Again, several were approached, but most of them quoted us figures in the neighbourhood of two million dollars. Frustration and discouragement reigned for a
little season. On his annual visit to the congregation in May 1985, His Grace Bishop Reweis inquired anxiously if there was any good news to celebrate on the feast day of Saint Athanasius that year, but the answer was no.
The feast of Saint Athanasius was celebrated quietly, and both His Grace Bishop Reweis and Father Athanasius went to visit Fr. Marcos Marcos. A short while later, the phone rang and Mr. Nashaat Iskandar, the chairman of the building committee, asked to speak to Fr. Athanasius. The news? A contractor had just submitted in writing an offer to build the church for one million and seventy thousand dollars! His Grace commented, “It seems Saint Athanasius will not allow us to do anything except on his feast day!” Three weeks later, on Monday, June 3, 1985 (first day of the Fast of the Apostles) the contract was finalized.
HAIL TO MIKHAIL!
t was June 19, 1985 (feast day of Archangel Michael). The Divine Liturgy has just ended at 10:00 a.m. and the worshippers were leaving the church, when everybody, including Father Athanasius was overcome by the surprise: Huge earth-moving machines were ripping up the parking lot! Tears were streaming down uncontrollably, and so back inside they went for another veneration (tamgeed) of the great Archangel Michael.
June 19, 1985 (feast day of Archangel Michael): The foundations of the new church were laid. To the left of the picture is the old building which was used for the services throughout the construction.
THE DAY THAT THE LORD HATH MADE:
It was Sunday, June 8, 1986, and, to everyone’s amazement, the new church, fully carpeted, with pews in place, a temporary iconostasis and walls adorned by icons of the saints, was finally ready for its first Divine Liturgy.
Bishop Reweis had been invited to attend but he apologized that he could not come. Then, he was summoned by His Holiness to go to Montreal on urgent business.
Upon learning that the church was almost ready for occupancy, His Grace worked very hard at his busy schedule, and, by the grace of God, he was able to travel to Mississauga in time to celebrate with the congregation of the Church of Virgin Mary and Saint Athanasius, the first Divine Liturgy in their new church. (June 8 is historically, the date on which the Nicene Creed was published by the Council of Nicea.)
June 8, 1986 The new church is finally ready for the celebration of the first Divinge Liturgy
PHASE II OF THE CONSTRUCTION:
It was agreed upon that, as soon as the church was completed, and services moved to the new building, the old building, which had served us well during the construction, would be renovated to match the new one.
The design process was started in September 1986, and was completed and approved by the Board of Deacons in March 1987. Consent to begin the construction was given by the General Assembly on May 10, 1987.
On July 1, 1987, renovation of the old building began. It was carried out in two stages in order to allow for use of part of the old building while the rest was being renovated.
By January 1988, the Sunday School section was completed and work started on the hall, which was completed by March 1988. Now we had a large hall with an adjoining fully equipped kitchen, eight Sunday School rooms, a library, storage spaces, offices, and a playground.
Not long after the completion of phase II of the construction, a member of the congregation of Saint Mark’s Church in Scarborough approached Father Athanasius proposing to cover half the cost of an iconostasis and icons if the congregation would pay the rest.
The proposal was conveyed to the congregation after a fundraising dinner. Fifty thousand dollars were collected on the spot and the work was ordered. The iconostasis and icons were shipped from Egypt in the summer of 1989. Work continued untill early September, just hours before the church was to be consecrated.
On Sunday, September 3, 1989, His Holiness Pope Shenouda blessed us by consecrating the three altars and the icons. The central altar was dedicated to Virgin Mary & St. Athanasius, the northern to St. Pishoy & St. Paul and the southern one to St. George & St. Maurice.
The total cost of the project, including the price of the land and the iconostasis with its icons now approached two million dollars. By the time of the consecration , more than half the cost of the new church had been paid off by the zealous Copts of Mississauga.
On Tuesday September 5, 1989, Father Athanasius was transferred to St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Kitchener.
SAINT MARY’S COPTIC ORTHODOX CHURCH
KITCHENER, ONTARIO, CANADA
Father Athanasius was no stranger to St. Mary’s church in Kitchener. In the late 1970s, he accompanied Father Mittias El Souriany (His Grace Bishop Reweis before his ordination as a bishop) occasionally to celebrate the Holy Liturgy for the families in Kitchener. In 1980, he was serving at that church as a deacon and secretary of the Board of Deacons, under the late Father Ibrahim Attia of blessed memory.
In December 1980, three month before his ordination, Father Athanasius and the late Rifaat Zakhary, the Treasurer, concluded a deal for a small church in the neighbouring city of Cambridge at a price of $82,000. They also negotiated a Bank loan at prime rate. The church was prepared and was ready for use by Christmas Eve 1981. It was to this church that he now returned as a priest on September 5, 1989. The congregation was small, about 36 families from various cities. Families came from Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Guelph, London, and Brantford. The income was hardly enough to cover the expenses and the attendance was poor because people had to travel from various cities to Cambridge.
By the end of 1990, the number of the families had more than doubled, and the donations had tripled. An ambitious program of church renovation was completed during 1990. A new Sunday School room and an office for the priest were built and equipped. A small room behind the Sanctuary was renovated into a confession room, a closet for the Liturgical vestments was also built in that room. The outdated electrical wiring was replaced. The ceiling, the flooring, doors and windows were replaced. The church was completely painted and new furniture purchased to replace the old. The congregation continued to grow, and it soon became apparent that a church with a capacity for 80 occupants cannot accommodate a congregation of 80 families.
In 1992, search for a new church started. This continued until 1994, when a large church in the city of Kitchener (where most of the congregation lived) was available. It was purchased for $585,000 on June 10, 1994. The first Liturgy was celebrated on June 12, 1994.
August, 1994: Fr. Athanasius, His Grace Bishop Moussa and His Grace Bishop Thomas in front of the new church in Kitchener. In 1994, Saint Mary’s church hosted the Coptic Youth East Canada Convention.
THE FIRST RENOVATION PROJECT:
The church building had problems. It was oriented to the West, had no sanctuary or centre aisle, and on the whole looked quite Protestant! Plans for a major renovation were started. The work commenced in the spring of 1996 and was concluded by the end of that summer. The church was reoriented to face East. A sanctuary, a niche and a second altar were added. The whole church was repainted and carpeted. The walls were covered with wood panelling. An iconostasis, complete with icons was built.
A new air conditioning system was installed, and imported chandeliers were hung from the 55 foot high ceiling. The pews had to be practically redone in order to allow for a centre aisle. The bathrooms were completely renovated and the boiler was replaced by a new one.
Left: May 15, 1996: His Grace Bishop Reweis inaugurates the renovation project for the new church in Kitchener. The shovel His Grace used was the same one he had used 12 years earlier, on May 15, 1984 at the ground breaking ceremony for the hurch of Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius in Mississauga.
Right: The church after the renovation was completed.
Left: November 28, 1996: His Holiness Pope Shenouda consecrates the corner stone for the newly renovated church in Kitchener. The corner stone was done using a computerized sandblasting technique in order to imprint His Holiness picture on the granite.
Right: His Holiness consecrates the new altar dedicated to Saint Athanasius that same day.
Left: His Holiness grilling Father Athanasius about the translation of the consecration service that he had prepared. In the end, His Holiness was pleased and asked for a few copies to use in future consecrations.
Centre: His Holiness consecrating the icon of Saint Athanasius.
Right:His Holiness delivering the sermon.
THE SECOND RENOVATION:
Soon after it became apparent that, with the continued growth of the congregation, the hall and the Sunday School classrooms were becoming too crowded. Accordingly, an addition was considered. The extension would increase the size of the hall and add four more Sunday School classes to the existing eight. The project was started in August 2001and was completed in May 2002. Together with the addition, the whole church was upgraded for wheel chair accessibility. This included a new wheelchair entrance, a lift, and a washroom for the disabled. The total cost of the renovation was $600,000.
THE PROPERTIES NEXT DOOR:
Barely six month after the second renovation was complete, our neighbour to the north approached us with a proposal to sell his house to the church. The property was acquired on December 9, 2002. Nine months later, the neighbour to the south of the church made us the same offer. The deal was signed on October 5, 2003, the feast day of Saint Maurice according to the Coptic Calendar. The land is large enough for the eventual construction of a chapel named after Saint Maurice.
THE CHURCH RETREAT:
On September 3, 2005, the church acquired a 90-acre parcel of very scenic land with tree-covered hills and ravines. There are several existing buildings on the property, including a gymnasium, a dining hall adjoining a large kitchen, a large swimming pool with a “wash house” containing change rooms, showers and toilette facilities for men and women, a small office, and a “nurse station.” There are also 12 cabins arranged in three clusters of four cabins each. Each cabin has 12 bunk beds. There is a basketball court on the property and a winding gravel road that leads from the main road which is paved. The property is within the city limits of Cambridge, which is located within an hour’s drive of most of the Coptic churches of Southwestern Ontario. Over the next two years, we expect to spend over a million dollars to upgrade the facility and make it available to all of our sister churches in the region.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF
THE CHURCH OF SAINT PAUL THE ANCHORITE
LONDON, ONTARIO, CANADA
BY: FATHER ATHANASIUS ISKANDER
The city of London is 100 km west of Kitchener (one-hour drive). It is a major Canadian city of 300,000 and is home to a top university. In August 1990, less than a year after my transfer to Kitchener, I accompanied His Grace Bishop Reweis on an outreach tour of the Coptic families in London. I suggested that they start a local Liturgy service once a month. It took a while to find a temporary place to hold the services. In November 1991, the first Liturgy of the Eucharist was celebrated in the chapel attached to Saint Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in London.
By 1993, the families numbered 12, and I suggested that they register a church. Registration was completed in December 1993. The church was named after Saint Paul the Anchorite. In 1995, the number of families became 18, and they had some money in the treasury, so, I proposed that they begin looking for a permanent church to purchase. In the beginning, there was a lot of hesitation and concern about financial aspects, however, these concerns disappeared completely, after a spectacular miracle was performed, through the prayers of the great saint (see below).
We found a church by the end of 1995, took possession on January 10, 1996, started immediately to modify it according to the Coptic style, and a month later, on the feast day of Saint Paul the Anchorite, His Grace Bishop Reweis was delegated by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III to celebrate the first Liturgy of the Eucharist in the new church. On Thursday, January 21, 1999, His Holiness consecrated the altar of the church. On November 11, 1999, Fr. Moussa Matar was received by the congregation as the first permanent priest of the Church of Saint Paul the Anchorite.
There are currently close to 60 families in London, served by Fr. Johannes Awadalla.
Left: February 10, 1996 (feast day of Saint Paul the Anchorite): The newly purchased Church named after the great saint is ready for the first Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Right: January 21, 1999: His Holiness Pope Shenouda III consecrates the altar of the church of Saint Paul the Anchorite
Now, it is time to ask, why did we name the church after Saint Paul the Anchorite? To answer this, we have to go back to an incident that happened in 1983, while I was serving in Mississauga.
One of the members of the congregation was seriously ill in a hospital in Mississauga. I visited her frequently, carrying communion to her, but she had lost all hope of healing. One day she told me, “I feel I’m going to die, so please hurry and bring me communion before I’m gone.” I tried to console her, but I did what she asked me to do. I brought her communion on the next day, but what I saw and heard on that day became indelible in my memory.
I found her sitting on the edge of the bed, dressed in her normal clothes (not in the usual hospital gown). I gave her communion, then asked her, “What happened?” She replied, “I’m going home today! I’m cured!” In amazement, I asked her, “How come?” She told me, “A man came to my room today. I was fully awake, so it could not have been a dream. He was very old with white hair and a long white beard which reached down almost to his feet. And he was dressed in a ‘shewal,’(Arabic for sack) with an opening for his head and two openings for his arms, which were raised up toward heaven. He sat on my bed, then he stood up and started looking around as if he was searching for something. I asked him, ‘What are you looking for, Abouna?’ And he replied, ‘I am looking for an altar, my daughter! I can’t find an altar!’ He then disappeared and I felt that I was cured!”
The lady went home that same day, and I kept pondering the matter for a few days. An older, more experienced priest came to visit me, and I told him what happened. He said, “It must be Saint Paul the First Hermit.” He asked me if I had any of his icons in the church, but sadly, we had none at the time. He advised me to find a small icon for the great saint, to visit the lady, give it to her and watch her reaction. I phoned the priests of the churches near by, looking for such an icon, and finally, Fr. Pishoy Saad of Saint Mark’s Church in Montreal sent me a few small hand-painted icons of Saint Paul the Anchorite. I went to visit the lady that had been cured, and after concluding the visit with prayer, I gave her one of the icons as a gift. As soon as she saw the icon she said, “This is the man who came to me in the hospital!” Then, looking me in the eye, she asked, “Are you going to build him an altar?” I said, “Yes, God willing, we will.”
I gave the remaining icons to other people who were seriously ill, with miraculous results. Soon the story became known and people were asking for the intercession of this great saint, and those who believed, were healed according to the will of God.
When the time came to register the church in London, Ontario, the question of a patron saint came up. There were many proposals. They asked me my opinion, and I told them about Saint Paul’s miracles in Mississauga. I then added, “Here is a great saint that has no churches named after him outside his monastery. If you name your church after him, he will be your saint, and will perform his miracles among you.” They unanimously agreed, and so it was.
THE MIRACLE OF ROSE:
One day in February 1995, a few days after the feast day of Saint Paul the Anchorite, Rose (not her real name) discovered a lump in her breast. She saw a surgeon who took a biopsy of the lump. The result was very tragic: It was found to be malignant.
Rose, who worked as a pathologist and a member of the teaching staff at the University of Western Ontario Medical School in London, Ontario, reviewed the slides made from the tumor with the other members of the Department of Pathology, including the head of the department. The verdict was definite malignancy.
In relating the story to me, she said, “Abouna, not only is it malignant, but the kind of malignancy is such that it would kill within one year.” I believed her, for she ought to know.
A dark veil fell over the whole family. Rose’s husband broke down, the children aged 9, 11 and 13 were devastated. Rose tried to put on a brave face, but seeing the condition of her husband and children, she too broke down.
One time, she came home, unnoticed by her children, and found them kneeling, with tears in their eyes, sobbing and pleading, “Please God, don’t take our mom from us.” She went into her room. locked the door and cried her heart out. She repeatedly told me, “I don’t mind going to be with Christ, but I feel sorry for my husband and the children.”
Rose prayed a lot, but in the end she surrendered her fate to God and accepted His will. One day, while sitting in the living room of their house in London, she confided in me, “When I’m gone, please help Adel (not her husband’s real name) find a suitable wife. He cannot cope with the children alone.” I fought very hard to conceal the tears in my eyes by pretending to look at the wall across from me, It was then that I noticed an icon of Saint Paul the Anchorite, in whose name the
Coptic church in London had been registered. “Where is your faith Rose?” I asked. “This is your saint (pointing to the icon); ask him to perform a miracle.” I continued, “Let us make a deal with him: If he would cure you, then you would buy the furnishings of the sanctuary and altar of the church we will buy or build in his name.” I then added jokingly, “And if he doesn’t cure you then we should change the name of this church to Saint Mena’s !” That conversation took place on the eve of the operation to remove her breast.
On the morning of the operation, Rose was very calm. She was even joking with every one around her. She had faith that God, through the prayers of Saint Paul the Anchorite, could cure her. Most importantly, she had completely surrendered her will to the will of God. On the operating table, her last words to the surgeon before being put to sleep were these: “The slides look very bad, but there is still room for a miracle.”
Under anesthesia, the surgeon re-examined the lump. He was surprised to find that it had shrunk in size. It was also freely moving in the breast and not fixed. As usual, he opened the breast, removed the lump, sent it to the lab for confirmation of the diagnosis, and waited. We were waiting outside, her husband, myself and a few friends of the family. Suddenly, the head of the Department of Pathology, a sweet elderly lady, rushed into the waiting room with a perplexed look on her face: “I can’t understand it ! It is not malignant. But how can this be? I was very careful examining the slides before the operation.” Seconds later, the surgeon joined us, still in his operating gown, with his surgical mask hanging around his neck, declaring, “It’s a miracle! She asked for a miracle and she got one! I have never seen anything like this in my life.”
There was total confusion, a dozen people talking at the same time, some yelling, some crying, everybody was hugging the person next to him, sobbing and laughing at the same time. We were told she could go home! Her husband rushed to bring the children from their schools in order to take Mom home, the same Mom they had entreated God not to take away from them. For one week after the operation, every pathologist around reviewed the slides trying to find errors in the initial diagnosis, but there were none. Grudgingly, they had to admit: “It’s a miracle!”
A BRIEF HISTORY OF
SAINT MENA’S COPTIC ORTHODOX CHURCH
HALIFAX, NOVASCOTIA, CANADA
BY: FATHER ATHANASIUS ISKANDER
One day in December, 1983, during my service in Mississauga, I received a call from Dr. Magdy Mansour (Currently, Fr. Marcus Mansour, serving in Arizona) concerning seven families that lived in Halifax, in the province of NovaScotia in Eastern Canada. They needed a priest to celebrate the Liturgy for them.
My relationship to Dr. Magdy went back to 1970s, when I was practicing Medicine and he was pursuing his PhD in Engineering. At that time we co-operated in holding a Bible study for the Copts in Hamilton, Ontario.
The first liturgy was held in January 1984, on the Saturday following Christmas. This was followed by three other visits throughout 1984. The service increased gradually to become once a month.
By 1993, the number of families had reached 28. It was then that I suggested to them to register a church. They agreed, and chose to call their church after Saint Mena. Registration was approved by the Province on June 22, 1995 (the feast of the dedication of the church of St. Mena). By that time several other priests had joined in serving the congregation.
On November, 1996, a church building was purchased and to the credit of the good Copts of NovaScotia, it was bought for cash, without the need for a mortgage. In August 2001, Father Daniel Rizg started serving the congregation as a full time priest.
December 19, 1997: Some members of the congregation of Saint Mena’s church in Halifax receiving Fr. Athanasius at the airport during a visit to the church, which he had served for 14 years.
Father Athanasius during one of his many visits to Saint Mena’s Church
His Grace Bishop Reweis during a visit to the congregation of Saint Mena’s Church in Halifax with Father Athanasius. The person in white shirt behind Father Athanasius is Michele Fam (currently Fr. Mikhail Fam, serving in Ottawa). The lady in orange jacket to the right of His Grace is Dr. Lilian Fam (currently Tasoni Lilian). The congregation of Saint Mena’s Church, Halifax gave us also Fr. Marcus Mansour.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF SAINT MAURICE
SAINT JOHN’S, NEWFOUNDLAND, CANADA
BY FATHER ATHANASIUS ISKANDER
Newfoundland is the easternmost part of North America. It is a province with rugged terrain and harsh weather, with a small population that depends almost entirely of fishing. Until recently, it was the poorest province, with unemployment approaching 25%. It is not surprising that few people would want to live there, especially among Copts, who are usually content to concentrate in urban areas rather than tackle the frontiers.
Yet, some did, out of necessity. Because of the undesirability of the province, a chronic shortage of medical practitioners has forced the authorities to relax the rules for foreign medical graduates, and some Coptic doctors took advantage of this.
Starting in the late 1980s, a trickle of Coptic doctors sought positions in Newfoundland. One of the earliest was Dr. Samir Yassa, a urologist, who moved there in 1989 together with his wife and three children. It was in the summer of 1991 that Dr. Yassa phoned me, to tell me that he had identified six Coptic families in Newfoundland, and to ask if I would hold a Liturgy for them. I had known Dr. Yassa from earlier years, when I was serving in Halifax.
At the time Dr. Yassa phoned me, I was still involved in the service in Halifax (one Saturday a month). I was also serving a similar small Coptic community in the city of London in the Province of Ontario, (one Saturday a month) besides my own congregation of Saint Mary’s Church in Kitchener. I decided to go there on a trial basis.
I went one Friday evening, where I met the families at Dr. Yassa’s house in the town of Grand Falls. It was there that I realized the needs of the Copts for service by any priest who could invest the time and the effort. One of the families had to drive for seven hours to attend the Liturgy. They told me that they had not confessed or taken communion for three years. Another family had a two year old baby, who had not had communion since she was baptized (neither had the rest of the family.)
We had a long confession session on that night and the next morning we held the Liturgy in the house of Dr. Yassa.
A few months later, we discovered more Coptic families in Saint John’s, the capital of the province. I started to visit those families on an occasional basis, as well as those in Grand Falls. During that time, we realized that the number of Copts in Newfoundland was greater than anticipated with more doctors working in remote areas of the province. Another thing that we started doing was to encourage Coptic doctors in the more habitable parts of Canada to seek employment in Newfoundland. The fact that other Copts had survived there for years, coupled with the knowledge that a Liturgy was held there once in a while encouraged many to take the plunge!
As the numbers grew, we decided to rent a church instead of using the houses for the service. A small chapel in a Catholic church in St. John’s was available and we started using it. The service became regular, once a month on a Saturday.
By 1996, the number of families had reached 25. I then proposed that they register a church, so that they could begin collecting donations among themselves to cover the travelling expenses and the church rental, and later on to save for the purchase of a permanent church. When I was asked to suggest a name for the new church, I proposed Saint Maurice, an almost forgotten Coptic martyr from the third century, who is well known all over the world—with about a thousand churches and altars dedicated to him— except in his own country. In May 2000, His Grace Bishop Reweis visited St. John’s and celebrated the Eucharist with many of the Copts of Newfoundland. His Grace was totally convinced of the need for a permanent church and a permanent priest for that province. (Picture below)
After several attempts to purchase a church, we finally found a small building, that had bean built two years earlier as a computer training school. The price agreed on was $176,000, with a closing date of January 15, 2001.
Unfortunately, just two weeks before closing, the owner reneged on the deal and forfeited one thousand dollars paid with the offer! Services went on in rented places, while the search for a permanent building continued.
In January 2002, Fr. Daniel Rizg, by that time settled in Halifax, started to serve the two congregations of Newfoundland. His Holiness Pope Shenouda, however, directed that I continue to be in charge of finding a permanent church.
Towards the end of 2004, we found a small church in Saint John’s. After lengthy negotiations, the church was purchased on January 19, 2005 for the incredible price of $82,000!
His Grace Bishop Reweis, was in Canada at that time, celebrating the feast of St. Paul the Anchorite at his church in London, Ontario. When His Grace knew that we had bought a church, he came to celebrate the first Liturgy in the new church on Saturday February 12, 2005, together with myself and Fr. Daniel. (Picture below)
During the next several months, the church underwent major renovations. An iconostasis complete with icons, pews, an altar and lecterns were shipped from Mississauga, where they were manufactured, and were installed by workmen that flew from Ontario. By the end of 2005, the church was completed. His Holiness Pope Shenouda delegated Fr. Mikhail Sedrak to celebrate Christmas 2006 with the congregation in their new church (pictures below).
SAINT MENA & SAINT ABRAAM CHURCH, TORONTO
BY FATHER ATHANASIUS ISKANDER
In 1985, while serving in Mississauga, a new service was started for Copts living in the downtown area of Toronto. These people were either new immigrants struggling to find work, who had no car, or seniors who do not drive. Because they depended on public transportation, they were cut off from the two churches serving the area, which were located in the suburbs of Mississauga and Scarborough.
Deacon Samir Matar (currently Fr. Moussa Matar), then serving with me in Mississauga, asked if I could pray a Liturgy with these Copts once in a while. I agreed and asked them to look for a church to rent. A Lebanese church was found with a bus stop in front of it. We decided to rent it twice a month on Saturday. At that time I had two other Saturdays committed to service in remote communities: Halifax, and Sudbury, a Northern Ontario town with four Coptic Families. Servants from both Mississauga and Scarborough volunteered as deacons, and a female servant from Scarborough offered to start a Sunday School class for the “angels”. Others followed and we had a budding Sunday School service.
More families were identified in the downtown core, and by 1989, I had decided to suggest to His Holiness to consider a full time priest for the church of Saint Mena and Abba Abraam.
Unfortunately, when I started my service in Kitchener in September of that year, this important service, which catered to “those who have no one to remember them,” was neglected. In a few short months, sadly, the church of Saint Mena and Abba Abraam ceased to exist.
A CHURCH FOR THE COPTS OF WINNIPEG
BY FATHER ATHANASIUS ISKANDER
The city of Winnipeg is the capital of the province of Manitoba in Central Canada. The Copts of Winnipeg have a church registered as Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church. They used to hold a Liturgy once a month in a rented church.
In the fall of 1992, Dr. Amazis Louka, a prominent member of the congregation, phoned me to ask if I would visit them once a month to pray an English Liturgy. I accepted.
By 1994, I started to explore with them the idea of buying their own church, in the hope of having a permanent priest to serve them. In March 1995, a church was found for $150,000. I consulted His Grace Bishop Tadros who asked me to put the matter to the congregation in a secret ballot. This was done on Saturday, June 17, 1995 after the Liturgy. The congregation overwhelmingly approved. I worked with them to arrange a mortgage.
The church was ready by September 1995. His Grace Bishop Tadros was invited to celebrate the first Liturgy in the new church. The congregation is currently served by Father Marcos Farag, who was ordained by His Holiness for that church.
SAINT PHILOPATER MERCURIUS CHURCH, GUELPH
BY FATHER ATHANASIUS ISKANDER
Guelph is a university city that is situated 30 km East of Kitchener. Early in 2001, some of the Coptic families there requested to meet with me. On February 11, 2001, a meeting with His Grace Bishop Reweis was held. It was attended by ten families. They asked me to help them set up their own church, like I had helped other congregations!
His Grace Bishop Reweis, a great admirer of Saint Mercurius, suggested that the church be named after the great martyr. A church was rented and I celebrated the first Liturgy with the congregation on Saturday, March 10, 2001.
On June 18, 2002 the church was registered as a charity with the provincial and federal governments. By that time, services were being held two Saturdays a month.
Currently, services are held every Saturday, with the participation of Father Morcos Hanna and Father Johannes Awadalla.
His Holiness delegated priests from Egypt to celebrate Easter 2005 and Christmas 2006 with the congregation.
We hope, by the grace of God, to purchase a permanent church for the congregation of Saint Philopater Mercurius in Guelph.
March 10, 2001, father Athanasius celebrates first Liturgy in Guelph.
SERVING COPTS NEAR THE NORTH POLE!
BY FATHER ATHANASIUS ISKANDER
The Yukon Territory is the Canadian counterpart to Alaska, with which it shares a border. It lies at the northwestern corner of Canada, close to the North Pole. Because of this, the year is half winter, when the sun rises at 10 a.m. and sets at 3 p.m., and half summer, in which the sun does not seem to set!
The territory is sparsely populated, mainly with aboriginals. Few people would adopt it as a home except by necessity. Like the Province of Newfoundland in Eastern Canada, the Yukon has a chronic shortage of doctors. For this reason, from time to time, the rules are relaxed in order to attract more doctors, especially among foreign graduates.
In 2000, seven Coptic families lived there. Two of these families were known to me, and they phoned me asking if I could go there once in a while to celebrate the Eucharist for them and their children. I procrastinated a little, until the mother of one of the lady doctors there saw me during a service in Halifax, where her other daughter lives. She politely but firmly convinced me to treat the Copts of Yukon the same as I treat those of Halifax! I promised her I would.
During 2001-2002, I travelled to Whitehorse, the capital city of the Yukon four times to celebrate the Eucharist with our Copts who, for a season, lived in the Land of the Midnight Sun. (Picture below)
TRANSLATION AND PUBLICATIONS
Father Athanasius has been active in the field of translation, particularly in liturgical texts. In 1990, His Holiness Pope Shenouda appointed a committee for translating the Liturgy. Fr. Athanasius and Fr. Antonios Henein shared the secretariat of that committee. His Holiness’ directions to the committee were to use old English for the translation. Father Athanasius remains committed to His Holiness’ directions. Some may argue that old English is not spoken today, yet in celebrating the Arabic Liturgy we use classical Arabic which is different from spoken Arabic, a similar situation.
Abba Pishoy Monastery, May 1990, committee for translating the Liturgy. Second from left is Dr. Emile Maher (currently Fr. Shenouda)
TRANSLATIONS BY FATHER ATHANASIUS:
These include all three liturgies, the Lakkane service, the Kneeling service. The Agpeya and the Liturgy of Holy Matrimony were translated in collaboration with Fr. Ammonius Guirguis. Father Athanasius was the first to translate Midnight Praise (Tasbeha) and record it in English. Liturgy of Holy pascha and of Joyous Saturday as well as numerous other liturgical services were also translated.
In November 1997, His Grace Bishop Serapion and His Grace Bishop Youssef formed a committee to revise the earlier translation of 1990. Father Athanasius was invited to participate in the committee.