It had the feel of a victory lap, albeit short and quick.
The 50th anniversary of Father Matta Al-Maskin becoming a monk passed quietly.
The 50th anniversary of Father Matta Al-Maskin becoming a monk passed quietly despite the current habit of holding large celebrations for personalities that are much less effective in church life and for occasions far less [important] than the anniversary of the second university graduate to become a monk. According to what the followers of Father Matta says, he abstains from such celebrations because from his point of view, they contradict the spirit of the church.
Since Dr. Saad Aziz, Father Matta’s original name, left his pharmacy in the town of Damanhour and entered the monastery, he became a milestone in the history of monks in Egypt. He was described as the miracle, the role model, and the example. He was also called Matta Al-Maskoun1. He is also the only monk who went into public and serious conflicts with three different Popes. He was termed ’the Communist monk’ Because of his books and ideas, his nomination for the Papal seat was refused twice. His name was closely associated with Anwar Sadat’s during the conflict between Pope Shenouda and the late President. During this conflict, his enemies said that he had taken the side of the government, while his supporters said that he saved the church from Sadat’s wrath.
Father Matta entered religious orders through the priest Mina who later became Pope Kyrollos VI. He lived in the Monastery of Saint Samuel in Minia. Life in that monastery was so hard that the monks would wash their old cheese plates and then drink that water due to the lack of food. A year later the monastery was denied recognition and the monks in it had to move to other monasteries. He chose the Syrian monastery where his fame grew. He acquired a following of students the most outstanding of whom was Nazeer Gayed, later Pope Shenouda III.
When he was appointed a deputy for the Patriarch in Alexandria, he started a campaign against corruption that gained the support of the ordinary churchgoers. His campaign was, however, contrary to the interests of many monks. Among his most important battles of the time was when he banned ritual prayers at home. Priests who did these ’home visits’ gained a lot of money from them. Due to the opposition against his policies in the church, disagreement erupted between him and the Pope so he resigned and went back to his monastery.
He later also fell out with Pope Kyrollos VI and was stripped of his rank when he insisted on not going back to the monastery from his seclusion in the desert. When he later established a monastery on Egypt’s northern coast, it was not recognized. Several years later, Pope Kyrollos agreed to give him back his rank after strong pressure from high ranking personalities in the monastic community.
He also fell out with his student Pope Shenouda III because of Father Matta’s idea that the church and politics should be completely separated, that Christianity is a personal religion and that the church should not support or oppose any system. Disagreements between the two escalated during Pope Shenouda’s conflict with the Pope, and he was accused of masterminding the committee that ran the church during Pope Shenouda’s compulsory isolation in the monastery.
Father Matta continues to conduct experiments in genetic engineering of plants. Although he is close to 80 years old now, he is still very productive. A few days ago, his latest book, a biography of Christ, came out. This book in his one hundredth.
1- Matta Al-Meskin, means Matta the poor. Al-Maskoun however means the possessed