It is not easy to defy the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III - and get away with it - as the family of one dead clergyman has learned. No one - including some of the pope’s most reliable allies - had anticipated the kind of revenge Pope Shenouda had arranged for Father Ibrahim Abdel Said, the former parish priest of the Mar Girgis Church in Maadi, until his tragic death on August 30.
It is not easy to defy the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III - and get away with it - as the family of one dead clergyman has learned.
No one - including some of the pope’s most reliable allies - had anticipated the kind of revenge Pope Shenouda had arranged for Father Ibrahim Abdel Said, the former parish priest of the Mar Girgis Church in Maadi, until his tragic death on August 30.
Only then did it become clear that the pope was not bluffing when he promised hellfire and perpetual damnation for Abdel Said, Shenouda’s most prominent antagonist.
The first indication that Shenouda was determined to fulfill his promise came only hours after Abdel Said died from a heart attack, while driving back to Cairo from his summer vacation in Alexandria.
Family members and friends of the late priest had approached officials at the Orthodox cathedral in Abbassiya in central Cairo, requesting permission for the convening of funeral prayers for the deceased.
The request was turned down by authorities at the cathedral - the papal seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church - who explained that they were under strict orders from His Holiness not to grant any such permission.
His Holiness was in the United States when Abdel Said died and given the nature of the relationship between the two men, the pope’s aides in Egypt made sure that the news reached the pope promptly.
Lengthy negotiations between the family of the deceased and the church hierarchy produced nothing.
They left the grounds of the Abbassiya cathedral empty-handed.
According to one report, mourners then went to another Orthodox Church in Shubra Al Khaima, north of Cairo.
But the priest in Shubra was even less receptive. He allegedly closed the church gates on the mourners.
At the suggestion of Father Aghathon, the deceased’s only ally in the religious establishment, the body was taken to the Church of the Virgin Mary in Heliopolis, north east of Cairo - mourners in tow.
In Heliopolis, the mourners were met by Father Johanna Thabet to whom the late priest’s family explained their request.
Some reports claimed that Thabet was about to agree but changed his mind after receiving a phone call from the pope’s office.
For nearly two hours, the dead body of Abdel Said was stranded outside of the church compound, while some of the pope’s closest associates including prominent Egyptian journalist Osama Ghazali Harb and Saad Eddin Ibrahim, head of the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies were contacted for help.
Harb never showed up.
Ibrahim responded positively but his efforts were to no avail.
Thabet told him he had no intention of disobeying holy orders and attempts by Ibrahim to reach the pope in the United States fell flat.
Moves to hold the prayers at the Maadi Church ran into similar obstacles.
The late Abdel Said’s family also alleged that an arrangement for the ceremony to be held at the Anglican Church in Garden City was sabotaged by another phone call from Abbassiya.
Mourners then resorted to a small chapel in the middle of a cemetery in Heliopolis - one of the few places in town that was not being watched by the pope’s men.
Aghathon presided over the ceremony which was attended by some 100 mourners including a Catholic priest and an Anglican deacon.
Of course Pope Shenouda had his reasons for wanting to trounce the renegade clergyman.
Abdel Said’s saber rattling about corruption in the Church had placed him in the ranks of Shenouda’s worst enemies.
An ardent opponent of the pope’s policies and author of some 20 books criticizing the church hierarchy, the controversial Abdel Said had managed to pass as a liberal while courting the Nasserists.
He dined with apologists of the late President Anwar Al Sadat as often as he joked with Islamists clerics.
For him the thing that mattered most was his one and only maxim: "Glory be to God in the highest."
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