Bishop Butrus (* 1949)


Bishop Butrus is General bishop of Coptic Orthodox Church since 1985 and Member of board of advisors, Arab-West Report (since 2002) who is known for the controversy over the Charity Isle of Patmos.


Bishop Butrus was born in Egypt in 1949. His name before consecration was Ayyūb Mansūr Ayyūb. Becoming a monk he was re-named Father Bīshūy al-Anbā Bola, which was changed into Bishop Butrus when he became bishop. His career in the Coptic Church is outlined below.



Career in the Coptic Orthodox Church and his Involvement in the Church Activities


On October 17, 1975 Bishop Butrus was accepted as a monk in the monastery of Saint Bola [Saint Paul] in the eastern desert of Egypt. From 1979 he served as assistant bishop of Ismailia and in 1985 he became general bishop.


Bishop Butrus, among other church related activities, produces educational material and Bible correspondence courses targeting people who live in remote areas or who are immobile, for example, because of handicaps. In 2005 he initiated a Coptic Orthodox satellite channel called Aghapy TV. The television channel is based in Cairo, broadcasting in Arabic to Coptic Christians in Egypt as well as abroad. Programs are also transmitted online at www.aghapy.tv.


The Controversy over the Charity Isle of Patmos

Bishop Butrus founded the Charity Isle of Patmos [named after the Greek Island where the apostle John received his revelation]that is a compound in the desert 30 km outside of Cairo. The Charity Isle of Patmos, which is often referred to as the Patmos Center or Patmos Land, has since 1996 been the home of handicapped and elderly people. There they are taken care of by 'Muqarassāt,' Coptic consecrated women, who unlike nuns do not live in seclusion from the world, but serve the society through social activities. However, The Charity Isle of Patmos has been subject of tensions and violent incidents. There has been an ongoing confrontation between the Christian community related to the Patmos project and a nearby army unit. [AWR, 2004, 1, art. 12-16]


Bishop Butrus bought the land, designated for agricultural reclamation, from the government. Only a limited part of the land could be used for building and to build a church separate permission would be needed. Apparently this issue seems to be a subject of controversy, because of the social activities that characterize the compound and because the bishop has made what he terms "a prayer hall" for the consecrated women working and living there. People who have been to the place see this prayer hall as a church because it contains an altar. However, the issue of the conflict is not absolutely clear, because the government, represented by the neighboring army unit, has not publicly expressed its motives for attempting to remove walls and buildings of the Charity Isle of Patmos.


Several times part of the wall surrounding the Charity Isle of Patmos and buildings inside the compound have been damaged or destroyed by the military. Escalation of tensions occurred on January 5, 2004 when, according to the Christian side of the conflict, around 500 soldiers showed up with bulldozers to destroy the compound wall facing the road. It developed into a fight between workers and the military. A 17-year-old laborer was killed and two others were injured when run into by a bus. According to the Egyptian authorities and media it was an accident. According to workers at the Charity Isle of Patmos it was murder. They claim the actual target was not the 17-year-old worker, but Bishop Butrus, who was standing nearby. Co-author of this biography, Cornelis Hulsman, visited the location a few hours after the incident. He finds the latter explanation improbable, since people interviewed on the spot disputed it.


According to the 2005 'US State Department Human Rights Report on Egypt' the army's reported motive for the 2004 incident was the placement of the wall surrounding the site. A law concerning zoning regulations was changed in 2003. Since then reclamation projects must be situated at least 100 meters away from main roads. The wall of the Charity Island of Patmos was built according to the former law, which was applicable when the work started. Back then the distance limit was only 50 meters.


Christian sources, according to the human rights report, noted that the wall surrounding the army base was also only 50 meters from the road. They said that; "the army's intent was to harass the Christians until they left the site so that it could be annexed by the military." (US State Department Human Rights Report on Egypt, 2005) The Human Rights Report furthermore says, that other observers believed the military's enmity was engendered by the "stealthy" way the church developed a Christian service facility on a site originally billed as an agricultural "desert reclamation project."


When Cornelis Hulsman wrote his report on the first compound incident in 1996, Bishop Butrus denied that he was building a monastery in the Charity Isle of Patmos. In 2003, however, he stressed it was a monastery. Arab-West Report chief-in-editor, Cornelis Hulsman, made a report on the tensions containing a chronology of incidents and an overview on related reporting and reactions [AWR, 2004, 1, art. 16].


Mia Ulvgraven and Cornelis Hulsman, October 2006