Habib Girgis, Coptic Orthodox educator and a light in the darkness

Anba Suriel, Fordham University


In the midst of the ever-changing sociopolitical environment of the early twentieth century, the Coptic Orthodox Church and community sought to implement a religious educational system for the preparation of young men for the priesthood, as well as other ecclesiastical offices and services. In part, this was due to the challenges posed by the advent of modernity in Egypt, but, for the Copts, these challenges were further accentuated by lack of education, particularly on the part of clergy, in addition to the institutional presence and proselytizing efforts of highly organized and educated Western missionaries who encountered a Coptic Church that was ill-equipped to respond to their challenges. Patriarch Cyril IV had established several Coptic Schools to redress this challenge, giving rise to an educated lay-elite, but the most significant reforms were implemented in the late nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century by Archdeacon Habib Girgis. This is a study of Girgis' six-decade-long career as an educator, reformer, and pioneer of the Sunday School Movement in Egypt through his publications and a cache of newly discovered documentary texts from the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchal Archives (Cairo), which are catalogued in this study (Appendix I). The analysis explores the practical challenges Girgis encountered, particularly in recruiting qualified students, maintaining the college's facilities and keeping it staffed on a meager budget, as well as dealing with a Lay Community Council (majlis milli) that frequently undermined his efforts. As dean of the Theological College, Girgis also faced conceptual and intellectual challenges in formulating curricula, hiring qualified instructors, and defending a broad vision for ecclesiastical education that was not shared by several of his peers. Girgis attended to all of these tasks while maintaining an active preaching and publishing schedule. Habib Girgis enjoyed some success in the preservation of Coptic identity and the improvement of standards of religious education within the Church. Still, other aspects of his lofty vision remain are hitherto unfulfilled. In all, Girgis remains a pioneer in Coptic religious education, a Copt whose vision and legacy continues to shape the Church on several fronts until this very day.

Subject Area

Religious history|Education history|Religious education

Recommended Citation

Suriel, Anba, "Habib Girgis, Coptic Orthodox educator and a light in the darkness" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3630496.