The History of Our Church ...In the Beginning .....!!
1967… One thousand and seven years after Saint Mark the Evangelist first arrived in Egypt in 60 AD. A letter has just been forwarded to the One hundred and fifteenth successor to the Apostle. His Holiness, Papa Kyrollos the Sixth, the One hundred and sixteenth Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark, reads the paper and prays to God to answer the request of these poor immigrants, who are so far away, asking for a guide.
At forty-one years of age, Major Edward Labib Nematalla walked into the Papal residence in 1968 to receive the Apostolic blessing from his uncle, the Pope.With the view of ministering to those in need, Deacon Edward Nematalla accepts the sanction from the pope to be ordained as Australia’s First Coptic Orthodox Priest.
The deacons sang, the Cathedral bells rang, whilst His Eminence the Metropolitan Abba Maximus placed his pure hands and elevated the humble deacon to the rank of Priesthood, then to the high rank of Hegumen on the tenth of March 1969. This date is now seen as a milestone in the history of the Oriental Orthodox Churches around the world, for their first priest- The Very Reverent Father, Abouna Mina Nematalla- was ordained. The entire congregation joined with Heaven, rejoicing at the Divine choice.
After an exhausting forty day sail, Father Mina Nematalla finally arrived to his beloved in Sydney. There, at Sydney Harbour, on Friday the twenty fourth of January 1969 at six o’clock in the morning, the Liner Patrice docked, and out came the Priest Australia was waiting for. The People met him and chanted with all their hearts “Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord”
commencing his Service and establishing teams to help him in this new work,
Father Mina made it his priority to visit all the families in Australia, including
regular visits to Melbourne and a few to New Zealand and Singapore. As the congregation
expanded rapidly, the need for another Priest to partner in the service was
necessary, so Father Mina remained in Sydney, and ministered to those there,
with the Very Reverent Farther Victor Raphael in Melbourne.
Holiness Pope Shenouda the third was elected and enthroned Patriarch in November
of that year and has accomplished extraordinary feats in his life, such as no
other Pope before him. As the early 1970’s saw a large influx of Coptic
immigrants to Australia, Father Mina saw it necessary to establish more Churches
in the suburbs where the Copts where living.
On the first of June, 1980, a building was set up, and the service in Mount Druitt had begun. After using this temporary building which was burnt down by unknown vandals in 1982, Father Mina was to oversee the completion of the very Church Coptic Orthodox Church built outside of Egypt in authentic Coptic architectural style. This beautiful Church was given the dual names of Archangel Michael and Saint Bishoy and was finished and officially opened on Sunday the thirteenth of September 1987 in an impressive ceremony attended by the Egyptian Ambassador Mr. Nabil Badr, The General Secretary of the N.S.W Ecumenical Council, Rev. Dr. Ray Williamson, heads of Churches state and local government representatives.
This magnificent Church was consecrated by His Holiness Pope Shenouda the third on Sunday, the twenty sixth of November 1989, and their Graces the Bishops present with him. On the twenty eighth of March, 1991, Archangel Michael and Saint Bishoy Church gained an extra angel, who has, and who still continues to serve his congregation with passion, zeal and humility. Dr. Alaa Kaldas was ordained by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III as the Reverent Father, Antonious Kaldas. As a new member to our Church, Father Antonious was not yet acquainted with many of the parishioners, however, Father Mina and the newly appointed head deacon Makram Bebawy made sure that Father Antonious was welcomed very sincerely.
the influence and blessings of Father Mina, Makram Bebawy accepted to teach
the congregation hymns and rites on a regular basis, so that the people could
feel part of the Mass.
On Sunday the fourteenth of March, 1999 our Church heard its first sermon from the Reverent Father Botros Morkos. Father Botros came to our Church on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman in Great Lent of 1999, and we have been blessed since that day with more holy sermons and the great pastorship we experienced with these three great fathers. It is worth making note of our Church being the first one in Sydney to have three priests to help in the service!
Ever since the year 1999, the congregation noticed that there was something missing. Although Father Mina now had two brothers to help him in the services, Father Antonious, after eight years of service, had initiated the English Mass in Saint Stephens temporary Church, Father Botros had become much acquainted with the parishioners, and Makram Bebawy was very enthusiastic in the translation and teaching of the Coptic to English hymns. However, the worshipers wanted more. And that was that their children were taught the Coptic Orthodox ways, outside of Church, and in their everyday life.
Father Botros spearheaded the attempt at establishing and directing Saint Bishoy’s Coptic Orthodox College, and thus the School had its humble beginnings from nothing. Under the guidance and authority of Father Botros, the school’s future was now being planned, for a potential bloom. In the year two thousand, Saint Bishoy’s Coptic Orthodox College was officially opened with study commencing for kindergarten through to presently grade eight.
Whoever lived close to Father Mina will never forget his extreme love and delight for the priesthood. He enjoyed and cherished being a Priest and through this he was always full of faith and hope. This love was the energy behind his persistence and patience during the darkest of times, such as his endless returns to Westmead Hospital- his final place on this earth. On Saturday the First of July 2000, Father Mina Nematalla- the founder and Chief Priest of Coptic Orthodox Church in Australia- departed to see his Creator. Father Mina was a striving pioneer Priest who gave his whole life to service and the establishment of the Church in Australia. Under Father Mina’s efforts, Sydney, which started with a converted Salvation Army hall, presently has twenty Churches, three Schools, a Monastery, a Theological college and thirty six priests, and a Bishop. And Mount Druitt Parish, from a little run-down shack, to a enormous Church, hall, Sunday School blocks and a school with prospective plans for the second Church, more Sunday School buildings, and an enhanced school.
Father Mina’s funeral service, which was held on Tuesday the Fourth of July, 2000 was a testimony of his impact on the Church as a whole. There were over three thousand people in attendance, lead by His Grace Bishop Abba Ashaya, His Grace Bishop Abba Suriel, all the Reverent Fathers in Australia and New Zealand, delegates from other denominations and religions, the Ambassador of Egypt, the Consul General of Sydney, as well as many other government and religious dignitaries, all wishing to have one last glance at their first father, founder and spiritual head. Our Church is truly indebted to him for all his hard work. Always remember your children Father Mina, to pray for our lowliness.
With the physical departure of Father Mina to Heaven, the Church was truly in turmoil and lamentation. This left a huge burden on the Fathers, as they were limited once again to serving our vast congregation with yet again two priests.This was not the only problem. Even with a third priest, Father Antonious and Father Botros were still both engaged in their schools. Even with the arrival of a third priest, there was still a need for a fourth and fifth.
And so it was, following the choice of the Church’s Reverend Fathers, and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Medhat Yassa was ordained as the Reverent Father Gabriel Yassa. The ordination was a day of joy for everyone! Our Church once again had a third Priest, who knew the congregation well, and who was ready to commence service as soon as he came back from Egypt.
The Church’s delight with Father Gabriel was only expressed for a short period. After the announcement of His Grace Bishop Abba Daniel as the Bishop of Sydney, Makram Bebawy only lived to see his deacon brothers learning the Episcopal hymns to chant for His Grace. Makram Bebawy suddenly left his deacons with an unexpected heart attack, on the twenty fifth of May, 2002, leaving behind a job well done. Truly Christ will meet him and say to him, “Well done good and faithful servant!”. Makram Bebawy not only led the deacons with humility and dignity, but also organized for the using of the translation of the English Mass, and the way of saying each hymn- something that will always remain in the congregations hearts and ears, regardless of what happens. He also donated most of his time and money to render the Church and to make it what it is today.
On the fifteenth of October, 2002, His Grace Bishop, Abba Daniel, our honoured Bishop of Sydney and its affiliated regions, visited our Parish for the first time ever. The entire congregation met His Grace. Truly, King David the Psalmist sang that day with us, “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna in the Highest, Hosanna to the King of Israel.”
The Service in the Church began to flourish once more. With Bishop Daniel newly enthroned in Sydney and in our hearts, His Grace established many sub-committees to look after the operation of the Church as a whole- and thus our Church had its first official administrative Committee in the Diocese of Sydney. Many projects and suggestions have risen from them since then, and we are grateful to the Priests who have headed all the meetings, and who plan to execute the plans for a brighter and constructive future.
On the Twenty Fifth of April, 2002, our congregation was delighted to know that one of its treasured youth was praying for them in the Convent of Saint Demiana. Our dearest sister chose the path of the five wise Virgins, and was ordained as the Consecrated Sister, Tasoni Irini, after spending seven months retreat, contemplating on our Lord. Since arriving in Sydney at the end of November 2002 with Tasoni Catherine, Tasoni Irini has not stopped working for the Church and School, especially with the youth, in many services. She is a priceless asset to us here at Archangel Michael and Saint Bishoy, and we pray that she will stay with us for an extended time.
Truly Saturday, the Twenty second of February 2003 was a great day for our Church. Taking place at Saint Marina’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Orchard Hills, His Grace Bishop, Abba Daniel headed the Mass, and promoted our dearest Father Antonious to be the Very Reverent Father, Abouna Antonious, Hegumen in the Coptic Orthodox Church. The following Sunday, Father Antonious prayed his first Mass in Archangel Michael and Saint Bishoy Church at Mt. Druitt, as a Hegumen, and head of the Church.
With the continuos growth of the congregation, and the high demand on the priests, it was crucial for a fourth priest to help with the service. And so it was, that His Grace Bishop Daniel found the most suitable person, and introduced him and his family to the congregation. Doctor Emil Botros flew over to Egypt with haste after settling in to Sydney and our Parish to return a couple of months later as the Reverent Father, Abouna Bishoy Botros. May God bless the seed of Father Bishoy’s service, to turn it into a dynamic plant, bearing many fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Glory be to the Holy
Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever, Amen.