“A Church without Children is a Church without a Future.”
~ The Late Pope Shenouda III
(The 117th Pope & Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church & The See of St. Mark)
Biblical education has been documented in the Holy Bible from the time of Moses as being of utmost importance. Through God’s spokesman, Moses, the Israelites were charged to teach His Holy Commandments to their children, “Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home” (Deuteronomy 6:7). At that time, many Israelites instructed their children in the home setting. Fathers educated sons in all aspects of the Israelite faith. The wealthy we learn in the Holy Book of II Kings 10:6, often hired professional teachers to instruct their children.
In the King David era, archaeologists have unearthed tablets inscribed with school exercises from that time period which may have been when formal schools actually emerged. By the first century BC, Jews had set up elementary schools in synagogues and homes throughout all of Israel. The basic subjects taught were memorisation of Holy Scripture, reading, writing, and mathematics. Older students sometimes sought out master teachers who could instruct them in the intricacies of Holy Bible interpretation and Jewish tradition.
We are further told in the Holy Book of Acts 22:3 of Saint Paul - finding such a teacher in Gamaliel, who was a respected member of the Sanhedrin.
In the year 61 AD, St. Mark the Evangelist entered the City of Alexandria preaching Christianity to Egypt. As the growth of the Christian Faith grew, St. Mark guided by the Holy Spirit recognised the need for establishing a theological school to explain and to consolidate the Christian Faith.
The School of Alexandria is well regarded as the earliest and most important source and institute of theological learning in Christian history.
Alexandria at that time, was a melting pot and a homeland of learning for many. It was inhabited by Egyptian, Greek, and Jewish cultures. Therefore, it was a necessity to have a Christian school of learning. It was further felt by St. Mark that a center of learning was the only way in which to give respect and rise to Christianity.
The theological school began by teaching "rightly" the people - who wanted to discern correctly and be baptised in the Name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit, whether they were Jewish, Gentile, or Christian. The beginning priority of the school was to strengthen Faith and empower its mission of Evangelizing. The school opened its doors to all people with different religions, cultural backgrounds, and varying social positions. The theological school was a mix of both genders without discrimination. Its emphasis was placed upon theoretical studies and the Life of Faith and True Christian Love.
Recorded by St. Eusebius the Scholar as well as St. Jerome, the theological school’s founder was St. Mark, who appointed Justus as its first dean (who would also later become the 6th Patriarch). Most of the prominent leaders of Alexandria were involved with the school either as teachers or students and many were to become future Patriarchs.
The first great director of the school was Pantaenus, whom was credited as one of those who adopted the Greek alphabet in the Coptic script. His successor was St. Clement of Alexandria noted for his efforts in attempting to reconcile Greek philosophy and Christianity.
Origen the Scholar, Heracles, and Dionsius would also become deans of the Theological School of Alexandria. In the years to follow St. Athanasius would give the headship of the school to St. Didymus the Blind. Among his students would be St. Gregory of Nazianzen, St. Jerome, and Rufinus.
In 451, with the first split of the church following the Council of Chalcedon, the emperors of Constantinople closed the school. In l893, His Holiness Pope Kyrillos V began a new seminary in Cairo and Christian education gained momentum once more.
On September 30, l962, His Holiness Pope Kyrillos VI ordained Fr. Antonious El Souriany as Bishop Shenouda, the first appointed Bishop for Christian Education. Following this ordination, His Grace Bishop Shenouda then became the President and Dean of the Theological College. The Bishop - then went on to be elected by Divine Will as His Holiness Pope Shenouda the 3rd.
The Late Reposed Pope Shenouda III established seminaries in Cairo, six additional seminaries in: Alexandria, Tanta, Menoufeia, Menia, Mouharrak Monastery and Beliana, two seminaries in the USA and one in Australia.
Through the Late Pope Shenouda III's numerous lectures and speeches, countless books and websites, and through encouraging and establishing many Coptic schools in several countries, education and instruction abounds ensuring the growth and strength of the Coptic Church today.
For Maccabees 13:22 states: “(Brothers) grow stronger from both general education and our discipline in the Law of God.”
Truly, as His Holiness’ life example demonstrates, the Holy Bible was given for our earthly transformation with education as its foundation. As it is written, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
Today as the enduring legacy of the late reposed H.H Pope Shenouda III remains, his mission and work is being continued and carried on by His Holiness Pope Tawadros II to emphasise on education and make it a priority for the Coptic Orthodox Church. May Our Lord Strengthen, continue to Bless and Protect H.H Pope Tawadros II on this great mission for the benefit of all.
Ultimately to know the will of God is the greatest of all educational pursuits, to understand the will of God is the greatest educational discovery and putting Christian education to use by doing the will of God is the greatest of life’s achievements.
History of Sunday School & Saint Habib Guirguis
Saint Archdeacon Habib Guirguis was born in 1876. He would go on to become the first student at the now renowned Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt and later its 2nd dean. Before he became the head of the renowned Theological Seminary, Saint Habib Guirguis felt that preaching and adult education were not sufficient enough for the advancement of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Protestant and Catholic Missionaries had been at work since the mid-nineteenth century, with the aim to radically influence the views of the Copts in order to abandon their inherited and God Given FAITH of Jesus Christ – The Universal and Apostolic Orthodox Faith.
Thus, with many issues at hand, Saint Habib Guirguis decided to establish Sunday Schools at the turn of the twentieth century as a means of satisfying the need for education. As a result, Coptic Orthodox Sunday schools were founded in major cities in Egypt in the Year 1900 - 15 years before there were even Egyptian public schools!
Saint Arch-Deacon Habib Guirguis
The Sunday School was established and flourished in Egypt after much hard work, and now, Coptic studies thrive in Egypt and abroad.
As Saint Habib Guirguis saw it, the interest of young children were the true foundations of Sunday Schools, and by 1900, Sunday school was the main pillar for the renaissance of Coptic Orthodox Christianity in the twentieth century until present. This is thanks in part to the hard work of Saint Habib Guirguis and other famous modern-day Sunday school teachers in the Coptic Church.
Coptic Orthodox Churches and villages throughout Egypt at the start of the twentieth century felt that they needed to include better curriculum and more textbooks. By the year 1899, Pope Cyril V issued Papal Edicts pertaining to the need to teach children to learn and deepen their Faith.
This was a result of Saint Habib Guirguis visualising and working toward the need to ensure that the raising of children in society for a Christian – should in fact be in accordance with the Teachings of Christ, Living as a True Christian, Safe-Guarding the Coptic Orthodox Heritage and Living by the Spirit of Truth & Holy Faith.
Saint Habib Guirguis worked to restructure Sunday school Curriculum significantly, as he had strived to do what he did eventually: to improve academic standards.
Saint Habib Guirguis departed to our heavenly father in 1951. He was officially canonized and inducted into the Coptic book of Saints (the Synaxarion) as “Saint Archdeacon Habib Guirguis”, in June 2013 at the hands of the Our Beloved Pope Abba Tawadros II, the 118th Pope and Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church and the See of St. Mark.
Long after Saint Habib Guirguis’ departure and repose – his devotion, work and the Faith entrusted – has since been strengthened, handed down and the creation of the Sunday School program lives on till this day within the Church for all present and future generations to come.