SVSPRESS – April 2017
This is the first comprehensive work published on the life of Habib Girgis. By the mid-nineteenth century, the Coptic Orthodox Church was in a state of deep vulnerability that tore at the very fabric of Coptic identity. In response, Girgis dedicated his life to advancing religious and theological education.
This book follows Girgis’ six-decade-long career as an educator, reformer, dean of a theological college, and pioneer of the Sunday School Movement in Egypt—including his publications and a cache of newly discovered texts from the Coptic Orthodox Archives in Cairo. It traces his agenda for educational reform in the Coptic Church from youth to old age, as well as his work among the villagers of Upper Egypt. It details his struggle to implement his vision of a Coptic identity forged through education, and in the face of a hostile milieu.
The pain and strength of Girgis are seen most clearly near the end of his career, when he said, “Despite efforts that sapped my health and crushed my strength, I did not surrender for one day to anyone who resisted or envied me…. Birds peck only at ripe fruits. I thank God Almighty that, through his grace, despair never penetrated my soul for even one day, but in fact I constantly smile at the resistances…. It is imperative that we do not fail in doing good, for we shall reap the harvest in due time, if we do not weary.”
Habib Girgis remains a pioneer of Coptic religious and theological education—a Copt whose vision and legacy continue to shape his community to this very day.
Bishop Suriel holds a PhD from Fordham University in New York, and is Dean of St Athanasius College in Melbourne, Australia. He is also Senior Lecturer of Religious Education, Pastoral Ministry, and Coptic History. Bishop Suriel is the translator of Pope Shenouda III’s The Life of Repentance and Purity, published by SVS Press and SAC Press in the Coptic Studies Series.
“This is a groundbreaking study that adds considerable depth and complexity to our understanding of Habib Girgis’ long career and the Coptic Church’s educational reforms over the first half of the twentieth century.”
— Maged S. A. Mikhail
Professor of History, California State University at Fullerton
“This meticulously researched and beautifully written study examines the inspiring life of Habib Girgis…. Historians of modern Egypt generally, and of Coptic Orthodox and other Egyptian Christian communities more specifically, will appreciate this study for its sensitive yet rigorous treat-ment of a great twentieth-century educator who, in the words of Bishop Suriel, helped Egyptians ‘to give meaning to their own struggles… [and] to look within to understand their lives and to think of what lay beyond.’”
— Heather J. Sharkey
Associate Professor of Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies, University of Pennsylvania
“This book presents the first comprehensive study that places Habib Girgis’ life, work, and strategies within their historical, religious, and educational context. Based on primary texts, educational curricula, Church archives, and historical sources, it presents a compelling and insightful story that is a must read for students of Coptic history and Church life.”
— Nelly van Doorn-Harder
Professor of Religion, Wake Forest University