Iris Habib Elmasry

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Iris Habib Elmasry (إيريس حبيب المصري) was a prominent Coptic Historian (1910–1994).[1]


Iris Habib Elmasry was born into a Coptic family 1910, Her family name Elmasry in the Arabic language means The Egyptian. Her father Habib Elmasry was the secretary of the General Congregation Council of the Coptic Orthodox Church. She had two brothers; Amin, who was a prominent surgeon, and died in the 1960s, and Sami who was director of the Egyptian State Bureau for Tourism in London, and three sisters; Eva, who helped Iris in her work,[2] Soraya, an avid pianist, and Dora, who was married to Dr Aziz El Masry[3]

Mr Habib Elmasry, was the secretary of the General Congregation council for three terms, and was known for his strong support of ordination of a monk to be the Coptic Pope and not a Metropolitan or a Bishop. This issue caused an ongoing dispute in the Coptic Orthodox Church and although The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church had considered in the 1960s the General Bishops to be secretaries to the Pope in the degree of a Bishop, Miss Elmasry in her List of Coptic Orthodox Popes of Alexandria she considered Pope Shenouda III (1971–2012), who was a general Bishop before, to be the fourth Bishop to become a Pope after Popes John XIX (1928–1942), Macarius III (1942–1944)and Joseph II (1946–1956).[4]

Iris received her Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Education from Maria Grey College, University of London in 1932.[5]

Between 1952 and 1954, she pursued her research at Dropsie College, Philadelphia, and in 1955, she went to the National Gallery, London to obtain further materials and documents. In 1954, Pope Joseph II appointed Iris as the female delegate of the Coptic Church to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Evanston, Illinois, USA.

From 1955 to 1985 Iris continued to lecture in Coptic History at both the Seminary in Cairo and Alexandria and at the Institute of Coptic Studies.

Iris died Saturday, July 2, 1994.


She took interest in the history of the Coptic Orthodox Church and in 1948 published the first volume of her nine-volumes[6] book Story of the Coptic church.[7] The seventh volume of this history is about the era of Pope Cyril VI (1959–1971): the book shows how highly appreciative she was of His Holiness's work.

She considered Abouna Matta El Meskeen the Spiritual Father of the Monks in St. Macarius' Monastery in Scetis (Egypt) as her mentor and she always expressed gratitude to him in the introductions to her books and also to father Bishoy Kamel of Alexandria.[2]

Iris wrote The Story of the Copts in English in two volumes first published in 1975 by the Middle East Council of Churches,[7][8] and she also wrote a book called Introduction to Coptic Church Published in English in 1977.

Pope Youssab II, the 115th Pope (1946–1956), appointed her in 1954 as his secretary for correspondence with the World Council of Churches. and his successor Pope Kyrillos VI, the 116th Pope (1959–1971), appointed her in 1966, Counselor to young Coptic women.[1]

In addition she wrote other books:[9]

  • The Blessed Virgin 1970
  • Women in the Church 1979
  • The Pharaonic Influence on Modern Coptic Life 1980
  • Bishop Samuel 1983
  • Father Bishoy Kamel 1980
  • Habib Pascha El Masry 1971


Miss Elmasry's work was very thorough: she made every effort not to omit details that she considered important. As a result, her work is more detailed, and of greater use to both academic and non-academic readers is valuable for any researcher in Coptic history and provides a comprehensive approach to the history of Christianity in Egypt and point of view of the Coptic Church regarding many debatable issue like Council of Chalcedon.[10]

In the introduction to the first volume of her nine volumes book on the history of the Coptic Church, she mentions a conversation she had with a non-Egyptian about Council of Chalcedon; during which she explained the Coptic view regarding the council.[2]

She used a lot of sources in her work and mentioned many known scripts in different languages . Her work shows clear affection towards her church, and high esteem to certain people in the church’s history. This may be the reason behind the way she presented the history of Pope Cyril III in comparison to the way it was presented in Abouna Menassa Youhanna's book History of the Coptic Church .[11]

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