Matta El Meskeen

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Father Matta El Meskeen or Matthew the Poor, born Youssef Iskandar (20 September 1919 – 8 June 2006) was a Copt Coptic Orthodox monk. He was the key figure in the revival of Coptic monasticism which began in 1969 when he was appointed to the Monastery of St Macarius in the Wadi El Natrun in Egypt. By the time of his death the community had grown from 6 aged monks to 130 monks, and as many other monasteries were revived, new ones also began to open. He was twice nominated to become Coptic Pope, but was not chosen in either case.

He was also a theologian, and author of 181 books and hundreds of journal articles on Biblical exegesis, Ecclesiastical rites, spiritual and theological matters, and much more. Some of these writings were controversial.[1]

Early life[edit]

Father Matta El Meskeen was born Youssef Iskander in Banha, Qalyubia Governorate, Egypt, in 1919, although the website for the St. Macarius monastery says that he was born in Damanhour, Egypt.[2] In 1944, he graduated in Pharmacy from the University of Cairo. After leading a successful life and establishing a wealthy lifestyle for himself—Iskander at the time was the owner of two pharmacies, two villas, and two cars—he renounced his material possessions in 1948, and entered the monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor in Mount Qalamoun (roughly near Maghagha, Upper Egypt). In 1951, he was ordained as a priest against his will.

Monastic life[edit]

After living for a few years in the monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in Mount Qalamoun, Father Matta decided to move out into Wadi El Rayan in the late 1950s. There, he lived as a recluse in the spirit of the ancient Desert Fathers for twelve years. By 1960, seven other monks had joined him. The community expanded to twelve by 1964. These twelve monks were sent by Pope Kyrillos VI to Wadi El Natrun in 1969 to develop the monastery of St. Macarius the Great.

At that time only six elderly, frail fathers lived near the road between Cairo and Alexandria. Matta and his twelve companions cared for them while reconstructing the monastery. The administrative, agricultural, institutional, and printing/publishing developments at the renewed Monastery of St. Macarius the Great were staggering. President Sadat donated land to the monastery to be brought into cultivation. But the spiritual revolution was much greater. By 1981 Matta had over eighty monks in the monastery.[3][4] The monastery also finances services and projects for the poor, both Muslims and Christians.[5]

Spiritual guide[edit]

Father Matta was once the Father in Confession and spiritual guide of Pope Shenouda III (during the 1950s).[6] Father Matta was also the spiritual guide of the late Alexandrian priest Father Bishoy Kamel[7] a contemporary Coptic Orthodox saint, and the Coptic historian Iris Habib Elmasry.

Alongside two others (Bishop Samuel[8] and Bishop (and later Pope) Shenouda, Father Matta was a candidate for the Patriarchal throne in 1971, following the death of Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria (Kyrillos VI) but he did not reach the final stage of three candidates.


Father Matta El Meskeen is considered by many as a prominent Copt. But he was allegedly suspended from position in the Coptic Church twice,[6] first by Pope Yusab II in 1955, and then again by Pope Kyrillos VI for nine years from 1960 to 1969.[1] This seems to have been for administrative or political reasons. For instance, his book about 'the Church and the State', in which he called for total separation of the two[9][10] as well as certain theological issues.[1][11]

For many years before Father Matta's departure there were many reports about disagreements between him and Pope Shenouda III.[1]

Relationship with Pope Shenouda III[edit]

During the 1950s, Father Matta was at one time spiritual father and confessor of the man who became Pope Shenouda III. Pope Shenouda acknowledged Father Matta El-Meskeen, whom he calls "my father monk" in the introduction to his book Intelaq Al-Rouh (The Release of the Spirit).[12][13]

But there seems to have been some major disagreements between both leaders and their followers,[1][14][15][16][17] e.g., in relation to the concept of theosis[18][19][20] and also regarding Father Matta's position on Mark 16.[21][22] Pope Shenouda's reply concerning the theological and dogmatic opinions of Fr. Matta.[23][24] (Arabic RealAudio; recorded in 1991/2003)[25] and H.E. Metropolitan Bishoy's lecture about Fr. Matta.[26]

Pope Shenouda visited St Macarius monastery in November 1996, a date which coincided with the silver jubilee of his consecration as pope, and was warmly welcomed by Father Matta who described the visit as a "special blessing".


"Whenever physical hunger turned cruel against me, I found my gratification in prayer. Whenever the biting cold of winter was unkind to me, I found my warmth in prayer. Whenever people were harsh to me (and their harshness was severe indeed) I found my comfort in prayer. In short, prayer became my food and my drink, my outfit and my armor, whether by night or by day."
"It is no joy for the church to have many active members of varied services who lack the spiritual proficiency for renewing souls and regenerating them in a genuine spiritual rebirth to win them for the Kingdom of Heaven. The true joy of the Church lies in leaders who possess spiritual insight, who walk ahead of their flocks so that the flocks can follow a sure path. It is not possible to obtain spiritual insight by action or study, spiritual insight is attained by silence, retreat and long prayers in their various stages."
"I felt I was late to come to the knowledge of Christ; studying the Bible appeared such a daunting task. In desperation, I asked the Lord to give me either a long life to have enough time to study the Bible well, or enough wisdom to grasp its hidden meanings. In His everlasting generosity, God gave me both."

When asked why he never defended himself against the many accusations regarding some of his writings, Father Matta El-Meskeen replied,

"Did you read the Exposition of the Gospel of John and benefit from it? ... My son I won't spend my time replying to anyone, but, my son, I will die and they will die and the Church will remain, as well as what we offered to her, and the next generations will judge us."[27]

The Gospel of the day of his departure (June 8, 2006) according to the Coptic Lectionary was John 15:17-25.

Disputable quotations[edit]

In a rare interview with Time magazine,[28] after Sadat had exiled Pope Shenouda, Matta El Meskeen was quoted as saying the following:

The interview happened just days before Islamic militants assassinated Sadat during a military parade on 6 October 1981.

Further reading[edit]

In Vol.27, No. 3 & 4, Fall & Winter 2006 of Coptic Church Review, there is an important article by Rev. Dr. John Watson, who lives in Highcliffe, Dorset, England. It is in 27 pages in length and is entitled "Abouna Matta El Meskeen Contemporary Desert Mystic". Coptic Church Review is published by Society of Coptic Church Studies, P.O. Box 714, E. Brunswick, NJ 08816, USA. The article is also available in microfilm format from University Microfilms International, 300 North Zeeb Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48106, USA.

In May 2017, the Monastery of Bose in Italy published the first collection of studies (in Italian) entitled "Matta el Meskin: a contemporary desert father" entirely dedicated to the life, the works and the spirituality of father Matta el Meskeen which includes the contributions of some of the best knowers worldwide of this contemporary father of the desert.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Departure of Hegomen Matta Al Meskeen" (PDF). El-Keraza. 23 June 2006. p. 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  2. ^ "Article". St. Macarius Monastery. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  3. ^ "Media clip". Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  4. ^ Watson, John H. "The Coptophile Column". Watainet. Archived from the original on 13 August 2006.
  5. ^ "الأب متي المسكين ثروة الله للكنيسة". Al-Araby (in Arabic). 7 December 2003. Archived from the original on 8 August 2006.
  6. ^ a b "The Very Reverend Hegumen Father Matta El-Meskeen". St Mina Monastery. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  7. ^ "Bishoy Kamel". Orthodox Wiki. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  8. ^ "Bishop Samuel (1921-1981)". St. Peter & St. Paul Coptic Orthodox Church. Archived from the original on 26 April 2004. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  9. ^ El Masry, Sami (4 July 2006). "Axis: secularism, political religion and criticism of religious thought". (in Arabic). Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  10. ^ Fahim, Tamara Saad (15 June 2006). "الأب متى المسكين باعث النهضة فى الحياة الرهبانية المعاصرة للكنيسة المصرية". Al-Ahaly (in Arabic). Archived from the original on 15 December 2006.
  11. ^ "الأب متى المسكين". Islam Online (in Arabic). 19 June 2006. Archived from the original on 1 July 2006.
  12. ^ Habib, Nader. "Obituary: Life of the spirit, Father Matta El-Miskeen (1919-2006)". Al-Ahram. Archived from the original on 25 July 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  13. ^ H.H. Pope Shenouda III (September 1990). The Release of The Spirit (PDF). Dar El Tebaa El Kawmia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 February 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  14. ^ "Yahoo! Groups". Retrieved 2 September 2012.[dead link]
  15. ^ "لماذا غاب البابا شنودة عن الصلاة علي جثمــان الأب متي المسكين؟‏!‏". Al Ahram Al Arabi (in Arabic). 17 June 2006. Archived from the original on 7 August 2006. Retrieved 20 January 2007.
  16. ^ متى المسكين.. تعرفوه؟ - ولاد البلد - عشرينات. (in Arabic). 26 June 2006. Archived from the original on 31 December 2006.
  17. ^ Al Masri, Sami (29 June 2006). "من الرجال من لا يموتون ... -أبونا متَّى المسكين-". Archived from the original on 6 August 2006.
  18. ^ "Question about humanity and the cross". Archived from the original on 7 June 2008. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  19. ^ "Topic 8933". Retrieved 20 January 2007.[dead link]
  20. ^ "Fr. Matta el Maskeen (Matthew the Poor)". Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  21. ^ "Discussion of the views of Pope Shenouda". Coptic Truth. 27 October 2009. Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  22. ^ "A detailed study about the Mark 16 controversy". St Mina Monastery (in Arabic). Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  23. ^ "Part 1".[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ "Part 2".[permanent dead link]
  25. ^ "Pope Shenouda IIIs reply concerning the opinions of Fr Matta El Meskeen". 1991. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  26. ^ "H.E. Anba Bishoy about Fr Matta". St Mina Monastery (in Arabic). 18 September 2006. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  27. ^ "أبي الذي رحل ليشفع عنا". (in Arabic). Archived from the original on 17 February 2007. Retrieved 20 January 2007.
  28. ^ Medina, Sara; Wurmstedt, Robert C.; Harrison, Nathaniel (28 September 1981). "Religion: Egypt's Copts in Crisis". Time. Retrieved 2 September 2012.

External links[edit]