Sankt Ignatios foundation decided this week to award Bishop Suriel of Melbourne the Order of Sankt Ignatios 2017. His Grace was born in Port Said, but moved at the age of four to Australia. Bishop Suriel was nominated for having built up St. Athanasius College in Melbourne during the last ten years, which is the first Coptic institution in the world that is accredited for university degrees.
Already from the beginning, he chose an inter-orthodox line and invited other Orthodox churches to participate in constructing the institution. Patriarch Irinej of Serbia in Belgrade, with the help of Bishop Irinej, the previous bishop of the Serbian Diocese of Australia, made a pastoral visit as a confirmation of the cooperation between the church families, and father John Behr from St. Vladimir's in New York is one of the teachers who has taught at St. Athanasius.
Bishop Suriel is from the beginning a mathematics teacher, but was struck by the spiritual calling from the desert in his native land Egypt. In 1991 he became a monk in Anba Bishoy monastery responsible along with father Angelos for the English version of El Keraza. In 1993 he was ordained as priest. In 1996 he became the parish priest at Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1997 he became General Bishop with the full responsibility for administering the Archdiocese of America where he founded BLESS US (Bishopric of Ecumenical and Social Services) that are still active to collect money for the needy in Egypt.
In 1998 he completed his Master degree at St. Vladimir's in New York. In 1999, he was elected bishop of Melbourne, Canberra, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and New Zealand. Immediately after taking office, he began to build an institution of education that would be under his leadership, but with the aura of academic freedom, academic quality and educational awareness. Parallel to this, he started also his doctoral studies in theology.
His focus has always been on education and teaching, and in 2002 he wrote the book "Christian Education in the Church of Alexandria in the First Five Centuries". His Grace considers his doctoral studies as a viable source in developing his ideas considerably. In 2014 he received a doctorate on a modern saint, St. Habib Girgis. Saint Habib was canonized by Pope Tawadros II partly for his educational efforts, and was the rector of the Coptic Seminary in Cairo, and founder of the Sunday School movement, which laid the foundation for the Coptic Pope Kyrillos VI's vision. Bishop Suriel focused on St. Habib Girgis educational vision, and credits one of the problems in the Oriental Orthodox world prior to St. Habib Girgis, to the lack of an educational vision, and believes that the Oriental Churches must continue learn from the West and the Byzantine churches, in the same way as St. Habib Girgis learned from the other Christian communities.
The official declaration for the award reads as follows:
“His Grace Suriel, Coptic Bishop of Melbourne, Canberra, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, receives the Order of Sankt Ignatios for renewing the pedagogical vision of St Habib Girgis. His Grace follows the same path as St Habib Girgis who realized that education cannot develop in isolation. His Grace therefore gathers knowledge for his pedagogical work from various orthodox churches, Christian communities and even various religions. Through His Grace’s efforts the Coptic Church now enters a new millennium of studies, once more aspiring to become an example for others, but at the same time learning from others. This will surely transform not only Coptic Orthodoxy in Australia but also other parts of the Coptic world. May this award together with the award given previously to His Holiness Tawadros II inspire the Coptic Church to keep their heritage from the Ancient School of Alexandria.”
The award ceremony is preliminarily scheduled to September 30th 2017. Confirmation and more information will be announced in the middle of May.
Update: The award ceremony will be held on the 23'rd of September 2017, during the Sankt Ignatios Academic Ceremony.