While Jesus, Mary and Joseph took refuge in Egypt under the persecution of Herod, tradition states that Christianity officially came to Egypt through St Mark the Evangelist who became Egypt’s first Patriarch and Pope.
Alexandria soon became the centre for learning, boasting the Library of Alexandria and the Catechetical School. Soon after, Ptolemy Philadelphus ordered Jewish scholars to translate the Bible into Greek, which became known as the Septuagint. In the third century, “the Holy Bible, in its two Testaments, the Old and the New, was translated from the Greek to the Coptic language” and St Athanasius, Pope and Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, defeated Arianism resulting in the creedal statement of 325 AD known as the Nicene Creed.
The Anglican presence in Egypt owes itself to the Providence of God and great missionary evangelists. In 1819, the first CMS missionary to Egypt arrived and after meeting the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch and receiving letters of introduction to all monasteries in Egypt, he set out to visit the monks and distribute copies of the four Gospels in Arabic. Land was given to the Anglican Church by Mohammed Ali Pasha and St Mark’s Anglican Church in Alexandria, Egypt was consecrated in on 17 December 1839.
On 23 January 1876, All Saints’ was consecrated in Cairo, Egypt by Bishop Samuel Gobat with the Duke of Sutherland laying the foundation stone. Though originally just a small parish church, it became the main centre of worship for many British residents in Cairo and in the surrounding areas. In 1914 Egypt became a British Protectorate and in 1915, the Bishop of Jerusalem decided “the time had come for the construction in Cairo of a church worthy of our religion and our name.” In a letter to The Times on 29 June 1916, Bishop McInnes said “such a church would be a witness and a symbol of our Christian faith to the people of Egypt…. To ourselves it would not only be a symbol, but the outward expression of our inward faith, the centre of our religious life, and a new and perpetual incentive to worship.”
The Anglican presence grew due to the British influence in Egypt and through the ministry of CMS which during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries sent The Revd Canon Temple Gairdner, Dr Frank Harpur, Revd Douglas Thornton, and Miss Constance Padwick among others. Their influence, too numerous to recount here, cannot be understated and continues today especially in the establishing of the Orient & Occident Magazine, Jesus Light of the World Church in Old Cairo, and Harpur Memorial Hospital in Menouf among others. During this period, outreach to non-Christians and to Coptic Orthodox Christians grew considerably.
Revd Llewellyn Gwynne and Dr Frank Harpur, who established hospitals and clinics in Egypt in 1888, travelled to Sudan in 1899 to establish medical clinics and schools in Omdurman and in Khartoum. “Five years later a formal invitation from the colonial administration was given to the Church Missionary Society to… undertake a full range of missionary activities.” In 1905, Gwynne was appointed an archdeacon for the Sudan, and in 1908 he was consecrated a suffragan bishop of Khartoum, under the Diocese of Jerusalem. CMS then issued its “New Call from the Heart of Africa” and in January 1912, All Saints Cathedral in Khartoum was consecrated.
In June 1914, Bishop Gwynne left Sudan and joined the British army, serving as a chaplain in World War I. He returned to Sudan in 1919. In 1920, the Diocese of Egypt and the Sudan was formed with The Rt Revd Llewelyn Gwynne as its first bishop (enthroned on 21 November 1921). During World War I and World War II, the British established chaplaincies throughout the Middle East. The Mission to the Seafarers was of great importance and the British influence on the Egyptian church was at its zenith. Sadly many English failed to adequately raise and train indigenous leaders.
St Mary’s Church, which was consecrated in 1909 near the British outposts in Garden City (Cairo), served as the Pro-Cathedral from during World War I and again from 1925-1938 until the new All Saints Cathedral was finished. At that time, St Mary’s Church was sold to the Greek Catholic Church and the St Mary’s Waqf was started. On 25 April 1938, the Feast of St Mark, the patron saint of Egypt, Bishop Gwynne established the second All Saints Cathedral in Cairo and the Archbishop of York, Dr. William Temple, consecrated it.
World War II brought many British to Egypt and North Africa, but also created a sense of colonialism. In 1950, to distance itself from the Church of England, the “Episcopal Church in Egypt” was formed under Bishop Geoffrey Allen. In 1956, after a decade of political unrest in Egypt, the government forced all expatriates to repatriate, leaving only four Egyptian clergy, temporarily under the direct oversight of the Archbishop in Jerusalem, to maintain dozens of churches, schools, hospitals and other institutions throughout Egypt. With great regret and sadness, many Anglican churches in Egypt were destroyed, some were taken by other denominations, and some were given to other denominations. Yet, God preserved the Anglican church in Egypt and we remember “blessed by Egypt my people.”
In 1963, All Saints Cathedral was given notice by President Gamal Abdel Nasser of its future demolition to make way for the bridge connecting El Gezira to Ramses. The second All Saints Cathedral was destroyed in 1978, ridding the Cairo skyline of anything “Christian” or “colonial.” A new era of training and equipping indigenous leaders, lay and ordained, was established an in 1974, the first Egyptian bishop, Isaaq Musaad was consecrated. In 1984, Ghais Abdel Malik became the second Egyptian bishop (1984-2000) and later the President Bishop of the Province (1996-2000). On the Feast of St. Mark, 25 April 1988, the third and present All Saints Cathedral in Cairo, whose shape can be described as either a Bedouin tent (because Christianity is mobile) or a lotus flower (because Christians are to offer the sweet fragrance of Christ) was consecrated Bishop Ghais Abdel Malek.
In 2000, Bishop Mouneer Anis became the third Egyptian bishop (2000-present) and President Bishop of the Province (2007-present). Of particular importance in recent years was the establishment of the Alexandria School of Theology, the centenary of Harpur Memorial Hospital in Menouf in 2010 and the birth of Harpur Memorial Hospital in Sadat City.
One may ask why the Diocese of Egypt has flourished? The response must be by the Grace of God and through the church’s mission in serving the community in word and deed. Loving one’s neighbour has been a key factor. One priest who served in the Diocese of Egypt wrote, in regard to the Diocese’s history of mission: “There has been a strong theme of service in Anglican mission in Egypt right up to the present day. The love of God was shone through the provision of health care and education in Anglican hospitals and schools. This was done without necessarily any expectation that those who benefited from it would convert from Islam to Christianity” (Rhodes 10).
Due to the large geographical area of the Diocese, the varying cultures and languages, and due to the increase in ministry, Bishop Mouneer Anis started two Episcopal Areas with Assistant (Area) Bishops in the Diocese: in 2007, Bishop Mouneer consecrated Andrew Proud to be the first “Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa” covering Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Dijibouti and in 2009, Bishop Mouneer consecrated Dr Bill Musk to be the first “Area Bishop for North Africa” covering Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. In 2012, Bishop Mouneer consecrated Dr Grant LeMarquand to continue the work started by Bishop Andrew Proud. The desire for these Episcopal Areas is to develop local leaders in these areas to build up the local Church.