Diocese of Melbourne
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Bishop Suriel was born Nabil Guirgis, the elder of two boys, in Port Said, Egypt, on 9 May, 1963. He migrated with his parents to Australia in May, 1967, growing up in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville. There were no Coptic Orthodox churches and very quickly his family realised the great need for one to be established on this continent. Not long afterwards, the small Coptic community in Sydney welcomed with great joy their first priest, Fr. Mina Nematalla, in 1969. Fr. Mina established St. Mary and St. Mina parish, and it was there where Bishop Suriel and his family worshipped.
Education and Employment background
In 1974, Bishop Suriel completed his primary education from Marrickville West Public School. He completed his secondary education at Tempe High School in 1980, and was successful in his studies, preferring the scientific subjects, especially mathematics. He represented his school in many competitions, especially in tennis and table tennis. During his secondary education he enjoyed the sport of tennis and participated in many competitions at Marrickville Tennis Club. At church, he was also involved in many activities; he attended Sunday School regularly and in his early teenage years was consecrated as a Reader by the late Bishop Samuel. He later became interested in learning the Coptic language and attended classes regularly on Sundays after the liturgy. In his final two years in high school, from the age of 16, he became more involved in his local church and took on a two-year part-time course to study his faith more closely. This course equipped him to be a Sunday School servant. He began teaching in Sunday School at the age of 17, during his first year at university.
Actually, teaching became his life. In 1981 he entered the University of Sydney and completed a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in Pure Mathematics, with a sub-major in Applied Mathematics and Statistics. In his final year in 1984 he also completed a Diploma of Education at Sydney Institute of Education. These two achievements qualified him to be a High School teacher. In January, 1985, he was appointed by the NSW Department of Education to teach Mathematics to Years 7 to 12 students at Fairvale High School in the west of Sydney. He taught there for one and a half years and then soon afterwards was appointed to Dulwich High School in Dulwich Hill. He worked there for four and a half enjoyable and fruitful years.
Bishop Suriel had dreamt for so many years of going to visit Egypt, his mother land, after hearing so much about it from his parents. He longed to see the land of his forefathers, the great heroes of the Christian faith such as St. Anthony the Great. He longed to visit the monasteries and ancient churches. He had heard so much about monasticism, and longed to see this ascetic life in practice in the Egyptian deserts. Monasticism was established in Egypt in the 3rd and 4th centuries. During the summer break of 1985/86, he joined approximately forty other youth from Sydney and Melbourne for the first ever organised Coptic youth tour to the Holy Land of Egypt.
Bishop Suriel had also heard much about His Holiness Pope Shenouda Ill, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark. He was very impressed by him, by his teaching and wisdom and by his great knowledge and love of the Holy Bible. Bishop Suriel was so eagerly waiting to meet His Holiness on his planned visit to Australia in 1980, but unfortunately that visit was cancelled due to the difficult situation in Egypt at the time. He would await eagerly any news of His Holiness\\\\\\\' visit. When this youth tour met His Holiness in the Monastery of Saint Bishoy, it was the first time for most of them to see His Holiness face to face, to kiss his holy hand and to hear his words full of wisdom. This meeting left a great impact on the life of all the youth present and especially on the life and future of Bishop Suriel.
Church Involvement & Service
After returning from this trip, the priest and elders at St. Mary and St. Mina parish saw its positive effect on the lives of the participants. They saw the possibilities in the youth and had a vision for the future, and they knew that a Church without youth is a Church without a future. They decided to allow four of the youth that were on this trip and were all Sunday School servants to lead the youth meeting. Bishop Suriel was one of those four. This was a turning point in the life of this parish and in the life of those four young men. The opportunity given these four was a stepping stone and foundation for what was to come. Of these four youth, two of them including Bishop Suriel became monks at St. Bishoy Monastery in Wadi-El-Natroun (Scetis), Egypt, and bishops, the third is a monk and the fourth is a married, successful servant in the Church.
As a youth leader, Bishop Suriel coordinated and planned many conventions for youth and servants in Sydney on several occasions every year. He also participated in the publication of St. George Youth Magazine that is still published on a monthly basis. In 1990 he was chosen to be the youth representative on the NSW Board of Deacons where he served for one year. Bishop Suriel was always interested in gathering and reading English material about his faith. Even though not much material was accessible in English, he would always try to find such literature and build his library. In 1989 he translated and published a major book by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III from Arabic to English, titled, “The Life of Repentance and Purity”. Bishop Suriel began to learn Arabic at home then later at church and he also studied Arabic for one year at the University Sydney. In 1991 he attended the 7th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Canberra as a visitor and set up a Coptic exhibition that was visited by thousands of delegates and guests. This exhibition was aimed at introducing the Coptic Orthodox Church to the attendees and included books and Coptic Art. He also attended, in December, 1998, the 8th Assembly of the WCC in Harare as a delegate representing the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Monasticism & Priesthood
During the WCC meeting in 1991, Bishop Suriel was granted an audience with His Holiness Pope Shenouda III where he expressed to His Holiness his deep desire to lead a monastic life. His Holiness accepted him to the Monastery of St. Bishoy, where he was part of His Holiness’ Secretariat at the monastery. On 6 July, 1991, His Holiness consecrated him as a monk by the name of Fr. Suriel El-Anba-Bishoy along with six others. In 1992 His Holiness gave the responsibility of establishing an English version of El-Keraza (Preaching) Magazine, under the pope’s guidance, to Fr. Angaelos El-Anba-Bishoy (also from Australia, now Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop for Stevenage, England) and Fr. Suriel. This magazine was distributed to our congregations in the lands of immigration including the United Kingdom, USA, Canada and Australia on an almost monthly basis.
On 8 June, 1993, Fr. Suriel was ordained a priest by His Holiness and continued to serve in the monastery. The time in the monastery was a time for prayer, solitude and contemplation. He also translated one other book by His Holiness named, “Tears in Spiritual Life” but it has not yet been published. The experience that Fr. Suriel received during his time in the monastery and especially in the Secretariat with His Holiness will always be treasured.
Parish Priest in Honolulu
In early January 1996, His Holiness appointed Fr. Suriel to pastor the small Coptic community in Honolulu, Hawaii. There were only eleven families there, and the closest Coptic Church to them was in Los Angeles, five hours away by aeroplane. He worked to serve this small community diligently. He established regular weekly services for them including Vespers and Bible study on Saturdays, the Divine Liturgy and youth meeting on Sundays, and a Sunday School class on Saturdays before Vespers. All of these meetings he conducted himself as there was no one else experienced enough to teach. During his time in Honolulu he lived with the Marianist Catholic Community of Hawaii and he studied Theology at Chaminade University for one and a half years receiving Grade As for all courses. He completed 21 credits during this time. He also assisted in preparing for the visit of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III to Hawaii during his Silver Jubilee in December, 1996, and on this occasion conducted a photo exhibition of Coptic life and art at the State Library as well as a banquet in honour of His Holiness.
Consecration and Service in North America
On 15 June, 1997, he was selected and ordained by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and the Holy Synod as a General Bishop in the Coptic Orthodox Church and given the name Bishop Suriel. After spending some time in Egypt, he participated with His Grace Bishop Moussa in the Annual Youth Conventions in North America and Europe. In October, 1997, he was appointed by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III to oversee the administration of the Coptic Archdiocese in Cedar Grove in New Jersey on his behalf. He was also to head the monthly clergy meetings and to revive and work diligently in youth ministry on the East Coast and Mid-West of America.
He travelled extensively throughout this region during a period of two years beginning on 15 October, 1997. He visited more than 40 churches in this area covering 17 states and many more cities, many parishes visited several times. These visits included Divine Liturgies, youth meetings for High School and College youth, meetings for families and parents, as well as meeting with the Sunday School servants for spiritual building. On the Feast of Resurrection, 1998, he launched a major web site for the Archdiocese whose address now is www.nacopts.org. It was on this occasion also that he published the first monthly newsletter for youth named “Contemporary Copt”. He was able to involve many young people in youth ministry in different fields.
Another important and vital part of Bishop Suriel’s ministry at the Archdiocese was to lay important foundations for BLESS USA (the Bishopric of Public Ecumenical and Social Services). This organisation, now operating under the guidance of His Grace Bishop Youannis in Egypt and His Grace Bishop David in USA, raises funds and develops methods of helping the poor and needy Christians of Egypt. They have an excellent web site at www.blessusa.org.
In September, 1998, despite a heavy schedule, he began studying towards a Masters degree in Christian Education at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. He studied one year there, and his credits from Chaminade University were accepted towards the degree, but his episcopal duties prevented him from completing it. Later, however, in 2001, as Bishop of Melbourne, His Grace completed his Masters degree in Religious Education at the Australian Catholic University, hence the booklet he produced, “Christian Education in the Church of Alexandria in the First Five Centuries”. Bishop Suriel is currently on the verge of completing his Ph. D. degree in Religious Education at Fordham University in New York, studying the influence of Archdeacon Habib Jirjis. His Grace is also an Honorary Research Associate at the Centre for Early Christian Studies, the largest centre for the study of the early Christian world within Australia.
Bishop Suriel was also invited to give two lectures in consecutive years at St. Vladimir’s during their annual Eastern/Oriental Orthodox Symposium, both well received. He was also invited in 1998 and 1999 to give two lectures at Eastern Orthodox churches on the subjects of “Orthodox Understanding of Holy Angels” and “Making Christ Real in the Home”.
During his work in America, Bishop Suriel was also responsible for organising and planning the six pastoral visits of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III during 1998 and 1999, and he also accompanied His Holiness throughout all of his travels to North America during this two year period. In his words he says, “truly these were golden moments in my life, in which I had this opportunity to learn and experience firsthand our amazing and blessed pope and patriarch at work tirelessly for the sake of his flock in North America.”
During his time on the East Coast he participated in many ecumenical activities including:
1. The annual Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches;
2. Welcoming His All-Holiness the late Catholicos of good memory Karekin I of the Armenian Apostolic Church;
3. Welcoming Patriarch Elia of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church;
4. Meeting with SCOBA (Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops of America);
5. The enthronement of Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church in America; and
6. The standing conference between Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches as well as meeting with the new Anglican bishop of New York.
He also participated in the first concelebrated liturgy of Oriental Orthodox Churches in 1998 and hosted the second concelebrated liturgy in October, 1999.
Bishop Suriel also attended and spoke at the inauguration of the current Mayor of Bayonne in New Jersey. He also welcomed H. E. Mr. Hosni Mubarak, the President of Egypt, and had a private meeting along with a delegation of Coptic clergy and laymen at Blair House in Washington DC. He attended the meeting arranged by the General Secretary of the NCC (National Council of Churches) to welcome Mr. Yasser Arafat the Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, to New York. In January, 1999 he established the first annual winter retreat for graduates and college students on the East Coast, where 250 youth attended. During this retreat he established the East Coast Coptic Orthodox Youth Association (ECCOYA). This team of about forty youth workers met approximately every two weeks at the Archdiocese for training in how to be effective youth workers and leaders. This team was subdivided into smaller groups each having a specific duty, such as fundraising, establishing a database of youth in the area, research and statistics, translation, publication and interact as well as an advertising team just to name a few. He also held spiritual days on a regular basis for High School and College youth at the Archdiocese beginning with a liturgy about six times a year on Saturdays. These meetings were attended by youth from many parishes.
Ordination for the Diocese of Melbourne and its Affiliated Regions
By God’s grace, Bishop Suriel concluded his ministry in America on 9 November, 1999. On that occasion he published a book titled, “Christ: Our Life and Hope – Spiritual Talks for Youth, Parents and Leaders”. His Grace then traveled to Cairo where he was appointed on Sunday, 10 November, 1999 (also the 28th anniversary of the enthronement date of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III) as Bishop of Melbourne, Canberra, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and New Zealand. He then was enthroned in his Diocese in Melbourne on the Saturday, 4 December, 1999 (later, the South Pacific including Fiji was added to the diocese). His new title, Bishop Suriel of Melbourne and Its Affiliated Regions, was announced by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III on 14 November, 1999, at the Grand Cathedral of Saint Mark, Cairo, in the presence of sixty-one metropolitans and bishops.
The document of Investiture for His Grace’s enthronement was signed dated 4 December, 1999, by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and co-signed by Bishop Moussa, General Bishop; Bishop Sarabamoun, Bishop of St. Bishoy’s Monastery; Bishop Sarabamoun of Atbara, Omdurman and East of Sudan; Bishop Picenti of Helwan & Affiliated Regions; Bishop Serapion of Los Angeles and Bishop Asheya of Tahta. The enthronement itself was celebrated by the above six bishops delegated by His Holiness. Many governmental and religious dignitaries were present for the historic enthronement.
Immediately upon enthronement, His Grace “went about doing good” (Acts 10.38) paying pastoral visits to all the parishes and colleges at least five times, visiting the congregations in their homes every Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, ten families per evening, re-launching the diocesan website, updating the diocesan database. His Grace held youth meetings for various age groups and established regular meetings with the then Victorian Coptic Orthodox Youth Association (VCOYA), re-structuring it in 2000 as Coptic Youth Association (CYA), then as Coptic Orthodox Youth Association (COYA). He also established St Athanasius Press, a multimedia group in the diocese, as well as Epsajee TV. His Grace also established St Paul’s Group of active youth whose role is to assist in organising major events.
Last Updated: 2010-11-26 22:35:49