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MONASTIC RULE

The Coptic Monastery of St. Shenouda in Rochester, NY, is modeled after the monastic order of St. Shenouda the Archimandrite in the 4th to 5th centuries. This model is not a new monastic order, but rather a revival of an order of monasticism that was present from the early centuries of monasticism and arose out of Egypt from one of the great monastic leaders.

St. Shenouda’s monastic order was one that combined the life of solitude and prayer with a life of service. For example, in the Antonian monastic order, when a monk goes to live in the monastery, he does not leave just as St. Antony the Great said that it would be the same as a fish coming out of the water if a monk left his cell. But in the order of St. Shenouda, the monk has a service to the community around him in addition to his own personal order of prayer and solitude. Therefore, the monk can leave his monastery for service-oriented purposes.

In this monastery, just like all Coptic monasteries, there is a fixed prayer schedule with Midnight prayers and praise early in the morning and the Vespers in the evening. Each monk will also have his own private cell and does not leave the monastery except for service.

Furthermore, since it is located in a fairly quiet part of a suburb of Rochester called Henrietta, the atmosphere is similar to that of St. Shenouda’s in Suhaj, Upper Egypt, where his monastery was next to the villages and not deep in the desert.

St. Shenouda the Archimandrite’s service was on different levels:

1. Community service - He and his monastery were very involved in the lives of the people of the village around him. As opposed to many of the monasteries which are deep in the desert, St. Shenouda’s monastery in Suhaj was close to the villages. So many people came from all over to receive his advice. This involvement went to the extent of him at one time taking care of an entire village of 20,000 people. At the times when the inundation of the Nile did not occur there were famines that led to attacks on villages by nomadic tribes. Not only did they take everything in the village, they also destroyed the village and took the people themselves to sell them as slaves. One of them escaped and told St. Shenouda what happened. They ran after them and when they caught up, St. Shenouda said to them, “You took everything in the village. But why did you take the people? Leave the people with me.” Because God had given him a unique reverence, they left the people, all 20,000 of them, for St. Shenouda to take care of with absolutely nothing, not even their clothes. St. Shenouda took them back to the monastery and had all of the monks leave the monastery to live in the caves in the mountains around the monastery. The monks served them until they could rebuild their village and wait for the next crop to come up, a period of several months. Seven of the monks were physicians and surgeons who took care of all of the people’s medical needs. So in that period of time, it is documented that 94 people died and were buried in linen (very expensive, i.e. with dignity) and 52 children were born. There are several miracles that occurred during that period of time. One of them is that there came a time when all the food had run out in the monastery and all that was left were some crumbs. St. Shenouda told them to make the food available and give it to the people. They returned to him saying that there was no more food. St. Shenouda went with the monks to the storehouse for the food and they all prayed there. He then told them to open the door of the storehouse even though it had been empty. When they went to open the door, they found that they could barely nudge it open due to how packed it was with bread.

2. Theological and spiritual education - St. Shenouda’s involvement with the people in surrounding villages was not just one of community service, but it was very closely integrated with education. He would open his monastery every Saturday and Sunday for the congregations to come to the monastery and he would give his elegant sermons purely in Sahidic Coptic. These sermons are preserved until today and are sources of spiritual enrichment to all those that read them in addition to being the subjects of several doctoral degrees. He is felt to be the most outstanding writer in Coptic. Most of his letters, addressed to monks and nuns, deal with monastic questions, others combat pagans and heretics. His sermons are spirited and predominantly eschatological in character. It is well known that he attended the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. as a part of the Egyptian delegation with St. Cyril of Alexandria . Because of St. Shenouda’s influence in the territory surrounding his monastery, Nestorius was exiled to Akhmim where he would not be able to sway the true and steadfast faith of those dwelling there.

3. Paganism – St. Shenouda was the one who gave the fatal blow to paganism in Upper Egypt, just as St. Theophilus and St. Cyril of Alexandria gave the fatal blow in the North.

The mission here follows the same lines as that of St. Shenouda the Archimandrite:

1. Community service – The Coptic Mission Center in downtown Rochester is intended to be our gateway to serving our community. This Coptic Mission Center is compromised of Sts. Peter and Paul Church (previously a Roman Catholic church), rectory (3-floor building with multiple rooms and meeting areas), and a renovated school building that is now a soup kitchen and twelve apartments (currently being leased to another non-profit organization). There are many opportunities and fields of service in this area.

2. Theological and spiritual education – Just as St. Shenouda opened his monastery to educate the community around him and strengthen their faith, so does this monastery seek to do the same. The monastery is intended for conferences, seminars, and higher studies with the intention of not only academic work within the Church, but also for educating the community around us and reaching out with missionary work. We must first have something before we can give it to others. The “community” here does not mean only Rochester.

Furthermore, just as St. Shenouda had a great influence in terms of the Coptic language, so does this monastery seek to revive the Coptic language as a spoken language through providing teaching sources online, Coptic language conventions, and practical use of the Coptic language here in the monastery.

3. Paganism – We are surrounded by a society today where people are preoccupied with so many different aspects of their lives that they are not filled with the love of God and the correct understanding of Who He is and how we are supposed to be living our lives with Him. So by the grace of God, and the prayers of St. Shenouda the Archimandrite and your prayers, as this monastery reaches out to this community this true faith and knowledge of God will be delivered to them. There is a lot to be done and we are responsible to do this work through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In early 2003, the land across the street from St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Henrietta, NY, which was previously a pasture was being sold. By the grace of God, we were able to buy this land, 51 acres, at a very good price. However, at the time, there was no clear idea as to what purpose the land was going to be used. The purpose of buying the land was for the potential it had being next to the church and also to keep it from other buyers that might use it for something not appropriate next to the church.

When H.H. Pope Shenouda III was making one of his pastoral visits to the United States in August 2003, Fr. Shenouda went to greet his His Holiness. When he greeted him, Fr. Shenouda asked him how the newly purchased land could best be used. His Holiness told Fr. Shenouda to pray and see what God’s will is for the use of this land. Shortly afterwards, on the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 19, 2003), Fr. Shenouda was on the phone with one of his spiritual children who had never been to Rochester nor knew anything about the land. Fr. Shenouda told him about the land and this person very simply said in Arabic, “Abouna, this is a monastery. It’s a monastery Abouna! And I’ll tell you who it’s named after – after the name of Abba Shenouda”. The rest of that day, Fr. Shenouda kept thinking about what that man said and it all fit just as was described in the monastery mission, i.e. being in a village and combining the life of prayer and solitude with service, etc… So after this event when Fr. Shenouda had presented this idea to His Holiness Pope Shenouda as he was leaving the United States to return to Egypt, Pope Shenouda immediately gave his blessing.

At the time, St. Mark’s Church was having an extension built to provide for Sunday School rooms and other space for services. In addition to this a baptistery was built for adults and a chapel was made downstairs. Since the monastery was going to be named after St. Shenouda the Archimandrite, the chapel was also planned to be consecrated after his name.

Fr. Shenouda also serves a Coptic community in Syracuse, NY, who at the time did not have a church building. They ended up buying a Russian church named after the Archangel Michael. But that community had already been registered previously under the name of St. Mary and St. Mina. So that meant that the Russian church’s name would have to be changed after always having the name of Archangel Michael. Since that church does not have room for a second altar, Fr. Shenouda decided that he would compensate Archangel Michael by naming the new chapel downstairs in St. Mark’s church in Rochester after the Archangel Michael and St. Shenouda the Archimandrite. Interestingly enough, after this occurred, he was reading in the Coptic Life of Shenute written by St. Besa his disciple, and it states in the end: “Through the intercessions of the Holy Mother of God Virgin Mary, and through the intercessions of the Archangel Michael and Abba Shenouda the Archimandrite on whose names we consecrated the altar in our church…” So the altar in the ancient church of St. Shenouda in the White Monastery in Suhaj is consecrated after the name of Archangel Michael and St. Shenouda the Archimandrite and God desired for the same to occur here.

We thank God that in August, 2004, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III came to Rochester and consecrated this altar after the name of Archangel Michael and Abba Shenouda the Archimandrite and laid the cornerstone for the Coptic Monastery of St. Shenouda on the land where it is currently being built. At that time he also opened the extension of St. Mark’s Church, consecrated the baptismal font for adults and also consecrated the icons in the church.

We have now made it up to October, 2006 – the closing on Sts. Peter and Paul was supposed to occur at the end of October, 2006. Construction was to begin on the monastery at that time. Interestingly enough, a house immediately across the street from both St. Mark’s and the monastery construction site went for sale. The timing couldn’t have been worse in terms of finances. But the house was in very good condition and the location couldn’t have been better with its 5 acres of land. It was also going for a cheaper price than it had been when it was on the market several months before. It was an opportunity that couldn’t be passed. By the grace of God, someone gave a personal loan in order to buy this house in November of 2006 and it became the monastery’s retreat house.

A few days before the closing date on Sts. Peter and Paul, we received a phone call from the sellers that the old steam boiler wasn’t working and the closing had to be delayed until there was further investigation. It turns out that it was broken and a new one had to be put in. So the seller ended up taking care of the cost for this and it postponed having to pay for the closing.

In the meantime, the construction was moving forward for the monastery building. It took a couple of months to take care of the boiler and a new closing date for Sts. Peter and Paul Church was set for February 9, the Feast of St. Paul the First Hermit. Interestingly enough, this feast in the Roman Catholic Church is the Feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria. This date has a great meaning since both St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Shenouda the Archimandrite attended the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, 431 A.D., and fought against the heresy of Nestorianism which is still prevalent today.

In our Coptic calendar, St. Cyril’s feast is on July 10, Abib 3. On the same day, we celebrate the feast of St. Celestine of Rome who fought against Nestorianism with St. Cyril. Moreover, that week is also the feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul (the Feast of the Apostles) on July 12, Abib 5, and the feast of St. Shenouda the Archimandrite on July 14, Abib 7. So that week has become a week of feasts for the saints of this monastery. There is a chapel at Sts. Peter and Paul where we have placed an altar that by the grace of God will be consecrated with the names of St. Cyril, St. Celestine, and St. Shenouda – three great defenders of the faith that were united against the Nestorian heresy.

We ask for their prayers on our behalf and for this monastery and this mission.