About the Coptic Church in Australia
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s about forty newly migrated families made up the Coptic Orthodox Community in Melbourne. These people were a new breed of Copts who made up an important part of the church, in the lands of immigration. To them it was important to integrate into Australian society while still preserving the tradition, faith and teachings of their beloved Coptic Orthodox Church. This is their story:
In their earliest years the congregation of Melbourne gathered at the Church of All Nations in Carlton, near the CBD. This was an Anglican Mission to “New Australians.” After attending the Church of All Nations regularly, the minister there pressured the Copts to accept the Sacrament of Eucharist, however strong in their faith the Copts refused. They all met one Sunday evening after a prayer at the Church of All Nations, and unanimously decided to form the first Coptic Church in Melbourne called after The Virgin Mary.
True to their Christian faith, the already established Copts would wait on the Station Pier wharf, awaiting new arrivals from Egypt and help them settling in, finding places to live and work. Through this act of love, the congregation steadily grew and they met every Sunday to read the Agbia (book of hourly prayers) and read the Bible readings from that day followed by a small contemplation by a member of the congregation.
The congregation needed a place to pray, and rented a hall attached to the Syrian Maronite Church in Victoria Parade, East Melbourne. This hall proved far too small for the rapidly growing community, and soon the Copts and soon a new place on Church Street Richmond was hired. This place was only available at 2pm on Sundays and Sunday School Services could now take place.
At this same point in time, the Church in Sydney was in it infancy and also growing at a very frequent rate. The Copts their felt it was the right time for a permanent priest, and His Holiness Pope Kyrellos in his wisdom responded by sending Fr Mina Namatalla (deceased) as the first priest to serve in Australia. On January 21st 1969 Fr Mina arrived in Melbourne on his way to Sydney. On that night at 6:00pm an historic event took place when the first ever Coptic Orthodox Liturgy was prayed on Australian soil. The pioneers of the church in Melbourne were jubilant and praised God that they celebrated the liturgy, for some it was the first time they had partaken in the sacrament for several years!
Fr Mina continued to pray liturgies in both Sydney and Melbourne until the arrival of Fr Victor Raphael (deceased) in 1971. His Holiness Pope Kyrellos VI had once again responded with love to his children in Australia’s needs by sending Fr Victor as a priest for Melbourne. Fr Victor arrived on Wednesday April 14, which happened to coincide with passion week of that year. With God’s grace the congregation of Melbourne celebrated the feast of the Resurrection 1971 with their very own priest.
In 1972 under the leadership of Fr Victor the congregation purchased an Anglican church in Kensington, which became St Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, the first permanent parish in Victoria. During this time His Holiness Pope Shenouda III succeeded His Holiness Pope Kyrellos VI at Patriarch of the See of St Mark and Pope of Alexandria, and sent Fr Mina Isaac to Melbourne to help Fr Victor in serving the congregation.
In the subsequent years the church continued to grow at a healthy rate. With the arrival of more Christ loving Copts, came more priests and churches also. By 1999 the Coptic Orthodox Church in Melbourne had grown to
• 6 Churches
As a result of this amazing journey which began with the pioneers of the sixties and seventies, His Holiness Pope Shenouda consecrated Fr Suriel El-Anba Bishoy as His Grace Bishop Suriel in June 1997. On December 4th 1999 a truly historic and joyus event took place when His Grace Bishop Suriel was enthroned as Bishop of Melbourne and Affiliated Regions (Victoria, New Zealand, ACT, Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia and later Fiji) at Archangel Michael and Saint Anthony’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Oakleigh. Since that time the church has continued to grow under His Graces loving guidance and leadership. Among the many achievements of the diocese were the important missions to the South Pacific and Pakistan, as well as the formation of a theological college and the establishment of a Diocese Headquarters in Donvale. May the Church in Melbourne continue to grow in peaceful times for the Glory of God’s name.