History of Archangel Michael & Saint Anthony’s Coptic Orthodox Church
The church traces its beginnings to 1975 when the growing Coptic community of the south eastern suburbs began praying Saturday liturgies at a hall in Dandenong with Fr Tadros Yacoub Malaty (the then parish priest of St Mary’s Church). Services began taking place once a month and eventually became weekly services. The church founders wished to name their church after Archangel Michael, and on one of his many pastoral visits to Australia HG Bishop Antionious-Morkos suggested the church be name after Archangel Michael and Saint Anthony (the angel of heaven and the angel of the desert).
The congregation was growing rapidly and eventually a request was made to His Holiness Pope Shenouda III to send a priest to care for the church. His Holiness consented and sent Father Bessanti El-Anba Bishoy, a monk-priest who was at the time His Holiness’ personal secretary. Father Bessanti arrived in 1976 and regular Sunday services began. Four months into his service, Fr Bessanti was relocated to Canada by His Holiness in order to fill an unexpected vacancy that had arisen there. The late Fr Issac Botros who was then in his late sixties and in poor health took over Sunday services in order to fill in for Fr Bessanti. Father Bessanti is now HG Bishop Bessanti, Bishop of Helwan.
Later that year His Holiness sent a permanent parish priest in Fr Hanannia El-Anba Bishoy to serve the congregation. Fr Hannania was a monk priest from St Bishoy’s monastery who and was a monk for nine years at the monastery before arriving in Australia. The congregation then rented a small church in James Street Dandenong, with the vision of eventually purchasing the property when circumstances permitted.
However, within 3 years the congregation multiplied, and a larger church and a place to permanently call home was required. Around this time the Presbyterian Methodist and Congregational Churches were uniting under the title of the Uniting Church of Australia and as a result many churches became vacant. A property in Oakleigh became vacant, it was an old Presbyterian Church and the congregation desired to purchase this property. The asking price for the church was $200,000 the cost of 8 average homes at that time.
At this time the congregation was about 60 families many of whom were factory workers and newly arrived migrants still establishing themselves in their new country. Nevertheless the congregation rose to the challenge and began to fundraise and pledge donations.
With the congregation working tirelessly to raise the funds the church hierarchy entered negotiations with the trustee of the United Church of Australia. The late Mr Kamal Abdel Messehah, a zealous Copt, made an offer of $150,000, the trustee considered the offer but did not accept as they thought it was too low. Then Mr Abdel Messehah and the trustee entered a dialogue which shaped the churches history. Mr Abdel Messehah said “your forefathers built this church so God could be worshipped and praised in it, selling it to us will ensure that their dream continues,” wiping back their tears they again decided to reject the offer, Mr Abdel Messehah replied “tomorrow is Sunday, I will tell our priest to order the congregation to go to the red cross and donate their blood, and whatever the red cross gives us you can have. We don’t buy churches from surplus cash; we buy them and defend them with our blood!” these wise words convinced the Uniting Church to accept the offer and the congregation moved in to their current home in Oakleigh in May 1980. in that same week, Fr Hannania El-Anba Bishoy was called back to Egypt to be consecrated as Bishop for Tahta in Upper Egypt. Father Hanannia became HG Bishop Asheia Bishop of Tahta which is where His Grace serves today.
While the congregation were disappointed with the loss of a wonderful priest God soon compensated and Father Daniel El-Antony, who was a young man who grew up in Sydney and joined Saint Anthony’s Monestary in Egypt, became parish priest in May 1980. Fr Daniel served until September 1983 when he was replaced by the beloved Fr Mina Rizkallah on October 14 1983 and currently serves today.
In 1989 His Holiness Pope Shenouda Prayed his first liturgy in Melbourne at Archangel Michael and Saint Anthony’s Church at Oakleigh, and consecrated the first alter in Melbourne also.
In 1989 to 1990 the church was expanded by 50% and this project was blessed by His Holiness in 1993.
In March 1991 Fr Abanoub Attalah was ordained a priest by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III. Father Abanoub was a long time servant of the church before he was ordained and served with Father Mina until 1993 when he became parish priest of the newly formed St Mina and St Maarina’s Church in Hallam. In 1993 Fr Macarious Wahba was ordained by HH Pope Shenouda III to serve at St Mary’s Church Kengsington. Fr Macarious had also been a long time servant of the church.
On September 1st 1995 His Holiness Pope Shenouda III again blessed the Church with his presence and consecrated vessels and the beautiful church icons.
In November 1998 Fr Youhanna El-Zahaby was ordained by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and served until 2002.
In 1999 an historic event took place at the church when His Grace Bishop Suriel was enthroned as Bishop of Melbourne and Affiliated regions (see About the Coptic Church in Australia).
In 2002 Father Daniel Ghabrial was ordained a priest by HG Bishop Suriel, HG Bishop Moussa and HG Bishop Daniel at Archangel Michael and Saint Anthony’s Church (the first ordination to take place there) and is currently serving the congregation with Fr Mina Rizkallah. Father Daniel had been a long time servant of the youth before he was ordained a priest.
In 2005 the Church celebrated it’s 25th anniversary of being in Oakleigh. The celebrations included a church fete and official function which was enjoyed by the entire congregation.
May Archangel Michael and Saint Anthony’s Coptic Orthodox Church continue to grow and serve God for the Glory of His name.