CYRIL VI, 116th patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (1959-1971). He was born ‘Azir Yusuf ‘Ata in 1902 at Tukh al-Nasara, in the Minufiyyah Province, to a devout family who later moved to Alexandria, where he completed his education.
At the age of twenty-five, he retreated to al-Baramus Monastery (DAYR AL-BARAMUS), where he was held in high esteem by all its monks. In 1931 JOHN XIX ordained him priest at the monastery, with the name of Mina. Later on he lived as a hermit in a deserted
windmill on the eastern slopes of the Muqqattam hills overlooking Cairo. In 1959 he was elected patriarch.
One of his earliest achievements, barely twenty days after his enthronement, was to reestablish relations between the Coptic and
Ethiopian churches. He sent a delegation to Emperor HAILE SELASSIE to inform him of his intention, and to request him to send a deputation to attend the discussions in Cairo. The outcome of the talks was a decision to raise the office of metropolitan of Ethiopia to the rank of patriarch catholicos, and to choose its occupant in accordance with the traditions of the See of Saint Mark. He was to be selected from the Ethiopian monks no higher than HEGUMENOS, and to be finally consecrated by the pope of Alexandria. Consequently, it was agreed that the then metropolitan, Anba Basilios, be elevated to the newly established catholicate. After Basilios' death, the bishop of Harar, Anba Theophilos, was sent to Alexandria for consecration as patriarch catholicos. In October 1960, Cyril VI paid a pastoral visit to Ethiopia so as to further strengthen the relations between the two churches.
In January 1965 Cyril presided over the Oriental Orthodox Conference convened by Emperor Haile Selassie in Addis Ababa. It was attended by Mar Ighnatius Ya‘qub III, patriarch of Antioch and the East; Anba Vaskim I, the Armenian catholicos (USSR); Anba Khorin, the Caelician catholicos (Lebanon); the Syrian catholicos in Judea; Anba Basilios, the Ethiopian catholicos; and Anba Theophilos, bishop of Harar.
The conference adopted various resolutions confirming its adherence to the Orthodox faith based on the Holy Bible and the sacred tradition received from Saint Mark. It also stressed the urgent need for the proper reconciliation between the church and the individual, the study of family problems, and the respect of the sanctity of marriage.
Cyril VI noticed that certain Copts, by merely converting to a sister church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, could obtain grounds for the dissolution of marriage. Consequently, in 1965, he issued a joint declaration with the Syrian patriarch, Mar Ighnatius Ya‘qub III,
stressing the unity of the two churches.
On the ecumenical front he took steps to bring the Church of Alexandria into the mainstream of Christendom by means of active participation in world conferences. This brought about various fruitful results, such as membership in the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches. It also led to the exchange of pastoral visits among the heads of Orthodox, Catholic,
Episcopal, and Protestant churches.
The recognition of the unique place of the Church of Alexandria was made abundantly clear in 1968 when Cyril VI welcomed 172 delegates from around the world, who came to participate with the Coptic church in celebrating the 1,900th anniversary of the
martyrdom of Saint MARK, its founder and patron. On 25 June 1968, together with President Nasser and Emperor Haile Selassie, he
laid the foundation stone for the largest cathedral in Africa, to which were brought the rest of Saint Mark's holy relics from Venice, which were buried in the crypt of what is known now as Anba Ruways Cathedral.
On the domestic front Cyril VI achieved far-reaching successes in reform. He was fully aware of the responsibility of the church toward every individual, especially the needy and unemployed. He established the Bishopric of Social Services to help such people to
help themselves through vocational and technical training. Thousands of families benefited from this organization by making use of their natural talents.
To settle the question of the administration of waqfs (land and property endowed to the church) Cyril VI was instrumental in the
promulgation of Laws 1433 and 962 (1960 and 1966, respectively), whereby such endowments were brought under the sole authority of a well-organized administration.
Being first and foremost a monk and fully aware of the deep attachment a monk should have toward his own monastery, without
which link there could be no real spiritual growth, Cyril issued a papal order in August 1960 by which monks were required to return
to their own monasteries. This measure helped to restore the essence of Egyptian monasticism to its basic purpose. His interest in
monastic life manifested itself in the establishment of a new monastery, DAYR MAR MINA, at Maryut (Mareotis) to the west of Alexandria, a spot where monastic life flourished in the early centuries of Christianity. Together with this monastery, he built a magnificent cathedral where he chose to be buried.
He encouraged church building throughout Egypt; at least forty churches in Cairo and Alexandria alone were constructed in his lifetime.
During Cyril's reign, beginning on 2 April 1968, repeated apparitions of the VIRGIN MARY were seen at the Church of Zaytun. This was an occasion of tremendous spiritual uplift to countless men and women of piety. That event also attracted much attention throughout the Christian world. Cyril VI died on 9 March 1971 after a life of piety and inspiration to his flock.
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