Matta El Meskeen, Matthew the Poor

June 8 was the anniversary of the death of Father Matta El Meskeen or Matthew the Poor in 2006.
Matthew 1
“Matta El Meskeen or Matthew the Poor, born Youssef Iskandar (20 September 1919 – 8 June 2006) was an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox monk. He was the key figure in the revival of Egyptian monasticism which began in 1969 when he was appointed to the Monastery of St Macarius in the Wadi El Natrun in Egypt. By the time of his death the community had grown from 6 aged monks to 130 monks, and many other monasteries had revived, and new ones opened. He was twice nominated to become Coptic Pope, but was not chosen in either case.
He was also a theologian, and author of 181 books and hundreds of journal articles on Biblical exegesis, Ecclesiastical rites, spiritual and theological matters, and much more. Some of these writings were controversial.

Father Matta El Meskeen was born Youssef Eskander in Banha, Qalyubia Governorate, Egypt, in 1919, although the website for the St. Macarius monastery says that he was born in Damanhour, Egypt.[3] In 1944, he graduated in Pharmacy from the University of Cairo. After leading a successful life and establishing a wealthy lifestyle for himself—Eskander at the time was the owner of two pharmacies, two villas, and two cars—he renounced his material possessions in 1948, and entered the monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor in Mount Qalamoun (roughly near Maghagha, Upper Egypt). In 1951, he was ordained a priest against his will.
Matthew 2
After living for a few years in the monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in Mount Qalamoun, Father Matta decided to move out into Wadi El Rayan in the late 1950s. There, he lived as a recluse in the spirit of the ancient Desert Fathers for twelve years. By 1960, seven other monks had joined him. The community expanded to twelve by 1964. These twelve monks were sent by Pope Kyrillos VI to Wadi El Natrun in 1969 to develop the monastery of St. Macarius the Great.

At that time only six elderly, frail fathers lived near the road between Cairo and Alexandria. Matta and his twelve companions cared for them while reconstructing the monastery. The administrative, agricultural, institutional, and printing/publishing developments at the renewed Monastery of St. Macarius the Great were staggering. President Sadat donated land to the monastery to be brought into cultivation. But the spiritual revolution was much greater. By 1981 Matta had over eighty monks in the monastery. The monastery also finances services and projects for the poor, both Muslims and Christians.
Matthew 4
Father Matta was once the Father in Confession and spiritual guide of Pope Shenouda III (during the 1950s). Father Matta was also the spiritual guide of the late Alexandrian priest Father Bishoy Kamel a contemporary Coptic Orthodox saint, and the Coptic historian Iris Habib Elmasry.

Alongside two others (Bishop Samuel and Bishop (and later Pope) Shenouda, Father Matta was a candidate for the Patriarchal throne in 1971, following the death of Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria (Kyrillos VI) but he did not reach the final stage of three candidates.

Father Matta El Meskeen is considered by many as a prominent Copt. But he was allegedly suspended from position in the Coptic Church twice, first by Pope Yusab II in 1955, and then again by Pope Kyrillos VI for nine years from 1960 to 1969. This seems to have been for administrative or political reasons. For instance, his book about ‘the Church and the State’, in which he called for total separation of the two as well as certain theological issues. For many years before Father Matta’s departure there were many reports about disagreements between him and Pope Shenouda III.
Matthew 3
During the 1950s, Father Matta was at one time spiritual father and confessor of the man who became Pope Shenouda III. Pope Shenouda acknowledged Father Matta El-Meskeen, whom he calls “my father monk” in the introduction to his book Intelaq Al-Rouh (The Release of the Spirit).

But there seem to have been some major disagreements between both leaders and their followers, e.g., in relation to the concept of theosis and also regarding Father Matta’s position on Mark 16. Pope Shenouda’s reply concerning the theological and dogmatic opinions of Fr. Matta (Arabic RealAudio; recorded in 1991/2003) and HE Metropolitan Bishoy’s lecture about Fr Matta. (Arabic Audio; recorded on 18 September 2006).

Pope Shenouda visited St Macarius monastery in November 1996, a date which coincided with the silver jubilee of his consecration as pope, and was warmly welcomed by Father Matta who described the visit as a “special blessing”.”
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See also:
Matthew 6
For the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great, see:


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