MATTA AL-MISKIN (1909-2006)
An Abbot, spiritual writer. He was born Youssef Iskander in the Banha, Qalyubia, governorate in the Delta. He graduated in pharmacy from Cairo University in 1944 and later owned a pharmacy in Damanhour. In 1948, he sold his pharmacy with all that he had, gave the money to the poor, and devoted himself to asceticism. He was the first university graduate of his generation who had chosen the monastic life. For three years, he remained in the Monastery of St. Samuel of Qalamun in the southwest of the Fayyum.
In 1951, he joined the Monastery of the Syrians and was consecrated Monk Matta al-Miskin. Patriarch Yusab II (1946-1956) appointed him as a patriarchal representative in Alexandria, where he established an office for social services and a clerical school. In 1956, he withdrew again to the Monastery of Samuel of Qalamun and built 30 cells there. From 1960 to 1969, a dozen hermits, led by Matta al-Miskin, lived at Wadi al-Rayan, which connected to the depression of the Fayyum. Their ambition was to emulate the hermits of the Egyptian deserts of the fourth and fifth centuries.
In1969 Mikhail, Bishop of Assiut and abbot of the Monastery of St. Macarius, suggested that they should develop that monastery, which was dilapidated and occupied by only six elderly monks. After the approval of Patriarch Cyril VI, they made a great effort in restoring the monastery’s old buildings and in establishing more than 150 modern monastic cells, beautiful guesthouses, a new sizable library, and a printing press. In the 1990s, there were more than 150 monks in the monastery.
Matta al-Miskin has written about 50 books and pamphlets on history, theology, and spirituality. Two important works by him have been translated from Arabic into English: The Communion of Love (New York, 1984) and Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way (Crestwood, New York, 2003). He was one of three nominees to be patriarch of the Coptic Church in 1971. He believed that any attachment to politics is against the spirit of Christianity and that the 20th-century Coptic revival was too socially and politically oriented. For him the main duty of Coptic clergy is to support the believers through prayer and to persuade them to repent and confess.