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The Life of Hegumen Fr. Pishoy Kamel (1931-1979)

He was born Samy Kamel in Sirrs-Alliaan, Menoufia, Egypt, in 1931. Raised in Damanhour Egypt, by two God-fearing parents, he received an early education for his age. He attended the school of Sciences, Alexandria University, and graduated with Honours in his ‘Bachelor of Science’ degree in 1951.

While working as a Science teacher in public schools, he continued to study at the University of Alexandria, received a degree in literature in 1954 and was appointed an instructor at the Education College, Alexandria University. He then continued to quench his thirst for knowledge by studying psychology and education (of which he graduated, ranked first, in 1952), and then a B.A in Philosophy. Then, while still studying, and at a young age, he began serving in Sunday School in the Church of the Blessed Virgin – Moharram Bey suburb.

It then happened that on the afternoon of Wednesday 18th November 1959, he took his Sunday School class to receive the blessings of the then new successor to St Mark, Pope Kyrillos VI. Upon arrival, he was told that he was going to be ordained priest. Out of humility he tried to excuse himself by declaring he was still unmarried (a man elected for priesthood must be married before his ordination or remain in celibacy after ordination in conformity with Christ’s choice of His Apostles). In response to this the Pope replied ” The Spirit of God who inspired me to this decision, will elect for you the bride who will be most suitable for you in your ministry”, and sure enough it came to pass that Samy Kamel was led by God’s Spirit to ask for the hand of Angele Bassili – a sister of a very dear friend. The blessed wedding was held on the Tuesday 24th of November, and he was consecrated a priest on Wednesday 2nd of December. Angele proved to be the very girl fit for the life-partnership of Father Pishoy (also written as “Father Bishoy”) – just as Pope Kyrillos VI had foretold.

Not many people talk about his early life as a teacher, Sunday School Servant, or about the free tutoring he offered to children who needed help, because he was known simply as the priest who was like a buzzing bee, collecting concentrated essences and producing the pure honey that sweetened the lives of all who knew him, or even knew about him.

There are some who cannot forget the messages that went back and forth between this young budding priest in the district of Sporting, Alexandria, and an Elderly Priest, in Shoubra, Cairo (the late Father Mikhail Ibrahim). The elder would send the greeting to the younger asking his prayers. Now that they are together in paradise, they are seeing the unseen and hearing the unheard and glorifying the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, whom they both truly loved, indeed.

Father Bishoy truly loved serving and the people whom he served. He summarised his love for the flock in these words: “They are your children Lord: Some are good, others are evil, other are wasting themselves… they all have one thing in common: They are your children … I am the servant of your children… I am a servant and have no right to insult or despise any of them, because if I do, I would be insulting you or despising you …I only can serve them, love them, and assure them of your certain promise that you loved them all because it is you who carries the sins of the whole world” (translated, shortened, and paraphrased from Arabic).

When he felt the call and urge to dedicate his life to serving Christ, he asked one of his fellow Sunday School teachers if some of them could continue to pay his wages so that he could leave that job and become a full time servant of the Lord. When he became a priest, he kept that promise of full time service to the last breath. He so despised material things, that material things were thrown under his feet. An eyewitness saw him one night at the Church confuses because a young woman came asking for financial help and he did not know from where he could help her. She was followed by a student asking for money to pay college registration fees. This little worry did not last long. Our late Father Bishoy asked them both to wait. While waiting, a little girl walked in and handed him an envelope stuffed with money. When he asked her name, She just answered saying: “My mother Mary sends this to you.” All the needs were met that night thanks to our merciful God.

In Egypt the feasts of Christmas, Epiphany and Easter are celebrated at night. The late Father Bishoy Kamel used to always go out and distribute food and gifts to the needy in his congregation as soon as he had completed the church service. His wife became used to it, and supported his mission, so that on the nights of feasts, accompanied by his wife or going separate ways, they did as much as they could, and brought back some of the people from out of town to their home the night of the feast, because Father Bishoy always felt the importance of sharing the meaning of the Lord’s feasts.

Father Bishoy started St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Sporting, Alexandria (where he is now buried). Some advised him not to accept having associate priests, but he was not one to fear competition. Instead, the number of priests at the Church reached 5 and all were kept busy with more work than they could do. By the standards of his time, he was a young man running a big Cathedral, and very good at it. He was instrumental not only in increasing the number of priests in his church, but also in starting new churches. The following are some of the churches he helped found: St. George in Sporting; St. George in Hadra; Arch-Angel Michael in the district of Mostafa Kamel; St. Takla Hemanout in Ibrahemia; St. Mary and St. Cyril in Cleopatra; St. Peter in Seedy Bishr and St. Mark in Los Angeles, California. He also indirectly helped found the Church in Denver and the Church in Houston among others, not including his efforts in Europe and Australia.

His input into the purchase of a church for the early Egyptian immigrants to the U.S. in Los Angeles, is a wonderful story of faith and trusting the Lord:

The congregation was just starting in the late 60’s when Father Bishoy Kamel was sent to Los Angeles to serve them in 1969. They initially used a Syrian Orthodox Church building. Then came the opportunity to purchase a $100,000 existing church building which was previously used by a Russian Orthodox Congregation on Robertson Blvd., Near Hollywood. At the time, the congregation had $500 in their treasury, and the some of the more prominent people warned Father Bishoy not to put the church into debt. In a short order, he had miraculously raised $23,000, some of this money also came from small loans from new immigrants who had very little to give. He immediately took a cab and went to the bank to pay the down payment and sign the papers for a mortgage loan. In his excitement, he left the unmarked envelope full of cash ($23,000) on the seat of the cab, and by the time he realised it, the taxi was gone. He went in, told the loan officer that he had misplaced the money, and needed some time to find it or replace it. He went home upset, and feeling he had failed everybody, and on top of it all some people would think Abouna is a thief. Abouna had an unpleasant day; the envelope was not marked, and he could not think of a way to prove he had the money. That night however, after midnight, there was knock on the door. Father Bishoy asked Tassony (Sister) Angele, his wife to open the door. To their surprise, it was the cab driver. The man confessed, “After you left, I looked back and saw that envelope. I picked it up and found it full of cash. Not marked, I though about keeping it and drove around and around considering this. Then I told myself that this man who owns it must be a minister or a priest or something so I should give it back. But, even if I wanted to give him the money back how could I find him? I then thought if I described you to someone, by the way you are dressed and the way you looked, somebody might be able to lead me to you. That is how I found out that you are Coptic and how I knew the way to your apartment!” (which was then church address). The taxi driver then gave Abouna the money and refused to accept the customary 10% reward, instead choosing to pay a donation after being told the cause of the large sum of money. Thus through God’s grace, the congregation soon had its church built peacefully, with no debts owing.

Father Bishoy Kamel was always concerned about his own salvation as well as the salvation of others. He rarely talked about his personal life, and he and his wife Angele lived as virgins in acetic continence throughout their lives. He always hid himself behind the cross, and his ministry was that of a true loving and caring father, brother, and friend. Not just someone performing the duties of his office.

Father Bishoy was consumed with love for his church; he loved her for being the bride of Christ in whom he realised his membership. His preaching was deep in spiritual meaning, and seasoned with the word of God presented in practical terms. It was always supported by examples from the Bible, Church history, tradition and the life of the Saints. His voice in the Liturgy was low and very comforting to the listeners. This brought great multitudes to church not only for the liturgy but for the evening prayers as well. In all his sermons he emphasised the power of the Holy Spirit infused into us through the Sacraments, and urged his listeners to partake continually of the Holy Eucharist that they may attain Christian Sanctity. And whenever he spoke of saints, he referred to their companionship with God incessantly, and his hearers felt convinced that he was actually in their company also.

Father Bishoy loved the cross dearly; it is no wonder his departure was on the third day of the feast of the Cross. He also gave the titles: “Under the feet of the Cross”, and “With Christ Crucified” to two books which he wrote. His most favourite possession was a picture of Christ crucified and Mary Magdalene kneeling under his feet. This picture he hanged on the wall above his bed.

His love for the cross and for God allowed him to see Christ in every person, even the most wayward. He did not allow people to speak evil about others in his presence and always had something nice to say about others, especially, those who differed with him, following the words of the Apostle: “Love suffereth long, and is kind, Love vauneth not itself, thinketh not evil.” (1 Cor13: 1-13).

One of the biggest crosses Father Bishoy carried out of love for the Lord was cancer. In 1976 he was diagnosed with malignant cancer and had to spend some time in hospital. There, he took with him an icon of the Blessed Virgin, and on the eve of 21 Tubah, when he wanted to chant a ‘Glorification’ in her honour, his wife brought him a cardboard box, the cover of which was painted with various flowers which he cut out and decorated the icon with (an example of the great love and dedication to the Lord from the blessed couple). Abouna’s right arm had been paralysed as a side-effect of the cancer, and the doctor told him it would take 2 or 3 months to return to normal. However after passing a joyful night in praise and praying in front of the icon, he was able to move his arm freely much to the amazement and wonder of all the medical team around him. Soon Abouna was given the ‘all-clear’, that everything was back to normal. However, with inexorable malignancy, the disease returned 2 years later, and at the insistence of his numerous lovers, he accepted to return to the hospital where it was found that this time it had attacked his kidney. He was treated with the latest chemotherapy but continued in excruciating pain living the Cross of Christ, and overcoming the pain by rejoicing for even before being attacked by cancer, he called it “the disease unto the Kingdom” (and there are reports that he had implored our Lord to be struck by cancer and bear this Cross). While he lay in bed, in pain, he lay silently with a fixed gaze on the Cross, and as for the intervals between the brutal attacks of pain, they were spent in chanting hymns of praise and glorification.

The 3rd day of the Feast of the Cross was on 12 Baramhat. On the eve of that day, fraught with memories, Abouna began giving his blessing to all those around him. As the hands of the clock moved towards daybreak, he asked in exultation, “What is this opening above?” A nearby relative inquired where this opening was, to which Father Bishoy replied in a whisper, “It is in the Heavens!” ‘And thus the Gates of Paradise were opened, and the Redeemer’s voice rang in the ears of that ever-faithful disciple; ‘”Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter in the Joy of thy Master” ‘(Matt 25:21,23), (Luke 19:17). That took place at 8am in the morning of Wednesday 12 Baramhat (2I March 1979). Three hours later, the pure body lay in his open coffin near the curtains of the altar. He was dressed in white vestments embroidered with gold in which he had chanted the Divine Liturgy; his head was covered with a mitre, all in gold, and in his hand he held a white cross covered in gold. In short, he was dressed after the manner of the Celestials as described in the Book of Revelations (7:9). Multitudes came in single file to kiss the Cross in his hand and pay tribute; they continued in an incessant flow until 3 pm the next day.

The Late Father Bishoy Kamel’s example is clearly felt and experienced by those who knew him and even in those who have just recently heard of him. His departure was certainly early, but it was the will of God that he be in paradise to intercede for us. Glory be to God in all His Saints. Amen.

May the prayers of this great reverend father be with us, Amen.

— Source: click here.

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