On January 11, renowned Coptic Orthodox priest Abouna Makary Younan (1934-2022) died in Cairo of complications from COVID-19. His death quickly followed that of his wife Mama Souna, who suffered from the same illness and passed away on January 7. Based in the old Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo’s Azbakiyya district, the oft-controversial preacher was famous for his charismatic style, for his miracles, singing, and capacity to perform exorcisms. Abouna Makary’s popularity grew exponentially since the mid-2000s, when his sermons and church services began to appear on Christian television channels in the Middle East. For more than fifteen years, he honed a particularly captivating televisual style that touched millions of viewers and influenced scores of preachers on Arabic Christian channels.
Sabry Younan ‘Abd al-Malik was born in the Upper Egyptian town of Maragha, near Sohag. He was educated to be a teacher and then worked as a government civil servant for several years, but after receiving a diploma from the Coptic Clerical College, his interest in devoting a life to the church intensified. While living in Cairo in the 1970s, he served with Abouna Zakaria Botros, priest at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Heliopolis. Then, Abouna Zakaria—a towering if controversial Christian media figure in his own right—was known for organizing a weekly meeting at St. Mark’s, attended by hundreds and marked by the practice of exorcisms and exuberant singing. It is said that Sabry honed his talents for leading praise and worship during these meetings.
The Eucharist or communion is one of
seven sacraments at the heart of the Coptic Orthodox faith. The sacrament takes
place during the Liturgy of the Faithful—the “Anaphora,” which concludes with
receiving communion. Copts consider communion as a “mystery.” They favor the
older verbiage of “change,” meaning that the elements of communion literally turn
into the body and blood of Christ, and avoid terms more commonly used in
Western traditions such as “transubstantiation” (Catholicism) and
“consubstantiation” (Lutheranism). But like many other Christians, Copts believe
in the doctrine of the “Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.”
Communion wine in the Coptic Church today, as in most Orthodox churches, is distributed by a long-handled spoon which scoops the wine from the chalice into the mouth. Not too long ago, a Coptic parishioner expressed concern about this shared spoon that might be placed inside the mouths of dozens, if not hundreds, of parishioners during a single liturgy. In response, the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Southern United States stated that “[t]he holy body and holy blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is a burning fire that purges and cleanses us from all sin. There is no documented evidence of any communicable diseases anywhere in the world stemming from partaking of the Holy Eucharist in this manner.” The Coptic Church is certainly not alone in this position: on the common spoon, the Orthodox Research Institute has also indicated that “from a purely microbiological perspective, the sweet red wine used in communion is typically high in alcoholic content” and therefore “invisible microbes that may enter our mouths from the previous communicant are harmless.”