The Official Opening of St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Theological College
The 18th of February 2001 was a very joyous and historic day in the life of the Diocese of Melbourne. St. Athanasius Coptic Centre and Theological College was officially opened on this day. This has only been possible through the grace of God and through the prayers and support of our beloved Pope and Patriarch, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III. His Holiness issued papal decree 21/29 in the year 2000 establishing the Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. The official opening was attended by His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy and many distinguished guests including, H.E. Archbishop Aghan Baliozian – Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Australia and New Zealand, The Honorable Dr. David Kemp, Federal Minister for Employment, Education and Training, representing the Prime Minister of Australia, The Honorable Mr. John Howard, Mr. Kelvin Thomson (Labor Shadow Assistant Treasurer), representing the Leader of the Opposition Mr. Kim Beazely, Mr. George Seitz MP (State Member for Keilor) representing the Premier of Victoria, Mr. Steve Bracks, Senator Tsebin Tchen (Liberal Senator for Victoria), representing the Federal Minister of Immigration, Mr. Phillip Ruddock, Mr. Arie De Ridder and Mr. Joseph Zaia (Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs) and Ambassador Hamdi Zaki Hussein (Consul-General of Egypt in Melbourne). Many representatives of various churches in Melbourne were also present including Rev Fr. Iskander Aphram (Syrian Orthodox Church), Lieutenant Colonel Ian Hamilton, Head of the Salvation Army in Victoria, Rev. Douglas Dargeville, representing the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, Very Rev. Fr. Peter J Kenny, representing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, The Most Rev. Peter Stasiuk (Ukrainian Catholics in Australia), Rev. Fr. Kurien (Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church), Rev. Henry Dabbous (Melkite Eparchy), Mr. Stan McCredden (Churches of Christ) and Mr. Ceasar D’Mello (National Council of Churches). The Theological Colleges in Melbourne were represented by, Dr. Paul Beirne (Associate Dean-Melbourne College of Divinity), Rev. Dr. David Cole (Trinity College Theological School), Rev. Bruce Barber (United Faculty of Theology), Rev. Peter Matheson (Head of Uniting Churches Theological Hall), Rev. Dr. Austin Cooper (Catholic Theological Hall), Rev. Dr. Terence Curtin (Australian Catholic University), Mrs. Merrill Kitchen (Principal-Churches of Christ Theological College), Rev. Dr. Paul Chandler (Catholic Theological College), Prof. Geoffrey Jenkins (University of Melbourne) and Dr. Richard Rymarz (Australian Catholic University). Also present at the official Dinner that was held directly after the opening was Mr. Stefan Romaniw (Chairman of Multicultural Commission of Victoria) The proceedings began with a press conference in which were present Metropolitan Bishoy and Bishop Suriel. The media that were in attendance were SBS Television, SBS Arabic Radio and El-Massry Newspaper. SBS Television broadcast the event on the news of the same evening. As the guests began to arrive, they were welcomed and given tours of the facilities, by which they were most impressed. The Theological College and Centre have been extensively renovated in the past four months. We now have an excellent bookshop of Arabic and English books that have come from Egypt, Australia, Europe and America. The bookshop is fully computerized. There is also a Conference Room, an excellent library catering for 3300 books that has been donated by St. Mary Church in Kensington. We also have a small church that can seat 100 people and has been decorated with a Coptic iconostasis and Coptic icons. All lectures are digitally recorded to give the best possible quality sound. There is also a lecture room that can cater for 50 students, it can also be used for a dining area. There is also a large kitchen that is well equipped. The registrar of the College has an office also where he can meet the students. There also exists an Information Technology Centre that is equipped with the latest Computer Technology. This is used for the publication of books and magazines as well as various other uses. There are 16 computers in the building that are networked together and can share information. These computers store all of the student records, they are also used by the students to do research in the library which is also fully computerised and to also do research on the internet. The College currently has 113 students enrolled for part time study, and hopes in the future to have full time students. In the first semester students are enrolled in three subjects namely, Coptic, Greek and Dogmatic Theology. Each student is issued with a student card, that contains all there information and photo as well as a computer barcode, which is used to borrow books from the library, or to purchase books from the bookshop or to update their information with the registrar. The official opening began with a procession and the Prayer of Thanksgiving and Hymns of Praise by the deacons. The congratulatory message of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III was then shown on video, and this was followed by a message from Bishop Suriel in which he spoke about the Catechetical School of Alexandria and about how this College was purchased and his vision for the future and cooperation with other Theological Colleges in Melbourne. Fr. Macarius Wahba, the College Registrar also spoke about the structure of the College and the subjects that will be taught. Dr. Paul Beirne (Associate Dean – Melbourne College of Divinity) then gave an excellent speech in which he mentioned that he was in awe of our Coptic tradition and said, “We have a lot to learn from you.” He also mentioned that it was St. Athanasius who wrote the Creed that all Christians recite on Sunday, he also mentioned that St. Anthony was the one who began monasticism in the whole world. He also offered his assistance and hoped for dialogue between our Theological Colleges. This was followed by the doxology for St. Mary and St. Athanasius chanted by the Coptic deacons. His Eminence Archbishop Aghan Baliozian – Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Australia and New Zealand, also said a word of congratulations and spoke of the strong ties between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. Ambassador Hamdi Zaki Hussein (Consul-General of Egypt in Melbourne) then gave a short message of congratulations. His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy then spoke about St. Athanasius of Alexandria and the important role he played in defeating the Arian heresy in the Council of Nicea whilst still a deacon accompanying his Pope, St Alexandros. He also spoke of St. Cyril of Alexandria as another hero of the faith who defended the faith against the Nestorian heresy. His Eminence then presented Bishop Suriel with an icon of St. Cyril of Alexandria and thanked the Australian authorities for allowing this icon which is painted on wood to enter into Australia. The Honorable Dr. David Kemp, Federal Minister for Employment, Education and Training, then spoke about how the Coptic Church in Australia is expanding rapidly and was very impressed with the new facilities at the Theological College and expressed his joy at the opening of another educational institution in Melbourne. After this the final blessing was given and a procession took place towards the entrance of the building where Bishop Suriel and Dr. David Kemp cut the ribbon and the Theological College and Coptic Centre were declared open. Upon entering the building, the plaque was unveiled whilst all those present were clapping and a spirit of joy filled the hearts of all. Bishop Suriel presented the Minister Dr. David Kemp with the book titled “The Holy Family in Egypt” which depicts all of the photos and sites where the Holy Family visited in Egypt. After the opening, the official dinner took place at Melrose Reception. At the dinner a Coptic Photo Exhibition took place, where many monasteries, ancient churches and icons were on display. An official medallion to mark this historic event was presented to all the guests.