Guirguis the Torchbearer
This historical fiction novel describes the life of the Coptic Christians a century after the Arab conquest of Egypt. It is being published posthumously, from the Egyptian author Iris Habib El-Masry (1910–1994), known for her “Story of the Coptic Church,” the first comprehensive book on Coptic history that follows a modern historical approach. This novel follows Guirguis, the protagonist of this novel, who was commanded by his brother to be a “torchbearer” in the community he lived in, thus fulfilling Christ’s commandment to be a “light unto the world.” The setting of this novel, as well as the historical circumstances, are based on real facts. Guirguis lived in eighth-century Egypt, during the reign of the ruthless Muslim Caliph, Marwan II of Umayyad (reigned from 744-750). Although very little is known and said about eighth-century Egypt, especially about the Copts who lived during that dark time, El-Masry brilliantly portrays all of the monumental scenes and brings to life names that would have long been forgotten in history.
About the Author
Iris Habib El-Masry (1910–1994) was the most prominent Coptic scholar and historian of the 20th century. She received her B.A. degree, majoring in education, from Maria Grey College in London in 1932. She pursued further research between 1952 and 1954 at Dropsie College in Philadelphia, and at the National Gallery in London in 1955. Three Coptic popes recognized her great faith and intellect, commissioning her to various roles. In 1954, Pope Yousab II appointed El-Masry to serve as the delegate of the Coptic Church to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Evanston, Illinois. In 1966 Pope Kyrillos VI appointed her as Counselor to Coptic Girls. In 1972, Pope Shenouda III designated El-Masry to serve on the committee responsible for revising the Coptic Synaxarion (a collection of readings about historical, Christian events and lives of saints commemorated by the Coptic Church during its liturgical calendar and services). Between 1955 to 1985, El-Masry lectured in Coptic History at the Coptic Seminary in Cairo and Alexandria, and also at the Institute of Coptic Studies.