The Coptic Orthodox archpriest 'Abouna' Father Mikhail Ibrahim (1899-1975) was a unique man. His saintly dedication to Christ is unparalleled. Others spent a life time enjoying the blessings of this saint. Among those who knew him well is Pope Shenouda III, the Coptic Orthodox patriarch and a great teacher of our generation. His Holiness was so moved by the departure of Abouna Mikhail on March 26, 1975, that he wept and gave a eulogy to be remembered for generations to come. Abouna Mikhail was buried at St. Mark's Cathedral (the Coptic Orthodox Papal Residence) in Cairo, Egypt.
Many saw Abouna Mikhail assigning responsibilities in the Church of God. To St. Mary the Virgin he would say before leaving the church: "'Aadraa Mariam' (Virgin Mary) you take care of so and so. 'Maar Morcos' (St. Mark) you take care of so and so. 'Maar Girgis' (St. George) you take care of this and that.. etc.". He would then go home believing that all is taken care of. He would ask his parishioners to pray for him, and when anyone brought a problem to his attention he would immediately respond with: "Let us pray". He seldom gave advice because he believed strongly in the power of prayer. He would say, "let us pray and God will bring the answer".
While at St. Mark Coptic Church, Haddaiq Shoubra (Egypt) where he was priest for 20 years, a man came to the office to request his presence at his wedding which was to take place in a few weeks. Abouna Mikhail referred him to the elder priest, the late Fr. Marcos Daoud, claiming he is not worthy to perform the ceremony. Fr. Marcos referred the man to then Junior priest Fr. Stephanos who was ordained less than a year at that time in the mid 1960s. Fr. Stephanos did what was expected of a man in training with two wise and elderly fathers. He referred the man back to Abouna Mikhail. The man threw his arms in the air saying: "It seems that I will not get married, you gave me the run-around!" Abouna Mikhail replied: "Brother: one of us will be there for sure. May be the three of us will have time to bless this wedding". The man went home with a big smile on his face (He still did not know for sure who was going to perform the ceremony).
A female member of his congregation told this story: "I went to Abouna Mikhail for my confessional. I told him about things that were heavy and troubling and ended in saying: Abouna I do not feel that I can receive the sacrament, I am not worthy." He replied: "Who is. Don't delay for one day. Promise me, tomorrow you will go to church and receive communion." He left a great impression on that person. She felt that God cares and shows his care and compassion through good men of God the likes of Abouna Mikhail.
He used to call everyone with respect adding a title to the name: Mr. so and so, Doctor so and so. I heard him calling the custodian 'Aam fullan' (Uncle so and so) and never referred to himself with more than his first name. He would introduce himself as Mikhail or 'Al-aabd' (the servant) Mikhail.
Abouna Mikhail was born, Mikhail Ibrahim Youssef, in Kaafr Abdou, Quisna on the 20th of April, 1899. His father Ibrahim Effendi Youssef and his mother Hanounah had five sons. They raised them in the bosom of the church, teaching them the life of prayer and humility. The priest of the church in Kaafr Abdou, Fr. Girgis, had a big influence on young Mikhail and his brothers. They attended the church school where they learned reading and writing. They learned church hymnals from the 'Mualim' (Psalmist) at the church.
In 1908, Mikhail started School at the Coptic School in Quisna and completed his secondary education at the Greater Coptic School in Cairo. After High School he was hired by the ministry of Interior as a police clerk serving in Fooh, Sherbeen, Kaafr-Al-Sheikh, Belbees, Hehia, and Giza which was his last tour of government service before he was ordained priest in 1951. He was honest and hard working civil servant. He also served God and man wherever he went. He helped form religious societies wherever he went. In Belbees, he also led the effort to build a church in that city. An argument arose between the chief of police and an inspector from the ministry who accused Mikhail of poor performance because he used to go to work on Sundays at 10.00 AM. This was an unfair accusation because the government of Egypt extends this privilege to all Christians with no exception. Mr. Mikhail preferred to be transferred than cause the chief of police any harm. He was transferred to Hehia where he spent 10 years (1938-1948) working with dedication and serving God as much as he could. His last tour of civil service was in Giza (1948-1951) where he resided in Old Cairo near the monastery and church of St. Mina. This time in Old Cairo put him closer to saintly people the likes of Abouna Mena Al-Motawahid (The departed Pope Kyrillos VI) and others who became leaders in the church. He was known among the group as the humble man who knew God in his heart. He was seen kneeling and praising God making the sign of the cross as he approached the outer doors of a church like one who saw the gates of heaven. This habit continued all the days of his life.
He was called to the priesthood when the priest of Kaafr Abdou departed, and the people of Kaafr Abdou remembered their native son Mr. Mikhail. They nominated him, and the Bishop of Guiza at that time, the departed Anba Youannis, was delighted to ordain a man who was known for his dedication and selfless life. He was 52 years of age when he became priest. He dedicated himself to the service of God and stopped many bad habits like collection plates and payments for services rendered by the church. One year later, he was elevated to the position of 'Qummoss' Archpriest. He saw the need for help, so he nominated and was able to arrange for a younger man to be ordained to assist him. The younger man turned the congregation against Fr. Mikhail accusing him of being wasteful, instead of thanking him for his generosity with all. He did not defend himself, instead he left Kaafr Abdou in 1955 for Old Cairo.
The Call to serve one of the larger congregations in Cairo, came shortly thereafter when the priest of St. Mark Coptic Church of Hadaaiq Shoubra (The departed Fr. Marcos Daoud) needed a priest to fill in for a monk who was sick. When he met Abouna Mikhail, he realized immediately that he is the kind of partner he needed to help him take care of a large congregation and a large ministry including among other things the headquarters of the Bible Friends Society of Egypt. They served together for 20 years. Fr. Marcos Daoud had in Abouna Mikhail Ibrahim the sincere and dedicated brother he needed and they complemented each other. Fr. Marcos was a prolific writer and translator of many great works. Abouna Mikhail was a man of prayer and was trusted by a multitude of people to hear their confessions and help complete the sacrament of penance (repentance).
Abouna Mikhail was a man of sorrows, he lost two sons, Philemon and Paul as infants. He also lost his eldest son Ibrahim, when Ibrahim was a promising young Doctor. This was followed shortly by the departure of his dear wife, Mary. To the people who came to comfort him, he gave the words of comfort: "I thank God because I have three sons and their mother praying for me." Only a great man can utter such words in the face of adversity. It was not easy for him to be a widower with all his responsibilities spending his days in the church and his evenings, which usually extended to the early hours of the next morning, hearing confessionals that mostly took place in his house which was less than a hundred yards away.
Abouna Ibrahim was once ordered off a public bus by an ignorant man because he was a priest. The bus broke down. The driver was very angry at the man, asked him to apologize to that old Coptic priest. A few of them went down and asked Abouna if he please get on the bus again. Abouna got on the bus, the driver turned the ignition key and the bus moved smoothly. When Abouna was asked why he got off, he answered saying: "I did what I was told to do" when he was asked why he rode again, he said: "they told me to come back, and I did what they told me to do!" This selfless humble example is not easy to copy.
Abouna Ibrahim preferred to pray for situations, people, and problems. In his heart he believed that God hears prayers and answers them in due time. But when he gave advice, it was prophetic words from heaven. He would ask people young and old to pray for him calling himself: "The poor servant Ibrahim". One of his final words was recorded in his own hand writing in Arabic which translated means: "Christ will bless the poor me, and will bless all those who ask for his blessings. Amen. 7/28/1974." This was 9 months before his departure.
He departed on the 26th of March, 1975 at the age of 76 after a full life of service to God crowned with 24 blessed years in the priesthood. He served God with dedication and full sacrificial life. When the news of his departure became known, the whole Coptic community headed by the Coptic Orthodox patriarch, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III was weeping the departure of a great man of God. They wanted to bury him near the church where he served, others suggested the village of his birth, or a 100 other places. The Pope of Alexandria had another plan, he requested that Abouna Ibrahim be buried under the Altar of St. Mark Great Cathedral because as his holiness said: "we all needed his prayers for our generation and the generations to come".