Prosecutors on Saturday ordered a recently defrocked monk to be detained for four days pending an investigation into his alleged involvement in the death of the abbot of a prominent monastery in the desert northwest of Cairo, Egypt’s state news agency said.
The defrocked monk, identified by his monastic name of Isaiah, confessed to collaborating with others to kill Bishop Epiphanius, abbot of St. Macarius Monastery, prosecutors said.
Isaiah’s lawyer withdrew from the case and ceased defending him, the state-run MENA reported. It remains unclear whether another lawyer will be assigned to the case.
The decision to strip Isaiah of his monkhood came Aug. 5, a week after the abbot’s death. The Coptic Orthodox Church dismissed any connection to the Epiphanius’ death, however, saying the decision was made based on “strictly monastic reasons.”
The abbot’s mystery killing took place July 29. His funeral was attended by Pope Tawadros II, the spiritual leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians, one the world’s oldest Christian communities.
In a statement, the church said Isaiah has a record of failing to abide by the monastery’s rules and that an investigation committee had previously decided to keep him out of the monastery for three years, but other monks had signed a petition calling for him to be pardoned and pledged to help him change his “wrong course.”
Isaiah failed to change his conduct, which resulted in his defrocking, the church added.
Following Epiphanius’ death, the church took a series of measures aimed at instilling discipline into monastic life. Among them was to halt accepting new novices in monasteries nationwide for a year and giving monks across Egypt one month to close their social media accounts arguing that keeping them is incompatible with monastic life.
Egypt, the birthplace of Christian monasticism, is home to some of the world’s most ancient monasteries, nestled in the country’s barren desert and which have drawn monks for centuries to lead solitary ascetic lives. Monks have largely remained in retreat even amid the monumental changes that shook Egypt’s political and social landscape in recent years.