File Photo: The late Bishop Epiphanius, the head of Abu Makar (Saint Macarius the Great) (Photo: The Coptic Orthodox Church Official FB page)
Damanhour Criminal Court issued Wednesday death sentences on two defrocked monks on charges of killing the head of their desert monastery last summer.
The court issued a preliminary death sentence 23 February and referred the sentences handed down on the two monks, Isaiah El-Maqary and Faltaous El-Makary, to the country’s grand mufti for his non-binding opinion, as required by Egyptian law.
Wednesday's court decision is not final and can still be appealed within 60 days.
The murder of Bishop Epiphanius sparked outrage in Coptic circles and led to serious measures by the Coptic Orthodox Church to contain the situation.
On 29 July, the 64-year-old bishop was found dead under suspicious circumstances. He had led Abu Maqar Monastery in Wadi El-Natroun, northwest of Cairo.
The prosecution charged the two men with premeditated murder.
According to the prosecution, the two men ambushed the bishop on his way from his residence to the monastery chapel, where Isaiah, now referred to by his non-monastic name, Wael Saad Tawadros, hit him on the head with a steel bar.
Following the murder, the church imposed new measures to regulate monastic life.
They include a freeze on accepting new monks, a ban on monks’ use of social media, a ban on building non-sanctioned places of worship, and a ban on monks leaving monasteries without official permission.