The date 1 June marks the Feast of the Entry of the Holy Family in Egypt. It is a feast close to the hearts of Copts; they celebrate in their churches with festive Vespers service on its eve and Mass early on the feast day.
This year, with COVID-19 cautionary restrictions and social distancing in place, churches are closed. Pope Tawadros II honoured the occasion be celebrating Mass at the church of the Holy Virgin in Maadi, on the Nile bank. An altar was set up in the church courtyard overlooking the Nile, and the Pope was joined by Anba Danial, Bishop of Maadi, and Secretary-General of the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod; Anba Yulius, Bishop-General of Old Cairo churches; Anba Aklimandos, Bishop-General of Almaza and Haggana; and Anba Mikhail, Bishop-General of Hadayeq al-Qubba.
The icon of the Holy Family in Egypt was carried in a deacon procession around the church, with the Pope and bishops raising incense before it.
Pope Tawadros gave a sermon in which he talked about the blessings bestowed by the Lord Jesus on Egypt by choosing to take refuge in it as a child, with his mother the Holy Virgin, and St Joseph, fleeing from Herod the King who had wished to destroy him. The Biblical story is cited in the second chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew.
The Pope also talked of Global Coptic Day which was initiated in 2019 as an annual event to celebrate Coptic culture and heritage, and the contribution of the Coptic Church throughout its history to the whole world. He said that this was an event in which everyone around the globe may celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family with Egypt.
As Mass concluded, Pope Tawadros sprinkled holy water onto the River Nile to bless it.
Journey in Egypt
The Holy Family’s journey in Egypt is steeped in tradition; it is well-charted, backed by historical documents and manuscripts. The traditional icon that depicts the flight into Egypt shows the Holy Virgin tenderly holding Baby Jesus as they ride on a donkey led by St Joseph.
Coming from the historical land of Israel, the Holy Family entered Egypt from its northeast outpost of what is today Rafah, travelled southwest till the Nile Delta, then south to present-day Cairo and further south till Assiut, some 350km south of Cairo, where they spent the longest interval in their trip in a mountain grotto. When St Joseph was ordered to take the young Child and His mother back to Israel, the Family took a return trip north on a slightly different path. The trip, which lasted some three years, extended over 3,500km, including 31 sites, eight caves or grottos, 18 water springs or wells, and 13 trees. Today, churches or monasteries stand on these sites which Egyptians see as sources of palpable blessing.
Tradition tells of time-honoured miracles worked by the Holy Family, also of everyday tales of the poor nondescript ‘parents’ with the Baby in a strange land. Here, they stop to rest under the shade of a tree…there, the mother gives Baby a bath…elsewhere she bakes bread for her family.
On Nile bank
The 4th-century church of the Holy Virgin in Maadi occupies a spectacular spot on the eastern Nile bank in southern Cairo, and is built on the site where the Holy Family is believed to have boarded a boat and headed south to Upper Egypt. The church is famous for a 1976 miracle, when a large open book was sighted floating on the Nile water in front of the church. The book was retrieved; it was a Bible open on the page at Isaiah 19: 25 “Blessed be Egypt my People”. Known as the Floating Bible, it is now on permanent display in a glass case reliquary at the church, open on the same page in Isaiah.
2 June 2020