Feast of the Entry of the Holy Family into Egypt
The story was related by St Matthew in chapter 2 of his gospel. It goes: “And the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word again; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him’. When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod.”
The young Child in the story was Jesus Christ, His mother was the Holy Virgin Mary, and the ‘father’ who took them into Egypt was St Joseph. This Holy Family fled the evil of Herod the King who sought to kill the Child fearing he would one day become the literal King of Israel. The Family left the biblical land of Israel, travelling southwards to seek refuge in Egypt.
From north to south .. and back
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, thriving churches or monasteries stand on these sites which Egyptians see as sources of palpable blessing.
The Holy Family’s journey in Egypt is steeped in tradition; it is well-charted, backed by historical documents and manuscripts. Tradition tells of time-honoured miracles worked by the Holy Family, also of everyday tales of the poor nondescript ‘parents’ with the Child 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.
The Coptic Church marks the Entry of the Holy Family into Egypt on 24 Pashons, 1 June. The feast is joyfully celebrated during Vespers services on the eve of the feast, and Holy Mass the following morning.
It is a feast exclusive to the Coptic Church, a fact of which Copts are proudly conscious.
A 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. Other icons show the Family sailing the Nile in a boat, with the scenic bank in the background featuring the pyramids, Egypt’s palms, lotus and papyrus leaves, and birds and angels.
“I have a dream”
In 2018, the Egyptian Mint Authority issued a collection of 12 commemorative metal coins documenting the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.
General Abdel-Raouf Farouq, Director of the Egyptian Mint explained to Watani that The Holy Family collection depicted 12 sites where the Holy Family had stayed: Tel Basta, Sakha, Belbeis, Mostorod, Wadi al-Natroun, Abu-Serga, Maadi, Gabal al-Tair, Deir al-Muharraq, Drunka, Mattariya, and Samanoud.
“It is my dream that the Feast of the Entry of the Holy Family into Egypt would be celebrated by all Egyptians, not just by Copts,” Pope Tawadros said on 1 June 2018 at an event held at the Coptic Museum in Cairo. “It marks an occasion that has carried immeasurable blessings to Egypt in her entirety and, as such, warrants being designated a national day.” Muslims as well as Christians revere Jesus and His mother, the Holy Virgin.