The 1st of June every year, 24 Pashons (Bashans) on the Coptic calendar, marks a feast day unique to the Coptic Church: the Feast of the Entry of the Holy Family into Egypt. Egyptians consider themselves especially blessed to have been granted the privilege of offering safe refuge to the Baby Jesus, the Holy Virgin, and St Joseph, when perils threatened them at home.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2, the Bible says: “And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: 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 into Egypt
“And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.”
The Bible goes on to say, later in the same Chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew: “But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
“Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.
“And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.”
Tradition has it that the Holy Family stayed in Egypt some three years until they went back home to the land of Israel. They entered Egypt from the Northeast and crossed what is today North Sinai then headed southwest to the Nile Delta and on to the site of present-day Cairo. After that they travelled south into Upper Egypt till Assiut some 350km south of Cairo. Assiut is believed to have been the site which hosted the Holy Family for some six months, their longest extended stay at one spot during their flight into Egypt. It was then time to take the northward journey back home on a route that differed slightly from the one they had taken southwards into Egypt.
Every spot where local tradition has it that the Holy Family stayed or even merely rested is today site of some church or monastery; the map of Egypt is practically dotted with so many of them. Each has a story to tell. Many of these stories speak of down-to-earth experiences common to any family moving around with a toddler. Predictably, however, they include miraculous instances that lend a special brightness and blessing to these tales.
At the church in Samanoud in the Delta, there stands a large stone vessel believed to be have been used by the Holy Virgin to knead dough in order to bake. In Mostorod, north of Cairo, she gave her little boy a bath and washed his clothes in water drawn from a well that is still there at the present-day church. Matariya in eastern Cairo is home to a sycamore tree that is a 1672 planting of an earlier tree which is said to have cast its shade on the Holy Virgin when she needed to rest on a hot day. Many other spots carry vestiges of day-to-day memories which, by their very ordinariness, are rendered all the more endearing.
A bright picture
For the second year in succession, an official celebration has been held to honour the Feast of the Entry of the Holy Family into Egypt. The event was organised by the Ministry of Antiquities on the evening of Monday 1 June at the 7th-century church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (Abu-Serga) in Old Cairo, a site at which the Holy Family is believed to have rested and which holds a water well that they drank from.
The celebration opened with the arrival of Pope Tawadros II who came in carrying the Egyptian flag. On hand to welcome him was Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh al-Damati, together with a host of high-ranking State officials, military and public figures, and Coptic and Muslim clerics. Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab could not make it to the celebration on account of his being on a visit to Assiut in the south.
The national anthem was played, followed by performances of hymns and patriotic songs. Speeches then followed by Mr Damati, Bishop-General of Old Cairo Anba Yulius, Secretary-General of the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod Anba Rapahaeil, and Bishop of Maadi Anba Danial.
The Pope’s word followed. With his usual grace and good humour he said that we Egyptians have a history we should be proud of, grasp, and live accordingly. “History is life,” he said. “A nation with no history has no future either.” He applauded the participation of the national institutions in the celebration, saying it “painted a bright picture of Egypt”.
The icon is by Wagdy Habashy
3 June 2015