Yesterday—24 Bashans (Pashons) on the Coptic calendar of the Martyrs, which coincides with 1 June on the Gregorian calendar—saw the Coptic Church celebrate the feast of the entry of the Holy Family into Egypt.
“Flee into Egypt”
The Biblical story is detailed in the second chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew. When Herod the King got wind of the birth of a child who was one day to be king of Israel, he decided to kill the child rather than risk his throne. “The angel of the Lord appeared 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.” (Matt 2: 13 – 15)
But when Herod died later, “Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared 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.” (Matt 19 – 21)
Blessed water spring
Tradition has it that the Holy Family entered Egypt from the East, crossed over the Delta to the Western Desert, proceeded south until present-day Assiut some 375km south of Cairo, and resided there until it was time for them to go back to their country. Many places which the Holy Family traversed or resided in have relics and blessings to show for that visit. It is believed that the Child Jesus, St Mary, and St Joseph spent between two-and-a-half to three years in Egypt.
To commemorate the event, a 40sq.m. glass mosaic mural of the Holy Family in Egypt was recently unveiled in the town of Zagazig, capital of the Sahrqiya province east of the Nile Delta. The huge mosaic, which adorns the façade of the church of the Holy Virgin and Mar-Yuhanna (St John) in Zagazig, is a first in Egyptian churches.
The Egyptian artist Adel Nassief designed and executed the mosaic upon assignment by Anba Timotheus, Bishop of Zagazig, who desired that the event of the entry of the Holy Family into Egypt should be marked on the façade of the bishopric church. Zagazig, some 100km northeast Cairo, lies a short distance from Tel Basta or Basta, a spot famous to have hosted the Holy Family for a few days upon their entry into Egypt. There, Jesus caused a water spring to well up from the ground.
Lotus cheers in welcome
Nassief, born in 1962, is famous as an icon painter and for his paintings of Egyptian scenes. His works, in painting and mosaic, adorn churches inside and outside Egypt. His Coptic-style icons also illustrate the book First Christmas by Alastair MacDonald; Welcome Books; New York and San Francisco; 2008.
The Zagazig mural depicts St Joseph pulling a donkey; his face and eyes turned west towards the pyramids, to continue the journey into Egypt. On the donkey, St Mary rides, holding the Child Jesus who opens His hands and blesses the land of Egypt. Behind them are the landmarks of Tel Basta and the water spring from which they once drank and which is there to this day.
The lotus blossoms cheerfully as if to welcome the visitors; the pigeons fly around as a symbol of peace, and the fishes in the River Nile are the symbol of good.
The mosaic is rich in colour typical of the Egyptian scene. The fruit and palm trees symbolise how fruitful Christianity has been in Egypt. A border of vine leaf motifs frame the entire mosaic.
31 May 2013