On Friday 22 August, the Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin. The feast marks the end of the 15-day Fast of the Holy Virgin; both fast and feast are especially festive occasions for Copts who celebrate them with overflowing love for the Mother of the Lord. Watani casts light on a 19th century church consecrated to the Holy Virgin and in which the feast is marked with an overnight vigil of prayer and praise that end at dawn with Holy Mass
It is said that the town of Ebiar in Gharbiya governorate, 120km from Cairo and 95km from Alexandria, was given its name back in the pharaonic era. When the Arabs entered Egypt in 640 AD, however, they decided on another explanation of its name; that it derived from the Arabic word abaar (wells) because of the abundance of water sources in the area.
According to Coptic Museum sources, there once were seven churches in Ebiar, but today there is only one: the old church of the Holy Virgin. The ancient Monastery of St Menas is 2km from Ebiar.
The Ebiar Diocese, which used to be known as the Neqious Diocese, dates back to the first days of Christianity in Egypt and was one of the largest dioceses in the Delta. The church of the Holy Virgin has seen many changes over the years. In the fourth and fifth centuries, when Christianity was on the cusp of becoming the dominant religion in Egypt and there were plenty of churches and monasteries, Ebiar was the seat of a bishop. Following the Islamic conquest, the number of churches declined until only the church of the Holy Virgin and St Menas’s monastery remained.
Place of pilgrimage
In the 1990s Father Pola Salib, pastor of the church of the Holy Virgin, embarked on a project in cooperation with the Ministry of Antiquities to renovate the church which in his hands became a major destination for pilgrims from all over Egypt.
The church was rebuilt in the late 19th century by Ishaq Yaacoub, who had earned the title of meqaddis by visiting Jerusalem (al-Quds in Arabic) on pilgrimage, working with priests of the church and the congregation. It was a smallscale copy of St Mark’s church in Clot Bey, Cairo, which was the patriarch’s seat from 1799 to 1970. Ebiar’s church was built on the debris of the other ancient churches, icons from which had been moved to the church of the Holy Virgin. These included icons of the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Virgin Mary. One of these depicts the Holy Virgin seated on a chair and holding her Son, Jesus, placing His hands on the Earth. On 15 April 1996, a large number of clergy and laypersons saw drops of oil flowing from this blessed icon during prayers, which gradually increased and the entire icon appeared to be exuding oil. This oil was found to heal a number of illnesses thought to be incurable. Countless miracles have been attributed to this blessed oil.
The Ebiar church is custodian of several valuable manuscripts, including Katamares (the daily church readings) in Arabic and Coptic, books of rituals and treatises of contemplation on some chapters of the Holy Bible.
The church contains a special shrine for a large number of saints’ relics, as well as a small relic of the Cross of our Savior and a part of the Virgin Mary’s zinnaar (belt). Another feature is an icon holder made of intertwined wood inlaid with mother of pearl and Coptic inscriptions and motifs that resemble the sun, a symbol of the Sun of Righteousness. On the dome are stained glass icons depicting the phases of the Holy Virgin life.
The Coptic Church celebrates the feasts of the Virgin Mary, including the birth of the Holy Virgin on 7 May (1 Bashans); the Entry of Virgin Mary into the Temple on 12 December (3 Kyahk); the Dormition of the Theotokos on 29 January (21 Touba); and spiritual evenings during the Fast of the Holy Virign (1 to 15 Misra, 7 to 21 August). The Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin is celebrated on 22 August (16 Misra), on the eve of which the Ebiar church holds an overnight vigil of chants and praise that end with Holy Mass at dawn.
13 August 2014