On 24 Pashons, 1 June, Egypt’s Church celebrates the Feast of the Entry of the Holy Family into Egypt as it fled from the face of Herod the King (Matthew 2: 13 – 21)
The feast is unique to the Egyptian Church which believes that in choosing the country as a refuge in time of danger, the Lord especially favoured Egypt. The Biblical story says:
“And when they [the Wise Men who came from the East to worship the Child born king of the Jews] 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.
“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
“Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying,
“In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
“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 entered Egypt at its east northernmost tip on its border with the land of Israel and travelled south west till it reached the Nile at the present-day Cairo suburb of Maadi. There, the Family boarded a boat and crossed the Nile then headed south till what is today Assiut, 350km south of Cairo. At Assiut, the Holy family spent the bigger part of their journey into Egypt till they had to take the return trip back home. Altogether, according to tradition, the trip through Egypt and stay at Assiut is believed to have lasted around three years.
The path the Holy Family travelled throughout the land of Egypt is today dotted with churches that carry special blessings. Many of them involve endearing daily-life stories of the Baby and His Mother: here she gave Him a bath, there she kneaded dough to make bread, and such like.
Altogether, the story of the Holy Family in Egypt is one of a simple family fleeing danger and finding refuge among other nondescript families. It is a story that does not compare to the great historic stories of kings and noblemen or military campaigns and triumphs, yet it is incomparable in that it gave the land of Egypt and her children a blessing like no other.
The icon is by Bedour and Youssef Latif.
1 June 2017