History is life, consequently it should be the story of the people wherever they are; it should recount the struggle of the nations for freedom and dignity, their aspirations and their heroic achievements. This yearning after the Ideal is the goal of our study of the Copts[(1)] and their Church. It is, therefore, essential to know from the outset that they have a strong leaning towards the mystical and the spiritual. Even before the Advent of the Christ, the Egyptians conceived of a triad of gods and a judgment of their worth by their god Osiris according to which they received their just due in the hereafter. These beliefs helped them to glimpse die Light of Christianity beforehand. Little wonder that the prophet declared: “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (Hosea 11: 1) In due season the Word was sown in Egyptian hearts, bearing fruit thirty, sixty, and an hundredfold. (Mark 4: 8).
PART I - THE STORY
To Christians, all the world over, St. Mark is one of the four writers of the Gospel. To the Copts, he is the Bearer of the Good News, the Founder of their Church, and the first Pope of Alexandria. Bom in Gyrene[(1)] (in North Africa) , he was attracted to return to his native land and preach the Good News. ' Accordingly, "he first went to the pentapolis where he started the first African Christian community, From thence, he came to Alexandria in 61 A. D. This great metropolis dazzled him by its splendor and beauty; it filled him with unutterable sadness by its sin and waywardness. Towards the evening of his first day, the strap of his sandal was tom, and he turned to the first cobbler he met. As Anianus (the cobbler) was working, the awl pierced his hand. He lifted it up, exclaiming: “O, One God the Apostle healed his wound and, taking his clue from the exclamation, gave Anianus the Good News. That day the Seed was sown: the cobbler and his family were the first fruits of the Church founded by St. Mark.
During his ministry, St. Mark ordained Anianus Bishop, thus consecrating the first African Bishop. He also ordained with him twelve priests and seven deacons who, with their Bishop, formed the first group of African clergymen; they carried on the work of sowing the Seed proclaimed by the Evangelist. To fortify the newly - born Church, St. Mark founded the Catechetical School in Alexandria, which is the first theological college in the whole Christian world; wrote his. Gospel at the request of the believers, and legated to them the Liturgy (now known as the Kyrillian).
In the year 68 A. D. , the eve of the feast of the god Serapis happened to coincide with the eve of Easter. The crowds who gathered for the former feast were fanned to a frenzy by their leaders. Hardly had' they ended their celebration, than they rushed to the church, seized St. Mark, tied a rope round his neck and dragged him through the streets. In a short time, his head was severed from his body. They left him and dispersed. The believers came and lifted him up, putting his head in a casket which they put in the Church they called after him where it is still treasured. His body was placed in a church by the seashore. The Venetian merchants stole it in the ninth century where they put it under the altar of the grand cathedral named after St. Mark whom they declared the Patron Saint of their city. In June 1968, after a period of negotiations, Pope Paul VI (of Rome) gave the Evangelist’s relics to Pope Kyrillos VI (of Alexandria) on the occasion of celebrating the passage of nineteen centuries since St. Mark’s martyrdom. A grand cathedral had been erected for the occasion, and below its altar a reliquary. The relics arrived home on the 24th. of June; for three consecutive days, the Coptic Church celebrated this supreme commemoration. Members from ah churches throughout the world, the Egyptian Government and emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia shared in the celebrations. Then St. Mark’s relics was carried in a procession and placed in the reliquary.
THE CHAIR OF ALEXANDRIA
The Seed sowed by St. Mark took root and grew into a great tree (Mark 4: 31, 32 and Luke 13: 19). During the Apostle’s lifetime, a church was built; at his martyrdom, it was given his name. The present - day cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria stands, on the very same site whereon this first church built on Egyptian soil stood’ Anianus having been ordained by the evangelist - martyr resumed the guidance of the believers. From then onwards, the line of his successors continues unbroken. At present, his Successor is Abba Shenouda III, the hundred and seventeenth Pope of Alexandria.
The title "Pope” was used to designate St. Mark * s successors from the time of Anianus. In its Coptic from, it is “Papa” or" father of fathers”. Some of the most illustrious Fathers of the Church Universal are among the Popes of Alexandria. A few examples will be cited here:
ABBA DEMETRIUS: (12th Pope, 199 - 232 A. D.) , entitled “the Vinedresser” who computed the Epact by which the dated of Easter was calculated, and can be fixed unto eternity. It was used by the Church Universal until 1582 A D.
ABBA DIONYSIUS; (14th Pope, 249 - 270 A. D.) , entitled “A man of universal learning”, and an ecumenical teacher. His arbitration was sought by two candidates for the Chair of Rome, and his response aimed at keeping the peace and unity of the Church.
ABBA PETROS I: (17th Pope, 293 - 303 A. D.) , martyred by emperor Diocletian because of his daring to withstand him for the sake of maintaining the integrity of the Faith and sustaining the hearts of the believers. The laws he set down for accepting repentant renegades are marked by Christian charity and paternal solicitude. They are revered by the Church Universal.
ABBA ATHANASIUS THE APOSTOLIC: (20th Pope, 326 - 372 A. D.) , known for his intrepidity in defending Orthodoxy against all deviations to the extent of earning the epithet “Athanasius versus the world”.
ABBA KYRILLOS I: (24th Pope, 412 - 443 AD.) , entitled “the Pillar of Faith” and “St. Mark’s Cub”, for elucidating the Orthodox Doctrine and withstanding Nestorianism.
ABBA DIOSCORUS I: (25th Pope, 443 - 458 A. D.) , whose intrepidity in the council of Chalcedon caused emperor Marcia - nus to banish him. He died in exile rather than forego one iota of the spiritual legacy entrusted to him.
ABBA THEODOSIUS: (35th Pope, 519 - 536 A. D.) , whom both emperors Justinian I and II tried to bribe into submission by promising to make him ruler over all their African domain. He refused and was, consequently, imprisoned in Constantinople for twenty eight years, till he died.
ABBA BENJAMEN I: (38th Pope, 625 - 664 A. D.) , he succeeded in shepherding his people during the fall of Constantinople and the Arab conquest. After the entry of the Arabs, he rebuilt the destroyed churches, and collected the Church laws which he wrote and promulgated among the believers for their edification.
ABBA MIKHAIL I: (46th Pope, 743 - 766 A. D.) , who maintained the Orthodox Doctrine and practices, accepting imprisonment, scourging, threat of death, and payment of exorbitant sums of money rather than bow before the temporal “powers.
ABBA SHENOUDA I: (55th Pope, 858 - 869 A. D.) , who despite severe persecutions, dug canals under the. streets of Alexandria through which fresh waters could be available to the sorely stricken people.
ABBA MIKHAIL IV: (68th Pope, 1092 - 1102 A. D.) , who mediated between the Sultan of Egypt and the king of Ethiopia, thus evading war and leading to amical relations between the two.
ABBA KYRILLOS III: (75th Pope, 1226 - 1234 A. D.) , whose letters and books of catechism and concerning the doctrine show him as a vigilant Shepherd mindful of his people in Damascus, Nubia and Ethiopia. He is the first Successor to St. Mark who ordained a Coptic Archbishop over Jerusalem for shepherding the Copts throughout the Middle Eastern - countries.
ABBA MATTHEOS THE GREAT: (87th Pope, 1378 - 1409 A. D.) , in whom shown all the Apostolic gifts: he healed the sick, he cast out the devils and he raised the dead (Matt. 10 - 8) He was also given the gift of prophecy and wielded great influence on the Mamluke Sultan Barkook. One of the most touching stories, about this man of God shows his influence over the wild beasts. While yet living in the desert, he was walking one day from a cell to another. A mother hyena came and walked "beside him and carried for him his bundle of clothes. He felt that she must be in some need and left her to walk at her will. They came to a deep chasm, and she stood still lifting up her eyes to him as if imploring him. He descended into the chasm and found her cub fallen at the bottom. Putting it on his shoulder, he climbed up and delivered it to her. In' gratitude, she licked his feet and went away. Next day, he heard a scratching on his door; opening it, he found yesterday’s hyena with another mother hyena bringing her blind cub. He knelt on the sand beside them, put his right hand on the eye * of the cub and prayed. The eyes opened. The two brutes lay at his feet licking them. Pere Cheneau d’Orleans commenting on the power of the saints on the beasts of the wild says that God granted them that power which He had bestowed on Adam before his fall.
Contemporary with this man of wondrous spiritual gifts is a nun who is himself a miracle: he is.
ABBA ROWEISS: He was a poor illiterate peasant who had to toil for a living from his tender years, and had to flee from his village before drastic tortures at the age of twenty. Yet, such was his love for the Christ and for his sorely afflicted coreligionists that he journeyed from town to town, and from village to village in order to enthuse the faint hearted with courage, and inflame the spirits with ardor. For a few years, he lived this errant we, then settled on what has since then became known as the Abba Roweiss ground. Many youths came to him for council and guidance, and became his disciples. And such is God’s assessment of human worth that He bestowed upon this man shorn of all worldly advantages rare spiritual gifts. He endowed him with the ability of seeing the invisible, of foretelling the future, of ransoming erring youths, and of journeying in the spirit. One example of ransom is that of a handsome young from a well - to - do family who was seduced by the Sultan to deny the Christ and marry a royal princess. Two years later, he came to Abba Roweiss saying: * O man of God, what can I do, for the devil has vanquished me?” Hearing his whole story, the saint advised him to go and live in St, Anthony’s monastery adding: “The devil vanquished you in the first round and you will vanquish him in the second. ” The erring remonstrated * “Suppose the Sultan knows where I am and tortures the monks because of me... ” Abba Roweiss replied: "“You go, and I shall ask God to make the Sultan forget you. ”.
The youth obeyed, and the Sultan did forget him.
As for his ability to journey in the spirit, it is demonstrated by the following incident: A Copt was the treasurer of the Mamluke Prince Mintach who took him with him to "Syria. They remained there longer than was anticipated. The Copt’s wife, alarmed at his delay, went to Abba Roweiss. Then, it seemed to her that he went into a trance, and came to himself half an hour later saying: “Your husband was in danger but is now safe, and arrive tomorrow”. His woman took his word implicitly and went home comforted. The following day her husband came. He told her that when they were half way on their journey hark, the Prince outran them, leaving him with the soldiers who wanted to snatch from him the box wherein the Prince’s money was kept. At his opposition, they threatened to kill him. Suddenly a man appeared and saved him, accompanying them till they reached the outpost of Cairo then leaving them a * suddenly as he appeared.
In acknowledgement of his services and his spiritual worth, the Church entitled him “Abba” a term used only to designate popes and bishops.
ABBA YOANNIS XIII: (94th Pope, 1483 - 1526 A. D.) , whose awareness of his great duties necessitated that he write letters of edification to his flock in Cyprus, and that he donate church - books to * the bishop whom he consecrated over this island for their service. It should be noted that when the Turks conquered this island, they massacred all the Copts there including the bishop. A monastery, still stands on the slopes near Nicosia where Armenian monks now live, retaining its original * name — that of St. Macari the Great.
ABBA YOANNIS XVI: (103rd Pope, 11676 - 1718 A. D.) , whose papacy can best be described in tire words of the psalmist, “thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Ps. 103: 5). For despite famines, plagues and persecutions, he succeeded in rebuilding the monasteries of the Eastern desert, as well as in repairing and reconstructing numerous churches. His sympathy was such that he decreed that the priests are to take the Communion to the sick who are unable to go to church.
ABBA KYRILLOS IV: (110th Pope, 1854 - 1861 A. D.) , known among the Copts as “Father of Renaissance” because he opened several schools (in the modern sense of the word) , one of which was for girls; he revived the Coptic. language, organized the work of the deacons, and bought a printing press — the second in Egypt, the first being that bought by Mohammad Ali Pasha. He aspired towards a unity of the Orthodox churches but did not live to achieve it. Abba Kyrillos was expressly asked by the Khedive Said Pasha to mediate between him and the Ethiopian emperor. His mediation led1 to the establishment of peace between the two countries. «.
ABBA KYRILLOS V: (112th Pope, 1874 - 1927 A. D.) , under whose direction, the Sunday Schools spread' from Alexandria to Aswan, and into the Sudan. He opened the present Theological Seminary and a technical school in Boulak (one of. the poorest suburbs of Cairo). His pastoral tour comprised the Sudan, during which he consecrated several churches. Having been a scribe while a monk, he encouraged contemporary authors, and during his papacy countless books were published. Being ardent patriot, he supported Arabi and Zaghlool in their revolutions for national independence.
ABBA KYRILLOS VI: (116th Pope, 1959 - 1971 A. D.) , who was graced by God with the power of healing and of casting out evil spirits, as well as by clairvoyance and clairaudience. He began rebuilding St. Mena’s monastery in Mariut but did not see its completion. However, his people respected his will, and bore his body to the sacred spot after its completion where he was buried under the sanctuary of the big Cathedral there. What is more, he brought his negotiations with Paul VI to a successful end, and was consequently vouchsafed the joy of receiving St. Mark’s relics, consecrating a grand cathedral in his name, and a reliquary' under its sanctuary wherein the Evangelist’s relics were placed. God’s Grace. abounded in that the Blessed Virgin appeared over - the church named after her in Zeitoun (Cairo) ; beginning on Monday 2nd. of April 1968 and continuing for little over two years; hundreds of thousands — literally — felt the ecstasy of seeing Her. Muslims and Copts, Europeans, Americans and Africans crowded the streets round the Church nightly, from sunset to sunrise. Among the thousands thus blessed was President Nasser, who was the personal friend of Abba Kyrillos VI. And it is worth - noting that St. Mark’s Cathedral wherein the Prayers for commemorating the martyrdom of St Mark were held was not built by the Copts alone: the Egyptian Government as well as churches from the four corners of the earth contributed their share.
THE SCHOOL OF ALEXANDRIA
The popes can be likened to the apex of the pyramids which however lofty, cannot but rest on the solid edifice below it. The peoples together with their lay - teachers, their priests and their bishops form this grand Pyramid * Foremost among the supporters of St. Mark’s Successors, were the deans and the teachers of the Catechetical School of Alexandria founded by the Evangelist himself. Again, we find some of the most illustrious names in Christendom. Here is the witness of a present day writer: “The battle was fought, not in Smyrna nor in any of the seven churches of Asia, but in the theological school of Alexandria, the most civilized city of the time, where Jews and Christians met on equal footing, Origen and Clement of Alexandria were the protagonists in the drama. They wrestled with angels, delved into the mysterious origins of Christianity, and consulted the oldest books, hurled anathemas on the pagans. When they completed their work they had laid the foundations of the faith, and built up its doctrinal structure almost to the height which it reaches today. ” Adding elsewhere: “Alexandria was the nerve - center of Christianity. ".
Here, it is imperative to mention but one more master light: he is Didymus entitled “The Blind Seer of Alexandria”. For though he lost his eyesight at four, he prayed for inward Light. His prayers received God's Uplift, endowing him with such steadfast faith as enabled him to become one of the foremost erudite even in Alexandria. Such - was his sparkling that Abba Athanasius the Apostolic appointed him Dean of the School of Alexandria. He invented a method by which the blind could learn: carving the letters on wood so that they could feel them with their fingers and thus read them. In this method, he anticipated Braille by fifteen centuries. But the wars, the persecutions and the great upheavals which overtook Egypt, obliterated his method alongside with many of the great carrions of the mind,.
This school continued to be the Lighthouse of Christian Learning until A. D. 451, when the first split between the churches happened as a result of the nefarious council of Chalcedon. Consequently, the emperors of Constantinople, in their persecutions against the Copts, dosed the school, carrying to their own capital whatever books they could lay hands on. Those responsible for the Coptic Church took whatever remained of the books, and set up the center of learning in the monastery of the great St. Macari (Macarius of Egypt) in Wadi n - Natrun in the western desert where it continued for several centuries. But the numerous raids and massacres recurrent in that area by the nomadic tribes gave little rest to the monks and their monasteries so. That the Great Light gradually became like unto that of a candle. Nevertheless, God’s Grace kept it alight for the ages to come. One of the most touching incidents of the Unconquerable Buoyancy of the human spirit is that towards the end of 1970, there were five aged monks in St. Macari’s monastery. One evening, the five of them sat reproaching the great saint that shortly his monastery will be closed ante they were all well advanced in yean and no new blood seems to be forthcoming. A week elapsed after this reproach of love when lo I eight young men rang the bell of the monastery. They walked in declaring to the five elders that they came to Jive with them and learn from them. Since then, their number grew to thirty two. New cells and guest houses were built on what used to be the rampart of the monastery. The ardor and the kindliness of these monks attract hundreds of peoples to visit the monastery especially during Advent, Lent, and the days commemorating the Saint’s departure from this world, the building of the first church in his name, or some specific he performed. The continued Divine Providence has made the western desert to become once more a sanctuary of learning and intense spiritual zeal. And the School re - opened by Kyrillos V has gained momentum under the impetus of Kyrillos VI, and Shenouda III (present - day Pope).
During the first few centuries, Christians were persecuted wherever they lived. But in Egypt, persecutions raged on and off incessantly. After the martyrdom of St. Mark in 68 A. D. , the Church which he founded enjoyed unbroken peace until A. D. 202. God, in His infinite Mercy, granted Her these years thereby enabling Her to withstand the ever - recurring onslaughts of persecutions, and to face with daring the various heresies. From 202 — 642, namely during the Roman - Byzantine period, twenty one persecutions overtook the Copts. The seventh among these persecutions inflamed by Emperor Diocletian, burned for ten consecutive years. So - much so, that Mgr. Guerin (a French Cardinal) says in his “Dictionnaire de Dictionaries” under the word “martyre "’ that the number of those martyred is estimated at eight hundred thousand, the last of whom was Abba Petros I, who is therefore entitled “the Seal of the Martyrs”. Preceding him were six bishops whose dignity was no deterrent to the persecutor.
In these twenty one persecutions, men, women and children alike, were tortured and killed most ruthlessly. And it should be noted that the Copts never painted a picture of torture, nor raised a statue depicting them. The only reminder is the * calendar by which they made the year 284 A. D. (the first of Diocletian’s reign) the beginning of their era. Thus the year of Grace 1975 is the year 1691 A. M. (Anno Martyro). They were content to leave persecutor and persecuted alike in the Hand of God.
The Roman - Byzantine persecutions could be counted because they were declared by imperial edicts, and were also given the semblance of legality as the Copts were dragged before the magistrates where they were cross - questioned, sentenced to tortures then death. But from A. D. 642 to the coming of Mohammad Ali Pasha in 1805, the persecutions recurred incessantly though they cannot be numbered. For during the Middle Ages no edict ever proclaimed a persecution, and on very rare occasions was the persecuted tried. The whim of a ruler, the calumniation of a jealous courtier, the stray word of a fanatic and the lust for money — all these singly or together were good enough reasons to ignite the fire of persecution. Thus the Church of St. Mark lived continuously on the “Line of Confrontation”. The wonder of it is that in spite of all trials and tribulations, of buffetings • and * scourging, She not only lives, but is at present enjoying an exhilarating Re - , naissance: not only within the boundaries * of her native - land,' but across the continents also. She can be truly described as ’“the living Mother of the Martyrs”.
Such is the unconquerable buoyancy implanted by God within the Coptic Church that, while facing dangers, and temptations, She could outswim the t: de. One of Her most far - reaching and sweeping influences on the whole of Christendom is monasticism. The enemies of such life of sanctity presume that monks were escapists. But a close scrutiny will reveal the authentic goal of these “Athletes of God”. First, it should be remembered that the ancient Egyptians regarded the desert as the domain of the god of evil to which he was banished by the god of good. So that we can liken the monks to the parachutists who dare to fight the enemy within his own territory. Second, countless of the Master lights among them were of the rich and influential class who could live in luxury despite persecutions. Third, whenever persecutions or plagues raged, these desert dwellers left their abodes and went into the cities to face torture with their brothers in the world. Last but not least, the persecutors^ marched into the desert and did not hesitate to kill the monks despite age, sex, and sanctity. Thus, we can see that those who left the world sought seclusion with God. All the early writers describe them as "God’s Athletes” seeking to be “alone - with the Alone”.
Monasticism passed through three stages:
COMPLETE SOLITARINESS: the man (or woman) seeking a life of prayer fasting and meditation, went alone into the desert, found some natural cave or dug one for his purpose and lived therein for the rest of his life; unknown, unsought and completely by himself. The most outstanding solitaire among men is St. Paul the first hermit who lived ninety years in utter obliviousness having left the' world at twenty. Only one week before his death, the Angel of the Lord disclosed his secret to St. Antoni who sought him out and heard from him his own story. A monastery still stands in the Eastern desert which bears his name — it is in the vicinity of the cave wherein he lived. As to the most outstanding woman, she is Mary the Errant (or the Repentant). She was of great beauty, and like the Magdalene spent the first part of her life in riotous living. Overcome by remorse, she went into the desert by the Jordan at twenty nine. There she lived in utter solitariness for forty five years. Then she was discovered by Zosima, an Abbot of a monastery in the Eastern desert. She confessed to him her life - story begging him to bring her the Eucharist the following year, and he complied with her re - quest. A year later, he went to see her expressly, but found her dead with a slip of paper beside her on which were these words: “Return unto the earth what belongs to the earth, and pray for me”. The reason for calling her "the Errant” is because she did not restrict herself to a certain cave, but wandered throughout the desert.
THE ANTONIAN RULE: When St. Antoni restored to the desert, he assumed that he would be left alone like unto those who went before him. But he was not left to enjoy the silence of solitude for long. The multitudes went to see him. Naturally the majority sought him for spiritual counsel or for physical healing. But the few were so magnetized by his per sociality that they desired to stay with. him. He advised each to find a cell for himself in which to live from Sunday evening to * Saturday noon. On Saturday, at midday, they ah gathered round him, and together they spent the time until Sunday evening. He taught them that each must work with his hands, alternating prayer with handwork. “For”, said he, "a monk must earn his living. Aho, if many devils beset the idle, one only besets the worker”. He, aho, set for them a specific garb: a white robe of flax reaching halfway between the knee and the ankle, with a wide leather belt tightened round their waist to keep them alert. Whenever any of them went to a town to sell their work (or for any other purpose) he wore a cape of the same material in summer, or a sheepskin (or any other skin) in winter. (The present day black robes worn by the Coptic monks and clergy were imposed by Sultan Al - Hakim in 979 A. D.) This rule of five and a half days in solitude, and one and a half in companionship is known as the Antonian monasticism. And because Abba Antoni was the first desert dweller to have disciples whom he taught and directed he is known as “The Father of Monks”.
COENOBITICAL OR COMMUNAL LIFE: This was inaugurated by Abba Pakhom whose very life is a miracle. Born of pagan parents, he was mobilized at twenty hy emperor Constantine. One evening, he and his companions were made to encamp outside the city of Esnah (just north of Aswan). To his astonishment, he found some Esnites coming out to them with food and water. They washed for them their hands and feet, then offered them the food and waited on them as though they were their servants. Amazed by this kindness, he asked why. One of his companions answered: “They are Christiana, and their Christ enjoins them to love all people”. Pakhom meditated on this answer, and said within himself: “If this be the commandment of the Christ, then I must be a Christian should I return safely from war”. On his return, he went • straightway to Esnah where he found, in the nearby desert caves, an aged ascetic called Palamon with whom he lived for three years. At the end of these years, the Saintly man advised him to find a cave in which to live alone. He obeyed. Being of a very sensitive and sympathizing nature, he began to mediate that surely there are many who desire to give themselves wholly to God, but cannot endure solitude. So he set himself to pray for all these. In answer to his prayers,, he was guided by the Angel of the Lord to build a monastery in which he will gather those seeking to live in prayer and devotion but are unable to live alone. Thus, he built the very first monastery throughout the world for men in a place called Tabenissi near Dendarah in the Upper reaches of the Nile. Few months later, his sister Mary came to ask about him. Charmed by this mode of life, she asked him to build a monastery for women. Some of his monks built it for her in the same vicinity.
St. Pakhom’s monasteries did not attract the Egyptians only men and women from different countries came to live with them. Some lived for the rest of their lives others lived for some years then returned to their respective home lands to start monastic life according to the Pakhomian Rule. In Egypt, the Pakhomian Rule is the only order of monasticism, whereas in the West numerous orders evolved, yet they all sprouted from the same Rule. Hence St. Pakhom is end ted “Father of the Coenobites”.
The most outstanding of God’s. Athletes are: Abba Macari the Great (known as Macarius of Egypt) , foremost among St. Antonis’ disciples. He lived in the region of “She - heat” (or Scales of the Heart) in Wadi n - Natrun in the Western desert, and is known among the Copts as “Father of the She - heat desert”; and entitled by the historians “Father of the Patriarchs” because a preponderant number of Alexandrian Popes were selected from among the Macarians. His monastery still flourishes.
ABBA PISHOY: After whom one of the Wadi n - Natrun monasteries still extant is called. He is described in the Liturgy with the words “the perfect man, beloved of Our Good Savior”. His monastery has been repaired by the present Pope, Abba Shenouda III, who also revived it by encouraging a number of fine young men to enter it.
ABBA YOANNIS KAMI: Founder of the monastery now known as “As - Suriani” in Wadi n - Natrun. It is the monastery in which Abba Shenouda III lived before his papacy. Also, a? Present, Bishops Samuel for Public Relations and Social Service, Athanasius of Beni Suef, Domadius of Giza, Yoannis of Gharbeya. and Pakhdmius of Beheira and the Pentapolis, all lived in this monastery.
ABBA SHENOUDA THE ARCHIMANDRITE: Reckoned by the West to be the foremost leader to free the Egyptian from the shackles of Byzantium. He lived during a good part of the fifth ond on to the sixth centuries as he attained the age of an hundred and eighteen years. And such was paternal soliciture that when the Bagat tribes marauded the region, capturing twenty thousand people and seizing their wealth, he crossed the Nile and met the leader of the marauders and said to him: “Keep the spoils but give me the people”. He, then, took his relieved 'compatriots to his white monastery (near Sohag in Upper Egypt) where he kept them for three months. He relegated the sick to his doctor monks, and placed the aged and the children under the care of the educators and social workers • (monks). During these three months ninety four died and were buried in the monastery cemetery; and fifty two babies were born. These freed captives were kept until Abba Shenouda found work for the men by which to support their families.
THE SPIRITUAL FATHER MARCUS THE ANTONIAN: (late 14th and early 15th century.). He was born inavllage near Sohag in Upper Egypt of poor hardworking peasants. Orphaned of his father at ten, he had to toil in the fields to earn a living for himself and his mother. He noted that his mother was an extremely generous soul despite their poverty, never refusing anyone. If some beggar knocked at her door when she had no money she would give him an egg or a cup of milk or a loaf of bread, she could never send him away empty. She was also an example in prayer and fasting: persevering in all these practices. Consequently at twenty three, Marcus disclosed to her his wish to become a monk. She replied: “Go in peace, my Son. Be steadfast and diligent; remember that our Lord said:
'No man having put his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of god’. (Luke 9: 62) ”. He joined the monastery of the great Luminary of the Eastern desert, St. Antoni. In due time, he became guide and teacher to the monks of that monastery. They so revered him that they called him "spiritual father”. And God granted him a long life (nearly a century) during which he set his, face steadfastly forward that he may be fit for the kingdom of God.
MOSES THE BLACK: In his youth, he was a slave; tall and heavily built, he had the strength of the brutes. And so wild and unruly was he that his own master chased him away. Glad in his release, he became the terror of the region in which he took his abode: killing, pillaging, getting drunk and committing all the evils of which ‘depraved man is capable. Yet in the midst of this abyss, the Divine Spark hounded him. At times, he would walk out into the open, look up at the sun and say: “Are you God?” if not, where is He? One day as he repeated this obsessing question, he heard a Voice saying: "If you would know God, go to She - heat where the holy men will tell you. ” Immediately, he buckled on his sword, out of their habit, and went straightway to the designated spot. There he was met by Isidoros, the Priest of She - heat who was frightened by his sight. Moses quietened his fears by relating to him why he came. Isidorus. took him to the Great Macari who put him under his own tutelage. And God’s Grace shone in this fallen sinner transforming him into a great saint, so much so, that he became abbot of a monastery wherein three hundred monks lived under his guidance. One day as they sat conversing with Abba Macari, the Great Luminary said: “I can see the Crown of Martyrdom on the head of one of you! ” Moses replied:" This must surely be me, for our Lord said (they that take by the sword shall be taken by the sword). ” Few days later, the Monastery was raided; seven monks were killed one of whom was Moses the Black whom the Church describes with the word "the Strong”, for he succeeded in climbing from the depths of the abyss to the heights of sanctity".
At present, there are, four monasteries in Wadi n - Natrun; they are those of: Abba Macari thtf Great, Abba Pishoy, As - Suriani, and Al Baramus. Two monasteries within the region of the Red Sea; they are those of St. Antoni and St. Paul the first hermit. One in central Upper Egypt, near Fayoum called alter a prominent Contessor, Abba Samuel of Kalamon. One South of the city of Assiut in Upper Egypt called Al - Moharraq, enclosing a church named after the Blessed Virgin and built over a spot wherein the Holy Family spent some time during their stay in Egypt. One in the desert of Mariut, near Alexandria, named after the martyr St. Mena. It was once in the center of a big city comprising a hospital run by the monks, and a well from which pilgrims carried water back to their homes. Ampullae on which St. Mena's icon is engraved were found in Dongola (in the Sudan) and in Marseilles (in the South of France) denoting the great popularity of the saint. The church and the whole city were destroyed in the Middle Ages. Then, when Abba Kyrillos VT became Pope of Alexandria in 1959, he succeeded in getting from the Egyptian Government the right to build a new monastery within sight of the old one. Now it stands comprising within its walls: cells for monks, a grand cathedral, two churches, and a guest house. The belfry of its first - built church is high and can be seen from afar a Lighthouse to the wayfarer, and a spearhead towards heaven. These nine are all for men. As for the women’s convents there are seven of them, they are those of: The Blessed Virgin and St. George at Haret Zeweila; St. George, and St. Mercurius of the two swords in Old Cairo; and Prince Theodoras at Haret ar - Rum. These five are in the Cairo area. There is one convent named after the Archangel Mikhail near the city of Tanta; and one near the city of Mansoura named after the Virgin - Martyr Dimiana Both these cities are in the Delta.
FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT
God’s Athletes in the desert waged an incessant war in the realm of the spirit; they travailed mightily in prayer for the world. Meantime, their brothers who lived in the cities and the villages were striving daily keep the Torch of Faith aflame. From the Arab Conquest to the coming of Mohammad Ali to power, twelve dynasties succeeded one another in ruling the Nile Valley. Naturally, each ruler had his personal method of holding the reigns, yet some dynasties are known to have been benevolent on the whole such as the Ayyubids whose greatest figure is Salah el - Din (Saladin). Other dynasties ruled. ruthlessly such as the Turks. In between, there were those during whose time benevolence alternated such as the Omayyads. Throughout the changes of dynasties, during wars famines and pestilences, or in the short lulls of peace, the Copts were convinced that they must face “the music”, be it harmonious or discordant. It must be added that the Crusaders were fierce and cruel to Muslims and Copts alike. Also, during the French expedition and the British occupation, all the Egyptians were sorely pressed, and we can feasibly state that the Copts were more so. True, there were the renegades who through fear or lust for power forgot their Savior. Yet, if their majority had not tenaciously upheld their Faith through thick and thin, die Church would have ceased to be.