THE HOLY FAMILY IN EGYPT1
FR. TADROS Y. MALATY
EGYPT IN THE HOLY BIBLE
The Holy Bible concentrates on "Jerusalem" which means
"land of peace," or "vision of peace" as the center of the
promised land, where God declares His dwelling among
people. And a holy temple was established in it in His Name,
where people worshipped Him, offered Him sacrifices and
offerings, and celebrated many feasts as a symbol of the
heavenly joy. This is Jerusalem, the symbol of heaven, that is
called "Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all"
Gal. 4:26. On the other hand, we find Babel and Egypt;
Babel represents disobedience to God, violence, vainglory
(tower of Babel, Gen. 11), opposing God through His
(the Babylonian captivity), adultery and
abominations (Rev. 17:5). Egypt was well-known for its
abundant crops, and its king (Pharaoh) to whom Israel and
Jude used to refuge against Babylon. Therefore, Egypt was a
symbol of loving the temporary things and the trust in human
hands (1 Kings 18:21).
Egypt was a refuge to many people, especially in famines.
Abraham visited Egypt (Gen. 12:10), so did Joseph who
became the second man after Pharaoh, offering crops to all
the neighboring countries. Jacob and his sons came to Egypt
where they lived as a family and grew as a nation. It was the
birth-place or the nursery of the people of God. Their first
leader, Moses, the great prophet and his brother Aaron the
first chief-priest appeared in Egypt to grant them freedom.
St. Stephen says, "And Moses was taught in all the wisdom
of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds" Acts 7:22.
Among the prophets who visited Egypt was Jeremiah who implored people not to flee to Egypt, but in vain, for they forced him to accompany them in their journey to Egypt (Jer. 41:1; 43:7). He uttered his last prophecies in Tahpanhes of Egypt (Jer. 43:8-44:30).
Thus, Egypt became a representative of the Gentiles to
whom Christ came to establish His Church and to form His
BLESSED BE EGYPT, MY PEOPLE
Hosea, the Prophet, foresaw the Son of God going out of
Bethlehem and fleeing to Egypt, where He found a welcome
in the hearts of Gentiles. Through Hosea, God the Father
uttered this prophecy, "I called my son out of Egypt" Hos.
Isaiah the Prophet gave us more details, saying: "Behold,
the burden of Egypt, the Lord rides upon a swift cloud, He
shall come to Egypt, and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at
His presence. In that day there shall be an altar to the lord in
the midst of the land of Egypt" Isa. 19:1. St. Cyril the Great
interpreted this prophecy saying: [The glittering cloud which
carried the child Jesus to Egypt was His mother, St. Mary,
who surpassed the cloud in purity. The altar which was
established in the midst of the land of Egypt is the Christian
church which had replaced the temples of paganism as the
idols collapsed and the temples were deserted in the presence
of the Lord Jesus.]
THE HOLY JOURNEY
The important stations where the holy family took shelter
1. BUBASTIS HILL
The holy family left Bethlehem on its way to Egypt through Sinai. They followed the Southern Caravan way along the Mediterranean coast, passing through Gaza-Raphia (Rafah)-Rhinocolura2, (now El-Arish), and then to Ostrakini which became a diocese of Bishop Abram who joined the council of Ephesus 431 A.D3.
The last station for the Holy Family in Sinai was Pelusium (now Al-Farma4), which is located between El-Arish and Port-Said and which is considered the key entrance to Egypt from the Eastern side.
From Pelusium they crossed to Bubastis (Tel-Basta),
where they rested under a tree, that is said to have survived till 1850 A.D. Here, at Bubastis Hill, a spring of water erupted, from which the holy family used to drink; and its water healed many from their sickness.
Soon after the Holy Family resided in the city, the pagan statues began to collapse and this consequently aroused the anger of the pagan priests against the Holy Family. Therefore, the Holy Family left to the outskirts of the city to a place now called "Mastard."
The Holy Family traveled to Bilbais, then to Miniat-Genah
(now Miniat Samanoud), crossing the River Nile to
Samanoud and from there to Borolos. They crossed the
River Nile to the Western bank to Sakha, then they traveled
westward along Wadi-el-Natroun (Natroun Valley), south of the "Sheheet" wilderness. This wilderness became a paradise of monks, the earthly angels.
The Holy Family then traveled to Heliopolis, to a district
called "Mataryah," where they took shelter under a tree,
known as the "St. Virgin Mary Tree." The Coptic church is
taking care of this tree which is still blossoming despite its
old age. Near this tree a spring of water shot and balsam
plants are still growing. These plants are added to the
ointments used to make the Holy Chrism (Oil for
Pilgrims in the middle ages used to visit "Mataryah" and "St. Mary's Tree" regarding them as sacred places. Until today tourists come to visit them.
3. OLD CAIRO
Old Cairo is considered the third station for the Family.
Here we have St. Virgin Mary's Church and a nunnery which
are both located at Zwayla lane. But the most attractive
landmark is the cave in Babylon in Old Cairo in which there
is an altar and a niche. It is probable that the Holy family
might have used this cave as a place for the Child Jesus to
sleep. Above this cave, a church had been built in the fourth
century and is known as the St. Sergius Church (Abu-Sarga).
Within a week, the idols of the pagan temples began to collapse, the pagan priests aroused with anger and, forced the foreign family out of the city. Thus, the holy family left for Memphis then to Maadi where St. Mary's Church has been built. Perhaps, this church was a Jewish Temple. The present structure with its attractive triple granary domes is known from the thirteenth century5.
4. IN UPPER-EGYPT
The Holy family crossed the River Nile to Upper Egypt
and headed east to Bahnassa (near Beni-Mazar), they then
crossed to the eastern bank, where they
stopped at Gabal-el-
Tair (Mount of Birds) near Samalout.
From Gabal-el-Tair, the Holy Family went to Ashmounin
near Malawi, then to a village called Philes, about 20 km
south of Ashmounin. They traveled to Qoussieh (Qousqam)
where they were treated harshly and were driven away by the
very people who saw that their stone idols had fell before
Jesus. The Holy Family escaped to the village Mirah (now
Mir), whence they took to the Qousqam Mountain on which
the famous Monastery of the Holy Virgin, known as "Al-
Muharraq" stands. There, at that mountain it had been
revealed to them by Spirit to return back to Jerusalem. They
followed a way that took them to the South up to Assyout
Mountain where they took shelter for a while in a cave
known now as St. Virgin Monastery at Assiout.
ST. VIRGIN MARY'S CHURCH AT ZAYTOUN
The Holy Family might have passed through Zaytoun, a
suburb of Cairo. On the domes of St. Mary's church at
Zaytoun, a good number of St. Mary's apparitions occurred
(from the 2nd of April 1968 until 1971). Such wonderful
apparitions occurred successively and were obviously seen
by thousands of people.
ST. VIRGIN MARY'S CLOSET AT EL-EZRAWIA
It is said that the Holy Family passed by a watermelon
farm where seeds had just been sown. St. Joseph asked the
farmer to tell the soldiers, who were chasing them, that the
Holy Family passed by his farm at the time when he was
sowing his seeds. Two days later when the soldiers arrived at
the farm, the water melon had blossomed and some fruits
were visible. This made the soldiers believe that the Holy
Family had passed by this place several months before.
Therefore the soldiers slowed down the chase after the Holy
PALM (EL-KAF) MOUNTAIN
It is said that while the Holy Family was crossing the Nile
to Gabal-el-Tair a huge rock from the Mountain was about
to fall on their boat. St. Mary was afraid but her Son - who
has power on nature - stretched His hand thus prevented the
rock from falling, and left his palm print on it. Queen Helen,
mother of Emperor Constantine, ordered that a church
should be built at this place. In the twelfth century (1168
A.D), when Almeric, King of Jerusalem invaded Upper-
Egypt, he cut away the piece of the rock and took it back to
1. Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty: The Coptic Church, "Church of Alexandria, Melbourne, Australia, 1978, p. 11-18.
2. The identification with Coptic "Rhinocunoura" is accepted on sufferance by
Geographie, p. 404. In this city the Romans exiled criminals and cut off their noses.
3. Aziz Atia: History of Eastern Christianity, p. 23.
4. From the Coptic "Pheromi."
5. Aziz S. Atiya, p.24.