Photo by Norbert Schiller for Egypt Today Photo by Norbert Schiller for Egypt Today

From Our Archives: The Path of Faith

Sat, Apr. 29, 2017
In June 2000, Christians celebrated the arrival of the Holy Family in Egypt 2,000 years earlier. According to Coptic tradition the Lord warned Joseph that King Herod was planning to kill Jesus (Matthew 2: 13-15).The story of the flight is a “story of God turning evil into good,” says Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan Athanasius in Beni Sueif. “Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus was a blessing for Egypt, preparing the road for Christianizing Egypt."

Tradition holds that the Holy Family went from Bethlehem to Rafah, El-Arish and Farma in North Sinai, where excavations yielded ruins of several ancient churches. From Farma the Holy Family continued to Bubastis, city of the Pharaonic lion goddess Bastet, just outside modern Zagazig. “When Jesus entered the temple, the idols crumbled before him," says Father Maqar in Zagazig. “The idol worshippers wanted to kill him and the city was cursed. The prophet Ezekiel (chapters 29 and 30) had prophesied the end of the Pharaonic Egypt, and that the mighty Bubastis would turn into a heap rubble.”

Photo by Norbert Schiller for Egypt Today 2
Photo by Norbert Schiller for Egypt Today

The Holy Family escaped to Mostorod, north of Cairo, where they were well received and stayed in a crypt which today is part of the church. Because the inhabitants of Mostorod were good to the Holy Family their village was blessed with a well. Today, Mostorod hosts throngs of pilgrims who come to touch the walls of the crypt and drink from the blessed water of the well.

Fearing Herod’s soldiers, the caravan fled north, stopping briefly in various spots including Sakha. In 1984, a team working on a sewage system just outside the church suddenly hit a stone. Recalling the Coptic Synaxar (book of saints), they exclaimed, “This is the footprint of Jesus!”

Since a man suffering from an eye disease washed in the water where the stone was found and was healed, it has been treated as an icon. It was sent to Pope Shenouda, at that time under house arrest in the Monastery of Bishoi, who confirmed its authenticity.

Today the stone is displayed in a glass box in the church, where people come from all over the world to pray.

“This discovery shows that the Holy Family is still living among us,” says Gawdat Gabra. “It is part of the people’s experiences.” Medieval manuscripts had mentioned such a stone, but also that it had disappeared.

Photo by Norbert Schiller for Egypt Today 5
Photo by Norbert Schiller for Egypt Today

In Deir El-Garnus and Ishneen El-Nasara, the tradition of the Holy Family is very much alive among the Chrisitian communities. Both villages have wells where the water rises at the beginning of June, when the family arrived in Egypt.

Farther south lies Gebel El-Teir (Mountain of the Birds). The cliff, boasting a marvelous view of the Nile, is also known as Gebel El-Kaff (Mountain of the Palm) because, according to a medieval manuscript describing the dream of Pope Theophilus who ruled the church from 384 to 412 AD, this is the place where Jesus left an imprint of his hand in the rocks. The imprint of the hand no longer exists and some say the Crusaders stole it, while others believe it as taken by the British and kept in storage at the British Museum. The church at Gebel El-Teir deserves a visit for its beautiful church door, a masterpiece hewn out of solid rock.

After Ashmonein, with its ruins of a huge fifth-century basilica sided by Pharaonic temples, the Holy Family crossed the Nile to the east. In the cemetery of the Muslim village of Sheikh Abada is Bir Sahaba, the well Jesus created.

Radi, a villager from nearby Deir Abu Hinnis, strongly believes in the miraculous capacity of the 23m deep well. “Pregnant women and the sick come here to drink from the water for Baraka [blessing]. We know of many miraculous healings of people who drank from the well and prayed.”

Photo by Norbert Schiller for Egypt Today 1
Photo by Norbert Schiller for Egypt Today

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