Ep. 8: Holy Family in Egypt – St. Macarius Monastery



Sat, 04 Nov 2017 - 12:50 GMT


Sat, 04 Nov 2017 - 12:50 GMT

The remains of John the Baptist and Elisha are claimed to be at St. Macarius Monastery in Wadi el-Natrun – Ahmed Hindy

The remains of John the Baptist and Elisha are claimed to be at St. Macarius Monastery in Wadi el-Natrun – Ahmed Hindy

BEHEIRA, Egypt – 4 November 2017: We drove through a road that penetrates a man-made forest to arrive at Saint Macarius Monastery in Wadi el-Natrun. It is one of four historical monasteries in the Natrun desert, where the Holy Family is reckoned to have been during their flight into Egypt.

Edited map of the Holy Family’s route in Egypt – Egypt Tourism Authority

We were surrounded by colorful flowers and fruitful palm trees producing yellow dates. We were met by Reverend Marcarius El-Macari, who told us that monasticism started here in the fourth century A.D. by Saint Macarius the Great, who left his cave in Wadi el-Natrun when a large number of monks came to the area.

Reverend Marcarius told us that the monastery is home to 140 monks, and monastic life requires them to worship God and work. This is why they have been farming the area surrounding the monastery. There are different crops cultivated, like mangoes, bananas, dates and olives. There are also fish, cows and poultry.

Inside one of St. Mararius’ ancient churches – Ahmed Hindy

The reverend told us that the revenue from selling these crops sustains their living. They also use the revenues to help poor families in Upper Egypt. He said, “Our day starts at 4 a.m. with the midnight prayer, and then each monk starts his work. We take some rest for two hours at noon, and then continue work. We pray in the evening, and our day ends early, because we wake up at dawn.”

“As for the monastery, it has three ancient churches. The first is called Macarius the Great Church. The middle sanctuary in it dates back to the 7th century A.D., and it has a side sanctuary that goes back to the 9th century A.D. This church is home to the remains of two messengers, not only in Christianity, but in all religions. The first is John the Baptist, whom Muslims call Yahya son of Zakaria, and Elisha, mentioned in the Quran as Al-Yasa.”

The remains of John the Baptist and Elisha are claimed to be at St. Macarius Monastery in Wadi el-Natrun – Ahmed Hindy

The church keeps their remains in metal tubes. Their remains were once in Jerusalem, but were transferred to the monastery in the 10th century A.D. The reverend also said that the church is home to the remains of the three “Macariuses”, that is, three saints named Maqqar. They are Macarius the Great, the founder of monasticism in the 4th century; Macarius of Alexandria, a 5th century saint; and Macarius the Bishop.

The reverend then took us to the 49 Martyrs Church. The church was founded to commemorate 49 monks who were killed as they defended the church from Berber raids. The reverend said, “When they raided the monastery, some monks escaped, and others took shelter in the fort. However, these monks faced up to death bravely.” He also said that one of the visitors saw a vision where angels were placing flower garlands on their bodies. This church was built by the end of the 18th century, though they were killed in the 5th century.

An ancient church in St. Macarius Monastery – Ahmed Hindy

The reverend took us to another church built to commemorate another martyr – Saint Abaskhiron the Soldier. The church has a unique, high dome and goes back to the 19th century. Next to it, we could see the ancient fort and table, which we saw in every monastery in Wadi el-Natrun.

Reverend Marcarius then told us that the most important thing about the monastery is not the buildings, despite their historical significance. However, the question is, “Is God enough?” he asked. He then continued, “We monks came to the world and will leave it without a wife, children, a career or a social life, but yes, God is enough. God’s love fills the heart, soul and body.”

A church from the outside at St. Macarius Monastery – Ahmed Hindy

The reverend emphasized that the monks in this monastery try to follow the footsteps of their Father Matta el-Meskeen, who was the bishop of this monastery from 1969 until he passed away in 2006. He said that the most important aspect of his thought was his belief in solemn monasticism. Monks should not be preoccupied the external world, but should focus on the life of prayer and fasting they left the world for, according to Father Macarius.

We met another monk who had a pen in his pocket like the one Reverend Marcarius had, and this is something peculiar to the monks in this monastery, which indicates their preoccupation with gaining knowledge. Their monastery is the largest monastery in the field of publication and translation. It has a large printing house that publishes the works of their mentor, Matta El-Meskeen and his students. We asked the monk, who preferred to remain anonymous, about the journey of the Holy Family and if they came here.

A man at an icon at St. Macarius Monastery – Ahmed Hindy

He asked us to turn off the recorder because what he is about to say does not represent the church’s official opinion. He asserted that there is no proper evidence that the Holy Family came here. The church only cites some historical narratives in this regard – most importantly, the writings of Pope Theophilus, the 23rd pope of the Coptic Church.

We left the monastery of the knowledgeable monks and continued our journey, but this time in Cairo. We are going to the places where there is material proof that the Virgin Mary passed by.

Translated by Heba Fadel

Ep. 7: Holy Family in Egypt – Prophecies of Syrians in Natrun

EP. 6: holy family visits Wadi el-Naturn, founds monasticism

Ep. 5: Holy Family in Egypt - Christ leaves ‘footprint’ on Xois rock

Ep. 4: Holy Family embraced in Sebennytos, leaves kneading trough

EP. 3: Holy family in Egypt – Mary bathes Christ in Musturud

Ep. 2: Holy Family in Egypt’s ‘cat house’ met with grain of salt

Ep. 1: Holy Family in Egypt - Pelusium ruins reveal war-torn past



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