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Jesus of Egypt
Crisis Magazine ^ | March 15, 2012 | Stephen Beale

Posted on 03/15/2012 2:51:40 PM PDT by NYer


“Out of Egypt I called my son.” — Hosea 11:1

In the Gospel of Matthew, the advent of the Messiah is followed by an abrupt departure. Almost immediately after the Magi visit them, the Holy Family takes off forEgyptbecause Joseph has been warned in a dream that King Herod would kill the infant Jesus. The narrative then fast forwards through three-and-a-half years of exile which are terminated by yet another angel in a dream.

This three year gap left by Scripture is filled in by Coptic Christian tradition.

The Coptics are an orthodox branch of Christianity that split from the Church following the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. In their tradition, alongside the familiar stories of the annunciation, the shepherds in the field, and the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, the Coptics have other stories — of the infant Jesus who held up his hand to stop a stone from falling on Mary, of idols that fell down before the Incarnate God, and of miraculous trees and spontaneous springs that sheltered and nurtured the Holy Family.

“It is something to be proud of — that they visited our places,” said Maryhan Nagy, a first-year university student whom I interviewed last summer at the Hanging Church in the Coptic quarter of Cairo. “It is a very great blessing to visit a place in which the Christ visited.”

In fact, several of them were within a short walk of the church.

The nearby Church of Saint Sergius, for example, was built over a cave which, according to tradition, was a hiding place for the Holy Family. A chapel in the adjoining Greek Cemetery still has the well from which, according to Coptic tradition, they drank two millennia ago. And one woman I met at the Hanging Church— so called because it is built over a Roman water gate — even claimed that the Holy Family had eaten the fruit from two palm trees in the outside courtyard.

No doubt, while some stories are more credible than others, the idea that Egypt has a special role to play in salvation history is affirmed throughout Scripture — not only in Matthew but also throughout the Old Testament, most notably Isaiah 19:

See, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud on his way to Egypt; The idols of Egypt tremble before him, the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them…On that day there shall be an alter to the Lord in the land of Egypt, and a sacred pillar to the Lord near the boundary.

The heritage the Coptic Church has bequeathed to us lives up to this special calling. It is, after all, the church that gave us Saint Athanasius — the first church father to develop a list of New Testament books. It is also the home of Christian monasticism which St. Anthony and the other ‘Desert Fathers’ pioneered in the third century.

It is this deeply felt connection to Scriptural prophecy and the Holy Family that perhaps explains the survival of the Coptic Church through nineteen centuries of history — most of it under Muslim rule. Today, the Coptic Church remains a small but vibrant minority in a country that is 90 percent Muslim.

The Coptic Church — along with the Ethiopian Orthodox — are part of the Oriental Orthodox communion that separated from the rest of Christendom after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. The council had held that Christ had two natures, such that he was fully man and full God. The dissenters also insisted he was both man and God, but they believed those two natures were fused into one in the person of Christ.

When I sat in on the Divine Liturgy at theHanging Church, I found a congregation willing to embrace other Christians with a degree of hospitality and openness that I confess scandalized me initially. After the end of an elaborate, hours-long service, I had withdrawn inconspicuously to the back of the church to watch everyone else file out. However, my attempt to go unnoticed failed. Before long, a father and son approached me. Neither of them spoke any English. Instead, the son extended his arm to me. In his hand, he was holding a piece of bread. When I didn’t take it, he pulled back, and then thrust it out again.

As a Catholic, I was quite taken aback by the encounter. Given that the Divine Liturgy had just ended, I concluded that this had to be Eucharistic bread. The idea of a child — anyone — sauntering out of church with the Eucharist in hand was, to say the least, startling.

Later during my trip, I was enlightened about this encounter by a college-age woman, Marian Magdy, whom I met at the Hanging Church. She explained that there are, in fact, two kinds of bread dispensed at the Coptic liturgy. The first kind does indeed become the Body of Jesus. But there is a second bread, called the loma baraka in Arabic, or, ‘The Bread of the Blessing,’ which is not Eucharistic. This second bread, she said, is meant to be shared with the ‘people’ — presumably including guests and strangers such as myself.

In retrospect, the boy’s offer of bread was a touching act of Christian charity — an extension of fellowship that left a lasting impression. So, while the visitation of the young Jesus and his parents to specific places in this land is verified only by tradition, Christ’s presence amidst his followers in Egypt is made manifest in their faith, their devotion and their insistent welcoming of strangers in his name.

TOPICS: Catholic; History; Orthodox Christian; Religion & Culture
KEYWORDS: coptic; egypt; jesus
Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. He is a former news editor at and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on and A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history.
1 posted on 03/15/2012 2:51:53 PM PDT by NYer
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To: netmilsmom; thefrankbaum; Tax-chick; GregB; saradippity; Berlin_Freeper; Litany; SumProVita; ...
This second bread, she said, is meant to be shared with the ‘people’ — presumably including guests and strangers such as myself.

This tradition lives on in other Eastern churches. Recently, in my Maronite Catholic parish, this type of bread was placed on a table in the sanctuary during the celebration of the mass to honor a long time parishioner who had recently passed away. It is the tradition of our church to celebrate a "40 day liturgy" on the 40th day following their burial. A large spread of food is prepared for the congregation and visitors, including this special bread.

For those of you who feel a tug toward learning more about the Coptic Church, I would strongly encourage you to read:

It is an amazing journey into the depth of faith held by our Coptic brethren, described by a Roman Catholic priest and monk, Fr. Mark Gruber, OSB.

2 posted on 03/15/2012 2:59:35 PM PDT by NYer (He who hides in his heart the remembrance of wrongs is like a man who feeds a snake on his chest. St)
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To: NYer

This looks absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much, NYer.


3 posted on 03/15/2012 3:02:34 PM PDT by SumProVita (Cogito, ergo...Sum Pro Vita. (Modified Decartes))
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To: SumProVita
This looks absolutely fascinating.

I love books but, unless it grabs my attention right away, the book ends up on the shelf. I purchased this book for Lent a few years ago and could not put it down! Written by a Roman Catholic monk, this book is his year long journal while visiting the Coptic monasteries in Egypt. The experience, viewed through the lens of his western, Roman Catholic eyes, opens up the world of tremendous Eastern faith. Among the tales he relates is his visit to a Coptic Church in Cairo where the Blessed Mother is supposedly appearing. Because he has come from the desert monasteries to this church, people begin to line up for a blessing, very late at night. Within the span of a few minutes, the church is suddenly packed by Coptic christians who want his blessing. Meanwhile, from outside the church, word comes of an apparition of the Blessed Mother over the church. Fr. Gruber wants to be a witness but the crowds inside the church continue to press him for his blessing. Then there is the story of the octogenarian Coptic monk who has been asked by the abbot of a monastery to accompany the "visitor" to a mountain cave in the desert. This coincides with a heat wave where thermometers burst as the heat rises above their limit of 130 degrees. The accompanying monk chants hymns of praise along the route they follow through the hot sands of the desert. At one point Fr. Gruber looks back and sees red footprints only to realize that they have been formed by his bloody feet in the hot sand.

From his welcome to the first monastery and the monastic lifestyle that begins with prayers at 3 am that continue through liturgy, until 9 am - all done while standing in a cloud of incense to his final departure from Egypt and the tug at his heart to remain, the reader is exposed to an extraordinary faith tradition dating back to the Holy Family's time spent in Egypt.

I could not put the book down and decided to reread it again this year for Lent. Much as one does with a fine delicacy, I indulge myself by spreading the book out over the course of 40 days, when it could be read in the span of only one. Should you have any doubts, I can assure you that this book will add new life to your faith.

4 posted on 03/15/2012 4:04:59 PM PDT by NYer (He who hides in his heart the remembrance of wrongs is like a man who feeds a snake on his chest. St)
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To: NYer

You’ve convinced me...and I’m ordering it now!

Thanks again. ;-)

5 posted on 03/15/2012 4:11:17 PM PDT by SumProVita (Cogito, ergo...Sum Pro Vita. (Modified Decartes))
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