20 - Feast of the Entry into Egypt
Albair Gamal Mikhail
December 30, 2003
The rite of the Feast of our Lord’s Entry into Egypt (24 Pashons).
The Church celebrates the Feast of our Lord’s Entry into Egypt on the 24th day of the month of Pashons. This feast is among the Seven Minor Feasts of the Lord. As the Holy Family entered the land of Egypt, St. Mary the Virgin mother carried the child Jesus in her arms, with Joseph the Carpenter at her side and Salome, who accompanied them. They had done so in order to escape from Herod, who had sought to kill the Child. This was instructed to Joseph by the Archangel Gabriel in a dream where the Gabriel told him: “‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son’” (Mt. 2:13-15).
The Church scholars and historians suggest that the Holy Family spent a period of about four years in Egypt. By staying in Egypt, the prophesy of Isaiah was fulfilled: “See, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them” (Is. 19:1). The Fathers explain that the “cloud” here represents St. Mary. This is also evident in the Adam reading of the Antiphonarium for the 24th day of Pashons: “O praise the Lord my Savior, and I glorify His Mother the gentle cloud the descended on Egypt. This is Mary the Saint, carrying the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Upon approaching any idols in Egypt, the statues would totter in the presence of the Lord, and the demons would escape the place. Paladius, the bishop of Helenopolis and a fourth-century Church historian, wrote an account on which he had visited a district of Upper Egypt called El-Ashmoneen, where the Lord Christ was known to have passed by. There, he witnessed the shattered idols, which toppled in the presence of Christ.
One must understand that the escape of Christ from Herod was not out of fear, for the Lord was capable of taking Herod’s life away, or even hide Himself from the path of the soldiers. Rather, He went into Egypt to bless it, and this example teaches us to run away from sin when it is still in its infancy. Indeed, this was a great blessing for Egypt and it’s people. What then was the result of this blessing? Isaiah the prophet answered saying, “On that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the center of the land of Egypt… The Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians; and the Egyptians will know the Lord on that day, and will worship with sacrifice and burnt offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them… whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people’” (Is. 19:19-25).
The Holy Family entered Egypt through the Sinai desert from El-Areesh to El-Farma, which is known today as Balotha, after which they stopped at the city of Basta, now known as Tel-Basta, which is the first city in the Delta. This occurred on the 24th of Pashons, the day on which this Minor Feast is celebrated. In Tel-Basta, the Lord called forth a spring of water, and had idols topple before Him, which angered the temple priests and forced the Holy Family to head further south towards Mistard, known before as El-Mahma, literally meaning “protection.” It was called so because St. Mary protected Christ there.
From there, the Holy Family traveled to Belbis, then to Minyat Ginah, known today as Minyat Samanoud. They then crossed the Nile to Samanoud. It is commonly known that the existing Church of St. Abanoub that lies there was built on the ruins of a much older church dedicated to St. Mary, situated on the spot were the Holy Family resided.
From Samanoud, they traveled west to Sakha in the district of Kafr El-Sheikh, and went further west to the area now known as Wadi El-Natroun, literally meaning the “Valley of Salt,” salt extraction being common to the land. The Family departed to the city of on, commonly known today as Ein-Shams, and from there to El-Matariya, followed by Harat Zewila, which has now become the residence of the Papal throne after it was transferred to Cairo 350 years ago to the date of publishing this book. The Holy Family later moved to Old Cairo and they spent their time living in a cave, which is still present to this day in the Church of St. Sergius (Abu Serga). Idols in Abu Serga were destroyed, angering the governor and prompting him to kill the Child, and for this the Holy Family fled to Manaf, sailing from there to Upper Egypt through the River Nile, after boarding a sail boat on the banks of where the Church of St. Mary in El-Maadi now lies. El-Maadi literally means “crossing,” and it was called so because it was from there that the Holy Family crossed the Nile.
After this, they arrived in El-Behnesa in the district of Bany Mazar, and then crossed to the western banks of the Nile to Gabal El-Teir, close to Samalot. Abu El-Makarim described in one of his writings that, while the Holy Family was sailing on the Nile, a witch pushed a huge rock causing it to roll down the mountain. The rock headed towards the Holy Family, but the Lord Christ stopped it by the palm of his hand, imprinting a mark of his palm on the rock. For this reason, the place is commonly known as Gabal Al-Kaf, meaning the “Mountain of the Palm.”
They continued to travel westward to El-Ashmonin, where the Lord raised the dead and cast out demons from many. He also made the lame walk, the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak, and healed many with leprosy. In addition, He destroyed more idols from before His face. After this, the Holy Family went to the village of Felis, which is known today as Dayret El-Sherif, followed by El-Kosia El-Kadeema (or El-Kiskam), where the statue of the Egyptian cow-goddess, Hathor, was destroyed.
Then, they proceeded with their journey passing through Mirah, then Gabal Kiskam, where the monastery of St. Mary is now located, commonly known as El-Muharraq. Within the monastery lies an ancient church, possibly the oldest church known in Egypt. Its sanctuary is the same cave where the Holy Family resided for six months and ten days, the longest period of time spent by the Family in a single place in Egypt. In the Gabal Kiskam, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to St. Joseph the Carpenter and informed him of Herod’s death, instructing him to return to the land of Palestine once again.
In their return, the Holy Family headed south to Gabal Asyout, to take a boat and sail north along the Nile. The Holy Family’s stay in Egypt provided Egypt with a great blessing like no other place on earth. For this reason, the Church prays on this day with the joyous tune, and considers this day one of the Minor Feasts of our Lord Christ.
During the Vespers and Prime Raising, the verse specifically for the Feast of our Lord’s Entry into Egypt is added after the Adam or Watos beginning. If the feast is during the Holy Fifty days, then the verse of this feast is said after the verses of the Holy Fifty days (the Resurrection, the Ascension, or Pentecost), since the Feast of our Lord’s Entry into Egypt is one of the Minor Feasts of our Lord, unlike the feasts of the Holy Fifty days, which are Major Feasts of our Lord. Likewise, the Doxologies are organized in the same manner. After V] nai nan , the deacons and the priests, carrying the icon of the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, have a procession around the altar three times, around the church’s nave three times, and then once again around the altar. All of this is done while they chant the hymn }galile`a . Then, the rite of the Raising of Incense is continued as usual, and in the end a glorification may be chanted, followed by the Concluding Canon specifically for the Vespers and Prime Raising of Incense during the Feast of our Lordís Entry into Egypt.
As for the rite of the Divine Liturgy; during the Offering of the Lamb the Offering’s Alleluia (Alle-el-qorban) hymn is chanted after the 41 Kuri`e `eleycon , if there is sufficient time. The Psalm is chanted in the Singary tune, and the Psalm Response is chanted. If the feast was during the Holy Fifty days, the Psalm Response for the Holy Fifty days is said first, followed by the Psalm Response for the Feast of our Lord’s Entry into Egypt. Also, if the feast happened to come during the Apostle’s Fast, the priest carries the Gospel in its case covered in a white linen cloth, and a procession is done for the feast, while chanting the hymn }galile`a . This procession is done three times around the altar only, without a procession around the church’s nave. This is followed by the sermon, and then the Gospel Response is chanted. In addition, if the feast was during the Holy Fifty days, the procession of the Holy Fifty days is done in its proper place, that is, after the Praxis reading, and the procession of the Feast of our Lord’s Entry into Egypt is also done after the Gospel. After this, the Gospel Response for the Holy Fifty days is chanted first, followed by that of the Feast of our Lord’s Entry into Egypt. It is important to note that this procession (which is after the Gospel) is not as old as the procession done for the Feast of our Lord’s Entry into the Jerusalem Temple, but it is relatively new. Perhaps the reason behind the procession was to remember how the Holy Family carried the Logos, our Lord Jesus Christ, and escaped to the land of Egypt and went around its cities.
The Adam Espasmos and Watos Espasmos specifically for the feast are chanted, and the Fraction of the Feasts of our Lord is said, since it covers all feasts. During communion, Psalm 150 is chanted in a joyful tune, while the Response for the Holy Fifty days is chanted after the first verse, and the Response for the Feast of our Lord’s Entry into Egypt is chanted after the second verse, and so on up to the end of the Psalm. Then, whatever is appropriate from the spiritual songs are chanted, and the Concluding Canon of the feast is chanted.
If the feast happened to be on the first day of the Apostle’s Fast, the Vespers Prayer is considered to be the Third Kneeling Prayer. The First Kneeling Prayer is prayed in a joyful tune (Feast of Pentecost), the Second is prayed in an annual tune, the Third is prayed in a joyful tune (the Vespers of the feast). After V] nai nan , which is said during the Third Kneeling Prayer, it is possible to have a procession for the Feast of our Lord’s Entry into Egypt. It is noteworthy to know that the Responses for the Feast of our Lord’s Entry into Egypt must be chanted after the Responses of the Feast of Pentecost.
May the blessings of this feast be with us all. Amen.
Mikhail, Deacon Albair Gamal, The Essentials in the Deacon’s Service, (Shobra, Egypt: Shikolani, 2002), p.738 - 741. Translated from Arabic by Bishoy K. R. Dawood and Ragy Sharkawy, edited by Michael Guirguis.