The advent of the Holy Family to Egypt, seeking refuge, is a very significant event in our long history.
Prophesying the Journey
Moved by the Spirit of prophecy, Hosea foresaw Christ, the Child’s, flight from Bethlehem with His family to Egypt and the eventual return of Christ, the Child, from His sanctuary in Egypt, where Jesus had found a place in the heart of the Gentiles, when he uttered God’s words, “Out of Egypt I called My Son” (Hosea 11:1).
In the Book of Isaiah, the Prophet provides a divinely inspired prophecy about the effect of this holy visit on Egypt and the Copts, “Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt; the idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst” (Isaiah 19:1). The authority of the Old Testament prophecy, which foretold the crumbling of idols wherever Jesus went, further foreshadowed the singular blessing to be bestowed upon Egypt and its people for receiving the Holy Family and being the first to experience Christ’s miraculous influence. God delivered another message through Isaiah, “Blessed be Egypt My people” (Isaiah 19:25).
It anticipated St. Mark’s coming to Egypt, original home of the Copts, where the Gospel he preached took firm root in the first decades of Christianity. Isaiah goes on to prophecy, “In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. And it will be for a sign and for a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt” (Isaiah 19:19, 20). According to the tradition of the Coptic Church, the altar mentioned is that of the church of the Virgin Mary in Al-Muharraq Monastery, a site where the Holy Family settled for a period of more than six months; and the altar-stone was the bed, upon which the Infant Savior was laid. This monastery is located geographically “in the midst of Egypt ... As the pillar at its borders… which will be for a sign and for a witness…” surely there can be no more demonstrable, concrete proof of the fulfillment of this prophecy than that the Patriarchal See of the Apostolic Church in Egypt was established by St. Mark. It is situated in Alexandria, on Egypt’s Northern borders.
The prophecy continues, “Then the Lord will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and will make sacrifice and suffering” (Isaiah 19:21). As Christianity in Egypt spread, churches were built throughout the length and breadth of the land. The primary sites chosen were the ones visited and blessed by the Holy Family’s travels. The New Testament records the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies as they unfold in their historical sequence.
Beginning of the Journey
“…Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ’Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him’” (Matthew 2:13). St. Joseph complied and a donkey was fetched for the gentle mother to ride while carrying her new born Child. They set out from Bethlehem on their predestined journey, the hardened old carpenter, who was St. Mary’s betrothed, striding ahead, leading the donkey by its leash into the untracked paths of a wilderness.
Such a difficult journey was filled with danger every step of the way. In their escape from the infanticide fury of King Herod, the Holy Family, understandably, had to avoid the well-traveled roads, They followed unknown paths guided by God and His angel. They picked their way, day after day, through hidden valleys and across uncharted plateaus in the then rugged wastelands of Sinai. They endured the scorching heat of the sun by day and the bitter cold of the desert by night. All fears of the young mother for her Infant were calmed by the faith that infused her with His birth, especially when she experienced how they were preserved from the threat of wild beasts and savage tribesmen, and how their daily sustenance was miraculously provided. They arrived, at last, safely, in Egypt as God planned.