Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Will bring her into the wilderness, And speak comfort to her.
The Monastery of St Macarius Egypt
"The Monasteries that we found upon arriving at Wadi Natrun were in a
lamentable state, which were once the centre of monasticism in the whole world
At St Macarious Monastery, known as Abu Makar, a few monks led an extrememly precarious life
not eating when hungry, practicing a forced asceticism. Everyday, they watched for
the passage of the caravans, especially of those which, periodically, brought them
provisions. Their clothes, which were black, had become a light grey.
Some wore nothing but rags. Their cells were very deteriorated and outdated.
From the outside, they seemed to be simple ruins turned
desert yellow" This eloquant quote from a pilgrim dates
from the fifties. These prestigious monasteries, of the Wadi El Natrun Desert, once called
the Scetes Desert, were lost in the middle of last century. The most important
and most celebrated of them, Deir Abu Makar, the monastery of Saint Macarious, founded by
Saint Macarious himself in the 4th century was partly ruined and threatened by
"When Father Matta El Meskine arrived there was only the actual monastery which is on sixth of its current state.
That is to say a small square surrounds the churches that are now
at the centre of the monastery. And, as you can see, there is a difference in level of
six meters high, between the old part, where the churches were and that existed
in 1969, upon the arrival of Father Matta El Meskine, and between the rest of the monastery
that we built all around. Why? Because the old monastery was bogging down.
If you calculate one centimeter of sand per year since the time of Saint Macarious, that
is to say for 1600 years, which gives us 1600 centimeters or 16 meters of sand. There was
a lot.. almost 12 meters of sand that was piled against the wall, the wall
was 12 meters high, and we could easily climb on the sand and get to the top
of the wall and go down into the old monastery"
The monastery of St. Macarius was founded in 360 by Saint Macarius the Great, one of the
first disciples of St. Anthony, the first of the Desert Fathers. But back in
time ... Saint Macarius was born in 300 AD in a village
in the Nile Delta, and first worked as a camel driver. Obeying God's call,
he withdrew himself to a cell in his village to lead a life of asceticism and prayer.
He then went to the Scetis Desert, an arid and inhospitable region,
region that he knew, for he worked nitre there before. He was 30 years old then and
devoted himself in the ascetic works. He fed on the bare necessities, slept
seated against the wall of his cell for few short moments and persevered
in constant silence, keeping his spirit from any strange thought and in the prayer of the heart.
Attracted by the fame of Saint Macarios and of the disciples who joined him,
men ran over from all parts of Egypt and from remote lands
of the Empire to embrace the monastic life. Egyptians, Greeks, Ethiopians, Armenians,
Nubians, Asians, Palestinians, Italians Gauls or Spanish. We would meet
scholars, philosophers, members of the highest aristocracy of the time beside
simple farmers and illiterates. The desert became a real town so that at
the end of the century, there were four churches in Scetis where the ascetics would gather
by hundreds every Sunday. Saint Macarious the Great, who we called the spiritual father
of the desert, commended his spirit to the Lord, surrounded by his disciples at the age of 90. From the fourth
century until today, the monastery has always been inhabited by monks.
We are here at St Macarius large church which was build in St Macarius time:
the 4th century And St Macarius lived here from the year 340 to 390.
The church was build in St Macarius period but over time it has
been restored many times. It was rebuilt at least 5 or 6 times, always
at the same spot and frequently with the same materials. The last time
was in the summer of 1976; we were digging here
to reenforce the foundation when we discovered this Crypt. We knew
from tradition, that the relics of St John the Baptist, his body not his head,
was under the North wall of the church of St Macarius. This was known from the manuscripts
which dated the Middle-Age, record of Homilies. After the Homily for St John The Baptist
it is said that the body is placed in the big church of St Macarius beneath the North wall..
And always during liturgy, monks and elderly monks we have met
will raise incense infront of this North wall
in honor of St John The Baptist who is buried there. But no one would have dreamt
of an excavation. Only on 1976, when digging to re-enforce the foundation
that we found this Crypt. It was not only the bodies of St John The Baptist and
Elisha but all the relics of the Great Church of Alexandria, which includes
a large number of martyrs. We have also in this church the relics of St Macarius,
St Macarius the Great and his disciple and contemporary, St Macarius of Alexandria.
"The church keeps the relics of the first saints. Those relics symbolize
for her the communion we have and keep with the first christian communities."
"We also have, in an adjacent church,
that of the 49 martyrs, the relics of 49 monks Who were martyred in the 5th century.
The relics of these monks have been very dear to our community. Why?
Because they make the link between the saints, normal saints and martyred saints,
finally between the order of monks and the order of martyrs. Monks are the ones that became
martyrs. It must be explained that the ideal of a monk is the same ideal of
a martyr. One must know that the monastic life didn't start to prosper
until the end of its persecutions. When it was no longer possible to die a martyr
because there weren't anymore persecutors, the most fervent Christians left
for the desert to live for the Lord, to offer their life for the Lord. When it
is no longer possible to die out of love for the Lord, at least we live out of love for Him."
The history of the monastic revival
is inseparable from one of the biggest contemporary coptic orthodox figures
: Father Matthew the Poor. Youssef Iskandar born in Cairo September 20, 1919. He obtained
his license in pharmacology in 1943 and created one of the most important pharmacies in Damanhour.
In 1948, answering to the call of God, he sold his pharmacy and all what he owned,
gave the money to the poor and became a monk at the monastery Deir Amba Samuel. There
during three years, he did not cease to watch every night until morning, by giving himself
to fervent prayer, meditation of the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers on
prayer. His notes, taken during his nights of solitude are at the origin of his first
and most important work.: The orthodox prayer life. His health, although it was seriously weakened.
by the strict regime, obliged him to go down to Cairo, and his spiritual father, the future
patriarch Cyril the VI, sent him to the monastery of Surian where he will live in solitude in a cave.
A number of monks become his disciples, recognizing in him the spirit of the first
Desert Fathers. In 1954, he was called by the patriarch Yousseb. He became his
patriarcal vicar in Alexandria. There he operates important reforms that excites the
clergy, the youth, and all faithful laymen. The short period he spent in
Alexandria will earn him the affection of the Christian people of this city until his last days.
As of 1960, Father Matthew the Poor, followed by a dozen of disciples,
settled themselves in the caves of Wadi Rayyan, one of the most inhospitable deserts
of Egypt. There, they will live about tens years a life similar to that of the Early Desert Fathers.
The companions of Father Matthew the Poor have been marked by these years forever.
Father Kyrilos is the current hegoumen of the monastery.
"The Arabs who were passing with camels greatly wondered and asked
us, " How will you manage to live in this dry desert?"
And we answered, " We have left the world with all its problems
and now desire to be like birds that open their wings and fly."
So each of us began digging
a whole in the rock to start a cave to spend the night in it and by simply
adding a curtain in front of this cave to protect us from the cold. From time
to time, our spiritual father would examine us and ask us, "Are you
scared." If you are scared, we could return closer to an inhabited place."
He would tell us, "It is very possible for an arab to come and slay all of
you and take all that you possess." And we answered him, "We are ready.""
"Fater Matthew was then a young novice to Father Mina in Old Cairo. I met
Father Mattew when I was a pharmacy student at the University of Cairo.
The fact that Father Matthew was a pharmacist himself, brought us closer to each other.
But I was especially captivated by the spirit of Father Matthew, by his thoughts, by his spirituality
I experimented this spirituality throughout all three years that I spent with
the Fathers at Wadi Rayyan."
"How do you feed yourself in the desert?
The most essential food was bread.And that bread was brought to us
by a simple merchant who lived at the edge of the desert, and who used to come
from time to time and give us our bread provision. We didn't set foot on the
land of any city like most monasteries. Also, when we would run
out of flour, well we found ourselves doing nothing else but pray...and it is then that we would discover
caravans arriving with bags of flour... Everytime, before
we exhaust our reserves, a new caravan would bring us flour!
This miracle lasted for almost 9 years to the point where Arabs and those who were frequently
came to the desert came and asked us how we were able to live in this place.
And we would answer, "The Lord provides it!"
Abba Macarius the Great told the brothers of Scetis, when he was dismissing the assembly:
"Flee brothers!" One of the elders told him, "Where can we flee beyond
this desert?" He put his finger on his mouth and said, "This is where you
ought to flee." Then he entered into his cell. closed his door and sat.
"it's an experience that the novice often receives, the young monk, to live many
days seeing everything transfigured, "the sky is bluer than the ordinary day, the leaves
of the tree are greener than the ordinary day, the sun is more beautiful, everything seems to be enlightened.
"It's the inner feeling of the presence of God that is reflected on the Creation created
by God and that causes the entire Creation to speak to us about God. This experience, many
of us have lived it. Some spoke of this intimately, others lived it in silence.
I can say that I have experienced this in the first few days where I visited Wadi Rayyan.
I was telling the father there, "What a beautiful blue sky you have! This is incredible!"
The entire nature seems enchanting, actually like a fairy tale. but it was nothing but a reflection of my state
Inside. The light was inside The light, it was Christ who was the light
that enlightens every man that comes into the world, and it's in the measure where we open ourselves
to Him, where we feel the inner light and consequently see everything enlightened.
That is to say the whole Creation speak to us of God and we see God even in the leaves of the trees."
At the end of his past ten years in
the desert of Wadi Rayyan, the Patriarch Cyril VI will call Father Matthew the Poor and
his companions and will entrust them with the mission of reconstructing St. Macarious Monastery,
to restart the monastic life and, by his own terms, "to reblossom
When we arrived here by provenance of Wadi Rayyan, we only had our clothes
and our shoes, we had no money! And this monastery cost millions...which
would totally come to us providently! Great personalities and business men
would ask us, "How did you manage to find all that money that
you spend?" And we would answer them, "You, you have a 10 million dollars budget
for books and you spend it within the limits of this sum...Us, we have a budget
that shows to be less than zero and we spend as much as you, and even more than you sometimes!"
Everything was organized in a very careful way
by the Lord, by the divine Providence... As for the innumberable stories to pay the
workers when we don't have money for that ... One time, we were in front of the door
of the monastery and the steward, Fr. John came and told the spiritual father: "I need
160 pounds to pay the workers who are leaving tomorrow morning,,,", and Fr. Matta replied:
"What am I going to do?" We have no phone, nor car, and we
are in the desert... And Fr. Matta remembered that at that moment, a visitor who came
the night before had slid him an envelope in his coat... He said to Fr. John:
"Go look in the pocket of my coat ", he went to find the enveloppe... and he found
the exact amount of 160 pounds that he needed ! And Fr. Matta told him: "You see,
it isn't you that takes care of the account, there is someone in heaven who counts better than you!".
Stories like this one would repeat themselves hundreds of times!
The monastery would be entirely rebuilt in six years, and its surface would be 6 times larger.
All of the construction would be completed in 1985. During this period, 400 workers worked in the field.
The new construction included more
than 200 cells, each one containing one piece for work, one bedroom
a washroom and a kitchen. A big hallway allows the monks to meet
one time a day for the first meal at noon. It consists of
olives, rice and vegetables. The evening meal is taken in solitude in their cell.
Monks fast 200 days a year. In normal time they fast all Wednesdays and Fridays.
A new library was built
housing the oldest manuscripts of monastery as well as more recent works.
A large hotel with several rooms, a reception and many single rooms
now welcomes those people on retreat and visiting guests.
At the same time, a restoration of ancient monuments of the monastery began
under supervision of expert archaeologists in the Department of Antiquities. With their advice,
began a restoration and consolidation of historical sites and a demolition of newer or dilapidated buildings.
Since the arrival of Father Matta El Meskine, vocations have not stopped and the community
today has more than 130 monks. Most of them have completed their studies
at university and were professionals before entering the monastery.
Agronomists, veterinarians, doctors, teachers, chemists, engineers, etc..
The average age for admission is between 25 to 35 years.
The monks who are here for less than a year wear a blue tunic, while brown
is worn for those here for 1 to 3 years and the black beyond 3 years and after taking vows.
All try to live in the greatest spiritual union, according to the spirit of the Gospel, practicing
brotherly love and unceasing prayer of the heart. All have felt
their heart beat for love of God, and which is the criteria for the admission of new candidates.
The revival of the monastery of St. Macaire is also due to the careful
practice of the Church's Office and other liturgical prayers, which the monks
combine with study to make the Church authentically live
the ecclesial spirit of the first Centuries
Today the plantations and farms extend more than 1200 hectares.
In 1975, the monks began to farm on desert land around the monastery.
They first planted fruit trees, various types of crops and watermelons.
Then, larger farms were built one kilometer north of the monastery for cattle, small livestock and poultry.
Today, the monastery's poultry farm has more than 55,000 hens ensuring
a daily production of 40,000 eggs. 500 eggs are retained by the monastery for its
own consumption, the rest is sold outside.
Around the same time, date palms were planted in large numbers on the field.
Today the date mills of the monastery are the largest in Egypt with a production
yield of 200 to 300 tons annually.
The date harvest takes place in October and lasts 40 days. 40 people work at the plant during this period.
The Egyptian government was particularly interested in the efforts of the monks who have made a
contribution to alleviating food problems in Egypt, thanks to the introduction
of new species of livestock, poultry and plantations. In particular was a project
to create a new type of sugar beet which could provide yields
across the country to solve the problems feeding livestock.
In thanks for this discovery, President Sadat donated to the monastery in 1978 1000 Acres
of desert land, two tractors and drilled a new well with a submersible pump
which has become more important than the other three the monastery already had.
The monastery has been publishing since 1978. This machine allows on-site edits
of publications in Arabic and foreign languages.
In addition, several books of Father Matta El Meskine have been translated and published
abroad contributing to popularity of his writings.
Today, the monastery of St Macarious is completely supported by
donations from benefactors allowing them to help about a thousand needy families
with food and money. They are lay people near the monastery who help with that distribution.
Seventeen centuries after St. Anthony and Saint Macarius the monasteries of Wadi el
Natrun have begun to fill and the desert blooms once more. The vast revival
is due to Patriarch Shenouda III, his predecessor and father Cyril VI
and Fr Matta el Meskine.
"And war broke out in heaven (...) So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent
of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast
to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." Revelation 12:7-9
The epitome of the monastic life is the life of the desert hermit. It is
the full call of the monk's life Young people who enter the monastery desire
this experience, but it is a difficult and dangerous calling
reserved for a select few, and often only permitted for a short time usually near
the end of their life. The monks who leave for the desert to follow Christ expose
themselves, like Christ, to the temptations of Satan. Indeed demons often claim that they own the
the desert. As St Anthony the Great settled in the desert, they cried: "Go away
from us! What will you do in the desert? You do not support our conspiracy."
This struggle between the human being and darkness, the darkness of the world, or of the devil as person
is a battle that is visible in the interior. We do not care to see the devil
or the fights, because such visions are often illusions and delusion
but in reality we encounter temptation or fight devils inside oneself.
For example we fight in our relationship with others. It might be something so
insignificant and worthless and should not have the attention of a normal person
but then it takes on disproportional importance in our thoughts.
When you live in the peace and the quiet these arrive as small problems with
others and then becomes distorted because it is subjected to an inner
passion, a battle may come from outside ourselves, but it is our inner self which responds.
The devil uses external circumstances to apply pressure on the human being,
as with Christ, when He spent 40 days in the desert: the devil approached Him
when He felt hungry. When He was hungry, the devil said: "If Thou
are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." and Christ responded:
"Man does not live of bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."
So the devil tries to exploit external circumstances which affect us.
We can attempt to start by leaving people, isolating ourselves from others
in solitude, in order to be with God. But no, we must first experience the relationships
and the friction with others. This is why the community life of the monk must be
lived before they try to live alone in peace, quite and solitude, away from men.
It is essential to have lived with with others so that our defects appear
and we learn how to overcome in the battle by exposing the devil's tricks with externalities
to make us succumb to enmity, resentment, hatred , impatience, anger ...
When the heart feels weak and has no strength to work
in the struggle, God in His great goodness and mercy sends a holy force.
He strengthens the heart, repentance returns, as does joy and relief of heart. So one
then becomes stronger than enemies and their enemies fear them because of this force.
This force is what St Paul speak about "Fight and you will receive strength." This is also alluded to when
St Peter speaks of inheriting the the incorruptible and imperishable prepared
in heaven for us, that the power of God guards through faith.
When God sees the self-glorifed heart fortified against the enemy, He
subtracts the strength gradually, and the enemies attack using all types
of impurities, pleasures, vainglory and pride
so that it becomes like a ship without a rudder and runs everywhere.
"When the heart feels weak all the enemies attack it, then our
Good God who cares for His creation once again sends His Holy force.
He strengthens his heart, body and all its members under the yoke of the Paraclete, as He Himself said
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart."
So God begins to open the eyes of the man, so that the man understands why
have been difficult. The man then knows exactly how to honor God, in all
humility and brokenness of heart. As David says "The sacrifice to God
is a broken spirit, for humility and brokenness of heart comes from the hardness of the fight."
It is not necessary to use a lot of words but simply to extend your hands and
say "Lord, as You desire, as You know, have mercy on me."
And when the fight becomes even more insistent: "Lord Help!" for He knows what is best and provides us mercy."
One day returning to his cell carrying palm branches, Abba Makarious
saw the devil coming to meet him on the road with a dagger. It wanted to
strike but instead said "what kind of power do you have Makarious
for I am powerless against you? For in everything you do, I do also. You fast and you watch,
but I do not sleep at all. There is one point where you defeat me."
Abba Makarious asked "What is it?" he said, "your humility, because of it
I can do nothing against you."
We are in the cave of Father Matta El Meskine. He came and lived in the solitude of this cave
from time to time and sometimes for long periods. For
Example in 1972, he spent several monthes there and wrote his book about the eucharist.
Father Matta began digging a cave for himself and
while digging it, he found out it was the cave of Saint Macarios. Then when the
fact was confirmed, Father Matta didn't want to live in it,
and dug another cave for himself. He stayed there for nearly 6 months when
he wrote his book on the eucharist. The most important for him was the
spiritual life, it was to live. As soon as we enter spiritual life, we are with
Christ, we live in Christ and we live. We reached the goal, Christ said: "I
I Am the way." As soon as one has placed one’s feet on the path, one is within Christ,
thus one has already arrived at the goal. He did not like to talk about enthroning very much.
He often said: the monastic life is not a religious caste. The monastic life is
nothing other than the life of any Christian, and what he proposed to the monks is
the same thing he proposed to all Christians. Before, one had to take a caravan of camels
for many days to arrive at the monastery. Now it’s just a few minutes,
at most an hour, to arrive at the monastery from Cairo. This means that the monasteries
are always tempted to abandon the ideal of solitude for an ideal of service to the world, of the world.
But Father Matta El Meskine did much to preserve the monastic aspect at the monastery, the aspect of solitude.
Father Matta El Meskine served as the spiritual father of the monastery for 37 years till his last breath.
He was vigilant to revive the spirit of the origins of the Fathers of the desert and of Saint Macarius,
and he worked tirelessly for the unity of the Coptic Church
as well as with other Churches. Father Matta El Meskine was buried on June 8, 2006, here
in the isolation of the monastery, near the hill of the hermits.
"To dig a cave, one must find a hill in which there
is a rocky layer under which is a layer of sand or of sandy stones.
You see, the rocky layer is there and this is the layer of sand. It’s very easy
to dig and it is thus that the ceiling is the rocky layer and one
can dig the cave in the sand. "It was the best way to dig a cell."
If one was not lucky enough to find a hill with a rocky layer and
sand underneath, one simply dug and made a roof with palm fronds or anything else.
The caves are always cool in the summer and mild in the winter.
We are in the cave of Saint Macarius. What is the story of its discovery?
Father Matta El Meskine had tried to dig a cave in 1972. They had started
to dig here and afterwards found some sand which protruded. They cleared out
all the sand and finally discovered it was a cave. A cave which had
been inhabited by a monk. Afterwards, while clearing it out, they found a long corridor, a very long corridor,
which led us to understand that it was very probably the cave of Saint Macarius,
since in the life of Saint Macarius it is said that he dug a long corridor
into which he fled when the visitors were too troublesome. We are told
that he said 24 prayers in this corridor. We are now going to see the corridor in the cave
of Saint Macarius to which he fled when visitors were too troublesome.
And so, this is the entrance of the corridor, it's quite long, ending about seventy meters away
and as you can see, we walked quite a winding path and had time to pray
the 24 prayers mentioned in the life of Saint Macarius.
A short distance away, lies a cave of Father Mina, the first companion of Father
Matta El Meskine, and one of the seven hermits in the monastery of Saint Macarius. He lives here like the first monks of the desert.
What do we find in the desert?
" - The first, authentic love, sincere to Christ.
- What experience did you have of God?
- We experienced a personal friendship and intimacy with the person of the Lord Jesus.
The inner feeling is very real, a very intimate life with the Lord saying..."I am with you"
- Thank you."