MONASTERY OF ST. ANTHONY THE GREAT
09 March, 2018 wie celebrated the official inauguration of The Benedictine of the Copts in Egypt in a ceremony preceded over by his Beatitude Ibrahim Ishaq Sidrak, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria.
The dream of the Benedictine of the Copts came into being when in 2014, a monk from the Congregation, Fr. Maximilian Musindai, who was living in Egypt on an academic research in Arabic and Islamic studies providentially attracted some Egyptian young men who after living with him expressed their interest to become Benedictine monks
The first house, dedicated to St. Benedict is based in Mokattam in Cairo. There is another one, the future monastery, dedicated to St. Anthony the Great and is based in Ismailia province on the North-Eastern part of Egypt near the Suez Canal. The house lies on a 45-acre agricultural farm. On the farm, we engage in Olives, Mangoes, and lately, dates farming.
The community has one finally professed monk, three junior confreres, three postulants, one oblate candidate (a Coptic Catholic priest), and several interested young men. Two of the community members are Kenyans while the rest are Egyptians.
What is so peculiar with our foundation?
1. Egypt has a population of about 102 million people. 90.91% of the population is Sunni Muslims. Coptic Christian make up 8.08%. Other Christians make up 1.01%. About 95% of the Coptic Christians is Orthodox. Coptic Catholics make up approximately 4.98% (around 250.000 persons) of the Coptic Christians in Egypt. The Catholic Church in Egypt consists of all the seven Catholic Rites (Coptic, Roman, Antiochian, Armenian, Byzantine, Maronite, and Chaldean).
2. We are in Egypt as drop of water in a Sunni Muslim ocean. Secondly, we are a Roman catholic monastic Congregation in the cradle of Christian monasticism whose great monasteries (orthodox) are thriving. I can summarize that all we need to fully establish ourselves in Egypt is to build relationships with all without discrimination, through listening, humility, and patience.
3. Our foundation has responded to the need of the local Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt. Our presence has gifted the local church with the first monastic community. Because of this, we have full support of the entire synod of the bishops, priests and even families who are happy that their sons who wish to become monks now have a place to go.
In 1995 I walked the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela with a blue rucksack on my back. Inside I had: change of shoes, poncho cape, spare shirt, warm jumper, socks, sleeping bag, first aid kit, swiss army knife, water bottle, guide book, diary, pencil, sponge bag, torch and loo roll. I walked for thirty-three days. The pilgrimage made a significant difference to my life.
For the past forty-four days (as I write this) I have been in self isolation on my farm in the South of England. I think of The Pilgrimage ahead. The journey which lies ahead for us all. I will need a rucksack to carry what I will need for the future. The rucksack won’t be blue, it will be very small, light in weight and without any of the gear that I took to Santiago. Instead, I have just five small bottles. Each bottle has a stopper that can be opened at any time. The bottles contain lessons and experiences. I will always be able to relive or revisit the contents:
Bottle one: I open the bottle to the smell of newly cut grass, lying in swathes across the fields. This is the fodder for my cows to eat in the coming year in order to produce milk. The smell is intoxicating, it conjures up the basic need of man to nourish himself. However I do realise that man may not live by bread alone; he needs to experience the smaller details of the ingredients of life.
Bottle two: Out of this bottle pops the slow-motion picture of the earth waking up in Springtime, buds swell, the leaves unfurl, green shoots tentatively push through the soil and by some miracle expand and grow into plants and beauty. The first rose in my garden named after a great English gardner, Gertrude Jeckell hides around a corner in my garden, shy and embarrassed by her beauty. There is no need to put on posh clothes she tells me: ‘Consider the lilies….’
Bottle three: The fingers touching the piano spill out the second piano concerto of Chopin. Utter controlled emotion feeds into the soul. It is the space between the notes that give one a chance to take in the gift of this music. Then silence, the music ends. There is a stillness. There is space for a lark way up in the sky to sing. It is out of reach but not out of reach of my ears. I too can now strive to ascend to heights never before imagined.
Bottle four: This bottle is taken to the lips and cool still water sips into my mouth. The water comes from a bore hole way beneath the chalk downs and it is nectar. It is the water of my life; my body is made up of it and I replenish it daily. It is there for free. Renewal comes every morning when I wake up. A new day, time to receive the new possibilities that this earth offers. God never lets me down. As I lay my head on my night time pillow, I have always found something to be grateful for.
The last Bottle: The first instruction in lockdown was to wash hands frequently. I use a soft brown soap, called Pears. It forms gentle suds that kiss my hands. I am guided to recite the Lord’s Prayer each time I wash. So, “Our Father….” ten or more times a day. Like a mantra this habit has become a meditation or sometimes a deep thought.
This physical feeling, however, is somewhat superficial to the feelings inside the soul. For many, the tragedy, loss, deprivation loneliness and frightening worry is immense. Even for the more privileged an aching emotion pervades. It is very important that this last bottle is opened carefully and always in a quiet space.
My home has in many ways become a convent, where there is silence and an opportunity to seek the God who, always has existed in my life. He has now halted the world and allowed time to think, reflect, pray and reach forward on a New Pilgrimage.
When I reached Santiago all those years ago, I knew that the most important thing had been the journey.
I hope that with my lighter weight rucksack with me, I can go forth on this next pilgrim’s journey, however long or short with the support of God and His “Gift of Time”.
Remember, O Lord, all the Saints who have pleased You from the Beginning.
Our Pious Ancestors: Patriarchs,
Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors,
and all the Souls of Believers who held to the Faith
and the foremost in Glory;
the Blessed, Immaculate and Ever-Virgin Mary who bore for us the Word of God,
And the Fathers of Monasticism;
St. Anthony the Great, St. Paul the Virtuous,
St. Pachomius the Father of Monastic Community Life, Our Father St. Benedict,
And all the Saints.
Through their Prayers and Petitions,
have Mercy on us all and Save us for the sake of Your Beloved Son Jesus Christ
whose Holy Name we BEAR
May their Sacred Blessings be with us. Amen
Glory to You, O Lord. Lord have Mercy, Lord have Mercy, Lord bless us. Amen.
P. Maximilian, osb
Thank you for joining us “in Camino,” for being a part of our humble project, for your prayers, for your assistance and for your company.
With your support you will contribute with food bags, sanitary material, water supply, cleaning kits…
See you next week!