The Holy Family came to Egypt about two thousand years ago, hiding from the persecution of the insane ruler of Palestine — King Herod. Egypt had already hosted many prophets such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Jeremiah along with the tribes of Israel, but the greatest blessing was marked when Jesus came here with his mother the Virgin Mary and remained here until Herod’s death. A quarter of a century later, a young Jewish preacher wandering in Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth, begins to deliver his amazing sermons and gains unprecedented popular support, gaining a reputation as the most influential prophet of that time. Some followers of Jesus call themselves his disciples and claim that he is the long-awaited messiah, Christ.
According to historical information, the new teaching came to Egypt in the middle of the 1st century, during the reign of Emperor Nero, it was brought by one of the apostles of Jesus Christ — St. Mark. Christianity was welcomed here with enthusiasm, as elsewhere, where ancient civilization failed to provide people with a decent life. The natural basis for the propaganda of the new faith was the presence in Alexandria of a significant Jewish colony. The Jewish poor find expressions like «the first will be the last and the last will be the first» compelling. In fact, the first to be baptized in Egypt was a Jewish shoemaker from Alexandria.
It is not easy to answer the question of why the Egyptians, with their unique civilization, accepted the divinity of Jesus. The rapid spread of the new faith was undoubtedly accelerated by the conditions in which Egypt was under Roman rule. Emperor Octavian Augustus turned Egypt into a Roman colony and, having dispersed the Senate in Alexandria, deprived the Greco-Macedonian ruling elite of administrative power. The institution of the consecration of the monarchy, an essential characteristic of Egyptian society during the time of the pharaohs, which was supported by the Ptolemaic dynasty, ceased to exist. The Roman governors ruled Egypt without asking for the blessing of the priests, and the prestige of the Egyptian priests plummeted. Egypt became the fiefdom of the emperor, a place of recreation and entertainment for the highest Roman society. The Romans imposed huge taxes on the population and, in effect, turned Egypt into a granary supplying wheat to Rome. They recruited Egyptians into the Roman army to fight and die in endless wars in other countries. The Egyptians had no influence in their own country and felt like second-class people. An atmosphere of general disappointment, humiliation and discrimination reigned among them. The silence of the oracles contributed to the formation of spiritual emptiness, where the past was out of memory and the future — without hope. This was the void that Christianity filled. People readily greeted the doctrine that gave them the hope of salvation, brotherhood, and mercy. The body of earlier pagan beliefs paved the way for the Christian message. Belief in the afterlife and the efficacy of prayer, forgiveness of sins, the rite of baptism and purification with water — all this was in Egypt a thousand years before Christianity. And after losing their independence, the Egyptians continued to believe in an all-encompassing cosmic order that governs humanity. Christianity responded to their religious traditions with the cult of Osiris and Isis as prototypes of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. It returned them again to the home altar, the priests, the heavenly hierarchy of angels and God as Father and Creator of order.
At first, the spread of the new faith in this region of the Roman Empire was perceived by the authorities calmly. The pagan religion of the Romans was associated with success, the pagan gods promised victory in the war, good harvests, good luck in love and marriage, the birth of sons and daughters. In the Roman Empire, it seemed natural to make sacrifices and smoke incense to the divine Caesars, no matter how hideous their tyranny was. Popular enthusiasm extended divine honors to heroes such as dead athletes and boxers, and even horses — Olympic champions! Defeat, famine, failure, sterility, civil unrest were considered a sign of the dislike of the gods. The traditional religion of ancient Rome was a public cult, and refusal to participate in it was considered disloyalty with all the ensuing consequences. For Egyptian Christians, the demand to deify an emperor, who was generally of dubious moral character, was offensive, and they shied away from sacrifice. St. Mark was killed in 62 in Alexandria, when openly protesting against pagan rituals. Christians, however, did everything to convince people not to follow the customs of their fathers, Jews and non-Jews, and thereby destroyed the monolithic society. The universal and perfect God of the Christian religion was very different from the numerous and unpredictable gods of Olympus, who had limited power and local significance. The young Church encouraged piety, repentance, the equality of women, condemned suicide, preached the rejection of idolatry, pagan eroticism and incest. While polytheism, with its permissiveness, embraced the entire ancient society, the moral rigor of the new religion and Christian ethics significantly limited the participation of Christians in certain types of professional activity, which led to some separation of believers from society. A true Christian could not contemplate the profession of a teacher, since this involved the study of literature and philosophy imbued with pagan ideals. Acting and dancing were also considered suspicious pursuits, and any involvement in magic was completely unacceptable. Violence was seen as incompatible with the ethics of the Kingdom of God, and therefore Christians had difficulties with military service. The “bad behavior” of Christians, as the emperor Hadrian described it in 130, was later realized by the authorities: Christians refused to worship the almighty divine emperor and prayed to their only god — poor and persecuted Jesus, moreover, Christian communities united against the attempts of Rome to impose official paganism. However, persecution of Christians in that transitional period was still rare, and the young teaching developed successfully. The mainstay of religious science during the early Christian period was the theological college in Alexandria. Patriarch Clement (160-215) headed it for 20 years. «In the beginning was the Word, and that word was God.» All early Christian literature was written in Greek. For many centuries before Christ, the official languages in Egypt were Greek and Egyptian, and Greek was used more widely, as it was much easier to study and read than Egyptian hieroglyphs. About 750-656 BC scientists began to translate the Egyptian phonemes into the Greek alphabet, and this required the addition of eight characters of the Egyptian letter to it in order to convey those sounds for which there were no Greek letters. The language transformed in this way began to be called Coptic. The word «Copts» meant «Egyptians» and came from the Greek name of the country — Ayguptos, that is, Egypt. Under Clemente, the psalms and selected chapters from the New Testament were translated from Greek into Coptic, making the Scriptures available to most Egyptians. Clement wrote commentaries on the Bible and a number of theological treatises condemning the absurd behavior of the pagan gods of Olympus. More relevant, however, was a treatise called «The Salvation of a Rich Man,» delicately touching upon a problem to which business people were very sensitive. The problem of wealth worried wealthy Christians, and they interpreted literally the commandment of Jesus Christ to rich young people who were looking for salvation, «to sell everything that you have and give to the poor.» In response to these interpretations, Clement argued that «the Word of God does not command us to give up wealth, but only to dispose of it in a dignified manner.» The wise patriarch believed in the bloodless arrival of true faith. But in vain did Clement hoped for a peaceful and calm transition from paganism to Christianity. The new faith was already advancing with a double-edged sword that would blow the ancient world apart, and here in Egypt it had already struck a blow at the Hellenized elite with its hybrid gods invented by the Ptolemies. Christianity declared war on the two greatest forces — the state and sex, and the old order during this complex confrontation was on the verge of extinction. Together with the entire Roman Empire, Alexandria plunged into a whirlpool of civil and religious turmoil. Clement himself in 203 was forced to flee to Palestine, hiding from the persecution of Emperor Septimius Severus. Barbarians attacked the borders of an empire shaken by internal unrest. The emperors’ difficulties were compounded by religious problems, but the Senate in Rome continued to declare them gods.
The first reliable documents testifying to the official persecution of Christians in Egypt date back to the middle of the 3rd century. Under the emperor Decius (r. 249-251), people were required to that they participate in traditional pagan rituals in the presence of Roman officers and present certificates with oath assurances of sacrifices. Those who refused were tortured. Some took false oaths and threw several grains on the pagan altars as proof. Although thousands died on the verdict of the court and the vigilance committees, there were some that survived and continued their work. But these pogroms were not comparable to the Great Persecution unleashed by Diocletian. In 284, the Roman army elected him emperor, and the catastrophic conditions in which the empire found itself made it necessary to carry out unpopular reforms, reminiscent of War Communism. Latin was introduced as the official language in Egypt. Diocletian sought in this way to strengthen the Roman Empire, but the Egyptians desperately resisted. The Emperors declared Christians a destructive element and considered it best to get rid of them. Egyptian Christians (Copts) were dismissed from government posts, their property was confiscated, houses were demolished, and copies of Scripture were burned. Many were tortured and killed, churches were banned and destroyed. The ancient martyrology has 144 thousand martyrs for the faith over 9 years! The persecutions were inhuman, women and children were killed under monstrous torture. The Egyptian Christian Church did not perish as a result of persecution, but began to keep its chronology not from the birth of Christ, but from the so-called era of martyrs (284).
The result of the Great Persecution was the rapid rise of the monastic movement, the idea and philosophy of which originated in Egypt. In search of moral improvement and salvation from persecution, people with spiritual inclinations went into the desert, where the spirit of martyrdom grew. When St. Paul (228-343) and St. Anthony (251-356), the first two well-known spiritual leaders of monasticism, devoted their lives to meditation and prayer on the deserted coast of the Red Sea, many following their example. In the 3rd century, already thousands of hermits leading an ascetic lifestyle lived separately or in small groups in the catacombs and caves of Sinai. St. Anthony gave his disciples two simple principles of monastic life: prayer and labor. Hermit leaders may have been of simple descent, like St. Paul, but could also belong to the upper class of landowners, like St. Anthony, at the age of twenty, gave away his property to the poor and retired into the desert. As the Desert Fathers grew in reputation, their followers grew in number. Countless pilgrims have visited the hermits and imitated their spiritual orderly life. The activities of the Christian church led to the creation of new social formations — monasteries that provided not only spiritual refuge for those who heeded the divine call, but also physical safety, peace and protection from the dominance of tax collectors and the lawlessness of the Roman army. Many monks were important public figures. Thus, one of the greatest Egyptian spiritual leaders was St. Pachomius (292-346) The Pachomius monasteries located in Upper Egypt had bakeries, reservoirs, workshops and shops. Pachomius introduced a strict daily routine, he emphasized that a healthy mind is found in a healthy body, he believed that there should be a measure in everything, even in prayers. His goal was to create godly, enlightened and economically self-sufficient communities that set an example for others.
The persecution of Christians ended under the emperor Constantine (280-337). Constantine’s adherence to Christianity is entirely related to his ascent to the pinnacle of power. In 312, Emperor Constantine — full name Flavius Valerius Constantine — won the civil war. On the eve of the decisive battle, he saw a vision of the shining cross of Jesus against the background of the sun and the words «With this sign you will overcome.» The miraculous symbol was knocked out on the shields of the soldiers, the battle was won with minimal chances of success, and throughout his life Emperor Constantine carried the conviction that he owed his victories to the conversion to Christianity and the support of the Christian God. The Edict of Milan in 313 legalized the principles of religious tolerance and formally recognized Christianity as one of the religions officially allowed in the Roman Empire. Finally, it became safe to be a Christian, and many monks, including St. Anthony, came out of their caves and catacombs to build churches and monasteries. The property of the Church was restored, the building of churches at the expense of public funds was encouraged, Christian priests were exempted from taxes, civil and military service. Constantine built a great many churches throughout the empire, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, legalized church property, and instituted free supplies of food for the church. Pagan persecution has stopped, and the controversy over the nature of Christ, because of which so much blood will be shed, has not yet flared up. The number of believers has increased significantly, especially among the middle and upper class. It seemed that under the spiritual guidance of the renewed Church, the old world would enter the new without misfortunes and catastrophes. All of Egypt is already ripe for Christianity, but for which one? Disagreements arose. The controversy revolved around the concepts of «Father» and «Son». What began as an academic theological debate threatened to split across the empire. The first conflict arose between the patriarchs of Alexandria Athanasius and Arius. The disagreement between them turned out to be so irreconcilable that Constantine was forced to intervene and begged his fellow Christians to become like the Greek philosophers who knew how to argue without bloodshed. Nobody heeded. Arius stubbornly stood his ground: Jesus was of a different nature than the Father, he was created in time and, therefore, could not be divine in any way. And Emperor Constantine, Arius believed, this brave warrior with the heart of a lion, so easily let himself be confused. And there was a grave danger that he would officially establish the wrong type of Christianity, which would plunge the world into heresy for a thousand years!
The Reverend Athanasius, an uncompromising opponent of the Arian heresy, insisted that the Father and the Son are of one divine nature. How difficult it was! The Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325, in the presence of the Emperor Constantine and 310 bishops, denounced the doctrine of Arius and declared him a heretic. The venerable elder St. Antony was also present and fiercely argued with Arius. The triumphant Athanasius returned to Alexandria in triumph and found there … Arius preaching his heresy as if nothing had happened! Such was the will of Constantine! The emperor feared that the division of the Church would offend the Christian God and divine retribution would fall upon the Roman Empire and Constantine himself. Various attempts by the emperor to find a compromise solution did not lead to anything. The implacable defender of Christian orthodoxy persecuted Arius with such force that it was the turn of Athanasius to be expelled from Alexandria. He was expelled five times, and each time after another exile, Arius became the patriarch of Alexandria and continued to deny the divinity of Jesus! Disputes did not stop, mountains of paper were plagued. The Temple of Cleopatra was the first to fall under the onslaught of truth. The Arians and the Orthodox have competed so hard for its consecration for six years that the ruins of the temple burned down in flames!
The Alexandrian Church received the second blow when Constantine in 330 founded a new capital — Constantinople — in opposition to pagan Rome. His refusal to take part in the pagan procession offended the Romans, who did not want to part with the former gods, and after that the emperor never returned there. Constantinople — the eastern analogue of the former capital, the «second Rome» — is ideally located on the site of the Greek colony Byzantium on the Bosphorus. The divorce of the emperors from Rome lasted for almost a hundred years. Rome and Alexandria lost their prestige and political significance. Geographical changes were accompanied by religious changes: the new city turned into a real Christian capital. Its magnificent churches shone with masterpieces far more beautiful than in Alexandria and anywhere else. Constantinople became the metropolis of Greek science and art, the center of Christian learning. The authority of Alexandria was seriously undermined. This was an era when religious dignitaries drove each other out, and the mobs robbed the churches of the warring parties. Under Theodosius I (r. 379-395), the Arian heresy was finally branded, orthodox Christianity was proclaimed the only religion, and the Eastern Roman Empire, after the capture of Rome by the Visigoths, began to be called the Byzantine Empire. Drastic measures were taken against the pagans, culminating in the order of Theodosius banning, under threat of high treason charges, all forms of pagan cults of a private and public nature, including the Olympic Games. In 385 pagan temples were closed and sacrifices to Zeus were prohibited. The Christian Church, encouraged by Constantinople, began to dominate state institutions and worldly life, and gained unprecedented political power in all regions of the Byzantine Empire. The head of the Egyptian Church, the Patriarch of Alexandria, becomes the most influential figure in Egypt. The powers of the patriarchs significantly exceeded the power of the Byzantine governors and their garrisons sent from Constantinople. In reality, Egypt was ruled by the patriarch of Alexandria and his army of monks. Christianity, officially adopted, was introduced in many cases forcibly, and the monks used every opportunity to settle scores with the pagans, attacking them under the leadership of the patriarchs during divine services and destroying the Ptolemaic temples in which the adherents of the former faith were hiding. By order of Emperor Theodosius I in 391, the famous Alexandrian library was destroyed by the monks, and a Christian monastery was erected on this place. The fanaticism of Christians in the name of the triumph of orthodoxy was not so different from the vicious excesses that Christianity itself was once subjected to. In one of the pogroms in 415, Hypatia, a Neoplatonist philosopher, mathematician and astronomer, was killed. She aroused the enmity of Christians, as she had an extraordinary influence on the civil prefect of Alexandria. Father Cyril, the patriarch of Alexandria, wanted nothing more than to get rid of Hypatia. A savage black army of monks filled the streets of Alexandria, intent on performing holy acts before retreating to their monasteries, and met Hypatia on her way from the lecture. It was literally torn apart by fanatical defenders of the Christian faith. But under the guise of religious passions, racial prejudices were hidden: the monks killed Hypatia not because she was a sinner, but because she was Greek. They had reason enough to hate the Greeks ever since the haughty Ptolemies ruled Egypt. Greek culture in Alexandria began to decline. And as soon as the theological formula was found through which the Copts expressed themselves, religious disobedience to Constantinople broke out. The obvious pretext was one of the doctrines. If the holy fathers of the 4th century argued over the relationship between the Father and the Son, then in the 5th century they faced the problem of the relationship of two substances — bodily and spiritual — in Jesus Christ himself. Coptic theologians from Alexandria recognized only the spiritual incarnation of Jesus after his death, and their monophysical heresy became the second great heresy in the Eastern Empire. A rupture proved inevitable after the Council of Chalcedony in 451. The Ecumenical Council demonstrated Byzantium’s determination to put pressure on the ecclesiastical authorities in Egypt and Egypt’s equal determination to disobey. Patriarch Dioscurus became the first hero of the early schism of the Byzantine Church, after rejecting all attempts at compromise. The Council of Chalcedony expelled Dioscurus and denounced his monophysical doctrine. The refusal of the Alexandrian Orthodox to ratify the doctrine of Constantinople led to the separation of Egyptian Christians from the Byzantine and Roman churches. From that moment on, the Greeks in Egypt could breathe freely, but Alexandria was ruled by two patriarchs. One of them, of Greek origin, was officially appointed by Constantinople, adhered to the prescriptions of Chalcedony and received the largest part of the church’s income. But he had no spiritual power over the Egyptians, for them he remained a hated Greek. The Coptic Patriarch was a simple Egyptian monk, poor, fanatical and popular. Each of the patriarchs claimed to represent St. Mark and the true Church. Each of them continues to assert this in Alexandria today. The equilibrium of the patriarchs was maintained with the help of the Greek garrisons. As a result, Egypt became an easy prey for an enemy invasion. After the Chalcedony incident, the Coptic Church broke with the rest of the Churches and declared itself independent. Egyptian theologians began to write mainly in Coptic, and Greek ceased to dominate the ecclesiastical and secular life of Copts. While both Churches of Constantinople — one with Greek adherents in Alexandria and the other in Rome — enjoyed the favors of imperial favor, amassed considerable wealth, built beautiful churches, and developed lavish worship ceremonies, Coptic priests fought to survive.
Dissatisfaction with the rule of Constantinople and disunity created the conditions that allowed the old enemies of Egypt — the Persians — to invade the Nile delta and in 619 capture Alexandria. This was a period of extreme hostility towards the Coptic Church. The Persians did not allow worship and killed many monks in the basements of the monasteries. Around the same time, events began to take place in Arabia that brought dramatic changes to Egypt. They were caused by the flight of the Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina in 622 and the declaration of jihad — a holy war — by Byzantium. On September 29, 642, the Muslim commander Amr Ibn al-As marched into Alexandria — this was the beginning of the unprecedented Arab conquest of Egypt. The Byzantine army put up significant resistance to the Arab troops, but the local population was more than ambiguous. The Copts had high hopes for their deliverance from Byzantium, and if they did not support the invaders, then they did not provide assistance to the Byzantine garrison. The Arab conquest completed the separation of Egypt from the rest of Christendom and for several years was accompanied by a vicious persecution of Coptic Christians by the Chalcedonian patriarch of Alexandria Cyrus. It was he who pushed Egypt towards Islam.
Religious disunity continued to weaken the Byzantine Empire, leading the Eastern Orthodox Church to division and subsequent final secession from Rome. By the time of the division between Rome and Constantinople in 1054, adherents of the Eastern Orthodox Church had spread to the Middle East, the Balkans, and Kievan Rus. The creation of the Slavic alphabet — Cyrillic — by two brothers-monks Cyril and Methodius made it possible to translate the Bible into the Slavic language and the establishment of Christianity in the Slavic lands. When the Byzantine Empire fell under the onslaught of the Turks, Moscow — the «third Rome» — became the center of Orthodoxy.
The Arab caliphs, although they favored those who converted to Islam, did not interfere in the internal affairs of the Christian Church. Subject to complete obedience and correct payment of taxes, the Copts were guaranteed security and freedom of religion. But with the coming to power of the Mamluks in 1250, Christianity in Egypt quickly declined, and in the XIV century Copts were in a minority. Only in the middle of the 19th century, under the leadership of the great reformer, educator and statesman, Patriarch Kirill IV, the Copts regained their prestige and lost positions in the state. Despite their integration into Muslim society, Copts survived. Today there are about 7 million of them, which is approximately 10% of the population of Egypt. The Coptic Orthodox Church has entered into an ecumenical dialogue and is participating in the World Council of Churches. Coptic tradition considers Saint Mark to be the first patriarch of Alexandria, and the current spiritual leader of the Coptic Church, Father Shenouda III, is his 117th successor, Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa. Coptic and Eastern Orthodox doctrines converge, apart from the monophysical question. In divine services, however, the Arabic language is used; during the service, members of the congregation, both men and women, are present in the church together, but stand separately, women on the right, men on the left. Women are not required to cover their heads. The most important religious holiday among Copts, as in the days of early Christianity, is Easter. Holy Week on the eve of Easter begins on Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem and the people covered his path with palm branches. Great fast on the eve of Easter, during which only vegetable food is allowed — legumes, vegetables, olive oil, lasts fifty-five days. On Palm Sunday, believers commemorate their loved ones in cemeteries, decorate their homes and churches with palm branches.
The Patriarch and 12 bishops regulate the finances of the church, prescribe the rules of marriage, inheritance and other matters of the personal status of Christians. In Cairo alone, not counting other cities, there are about 150 Coptic churches and 150 Coptic institutions, including schools, shelters, nursing homes and hospitals. Today in Egypt, there are more than 25 active monasteries and a revival of the monastic movement. Young people who have chosen the monastic path for themselves, as a rule, have a higher education, but only after serving in the army and completing mundane affairs can they go to monasteries, where they work in a specialty acquired in mundane life: librarians, doctors, agronomists, builders, engineers. Before taking the monastic dignity, a probationary period of at least three years is laid.
Copts believe in the effectiveness of sacred amulets designed to protect against the devil’s evil eye and all sorts of obsessions, and especially in the miraculous power of patron saints. The most revered among them is St. Mina, or Abu Mina, who performed many miracles. It is said that he resurrected a man who had been hacked to pieces by the Bedouins, and another who had been torn apart by crocodiles. According to Coptic legend, the young officer Mina, an Egyptian by birth, from a good family, a Christian and an ascetic, served in the Roman army and was killed in 296 in Libya after terrible torture during the persecution of Diocletian. The executioners gouged out his eyes, twisted his limbs, cut off his tongue. Mina did not give up his faith, and the emperor personally beheaded him. After all sorts of vicissitudes with a miraculous deliverance from attacks, the coffin with the body of the martyr was returned to the Egyptian coast, and the Bedouins sent him to Alexandria through the desert on a camel, but the camel, having reached a certain area, refused to follow further. The other camel did not budge either. At this place, the coffin was buried, and since then miracles began to happen here: hopeless patients recovered, other visitors successfully solved complex problems. The burial became a place of pilgrimage. After the daughter of the Emperor Arcadius visited the tomb of the martyr, she was healed of leprosy, and a grateful father built a magnificent monastery city here in the middle of the desert (395-408). In the 5th-7th centuries the monastery of St. Mina becomes the greatest center of pilgrimage, a famous place of healing from various ailments: thanks to the healing properties of the sacred oil from the lamps, burning inextinguishable by the relics of the holy martyr for the faith, thousands of people were freed from diseases. Suffering came here from all parts of the Christian world and took with them the miraculous oil in small ceramic jugs with the image of a young saint standing between two camels. Many historians have left testimonies of their stay in a monastery located somewhere near Alexandria in a fertile oasis among vineyards. They mentioned colossal buildings decorated with marble columns, mosaics, frescoes. After the Arab conquest, the monastery of St. Mina ended up in the hands of the Greek Orthodox. In the course of a fierce dispute between Greek and Coptic parishioners over the issue of eligibility, the monastery was ransacked. In the 8th century, the Arab governor issued a decree that the relics of Abu Mina were the property of the Coptic Church. But nothing remained of the former monastery town except memory. Many archaeologists tried to find it, however, contrary to the testimony of medieval travelers, they could not find any traces. In the end, scholars agreed that Abu Mina’s monastery is nothing more than a beautiful myth. And only in 1905, as a result of excavations carried out by the German archaeologist Karl Kaufmann, the ruins of an ancient basilica were discovered. Thirty marble steps led to the crypt, and at a depth of ten meters under the ruins of the altar was the burial of St. Mines. In the grave there was an icon of the saint, exactly as it was described by medieval historians: a young officer against the backdrop of the desert and two camels. Gradually archaeologists discovered the entire ancient city, with its churches and squares, a hotel for pilgrims, workshops, bakery and souvenir kiosks.
In 1959, during the Patriarchate of Cyril VI, the construction of a new monastery of Abu Mina was begun in its former place. The construction is almost complete, pilgrims flock to the monastery, as in the Middle Ages, who are convinced that their participation in the «second birth» of St. Mina will bring them a blessing. The main church, monastic cells, a library, a hospital, marble workshops, souvenir shops, refectories for monks and pilgrims have already been rebuilt, where tired travelers can get a hot lunch for free. Visitors willingly buy products grown on the monastery grounds and processed here: vegetables, olives, olive oil, fish, poultry — all environmentally friendly and inexpensive. In the church of the monastery, at the relics of St. Mines can always be seen from parishioners leaving notes asking for help. It is not necessary to sign, because the almighty saint, of course, knows who turned to him. Just like fifteen hundred years ago, the afflicted take with them from the chapel with the relics of St. Mine are ampoules with sacred oil with healing properties.
The stone reliefs of the monastery, wood and ivory carvings, wall paintings, mosaics reflect all the originality of the former Coptic art, saturated with motives of Greek mythology. Here, as elsewhere in Coptic churches, you will not see pictures with biblical subjects on the theme of torture, suffering, punishment of sinners in hell. Copts believe that they should show not suffering and humiliation and not sinners, but the greatness and holiness of the martyrs. Economic conditions no doubt played an important role in the development of the style, and the lack of a patronage system is evident in many aspects of Coptic art, manifested in a shortage of skilled craftsmen and a lack of expensive materials. The domes of Coptic churches are devoid of gold covering, but the Coptic church is not strong in gold.
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