Wadi El Natrun
Coptic Frescoe at Wadi El Natrun--The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Wadi El Natrun is a valley located in the Beheira in Egypt. The valley gets its name from the natron (sodium) salt, harvested from the saltwater lakes in the Wadi El Natrun region which was used in ancient times for preserving human mummies. It is also the most holy place in the world, for Christians.
We are coming up on Easter Sunday, so I thought it was a good time to read a book I bought some time ago, and meditate on matters religious and spiritual. Wadi El Natrun was mentioned early on in this book, and completely caught my imagination. The holy family rested there, at Wadi El Natrun, in their flight into Egypt, from Judea.
The book was a basic history of Christianity, and contained many interesting and important chapters. There was much food for thought in this book. What fascinated me the most was the earliest part of the history of Christianity--the history of the Coptic Christians and Wadi El Natrun, in Egypt.
Coptic Frescoes at Wadi El Natrun
Wadi El Natrun is the original home of the Christian Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt. It is the oldest continuous form of Christianity, and still lives today. This church was founded originally in Egypt by the Apostle Mark, about ten years after the death of Christ. The Apostle Mark brought Christianity to Egypt during Nero's reign. St. Mark wrote the oldest of the canonical gospels.
Wadi El Natrun is also interesting to the historian--there have been found there some of the oldest writings in Egypt, in the Coptic script, which is the last stage of the ancient Egyptian language.
Wadi El Natrun is the home of the first Christian monasteries in the world. Christian monasticism was born in Egypt. St. Anthony was the world's first Christian monk.
In the fourth century, AD, St. Macarius retired to the desert to pray, and founded several monasteries at Wadi El Natrun. Four of these monasteries have survived from the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 641 AD. They are:
- the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great
- the Paromeos Monastery
- the Monastery of Saint Pishoy
- the Syrian Monastery
Many anchorites, hermits, monks and saints have lived in the desert area of Wadi El Natrun. It is a desolate region; a sanctuary from the outside world. It is a holy place, a place to dedicate oneself to God, completely. The solitude and isolation help to maintain the stoic and ascetic self-discipline these people perceived to be necessary to be close to God.
Some of the Saints of the region include the desert Fathers and:
- St. Amun
- St. Arsenius
- St. John the Dwarf
- St. Macarius
- St. Moses the Black
- St. Pishoy
- St. Maximos
- St. Domatios
- St. Poimen
- St. Samuel the Confessor
There are many stories of the saints and their sacrifices to be close to God. One story in particular is so striking I must share it with you:
This takes place at the Syrian Monastery at Wadi El Natrun. The saint's name is St. Behoy, who founded this monastery and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary. It is said that the saint tied himself to the ceiling by his hair so he wouldn't fall asleep while praying during the Good Friday vigil.
This monastery of the Syrians at Wadi El Natrun was destroyed by the Berbers in 817 AD, then rebuilt by two monks, Matthew and Abraham, in 850 AD.
This monastery contains the Church of the Holy Virgin Mary, The Church of St. Hornos and Marutha, the Church of St. John the Little, the Refectory, and a library; also a Coptic museum.
A word on the precepts of the Coptic Christian Church: these people are the oldest Christians in the world. They follow Christ's teachings very closely. They are very proud of their heritage of the fulfillment of the Prophet Isaiah, (verse 19)
"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".
The monasteries at Wadi El Natrun are the fulfillment of this prophecy.
The Coptic Church is a strong defender of the Christian faith. The Copts originated the Nicene creed, which is recited in churches throughout the world today.
From the beginning, the Coptic church at Wadi El Natrun in Egypt played a pivotal role in Christendom. The Coptic Church produced thousands of Biblical texts. Hundreds of those monastic scribes wrote copies of the Holy Bible, preserving it for future generations, and copies of other liturgical and theological books. The Coptic manuscripts are found in libraries, museums and universities throughout the world, preserving a precious religious heritage.
The Copts believed in humility and obedience to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are of the more strict Christians. They also believed in the separation of Church and State, because of Jesus's words: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." This caused a huge schism with the Roman Catholic Church in all the way back to the time of Constantine, Emperor of Rome, who wished to unify the country politically by unifying its religion.
The Copts regret the schismatic nature of Christianity in the world today, and have felt a mandate to reconcile semantic differences between all Christian churches. They are the founder of the World Council of Churches. They wish for all Christian Churches to be reconciled in faith, for faith is more important than anything. It is what kept them going through all the persecutions of centuries. Every single Egyptian ruler has persecuted these Egyptian Christians: still, there are 9 million Coptic Christians in Egypt today, out of a total Egyptian population of about 57 million people.