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The Feast of the Lord’s Entry into Egypt

A blessing, indeed, belongs to the land of Egypt, which welcomed the Lord Jesus Christ into its borders as a refugee, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah:

“Behold, the Lord sits on a swift cloud, and shall come to Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and their heart shall faint within them…In that day shall Israel be third with the Egyptians and the Assyrians, blessed in the land which the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be my people that is in Egypt, and that is among the Assyrians, and Israel mine inheritance’” (Isaiah 19:1, 24-25).

Egypt is recorded in the Scriptures as often serving as a place of refuge. During a time of famine, Abraham “went down to Egypt to sojourn there” (Genesis 12:10). Joseph also found refuge in Egypt, where he was eventually given authority over the whole land of Egypt under Pharaoh (See Genesis 41:41-44). His father, Jacob, was directed by God: “Fear not to go down into Egypt, for I will make thee there a great nation. And I will go down with thee into Egypt, and I will bring thee up at the end” (Genesis 46:3-4). Likewise Moses found refuge in the house of Pharaoh in Egypt (See Exodus 2:1-10).

From the Gospel according to St. Matthew, we learn of the Lord’s own flight to Egypt and His taking up refuge there:

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son’ (Hosea 11:1)…But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel” (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23).

By His presence in Egypt, our Lord Jesus Christ affirmed His coming for all people — Jews and Gentiles: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). This message, which God consistently revealed to the Israelites, most prominently in the experience of Jonah the Prophet but also throughout the Scriptures, was proclaimed by Simeon the Elder when he carried the Lord in his arms (See Luke 2:25-35) and made clear to St. Paul by the Lord when He called him to the ministry while he was on his journey to Damascus:

“But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles — to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:16-18).

This gift, of being turned “from darkness to light,” is granted in the mystery of baptism, whereby the baptized is granted the grace of the Holy Spirit and the gift of adopted sonship to God: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). It is according to this truth that all who are baptized and placed into the Body of Christ — that is, the Church — ought to live: no longer downcast and identifying with sin and weakness, but rather living the life of victorious resurrection in Christ by His Spirit.[1]

The blessing of our Lord’s visitation to Egypt is observed immediately upon His coming to the land, at which time the idols of the pagans were destroyed and many of the gentile Egyptians believed in Him. On the 18th of Ⲙⲉⲥⲱⲣⲏ, the Coptic Church commemorates St. Wadamon el-Armanti, who was among those who believed in our Lord Jesus Christ while He was in Egypt, and who eventually accepted martyrdom for His sake. The remarkable account of his life, presented in the Synaxarium (the Lives of the Saints), relates:

“One day, he hosted in his house some of the idol worshippers and they were saying, ‘We have heard that a lady arrived to the city of Ashmonain carrying a young Child who looked like the children of Kings.’ After the guests had left, Wadamon rose up, rode his donkey and went to the city of Ashmonain. When he arrived, he searched for the Holy Family until he found them. He saw the Child Jesus with His mother Mary and he worshipped Him. When the Child saw him, He smiled and said, ‘Peace be with you, O Wadamon. You have labored and come here to verify what you have heard from your guests about Me. Therefore I will stay in your home, which will be a house for Me forever.’ Wadamon marveled and said, ‘O My Lord, I wish that You will come and live in my house and I will be Your servant forever.’ The Child replied saying: ‘Your home will be a house for Me and My mother forever. When you return home and the heathen hear that you came to Me, they will be indignant and hurt, and they will shed your blood in your house. Do not be afraid, because I will receive you in My heavenly kingdom forever, the place of perpetual joy, which has no end. You will be the first martyr in Upper Egypt.’ Then Wadamon knelt down before the Lord Christ, Who blessed him, and then he departed and returned to his home…”[2]

Despite the tribulation that our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Family endured, it nevertheless became a joyous commemoration and an occasion for many to come to know the Lord and believe in Him, becoming the first-fruits of Christianity in Egypt.

In the visit of the Lord to Egypt, the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled:

“In that day there shall be an altar to the Lord in the land of the Egyptians, and a pillar to the Lord by its border. And it shall be for a sign to the Lord for ever in the land of Egypt: for they shall presently cry to the Lord by reason of them that afflict them, and he shall send them a man who shall save them; he shall judge and save them. And the Lord shall be known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day; and they shall offer sacrifices, and shall vow vows to the Lord, and pay them” (Isaiah 19:19-21).

The Coptic Orthodox Church today, having her foundation and roots in Egypt, also dwells outside her homeland — among those who do not believe in God and who do not walk in His way — as Christ did in Egypt. It is therefore the duty of each of her members, who have been baptized into Christ and have put on Christ (See Galatians 3:26), to emulate Him in being “christ” in “Egypt” once again — a living reflection of the Lord and a conduit whereby the life and truth of Christ may be transferred anew to the “land of Egypt” and its inhabitants, so that “they may see [their] good works and glorify [their] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). In doing so, just as Christ established an altar in the land of Egypt (See Isaiah 19:19), those who believe in Him may become participants in the establishment and edification of His altar, upon which are offered appropriate spiritual sacrifices and where God is glorified and witnessed to not only by word, but also in manner of life and deeds, all over the world.

While the cause for the Lord’s flight to Egypt was evil, especially as Herod “sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (Matthew 2:16), it nevertheless became an occasion of great blessing and benefit. St. John Chrysostom therefore writes:

“Egypt receives and preserves Him, driven from His home, and plotted against, and obtains a sort of first impulse towards her union unto Him; so that when in after-time she should hear Him preached by the apostles, she might have this at least to glory of, as having received Him first…And now, should you come unto the desert of Egypt, you will see this desert become better than any paradise, and ten thousand choirs of angels in human forms, and nations of martyrs, and companies of virgins, and all the devil’s tyranny put down, while Christ’s kingdom shines forth in its brightness.”[3]

In similarly evil, difficult, or troubling circumstances, especially today, the example of our Lord Jesus Christ shines forth as a cause of comfort and hope — in times of tribulation, He is our joy, preparing for us those things that are much better if we continue to abide in Him and live by His word, emulating His profound humility, and that of His mother and St. Joseph, in submitting wholeheartedly to the will and plan of God, even as they sought refuge in Egypt, becoming there a shining light and a powerful witness to Christ, the Savior of all people.

We therefore chant with great pride: “Rejoice and be glad, O Egypt, with her sons and border cities, for the Lover of Man who existed before all ages has come;”[4] “Let us worship and ask Him to grant us a share on Judgment Day with the children whom Herod killed,”[5] lifting up our hearts in pure prayer to God, as did St. Wadamon the martyr, seeking the Lord and asking Him to abide in us as He resided in the land of Egypt, to work in us for the glory of His Name — that is, the salvation of the world through our living witness to Him in it — and to grant us the blessings of this Feast.

To God is due all glory.

[1] See Antony the Great, On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life in G.E.H. Palmer, The Philokalia: The Complete Text vol. I, 328-355.

[2] Synaxarium: The 18th Day of Ⲙⲉⲥⲱⲣⲏ.

[3] John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel According to St. Matthew 8.5-6.

[4] Doxology for the Feast of the Lord's Entry into Egypt, 4

[5] Verses of Cymbals for the Feast of the Lord's Entry into Egypt, 2

Cover Art: Gawdat Gabra and Marianne Eaton-Krauss, The Treasures of Coptic Art in the Coptic Museum and Churches of Old Cairo, xii


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