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Daddy – Daughter at the Monastery

My daughter Emma is soon to be five years old – getting old enough to enjoy the occasional Daddy – daughter date. The idea came up when I was invited by friends at the Coptic Bible Institute I attend to go to the Monastery of the Archangel Gabriel in the Fayyoum region of Egypt. This post will be mostly pictures from our adventure.

Many Copts enjoy taking weekend trips to the dozens of monasteries scattered throughout Egypt, mostly in desert regions. Besides being a fun getaway, they honor their Christian heritage, taking blessing from the ascetic monks and ancient relics. I have joined them on quite a few trips so far, and wrote once about the ‘miracle stories’ that abound in their faith.

It is fun to take the whole family along, but as our youngest is no longer an infant but not yet a toddler, packing three daughters along can be cumbersome. Fayyoum is only an hour and a half away, but as they often like to squeeze several monasteries into a trip, it is common to leave early in the morning, have breakfast and lunch on site, and not return until late in the evening. Coptic children often come along, but we have found we have different priorities in terms of naps and bedtimes.

So, given that this was mostly a fun trip, we thought perhaps Emma could come along too. She missed mommy at points along the way, doesn’t like the attention given to her as a four year old American sideshow in an ocean of Egyptian-ness, but had a good time all the same. Nothing a little monastery ice cream can’t fix.

Rashad, who organizes most of the monastery trips I go on. Each begins with readings from the Coptic Orthodox prayer book, but he also serves as MC for games, quizzes, and gift exchanges along the way.
The entranceway to the monastery
The monastery courtyard. To the left are the old churches; unfortunately, I did not get any pictures as we were there for early morning mass. To the right will lead to the next set of pictures...
The monastic cells, where 50 monks are resident, passing their time in prayer, unless they continue to the left of this picture ...
... to pray in the caves of the mountains. It is said that the Hebrew patriarch Jacob prayed in these mountains when he came to Egypt.
The entrance to one cave in particular, where monks have prayed for centuries.
Emma, standing in the small cave window.
Father David, who gave us our tour, was born into a wealthy family in Maadi, where we live. During university studies he went often to this monastery where he felt God's presence. After graduation, he took his vows, and has been living here for eight years now.
He also sold us the ice cream from the monastery canteen, where he provides his physical labor.
Our next stop was not to a monastery proper, but to a monastery which also serves as the bishopric for all Fayyoum churches.
The gate to the bishopric. Note in the pictures how the economic state of the location has risen. It is not uncommon for Copts to make donations, even to send money abroad, to modernize their churches and monasteries. The fact that the Monastery of the Archangel Gabriel was so relatively run down was pleasantly surprising. I felt it reflected the state of the monastery from perhaps a hundred years ago, or longer.
The iconostasis at the main bishopric church.
The seating area of the main bishopric church.
Relics from the martyr Stephen, as told in the Acts of the Apostles. The bishopric church had its walls lined with relics of saints, both local and from far abroad. The wealthier a church is, the more relics it tends to have.
Relics of Abd al-Masih al-Manahari. As opposed to Stephen, he died only a few decades ago, in the Minia district of Egypt to the south of Fayyoum.

I wrote about Abd al-Masih al-Manahari previously, click here for an account of his life and the process of transforming an ordinary pious man into a saint.

Our group took time at the bishopric to chant a praise hymn to the memory of St. Abram. His relics are visible behind the group, while the words of the hymn are placed on the wall in front of them.
Our last stop took us to Lake Fayyoum. I knew of this body of water but was overwhelmed by its size, deep in the desert of Western Egypt.
Emma and I enjoyed dipping our feet in the lake ...
... and she later convinced me to go knee deep (but not swim).
Working on Egyptian schedule, we had lunch at around 4pm, as Rashad brought along food for everyone.
Emma enjoyed a bumper car ride with a youth from our group.
Bidding farewell for the long ride home. We arrived back in Maadi around 8pm. A fun time was had by all.

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