Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Biblical Story of Jesus in Egypt

The Christmas season is almost upon us and is a great opportunity to tell children around the world that the infant Jesus travelled in Egypt and performed his first miracles there, says Jill Kamil

Despite the biblical references to the Holy Family's journey to Egypt: Take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt [Matt: 2:13], and Out of Egypt have I called my son [Matt: 2:15], outside of the Coptic communities around the world, the early years of Jesus are not as widely known as the Nativity, the Passion, and the Resurrection. Is it not time to stage a three-act play in Coptic churches that combines the Nativity with the Flight into Egypt? It should be borne in mind that, apart from Copts in Egypt and the Middle East as a whole, there are more than 500,000 in the United Sates, 100,000 or in Canada, 300,000- odd in Australia, and more than a million residing in Europe, Latin America, Africa and New Zealand.

If the children of Coptic doctors and academics, engineers and businessmen -- and I should mention that Copts in the diaspora have built impressive Coptic Orthodox churches and the bulk are regular church-goers -- took part in or attended such a play, I wager that soon enough the schools that they attended would come to know about the three-act "Christmas Story", and perhaps it would then be enacted in churches of other denominations. What a boost to tourism that would be!

Some years ago an attempt was made by the Ministry of Tourism to promote tours entitled "In the Footsteps of the Holy Family". The first step, which achieved great success, was the restoration of sites and churches associated with the visit of Mary, Jesus and Joseph -- no fewer than 22 throughout the Delta and Upper Egypt. Subsequently, there was sustained effort in promoting the tour on television and video clips. Ultimately, though, it failed. The idea was not sold by travel agents, largely because due consideration had not been given to its feasibility. It was not possible to take tourists to the sites associated with the Holy Family because most of them were too far apart: they span the whole of the Delta as far as Wadi Natrun in the Western Desert, and extend from Cairo and its suburbs to sites in Upper Egypt as far as south in Deir Al-Muharraq, west of Assiut.

Religious tourism is a fixture of both ancient and modern cultures, a constant through the ages, and until today a mainstay of tourism in several areas. It is not possible, however, to promote this product in the same way as Pharaonic monuments are marketed, which is to say as religious buildings rather than a religious experience. What better way than to bolster Coptic Orthodoxy than by actively joining in the celebrations at the end of each year, rather than wait until 7 January, the date of the Coptic Christmas, when the New Year celebrations are over and people are enjoying the post- Christmas shopping sales? Why not take advantage of the pomp and ceremony that surrounds the Western Christmas well in advance of 25 December to relish and promote the tradition so strongly supported in Egypt, of the sojourn of the Holy Family, and extend our celebrations through to 7 January? And why not bring reverence for the past into a tangible present by presenting a three-act play at the right time, when the whole of the Christian world is focussed on the birth of Jesus Christ. The play might run like this:

Act I: The traditional scene of the Nativity with Christ in the manager, the three Wise Men and the shining star, culminating with the entry of Roman soldiers, and with Mary and Joseph gathering up the Child, and fleeing across the barren desert of Sinai into Egypt's fertile Delta.

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