From: Sherif Hanna
Sent: Wednesday, October 08, 2003 9:36 PM
Subject: [Stmark-all] The amazing story of what happened in Assiut
I never thought I would write a mass email, but this is worth it. I apologize in advance to all my critics J
Abouna Moussa recently told me the real story behind what happened with the attack on the small church in Assiut last month. Abouna has just come from Egypt with more details on what took place. The story is quite incredible, and there’s more to it than just the attack itself. I took his permission to write it down, and thought I would share it with you.
Here we go:
Spending his elementary, preparatory, and secondary school years in Assiut during the 1940s and 50s, Abouna was immersed in the culture of this mostly Christian town. Part of this culture was a tradition known in Assiut as the "Sunday of Abu George". "Abu George" was fabled to be a holy man, but no one exactly knew who he was or what his story is. All they knew is on the fifth Sunday of Holy Lent of every year, the Sunday of the Palsied Man, shops in Assiut would setup tents on the sidewalks in the streets, and offer siamy sweets and treats. Why, no one really knew. Somehow, it was all related to this mythical "Abu George". Not even the Church hierarchy knew who this person was.
What was known is that in the middle of the lush farming fields outside Assiut at the foot of the Qalamon mountain, far from the centre of the city, there was a shrine setup to "Abu George".... a simple structure with a dome on top.
With the increasing Islamization of Assiut since the middle of this century, Muslims too adopted "Abu George" as a saint...calling him "Abu Jerja". They too would flock to his shrine. Eventually, Muslims who lived around the shrine prevented Christians from approaching the shrine and paying homage to Abu George.
This would change. And the change would happen only four months ago (for the record, it is now October 2003).
Four months ago, two Christian thieves (unfortunate but true) decided to raid the shrine of Abu George, looking for treasure. Figuring that the area was old, and having seen evidence of carved stone and pottery around the area of the shrine, they figured something might be buried under the shrine building.
They snuck in at night, and dug inside the shrine. They found an entrance to a narrow passageway, and going inside, they found at the end of the passageway three chambers. In the two chambers on the left and right were many human bones. In the middle chamber was a body wrapped in woven palm tree leaves on the outside, and sealed with mud and tar.
And beside the body, the staff of a bishop.
Suddenly they realized that they had become paralyzed. Guessing that they had found Abu George, they prayed to God and asked Abu George to release them so that they can go and tell His Eminence Metropolitan Mikhail about their discovery. At that moment their paralysis ceased.
His Eminence sent a team of priests to the site, who persuaded a Muslim lady who held the keys to the shrine to hand the keys over to them. Having taken charge of the place, they set to rid it of the marks of Islam that had littered the shrine. They then proceeded to try to make sense of the relics that lay beneath.
Unwrapping the body in the middle chamber, they found him wearing the full garb of a bishop, his alb (tonia, stycharion, whatever your flavour may be) in perfect condition. Beside the body was a bishop's staff. Also, a metal container that contained papers detailing the story of this person.
It turns out that this indeed was Abu George, a bishop-saint who lived in the 14th century AD. In that time Egypt was ruled by Mamelukes, and it was a time of persecution of the Church by the ruler of Egypt, whereby the ruler had demolished and burned many churches.
The ruler sent an envoy with an executioner to Abu George to behead him if he refused conversion. Of course he did The executioner beheaded him with a sword. The envoy then saw an angel appear and bring back the head of Abu George and attach it to the body. If you look at the body of Abu George today, you see a circular mark around his neck where the sword must have fallen. But the head is attached to the body!! Upon seeing this, the envoy believed in the Lord Jesus, and immediately received the crown of martyrdom. He too was buried in one of those chambers under the shrine, along with other martyrs who died during that age of persecution.
It also turned out that Abu George was given the gift of healing the paralyzed...hence the celebration with sweets on the sidewalks of Assiut on the Sunday of the Palsied Man during lent!!
Having made this fantastic discovery, the diocese turned the shrine into a church. This is where the incidents of the attack by police authorities a few weeks back comes in.
A few weeks after its opening, with about six hundred faithful attending on a Friday morning, police and security forces attacked the church, and attempted to prevent the priest from conducting the liturgy. Their vicious attack included the throwing of the basket of the Bread of the Offertory on the floor and stomping on it. However, this was BEFORE the Epiclesis, before the change of the bread and wine to the Holy Body and Precious Blood. Not that this lessens, justifies, or absolve this hineous crime. But at least it was not done to the Body of Christ.
The priest, with unrelenting strength and faith, defied the authorities and continued the celebration of the liturgy, protected by the faithful. The police and the security forces later gave up their attack and left.
The next week, five THOUSAND faithful Coptic Christians attended the liturgy in the church setup on the shrine of the bishop-martyr Abu George.
So there you go!
About the name...I'm sure "Abu George" is not the correct official name for the saint, but probably the form that passed down through the generations among the villagers in the area around Assiut. I'll try to find out what his real name was.
I think this story is important. I think it shows the importance of traditions in our church (not just Tradition, but "t"raditions). It also shows the strength of the Copts when faced with persecution. From the fist century to the 14th to the 21st....we will not fear, we will not relent....If we live, it is for Christ, and to die is to gain as St. Paul said. Empires come and go. Rulers reign and then die. But the love of Christ in the heart of the Egyptian people never will.
Amen, let it be so from generation to generation!!