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Purposeful Tribulation – by Bishop Youssef

“Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him” (Matthew 2:13).

On the twenty-fourth of the blessed Coptic month of Pashons (June 1st), we commemorate the Lord Jesus Christs flight to the land of Egypt at approximately the age of two, taking refuge there along with His mother and St. Joseph.

In humility and obedience, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Family departed from Bethlehem, His birthplace, to escape the dangerous, vindictive King Herod the Great who was reigning over the city of Bethlehem at that time. King Herod had learned of the existence of the prophesied Newborn Messiah; and felt therefore immensely threatened that the newborn king might usurp his authority and kingship. So, he sought out the Messiahs whereabouts in order to destroy Him.

The journey began after St. Joseph had been divinely warned in a dream to depart to Egypt with the young Child for His safety; as King Herod had plotted to kill the young Child Jesus. St. Joseph was obedient; and without delay did as he had been instructed. Following the divine dream…”He [St. Joseph] arose, took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son'” (Matthew 2:14-15).

A Child taking His first steps and uttering His first few sentences, the Lord Jesus Christ took His first trip as a refugee, into the foreign country of Egypt and thus blessed the country. At that time, Egypt was a country of established civilization, one which began approximately three thousand years before the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. It can be surmised that Egypt was widely populated, advanced in organized civilization, culture and economy.

St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195) wrote, “The Egyptians were the first to introduce astrology among menThe Egyptians first invented the burning of lamps. They were the first to divide the year into twelve monthsThey were the inventors of geometry.”

We also know that at the time of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, religiosity, one of a superstitious nature and in the predominant form of idol worship was highly valued there.

“The Egyptians were guilty of error. For they, indeed, had solemn enclosures around the buildings they considered as temples. However, within them, there was nothing except apes, crocodiles, goats, serpents, or some other animal” said Origen (c. 248).

While abiding in Egypt, the Lord Jesus Christ did not take refuge in a desert or on an island isolating Himself from people. On the other hand, the Lord Jesus Christ neither settled in one particular location, nor was it recorded that He had stayed with some relatives or friends of the Holy Familys during the period of the exile. Coptic history records the Holy Familys journeys in Egypt to include 1) Bubastis Hill, 2) Mataryah, 3) Old Cairo, and 4) Upper Egypt. Therefore, this exiled visit to the land of Egypt can rightly be called His first evangelistic journey even though it was for refuge to escape tribulation.

St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195) wrote, “The word of our Teacher did not remain in Judea aloneas philosophy did in Greece. Rather it was diffused over the whole world.”

The flight to the land of Egypt could be easily labeled as “escaping danger to evangelize”. Thus it can be assumed that the tribulation was extremely purposeful in its mission. Isaiah the prophet wrote, “Behold the Lord rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt; the idols of Egypt will totter in His presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst” (Isaiah 19:1). Tradition has it, that as soon as the Lord Jesus Christ had stepped into the land of Egypt, idols from the pagan temples collapsed and fell on their faces.

St. Cyril the Great interpreted Isaiah’s prophecy saying, “The glittering cloud which carried the child Jesus to Egypt was His mother, St. Mary, who surpassed the cloud in purity. The altar which was established in the midst of the land of Egypt is the Christian Church which had replaced the temples of paganism as the idols collapsed and the temples which were deserted in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Tertullian (c.197) writes, “In that prophet (Isaiah), Egypt is sometimes understood to mean the whole world.”

Besides becoming the land for prophecy fulfillment, and the usher for evangelism, Egypt has often been said to be representative of the Gentiles to whom the Lord Jesus Christ has come to seek, evangelize, establish and include in His body, the Church. The Holy Family’s taking refuge in the land of Egypt must have certainly helped to spread the new faith in Egypt.

Concerning the Gentiles, later in the time sequence of the New Testament, we read about St. Paul; and how Annias was told by the Lord to “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

The Gentiles were of utmost importance in the evangelistic era during the time of the Lord Jesus Christ. From infancy, He had vision and quest for the salvation of souls, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16).

This purposeful tribulation and resultant evangelism was borne of humility. It took humility for the Son of God to become incarnate; it took humility to be born in a poor place. It took humility to escape to Egypt as if He were weak. The Lord Jesus Christ went to Egypt as a humble child, exemplifying the nature of someone who is to lead others to God.

In the Doxology of the Arrival into Egypt, Holy Psalmody, we chant:

God who is glorified, in the council of saints, who sits upon the Cherubim, was seen in the land of Egypt.

He who created Heaven and earth, we saw Him as a Good One, in the bosom of Mary the New Heaven, and the righteous Joseph the Elder.

The Ancient of the days, whom the angels praise, today has come into Egypt, to save us His people.

Rejoice and be happy O Egypt, and all your children and your borders, for the Lover of man has come to you, who exists before all ages.

Isaiah the Great has said, “The Lord will come to Egypt, upon a light cloud, He is the King of Heaven and earth.”

We praise and glorify Him, and exalt Him above all, as a Good One and Lover of man, have mercy upon us according to Your great mercy.

The Holy Family stayed in the land of Egypt till the death of King Herod the Great. The length of the Holy Familys sojourn in Egypt has not been documented in the Holy Bible but Coptic tradition holds it to be three and one half years.

After the King had died, the angel of the Lord again appeared to the obedient St. Joseph, in a dream saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead” (Matthew 2:20).

Obeying the voice of the angel the Holy Family returned to the land of Palestine (Israel), and from there turned aside to dwell in the city of Nazareth.

May we learn from the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt that purpose can be discovered during times of tribulation, if we are humble and obedient to the Word of God.

— His Grace Bishop Youssef
Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

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