Monday, May 01, 2006

St. Mina (Menas): A Prayer Answered, A Life Lived and The Healing of The Lord


In the West we know Lourdes. All of my life, the stories of Lourdes have had a special place in my heart. But how many of us know of the Lourdes of The Desert. Not many. And even fewer know of St. Mina (Menas).

A mother could not have children. Many stories begin this way. So many, that at times the pure pain of the words does not occur to us. A husband and a wife want a child, but they can not have one. There are few pains that echo the longing for life. A longing made all the more acute in our world today by the general disreguard that society bears for life.

But for a moment think on the longing for a child. This was the longing of Euphemia, the mother of Mina. So great was her desire that she breathed a devoute prayer:

On the feast of St. Mary, the mother who did not have any children was praying in front of the icon of the Virgin with tears that God may give her a blessed son. A sound came to her ears saying "Amen", and thus she called her son Menas.

Amen. So it is, so be it. I love that word. I love the trust in God it reveals. As we move along in the story, it becomes obvious that the story of St. Mina is simple and short. He dies around the age of 23:

His father, a ruler of one of the administrative divisions of Egypt, died when Menas was fourteen years old. At the age of fifteen Menas joined the army. He was given a high rank because of his father's reputation and was appointed in Algeria. Three years later he left the army longing to devote his whole life to Christ. He headed towards the desert to live a different kind of life.

After spending five years as a hermit, he saw in a revelation the angels coronating the martyrs with glamorous crowns, and longed to join those martyrs. While he was thinking about it, he heard a voice saying: "Blessed are you Abba Menas because you have been called for the pious life from your childhood. You shall be granted three immortal crowns; one because of your celibacy, the second because of your asceticism, and the third for your martyrdom."

Immediately he felt as if the earth under him was vanishing, and he was overwhelmed with great eagerness to be carried away to heavens. In a mood of valor he hurried to the ruler, declaring his Christian faith. His endless sufferings and the tortures that he went through, have attracted many of the pagans, not only to Christianity, but also to martyrdom.

But the story continus with his body, and what the Lord wished to bring from the death of this loving and devoted young man:

The saint's assassins tried to burn his relics but failed. The saint's body remained in the fire for three days and three nights, and was not harmed. His sister came and gave the soldiers a lot of money and they let her take the body. She embarked with her brother's body on one of the ships heading to Alexandria, where they placed the saint's body in the church there.

When the time of persecution ended, during the papacy of the Coptic Pope Athanasius of Alexandria, the believers loaded the saint's body on a camel and headed towards the western desert (after an angel appeared to the Patriarch informing him to do so). At the spot that the Lord had designated, the camel stopped and wouldn't move again. Right there, near a water well, they buried the saint's body (that place is the same as where the saint's present-day Coptic Orthodox monastery is located at the end of Lake Mariut, not far from Alexandria, Egypt).

Later on, the Berbers of Pentapolis rose against the cities around Alexandria. The people were getting ready to face the Berbers, and the governor decided to take the body of St. Menas with him to be his deliverer and his strong protector. He took the body secretly and through the saint's blessings, he overcame the Berbers and returned victorious.

The governor decided not to return St. Menas' body to its original place (in Mariut) and wanted to take it to Alexandria. On the way back, they passed by Lake Mariut, St. Menas' original place. The camel carrying the body knelt down and would not move in spite of frequent beatings. They moved the body over another camel, but again this second camel did not move from its place. The governor finally realized that this was the Lord's command. He made a coffin from decay-resistant wood and placed the silver coffin in it. He then returned it to its place and invoked St. Menas' blessings before returning to his city.

The Lord is planning something. The Lord of life and love is moving closer to His children. We have a feeling that great signs are about to be upon us:

When the Lord wanted to disclose the location of St. Menas' body, He did it in the following manner. It happened that while a shepherd was feeding his sheep in that area, a sick lamb fell on the ground. As it struggled to get on its feet again, its scab was cured. The story spread quickly and the sick who came to this spot recovered from whatever illnesses they had just by laying on the ground.

During that time, the daughter of Zinon, the Christ-lover Emperor at Constantinople, was leprous. His advisors suggested that she should try that place, and she did. At night St. Menas appeared to the girl and informed her that his body is buried in that place. The following morning, she bathed in the well and was healed. She related her vision about St. Menas to her servants and that he cured her.

The healings begin. A place of refuge and light. A place to be made whole is growing. Far beyond the short life of St. Mina, like a stone cast into a lake the ripples are growing. God is bringing great things through this young man:

Immediately, Zinon ordered the saint's body to be dug out, and a church to be built there. Not only that, but when Arcadius and Honorius reigned they also ordered that a large city to be built there and named after the saint. Sick people from all over the world, used to visit that city and were healed by the intercession of St. Menas, the Miracle-maker. That is evident from the numerous little clay bottles on which his name and picture are engraved. These were discovered by archeologists in diverse countries around the Mediterranean world, such as Heidelberg in Germany, Milan in Italy, Dalmatia in Croatia, Marceille in France, Dengela in Sudan, and Jerusalem. Visitors from these cities and others would buy these bottles, usually containing oil or water for blessing, and take them back to their relatives.

The Lourdes of the Desert. Or more correctly, Lorudes is (in a way) the Mariut of the West. Not for some, but for people coming from the four corners of the earth. Lourdes, Vailakanni and Mariut. However:

After the Arab conquest (seventh century), destruction started to take place in the city, and its inhabitants were degraded. During the time of Haroun-El-Rashid or after, they attacked the city, and burned a large section of it. When El-Mamoun was ruler of Egypt, he ordered to put the entire city down, and then used its numerous marble pillars to build his palace and mosques.

In the fourteenth century, some people in Mariut found a wooden box. They brought it to the governor, who opened it, only to find some bones wrapped in a piece of cloth. So he told his cook to throw the box in the fire. Then, at night when the cook went to prepare the food, he saw a column of light extending from the fire where the body of the saint was. He also noticed that neither the bones nor the cloth were burned. Pope Benjamin ordered the body to be transferred to the church of St. Mina in Fom-El-Khalig (Old Cairo).

But the Lord does not abandon His people. Though men may try to make it otherwise, the will of the Lord will be done. We will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living:

It was only in the twentieth century that international missions began to search for the ruins of the ancient city. In 1961, Peter Grossman of the German Archaeological Institute started excavating the old city -- earlier discovered by German archaeologist Carl Kaufmann -- and was able to establish conclusively that the ruins were the famed monastic centre of St. Menas, one of the greatest centres of pilgrimage during the fifth to the seventh centuries. Grossman pointed to the location of marble stairs leading down to a crypt, and the tomb of St Menas which lay 10m beneath the high altar of the original basilica, constructed in the time of Constantine, by Athanasius the Great. The site was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979. The remainders of Abu Mena, no doubt, demonstrate the glory of the Coptic past and of the cult of St. Mina, which was revived again in the 20th century by the late Pope St. Kyrillos VI.

In 1959, Pope Kyrillos VI put the foundation of a great monastery, not far from the remains of the old city. No more than 1 Km from the site of Abu Mena, the new Monastery of St. Menas with its high surrounding wall and lofty twin towers can be seen. Dominating the enclosure is the cathedral in honour of the saint. Constructed of the finest materials: marble from Italy, black and rose granite from Aswan, stained-glass windows set in white plaster, and with the walls covered a plethora of crosses in filigree and mosaic, it is rapidly gaining a reputation as a major Christian pilgrimage site.

Like the healing water. Like a spring for those who thirst. The healing of the Lord rises from all attempts to displace it. A faithful God. A faithful People. The healing and love of the Lord.

a simple story. A story we should all know. A story we should all be.

Lord, You are my God.
We, who love You, are your people.
Heal me Lord. Heal my Heart. Heal my Soul. Heal my Body.
Make me totally yours.

The Story of St. Mina (link)
The Monastery of St. Mina in Mariut (link)

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