Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Jesuit And The Egyptian Coptic Christians

From the Letter of Father Claude Sicard, S.J. Missionary in Egypt, to his Royal Highness, the Count of Toulouse.

The Superior of the Monastery, having been notified of our arrival, came to receive us with great demonstrations of friendship. He first conducted us to the Church of the Holy Virgin, to perform our devotions. It having struck twelve, the monks, as well as ourselves, were still fasting. They were then in the Fast which precedes Christmas. During this Fast, as well as in the others, of the Apostles, and of the Holy Virgin, and of that which precedes the Festival of Easter, they neither eat nor drink any thing until afternoon, except on Saturdays and Sundays, when they are allowed to take some nourishment in the morning.
I thought it necessary to conform entirely to their manner of living, for the purpose of gaining their confidence and attachment. This I did, and found the benefit of it ; for the conformity of my life to theirs dissipated that natural distrust which the monks and strange priests entertain, and by degrees I found myself enabled to speak with them on all their spiritual needs, as soon as I learned them.
Our prayers having been finished, they conducted me to the Refectory. The Benedicite having been said, they served to us a large bowl filled with soup, made from lentils, stuffed with bread. This single dish comprised all our meal. While we were at table, there was a reading, which was composed of a little collection of monastic rules, which they pretended were given by the Holy Virgin to Saint Macarius the Younger. The meal being finished, we said the Pater in Coptic. This prayer alone is their Benedicite and their ordinary grace. All having left the Refectory, those who were thirsty went to drink from the bucket of one of the neighboring wells. I saw in their kitchen three large stone pots, which are all the cooking utensils they have. They answer the purpose very well, and last for ages. This kind of stone is called baram, and is common in Upper Egypt.
Since we are speaking of the grand meals of these good monks, I will add, that, in the evening, they served up as a collation for us a little plate of wild marjoram pounded up, and another of the skins of sugar-cane, which was very insipid. They gave also sometimes, to vary their collation, onions, cut up or steeped in salt water. The odor of this is detestable to those not accustomed to it. They never drink wine, and rarely coffee.
They lie down entirely clothed, their bed being formed of the mats spread on the floor. We must acknowledge that the life of these good monks is very frugal and austere; but the remarkable fact is that they are strong and robust, large and fat, and full of health. In thinking of the austerity of their life, I could not but deplore their misfortune in being born in schism and heresy, in which they are passing their lives. At the same time I compare their hard and mortified manner of life with that of a great number of Catholics, who, so thoroughly enlightened lightened that they are the luminaries of the faith, nevertheless pass their lives in continual softness, so contrary to the spirit of the Gospel, which is our only rule of action. I do not know which is the greatest evil, that of those or of these.

Link (here)
This is just a portion of the Jesuit missionary Fr.Claude Sicard who traveled through Egypt between 1708 and 1712.

Some back ground on the Monks (here)
Photo credit (here)

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