Egypt, the Pathway Operetta Recounts the Holy Family’s Escape to Egypt

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Tue, 2019-07-09
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From left to right: Malaika, her mother, Sandra, Diana and Dina


To celebrate the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, the National Egyptian Heritage Revival Association (NEHRA) held a celebration at the theatre of al-Manārah Conference Center on the 24th of June in New Cairo.  


The flight of the holy family is celebrated as a feast day that is marked by the Coptic Orthodox Church on June 1st of every year. 


The event was held under the auspices of President ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ al-Sīsī. Meanwhile, Pope Tawāḍrūs II of Alexandria and the Patriarch of St. Mark, graced the celebration; as did Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, Khālid al-ʿAnānī; Minister of Social Solidarity, Ghāda Wālī; Minister of Emigration and Egyptians Affairs Abroad, Nabīla Makram; former Prime Minister Ibrāhīm Maḥlab; as well as Egyptian officials and businessmen, and Munīr Ghabbūr, chairman of NEHRA.


Egyptian writer and journalist Fāṭima Nāʿūt presented the event, speaking of the significance of the Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt for Muslims and Copts alike, and their blessings for the land of Egypt. 


Then, Dr. Injī Isḥāq Ḥannā, Professor of Coptic arts and historical artifacts at al-Minya University, presented in a short speech the significance of the visit of the holy family to Egypt and how it intrigued many researchers, artists and authors around the world. 


Ḥannā said, “The event is of great spiritual value.”


She also pointed out that there are three major lessons or meanings behind the visit of the holy family saying, “It changed Egypt from a land of exile to a home. It showcases the calm amid a storm, and it is an invitation to forgive and accept the past to move forward.”


Ḥannā’s speech was followed by the performance of the operetta titled “Egypt, the Pathway,” written by Victor Fārūq who also wrote the screenplay, and directed by Muḥammad Ḥamdī. It featured the solo flautist Inās ʿAbd al-Dāyim, Egypt’s Minister of Culture, who played with Syncope orchestra conducted by George Qulta. The Cairo Opera House’s Acapella Choir sang in the operetta, together with soprano Amīra Riḍā; and the Cairo Opera House’s Ballet group took part in the show.


The operetta was composed of four major episodes detailing: The annunciation and birth of Jesus Christ, the Bethlehem mass executions led by King Herod and the family’s escape to Egypt, The journey to Egypt, and the return journey. The operetta was then concluded by a song titled “Egypt, the Pathway.”

Al-‘Anānī then presented a speech on behalf of the president stating, “The anniversary of the Holy Family’s entry into the beloved land of Egypt represents, for all Egyptians, a great historical and religious event. It is a religious legacy that concerns the whole world, not only Egypt.”


He then also spoke of his personal content that the day is getting appropriate recognition. He also announced that the Ministry of State Antiquities published a booklet in both Arabic and English documenting the Holy Family’s trip. 


Additionally, Mr. Ghabbūr thanked the president for sponsoring the celebration as well the audience. 


He said, “Why Egypt, the Pathway? Because art is an international language that transcends national boundaries. The operetta will be showcased in many places nationally and internationally to enrich tourism as well.” 


Finally, Pope Tawāḍrūs II gave a final word of appreciation, thanking the president, performers and the audience. 


Pope Tawāḍrūs also said, “The Holy Family could be considered the first refugees to ever come to Egypt, even the first tourists. They made many stops from east to west and north to south, gracing the land with their presence for three years and six months.”


More about the Holy Family's Flight to Egypt


The tradition of the Holy Family's flight into Egypt traces back to the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible. The Flight to Egypt Bible story begins in the second chapter, which tells of the three wise men, also known as Magi, who came to Jerusalem in search of Jesus. Magi refers to followers of Zoroastrianism, a religion of monotheistic faith that is centered in a dualistic cosmology of good and evil and an eschatology predicting the ultimate destruction of evil. The Magi came from the East, bearing gifts to infant Jesus, whom they eventually find, presenting the gifts and leaving. 


They first encounter King Herod the Great, the Roman client king of Judea, in Jerusalem to ask where to find the newborn “King of the Jews.” Herod became paranoid that the child would threaten his throne, and sought to kill him.


Therefore, Herod initiated the Massacre of the Innocents in hopes of killing the child. The Massacre of the innocents is the incident in the nativity narrative of the Gospel of Matthew in which King Herod the Great orders the execution of all male children two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem. However, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream after the Magi had gone and warned him to take Jesus and his mother into Egypt.


“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 


The Bible mentions no specific details or names of places, yet devotees desire to follow the path of the flight into Egypt, to walk where the holy family walked and stop where they stopped. Egypt’s Coptic Christian communities have ensured the preservation of a long tradition and history of commemorating sites associated with the Holy Family in Egypt.


Egypt’s pilgrimage sites have been an integral part of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christian community for centuries. However, in 2017, the Vatican made an announcement officially recognizing places in Egypt as Roman Catholic pilgrimage sites.


The pilgrimage route consists of 25 sites, tracing the Holy Family’s supposed 3.5 year sojourn. The route creates a circuit, starting from Sinai in the east, reaching as far south as Asyūṭ in Upper Egypt, then returning back through Cairo and Sinai to the Levant.


According to the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of James, the Holy Family fled together with Salome, Mary’s midwife. They made their way through the Judaic desert to the Jordan valley.


The Coptic Church claim that the Holy Family proceeded from Bethlehem to Gaza, then to al-Zaraniq (also known as Floussiat), some twenty-eight miles west of al- Arish, near the oasis of Ain Hagla close to the Jordan River. Orthodox monks have named their church in honor of the Holy Family. For them it marks the place where the Holy Family had their first rest.


Subsequently, Ain Hagla was surnamed Kalamonia, which means ‘good abode.’


Next, they threaded their way along northern Sinai until they reached Farma (ancient Pelusium) mid-way between al-Arish and present day Port Said. The Greek monk Epiphanius Hagiopolites as well as the Western monk Bernard the Wise mention in their writings that the Holy Family stopped in this city. The local church dedicated to Mary commemorates the Angel’s message to Joseph to leave for Egypt.


They then traveled east to the ancient city of Hebron, reputedly one of the oldest cities of the world and a holy site for Jews, Christians and Muslims since here in the cave of Machpelah Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca as well as Jacob and Lea found their last resting place.


About the National Egyptian Heritage Revival Association (N.E.H.R.A) 


NEHRA is a scientific panel formed to document the history of the Holy Family’s journey trip. The UNESCO is to announce the journey and relevant sites as “World Heritage.” 


Coptic and Muslim businessmen set up NEHRA and restored several sites on the trail of the Holy Family.



Cairo, July 9, 2019


Basant Samhout,

Student in the Political Science and Multimedia Journalism Department, at the American University in Cairo

Intern at the Center for Arab-West Understanding