Here is the English abstract of Father Domadius al-Rāhib's (priest of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt) presentation at the 3rd pre-con meeting of the conference “Theology of Pilgrimage" which was held by Astan Quds Razavi’s Foundation of Islamic Researches on September 13, 2023, at Mashhad, Iran.
Deir el-Muharraq and the Culture of Pilgrimage in the Coptic Orthodox Church
The root of pilgrimage in Christianity can be traced back to the Jewish pilgrimage to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. According to the Gospels, Jesus Christ himself, before his ascension, participated in these ceremonies and engaged in discussions and conversations with Jewish scholars. The beginning of pilgrimage as a formal religious ritual in Christianity dates back to 325 AD when Helena, the mother of Constantine, ordered the construction of the Church of Jerusalem. Generally, most Christian pilgrimage sites are places where Jesus Christ performed miracles or had a special presence in them, and later, a church was built in the same location. One of these pilgrimage sites is located in Egypt and is known as Deir el-Muharraq (The Monastery of Virgin Mary in Koskam), belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt. It is said that Jesus Christ, Mary, and Joseph the Carpenter resided in this place for six months. The Torah also mentions a place of worship in the center of Egypt, which Coptic Christians identify with the Deir el-Muharraq. Therefore, this church holds great significance for Orthodox Christians, and the value of its pilgrimage is equivalent to half of a Christian pilgrimage. Pilgrims usually enter the church barefoot and then proceed towards Jerusalem to complete their pilgrimage. Kissing the pilgrimage site is a customary practice among Coptic Orthodox Christians, as they believe that blessed objects in the name of the Lord are inherently sacred. Additionally, the Deir el-Muharraq is the main Coptic Orthodox Church where the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus Christ takes place. During this ceremony, which starts after cropping the wheat and about 10 days before the feast, approximately one million people set up tents around the church and bring their sacrifices. This ceremony symbolizes detachment from material life and ascension to the higher realm.
Translator: Mahdi Qasemi