Menas of Egypt
|Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonian) perspective, which may differ from an Eastern Orthodox (Chalcedonian) understanding.|
Saint Menas was born in Egypt in 285 A.D., in the city of Niceous (Nakiyos or Nikiu), which lies in the vicinity of Memphis. His parents were real ascetic Christians; his father's name was Audexios (or Eudoxius) and his mother's name was Aufimia (or Euphemia). 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 would give her a blessed son. A sound came to her ears saying "Amen," and thus she called her son Menas.
His father, a ruler of one of the administrative divisions of Egypt, died when Menas was 14 years old. At the age of 15, Menas joined the army. He was given a high rank because of his father's reputation and was stationed 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 crowning 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 sufferings attracted many of the pagans, not only to Christianity, but also to martyrdom.
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 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 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 refused to move. 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 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.
Later, his burial place was revealed when a shepherd was feeding his sheep in that area and 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-loving Emperor at Constantinople (ruled 474-475, 476-491), was leprous. His advisers suggested that she should try that place, and she did. At night St. Menas appeared to the girl and informed her that his body was 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. Immediately, Zinon ordered the saint's body to be dug out, and a church to be built there.
St. Menas in Mariut
When Arcadius and Honorius reigned (383–408 and 393-423), they also ordered that a large city to be built there and named after the saint. Sick people from all over the world would visit the 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, Germany; Milan, Italy; Dalmata, Yugoslavia; Marseille, France; Dengela, 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 historian Edith L. Butcher recorded that destruction started to take place in the city, and its inhabitants were degraded after the Arab conquest. During the period after Haroun El-Rasheed (Muslim ruler), the Berbers attacked the city and burned a large portion of it. At the time of El-Mamoun (Muslim ruler), he ordered that the entire city be taken down, and then he used its numerous marble pillars to build his palace and mosques. It is only in the 20th century that international missions began to search for the city and the church (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
The New Cathedral of St. Menas
As soon as Pope Cyril (Kyrillos) the Sixth was installed on St. Mark's Throne, he began to put the foundations of a great monastery close to the remains of the old city. Thus, the old monastery of St. Menas was resurrected, and the Copts were able to visit it once again and to be blessed by the saint. What is even more interesting is that Pope Kyrillos VI stated in his will that his body should not be buried in the new famous Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo, but in the monastery of his personal friend and intercessor, St. Menas the Miracle-maker.