Egypt is considered to be exclusively a Muslim country. And how tourists are surprised when they find out that relatively close to Hurghada there are two strongholds of Middle Eastern Christianity, namely the copst (Orthodox) monasteries of St. Anthony and Paul. Among modern Egyptians, Christians are about 10%, very few in comparison with representatives of the predominant denomination – Islam. And all the more surprising now seems the almost ancient past of Egypt, a country that could be called if not the cradle of Christianity, then a caring hand, on the basis of which, the still young faith began its first steps on the planet.
It is on the territory of Egypt that Mount Moses is located – the place where the commandments of the Most High were revealed to the prophet. In Egypt, there are also the oldest Christian monasteries – Anthony the Great and his disciple Paul of Thebes.
One of the oldest Egyptian monasteries is St. Paul’s Monastery, located in the Arabian Desert. The hermit Paul of Thebes once lived on this place, in whose honor the monastery was later named. According to the life of the saint (in which, by the way, there are few genuine facts), we learn that Paul was born in Thebes, in a rich family. His parents died quite early, and litigation began on the division of inheritance. The young man did not know how to solve problems through struggle, and did not want to, but because, having refused all worldly goods, he retired to the desert. Having settled in a cave, he lived here for 92 years and died, according to his life, during prayer, kneeling.
The legend of Paul of Thebes
The place of his burial began to be considered pilgrim after some time. And around the 5th century a monastery was built here, where monks lived, striving to follow the lifestyle of St. Paul – a humble pastime in prayers to God. The first inhabitants of the newly formed monastery were monks from Syria – presumably Melkites.
Over time, monks from various regions of Egypt, as well as from other countries, neighboring and distant, began to flock to the monastery. From about 10-11 centuries, the monastery began to be subjected to constant attacks by the Bedouins. The monks could not resist the warlike tribe of the Gentiles, although they tried to do this for several centuries in a row. But still in the 16th century the monastery was almost completely destroyed, the last monks left it and went further into the desert. About 100 years in a row the monastery was empty, it was plundered and dilapidated.And in the 17th century, several monks from the monastery of St. Anthony , located nearby, discovered the ruins .
They decided to settle in a holy place and gradually began to rebuild the monastery on their own. In 1701, Pope John XVI ordered the reconstruction to begin, and after some time the monastery complex acquired the appearance that we see today.
The monastery is located about 150 km southwest of the capital of Egypt, Cairo, and 200 km north of the resort city of Hurghada, not far from the Red Sea coast in the Arabian desert. It is best to get here as part of a group excursion, tours for pilgrims and ordinary tourists are organized regularly from all resort cities in Egypt.
Entrance to the monastery is free, and an experienced guide will tell you a lot of interesting things about its glorious history (of course, not for free already).
The monastery is open from 9:00 to 17:00 daily, except Lent before Christmas and Easter.